Gloucester, Massachusetts

Whether you’re going to the beach, a BBQ, or the fireworks–or maybe all three–today is the day to celebrate the United States. There’s no better place for a birthday party than the Bay State, where the revolution began. Watch the Boston Pops on the Esplanade, visit Plymouth Rock where the Pilgrims landed, or spend the long weekend on the Cape Cod shoreline. But you’ll probably sit in traffic for hours. So this year, skip the bridge traffic, and head to Cape Ann on the quieter North Shore.

Photo: N Preseault
Photo: N Preseault

Gloucester is only 30 miles–a quick commuter train ride–from Boston. If you’re driving, stop in Essex for chowder and fried clams at Woodman’s. There’s no table service, and the dinner line winds down the block, so lunch is your best bet on a holiday weekend. Continue driving over the Annisquam River, to the end of Route 128, and into America’s oldest seaport. Roll down your window to breathe in the salty air. Seagulls circle the fishing boats–full of Atlantic cod and halibut–that just arrived back in the harbor from Georges Bank.

Start in Stage Fort Park, the site of the first English settlement in what would become the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Cannons still overlook the harbor. Grab a twist ice cream at The Cupboard and sit on shady Half Moon Beach. Stroll along Stacy Boulevard, stopping when the drawbridge rises for boats to enter or exit the harbor. The Eastern Point Lighthouse is in the distance. And visit the Fisherman’s Memorial, dedicated to the thousands of men who never returned from the sea.

Photo: Bass Rocks Ocean Inn
Photo: Bass Rocks Ocean Inn

In East Gloucester, you’ll find Rocky Neck, the oldest art colony in the country, and the Gloucester Stage Company, a haven for young playwrights and new productions. The Bass Rocks Ocean Inn is set among grand vacation homes on Atlantic Avenue. The whitewashed inn combines old-fashioned elegance with beach house comfort. Watch the waves crash against the rocky coastline. Sip lemonade by the pool. And head over to Niles Beach to watch the sky turn pink when the sun starts to go down. On a clear night, you can see the Boston skyline in the distance. Or take a sunset sail on the Thomas E. Lannon Schooner. And cap of the evening by eating seared sea scallops or lobster and vegetable risotto at Duckworth’s Bistrot. Their half-sized portions give you the opportunity to sample a few dishes.

In the morning, grab sandwiches at Virgilio’s Italian Bakery and head to Good Harbor Beach. High dunes hide the wide beach from Thatcher Road. The soft sand feels like it belongs in the Caribbean instead of New England. Huge tide shifts change the shape of the beach throughout the day. Walk out to Salt Island to search for hermit crabs during low tide when the sandbar appears. Go for a quick swim in the chilly water when the tide finally comes in. And get lost in the paperback you’ve been meaning to read the past few months. This is the best birthday party you’ve attended in a long time.

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