The North Shore area of Massachusetts is a gem in this state, characterized by rocky beaches and harbors, quaint fishing towns, history, and fantastic seafood. I was lucky enough to attend college at Endicott College in Beverly, Ma, located right on the ocean in the North Shore. What I didn’t do while I was there was explore much of the surrounding area. I’m now 6 years out of college and I finally made the trip out to drive the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway up the coast of the North Shore.
The Essex Coastal Scenic Byway
The winding route up the coast is actually a nationally recognized drive, known as the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway. Scenic byways must have one or more of the “Intrinsic qualities”: archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic. Some more well known scenic byways you may know are Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway.
The Essex Coastal Scenic Byway is comprised of 90 miles, from Lynn to Newburyport. Whether you’re interested in historical locations, museum, scenic landscapes, fresh lobster or clams, lazy beach days, or shopping, you’ll find something for you along this drive.
Start in Marblehead and Salem
We personally skipped over these towns during our trip but these three towns have plenty to offer! The Byway technically starts in Lynn, but I suggest skipping Lynn and Swampscott completely and focusing on the more scenic towns.
Marblehead is home to the Jeremiah Lee Mansion and Marblehead Museum Galleries as well as many scenic spots if you plan on venturing around a bit.
Continue on to Salem from there to explore the Historic sites of the Salem Witch Trials, The Salem Witch Museum, Peabody Essex Museum, the historic Hawthorne Hotel and the Old Burying Point, the second oldest cemetery in the nation.
If you’re not into history as much, Salem downtown has a ton of shops and restaurants to offer along the cobblestone alley ways!
Beautiful Beverly and Manchester-by-the-Sea
Beverly is my home away from home so I’m quite biased. I was lucky enough to spend 4 years of my life on the beaches of Beverly during college but I still think it’s a beautiful town despite that.
Coming from Salem, you’ll drive over the bridge and then follow the coast up past the public beach and then through the residential area until you come upon Endicott College. (I suggest driving through campus to check it out but that’s not REALLY part of the Scenic Byway tour!)
The route winds up through the gorgeous mansions and through Beverly crossing where you can stop for a couple quick shops or a coffee. The road then continues through more wealthy neighborhoods and carves along the coast where you will pass several (sadly) local only beaches.
Once you arrive in downtown Manchester-by-the-Sea, I suggest finding a place to park and spending some time wandering around the shops there.
Manchester-by-the-Sea is also home to the Trask House museum where you can view a collection of things from the history of the town during the maritime era. The museum also has several guided walking tours through town if you would like to learn more!
On your way up to the next town, you’ll pass by Hammond Castle Museum, which is definitely work a stop. An inventor named
John Hays Hammond, Jr. built this museum in the 1920s to show off his collection of medieval era artifacts. Hammond pulled inspiration from European castles from the 16th century when designing it. You can now tour the castle for a small cost but it’s worth at least walking around the grounds if you are short on time or money!
Plan Time for Gloucester and Rockport
Gloucester and Rockport could be an entire weekend in themselves. The scenic views, shops, restaurants and coastal activities make these two towns the epitome of New England.
If you’re following the Scenic Byway for the history aspect, Gloucester has Stage Fort Park, several historic figure statues along Stacey Boulevard Park, Cape Ann Museum, the Schooner Adventure and the Gloucester Maritime Heritage Museum Center.
If you’d rather spend the day experiencing the culture of the town, head to the downtown area to walk the shops and local artist galleries, or grab a bite to eat in one of the many eateries. Gloucester is also home to a endless amount of waterfront restaurants for dinner and a view. We grabbed lunch at Cape Ann Brewing and watched the boats coming in and out of the harbor over a flight of beer.
If you’re looking for more of an adventure, hop aboard one of the many boat trips that leave out of Gloucester. Whether you’re into fishing, sight seeing, or whale watching, they’ve got something for everyone.
Rockport is another town that perfectly encapsulates everything there is to love about New England. Depending on when you go, you may get lucky parking down near Dock Square, but if not, head to Blue Gate Meadow Parking Lot and take the shuttle downtown for $1 each way.
There you will find tons of shops and restaurants littering the square the all the way down Bearskin Neck. Make sure you have your camera ready for the charming New England scenic spots.
Rockport is the perfect place to find some seafood, ice cream, local fudge and some coastal art to bring home with you.
Breeze through Essex and Ipswich
North from Rockport you’ll find a collection of small towns along the Great Marsh Area. Essex is home to the Essex Shipbuilding Museum for the history nerds, as well as a great spot to pick up River Cruise through the marsh and out into the ocean.
Ipswich has a couple great spots to stop at; Russell Orchards and Castle Hill on the Crane Estate. There was wedding happening at Crane Estate while we were there so we weren’t fortunate to be able to explore the grounds but you are able to wander the ground and take a self-guided tour through the Great House when it’s open!
Slightly up the street from there you’ll find Russell Orchards which is home to a fruit winery as well! They’re unique process and types is worth the visit if you’re into wines. They also have a large store of farm fresh food, baked goods, cute craft items and more.
Behind the large barn where the store is located, you can walk down to their Barnyard area view all the friendly farm animals ranging from chickens and ducks to donkeys and goats! The families with kids were loving it!
Finish with a Night in Newburyport
If you make it through the entire Essex Coastal Scenic Byway in one day, most likely you will be ending in Newburyport towards nighttime. This is the perfect spot to end your day as the large town has a ton of great restaurants to choose from for a seafood meal and a cold glass of wine. We loved our experience sitting outside for dinner at Sea Level Restaurant.
From there walk into town and up and down the streets of shops. There was a large farmers market going on with tons of street vendors, musicians and performers while we were there. There are also a couple good breweries in town if you are a craft beer aficionado; RiverWalk Brewing Co. and Newburyport Brewing Company just to name a couple.
If you’re spending more time in the Newburyport area, you can venture out to Plum Island and the Parker River Wildlife Refuge for some beautiful scenery and great walking paths. If you’re lucky you’ll even spot some coastal birds!
Essex Coastal Scenic Byway Complete
There’s a ton to do in Boston, but you won’t truly experience the real New England unless you leave the big city and venture North along the coast. The Essex Coastal Scenic Byway is the perfect opportunity to do that in a guided way.
Do it in as few hours or as many days as you’d like but don’t miss out on the charming towns of the North Shore while visiting Massachusetts!
Have any tips or must-see spots to visit along the coastal byway? Leave them in the comments below! Until next time…