Situated on a spectacular stretch of the Massachusetts coast, Cape Ann offers big-city culture mixed with small-town charm and exciting recreational activities. Founded by pilgrims in 1623 — and named for England’s Queen Anne – this region soon began sprouting villages along its coast, leaving its center a wild wood. Every curve of Cape Ann’s rugged coastline offers another scenic beauty: harbors, lighthouses, islands, miles of sandy beaches, quarries, inlets and coves, all so picturesque that artists and moviemakers have flocked here for generations. Yet we’re only 30 miles from Boston.
The four communities that make up Cape Ann — Essex, Gloucester, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Rockport — are home to fishermen and artists, merchants and writers, and many others who live here year-round.
Gloucester is an authentic and fun city, with historic and still vibrant arts community. America’s oldest seaport, Gloucester has a rich maritime heritage of seafaring and fishing, a stunning harbor, unique restaurants and shops, and glorious white-sand beaches – qualities that have attracted artists for generations.
Visitors and residents alike can cruise on Gloucester’s historic schooners and dine at the wonderful restaurants, featuring the freshest fish and local fare. They can enjoy the excitement of whale-watching or a fishing excursion. They can relax and swim on Gloucester’s beaches, or take in the spectacular scenery.
The heart of Gloucester is its working waterfront, which borders a busy downtown scene. Along Rogers Street, you will see fishermen, whale-watchers, fishing charters, schooner ships, pleasure boats and more heading out to sea. Main Street is just a block away – perched above the waterfront offering spectacular views of the waterfront. Here the downtown area is full of art galleries, eclectic boutiques, antique shops, and wonderful restaurants. Many enjoy Gloucester’s free self-guided HarborWalk tour will take you through 42 story posts that document the community’s history and it’s current culture.
Gloucester is also home to the country’s oldest art colony on Rocky Neck, with dozens of art galleries. In fact, the Massachusetts Cultural Council has designated Gloucester with two distinct cultural districts — Rocky Neck and Harbortown, located near the city’s center.
Rockport, on the eastern end of Cape Ann, is uniquely surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean, offering breathtaking coastal scenery along rocky and sandy shorelines.
A walker’s paradise, Rockport has public footpaths along the ocean, trails through the easily accessible Headlands, and a lively downtown with classic New England architecture.
Visitors from all over the world come to enjoy the town’s New England seaside charm. They often exploring the unique galleries, shops and restaurants along eclectic Bearskin Neck –many housed in repurposed fishing shacks. Others traverse the jetty with views of the Straitsmouth Island lighthouse and Rockport’s vast seascape. Many swim at the public beaches – all within walking distance of downtown.
With its uncommonly magical light, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, Rockport has been attracting notable painters and sculptors since the mid-1800’s. One of the oldest art colonies in America, Rockport presents the work of more than 300 artists at the Rockport Art Association and over 30 galleries. Rockport is also home to the iconic Motif No. 1, reputed to be the most photographed and painted building in the United States, if not the world.
For music lovers, the world-class Shalin Liu Performance Center hosts the Chamber Music Festival in June and July and a Jazz Festival in August, while “foodies” can appreciate Rockport’s distinctive coastal cuisine.
Manchester-by-the-Sea is one of Cape Ann’s hidden treasures. Though it is small – with a population of just over 5,000 — Manchester offers a vibrant town center, picturesque parks, beautiful beaches, and miles of conservation trails for hiking or biking.
Nearly every business is locally owned, giving Manchester a real “small town America” feel. Almost every downtown establishment is open year-round; with locals and visitors continuing to frequent their favorite restaurants and shops long after the rush of the summer tourist season has ended. In the town’s shops, visitors will find Manchester souvenirs, unique clothing and home decor, locally made gifts and sparkly jewelry treasures. Others browse Manchester’s high-end consignment and vintage furniture shops, or visit one of the town’s art galleries to see beautiful landscapes by local artists.
Manchester offers a selection of restaurants, where diners can enjoy a classic New England lobster roll or bowl of clam chowder, a gourmet French meal, or a sandwich they may want to take to the beach or a hike.
Those who love the outdoors can try stand-up paddleboarding in beautiful Manchester Harbor or relax in Masconomo Park, a charming waterfront recreational area overlooking the harbor. Beachgoers head to beautiful Singing Beach, named for the sound the sand makes underfoot. The beach is walking distance from the town’s commuter rail stop, making it – and all of Manchester — easily accessible from Boston.
Essex is a place to unwind, savor great flavors, explore unique shops and enjoy a fun time on the Essex River.
Known for its exquisite cuisine, Essex offers fresh-caught seafood, eclectic far fusion cuisine. Live music and waterfront deck dining provide a casual backdrop as diners savor the moment and watch the tide ebb and flow.
On the water, you can head down river by stand-up paddleboard or kayak, or on boat cruise or fishing excursion. Back on land, visitors hike or mountain bike along nature trails that weave through miles of conservation woodlands and wetlands. In town, there is a self-guided Historic Essex Walking Tour that invites visitors to take a leisurely stroll through this historic community.
Fine art, handcrafted furniture, jewelry and pottery are just some of the highlights of the Essex River Cultural District. Collectors and decorators will be delighted in “America’s Antique
Capital.” Essex antiques include Mid-Century Modern, Arts & Crafts style, Asian, American, European and Victorian period pieces, plus an assortment of “attic treasures.”
Essex is graced with two outstanding museums. The Essex Shipbuilding Museum tells the story of the community’s emergence as how Essex became a major producer of the American
Fishing Schooner. The town’s other museum, Cogswell’s Grant, is an 18th century farmhouse overlooking the Essex River was the summer home of collectors Bertram and Nina Fletcher Little. Cogswell Grant is now houses the couple’s celebrated collection of American folk art.