The Other Cape
|Mileage||21 miles (34 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||40 minutes|
|SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.||Spring, Summer, and Fall|
|Roadways||Massachusetts Highways 127, 127a, and 1A|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, hotels, pharmacies, etc.||Essex, MA▼, Gloucester, MA▼, Manchester, MA▼, Magnolia, MA▼, Rockport, MA▼, Beverly, MA▼, Salem, MA▼, Peabody, MA▼, more...and Lynn, MA▼|
3.3 average from 75 votes
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Cape Ann is dramatically stunning. Traverse the beautiful rocky cape along the Atlantic Ocean and immerse yourself in seaside views dotted with historic lighthouses, beaches, classic New England architecture, hospitality and fresh-off-the-boat seafood.
Just 1 hour north of Boston, our scenic drive begins in the town of Rockport and travels to Salem. To reach Rockport, head east on MA-128 to Gloucester and turn left onto MA-127 towards Rockport. If you’re coming from the Essex area, be sure to stop at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum (M1). Over 8,000 artifacts, photographs and exhibits, tell the history of the small village of Essex that built more two-masted wooden fishing schooners than anywhere else in the world. See the original Evelina M. Goulart, an 83-foot schooner built in 1927 and used until the 1980s — one of seven historic Essex-built schooners that survive. There is an entrance fee. If you aren’t passing it, the vibrant town of Essex is worth a detour. Boasting many restaurants featuring seaside dining of tantalizing local fare, it is also famed for fried clams, where this delicacy was invented. Quaint shops line the streets and it is a haven for antiques and collectibles.
Before beginning our drive, head north on MA-127 to Halibut Point State Park (H1). Easy trails explore the northernmost point of this peninsula and bestow spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean. Crashing waves, huge granite rocks and tide pools, make this a worthy stop. Formerly a working granite quarry, learn more about the region’s granite industry through self-guided walking tours or on Saturday mornings, park staff offer tours and granite cutting demonstrations as well as other nature programs including wildflower, tide pool and birding walks. Picnic on 440-million year old rocky ledges and let the fresh sea air and beauty rejuvenate the spirit. There is a small parking fee. Just 4 miles north of here on Wigwam Point is Annisquam Harbor Light Station. The charismatic lighthouse is closed to the public.
In Rockport, stop at Bearskin Neck (V1), a small “neck” of land that juts into Sandy Bay. Once a busy commercial dock, today it is a bustling with tourists and artists who come for the galleries, shops, restaurants, outstanding views and ambiance. Don’t miss capturing your own photograph, painting or drawing of the iconic red fishing shack Motif No. 1, considered “the most often-painted building in America.”
Visit the Cape Ann Light Station on Thatcher Island (A2) which is accessible with a ride on the Thatcher Island II Launch (free, but donations are appreciated), or your own boat. Walk the peaceful Island Trail and visit the 124-foot Twin Towers. Constructed in 1771, the towers feature a granite outer shell and a two-foot thick brick inner wall. Climb 154 steps to the top for magnificent views the ocean, Boston’s skyline, and the mountains of Maine. To visit, reservations must be made in advance by calling 617-599-2590. Remote camping is also available with reservation.
Miles of pristine beaches dot the coast, some lively, like Back Beach, close to the downtown shopping area and renowned for its scuba diving or Old Garden Beach and Landing, a sandy beach and grassy park, benches and accessible ramp. Others like Cape Hedge Beach are tucked away and offer more solitude.
Continue south on MA-127A which bends westward passing a few beaches before arriving in Gloucester. Good Harbor Beach (W1) is a popular spot with beautiful white, sandy beaches, clear water, lifeguards, and services nearby. Parking can be a challenge for non-residents, which means get their early. The Atlantic Ocean waters here are chilly, but refreshing on hot days.
Shortly after the beach, consider a side trip by turning left on Atlantic Avenue, right onto Farrington Avenue and then left onto Eastern Point Road which brings you to Beauport, The Sleeper-McCann House. Overlooking Gloucester harbor, the summer home of Henry Davis Sleeper, one of America’s first professional interior designers, is filled with colored glass, curios and china from the colonial era. Forty rooms are each designed with a theme and no two rooms are alike. Open from June to October, (closed on Sunday), there is a fee to enter. To return, take Eastern Point Road, which eventually becomes East Main Street and heads back to MA-127. On the way, detour to the Rocky Neck Art Colony (A1), regarded as America’s Oldest Working Art Colony. The Rocky Neck Historic Art Trail explores 12 sites of historical art significance, among them, the studios of Marsden Hartley and Frederick J. Mulhaupt, Edward Hopper’s Mansard Roof House, and a lookout onto Ten Pond Island where Homer Winslow spent the summer painting in 1880. Artists worldwide come here to participate in workshops, exhibits and residency programs. Visitors will love the galleries, restaurants and unique shops overlooking the inspiring Smith Cove.
A stop at the Gloucester Visitor Center (I1), located in historic Stage Fort Park is a wealth of information. Climb the stone steps to the granite Tablet Rock which marks the spot of the first settlement here in 1623. Along the harbor front, find shops and restaurants featuring local seafood. Pick up a map for the Gloucester Maritime Trail which explores the town with a self-guided walking tour.
Gloucester is also home to some of the best whale watching in the east. A few companies in town offer expeditions of varying length and price. Commonly found here are Humpback, Finback, Sperm, Minke, Sei, Blue, and the endangered North Atlantic Right Whales. Delight in the Atlantic White-Sided Dolphins leaping alongside, or gulls, terns, shearwaters, skuas and more flying above. Whale-watching season is between May and October but July, August and September are the peak months.
Continuing westward, you pass a blend of gorgeous ocean views and classic New England architecture. In Magnolia, consider a side-trip to the Hammond Castle Museum (M2) which was built between 1926 and 1929 by John Hays Hammond, one of America’s premier inventors with over 400 patents and 800 inventions, second in number only to Thomas Edison. The castle houses his collection of Roman, medieval and Renaissance artifacts and features exquisite stained glass, a Hammond pipe organ, inventions exhibit room, library and more along with drawbridge and incredible views. There is a fee to enter and the museum is open seasonally.
Manchester-by-the-Sea is one of the quieter communities along the route, abounding with New England charm. Stroll the downtown and its historic buildings, whimsical shops and restaurants. At 12:20 pm every day, the Congregational Church carillon plays a tune. On summer days, Singing Beach is where the action is. Named for the sound created as you walk across the sand, enjoy the squeaks, waves, and expansive views. Note that parking near the beach is near impossible and very expensive. Well worth a day here but take public transport if possible.
Masconomo Park (H2) is also a nice little stop overlooking Manchester Harbor and has a playground, sports field and free summer concerts. Head to Lobster Cove and bask in the serene beauty or watch a sunset.
Back on MA-127, passing more scenic views, the highway joins MA-1A which heads over a bridge to Salem where our scenic drive comes to an end. The town of Salem is well known for the Salem Witch Trials, and a visit to the Salem Witch Museum (M3), tells the story of the 1692 trial. Other exhibits examine aspects of witchcraft throughout history to modern times and the gift shop is features a variety of unique and fascinating objects, books, novelties and apparel. Or explore one of the oldest art museums in the United States, the Peabody Essex Museum (M4) which features a fascinating and diverse collection of art from the 1700s to today.