SUMMER VACATION IDEAS: ROAD TRIP
New England's "Other" Capes
For secret beaches and amazing summer deals, look beyond the better-known Cape to the glorious spits of land jutting out into the Atlantic just up the coast.
“There’s no mini-golf here, that’s for sure,” says Tony Sapienza, making the inevitable comparison between rugged Cape Ann—where he owns a beachside inn—and its better-known cousin, Cape Cod. He notes that Gloucester, Mass., a tight-knit fishing community on Cape Ann just 45 minutes north of Boston, still has rusting fishing boats in its harbor. “And people like it that way,” he says.
If you’re looking for authentic New England without the throngs, Gloucester is a good place to start. The oldest fishing port in the U.S., it’s a sea-sprayed, weather-beaten place where you can still watch wader-wearing tuna fishermen pull their boats up to Cape Pond Ice’s storage shed. Getting a glimpse of that kind of realness is exactly what visitors to these parts crave.
It’s certainly what I was looking for in my quest to discover New England’s “other" capes jutting out from the coast between Boston and Portland, Maine.
I found expansive beaches with frothy seas, wonderfully old-fashioned Main Streets, historic lighthouses on stunningly scenic promontories, and some of the freshest locally sourced meals around. It just goes to show that while these other capes may be less glorified, they are no less glorious.
Boston to Cape Ann
Cape Ann, as people here like to tell you, is a locals’ haven that just happens to welcome a fair share of tourists. On a summer day you’re likely to find many of them at Gloucester’s Good Harbor Beach. “People are very into their community here,” says Geraldine Benjamin, a teacher from Sturbridge, Mass., who spends weekends and summers in Gloucester. “I love the local art and the fishing.” She watches as her daughter and granddaughter frolic on this wide stretch of fine, white sand edged by dunes and a gurgling creek leading into a frothy pocket of the Atlantic. At low tide, the ocean delivers a swirl of crystalline tide pools just made for budding marine biologists to explore.
I treasure a perfect view of the beach from my room directly across the street at the Blue Shutters Beachside Inn (1 Nautilus Rd, Gloucester, Mass., blueshuttersbeachside.com, rooms from $125), owned by Sapienza, his wife Patty, and their friends AnneMarie and Ed Comer. In the cool of the evening I cozy up with hot tea and cookies, sitting in front of a fire in the inn’s living room—a homey space with wood floors, damask sofas, embroidered pillows, and massive picture windows looking out at Good Harbor. A sign over the fireplace reminds me to Dream, a nod to the owners’ leap into their new lives as innkeepers. Like many visitors, they were drawn to Cape Ann partly by Rocky Neck, a nearby artists’ colony where you can soak up the sumptuous light that has drawn artists including Milton Avery, Edward Hopper, and Winslow Homer. Today, a diverse crew lives and works here, welcoming the curious into their studios. In fact, the art scene is so buzzy that when I ask local artist and gallery owner Gordon Goetemann to tell me about Rocky Neck’s heyday, he says—now! “I arrived here as an apprentice,” he recalls. “That was 1954. The season used to end when the pipes started to freeze, but now some residents are here 12 months out of the year.”
Before heading up the coast, I stop in downtown Gloucester for a fat eggplant sub, stuffed with roasted peppers and fresh mozzarella, at Virgilio’s Bakery & Deli (29 Main St., Gloucester, Mass., 978/283-5295, sub sandwich $6), and then visit the town’s most famous landmark: the Fishermen’s Memorial Statue, a 1925 bronze of a fisherman at the wheel, in honor of Gloucester natives—like those in the 1991 “perfect storm”—who’ve died at sea. The memorial, overlooking the sweeping outer harbor, makes a peaceful, poignant final stop.
Cape Ann to Cape Neddick
Heading north from Cape Ann on Route 1A, a swath of coastal wetlands puts the ocean out of view for a while. I cruise past antiques shops, horse farms, and young boys in cutoffs jumping into narrow waterways. Arriving at Salisbury Beach is a shock after peaceful Cape Ann. It’s a pure honky-tonk beach scene, but in such a nostalgic, living-museum way that it’s worth a stop. Clutches of kids feast on cotton candy and soft-serve cones and boardwalk signs announce Happy’s Fried Dough and Corn Dogs.
New Hampshire’s 18-mile coastline is next, and it’s short but sweet. Stop at the 135-acre Odiorne Point State Park (Route 1A, Rye, N.H., nhstateparks.org), where you can hike or bike along wooded trails, explore rocky tidepools, and drop in at the Seacoast Science Center. Here, inquisitive kids can climb into fishing-boat exhibits and stand under a complete whale skeleton. Before crossing into Maine, grab a bite in Portsmouth, which is brimming with good food, like The Flatbread Company’s signature pizza—you can watch it baking in a wood-fire oven (138 Congress St., Portsmouth, N.H., flatbread company.com, pizza from $8.75).