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By Diane Bair and Pamela WrightGLOBE CORRESPONDENTS JUNE 03, 2014
Rockport has few rivals when it comes to seaside charm. A quick glance around Bearskin Neck reveals a display of lobster-printed onesies in a boutique, a guy pulling pastel globs of taffy in the window of Tuck’s Candy Factory, and two little girls operating a lemonade stand on Main Street. All of this with a backdrop of harbor and bay, dotted with lobster boats and pleasure craft. Adding to the eye candy: the iconic Motif #1, a red-painted fishing shack that serves as the ultimate artist’s subject. No wonder this North Shore town is a magnet for day-trippers. Who could resist?
If Rockport is on your hit list this summer, here are a couple of tips to make it a better experience. First, don’t try to park downtown; angling for a spot will suck the joy right out of your day. Instead, park at the free shuttle lot on Route 127, a half mile from downtown, and take the trolley, $1 per person each way, to Dock Square. (Arriving by the MBTA commuter rail? Make your way from the train station to Dock Square on one of three color-coded walking routes.) Second, escape the crowds and explore Rockport beyond Bearskin Neck. Eat your lobster roll from a rocky perch at the Headlands, or savor the sweeping coastal views along the walking trails at Halibut Point State Park.
The closest thing to a big, modern hotel you’ll find in Rockport is the 79-room Rockport Inn & Suites (183 Main St., 978-546-3300; www.rockportinnandsuites.com; from $149). Located right across the street from the trolley lot (see above) or a 15-minute walk to downtown, this pet-friendly hotel has complimentary Wi-Fi and continental breakfast, plus a new indoor pool and spa. At the other end of town, in Pigeon Cove, there’s the 36-room Emerson Inn by the Sea (1 Cathedral Ave., 800-964-5550 or 978-546-6321; www.emersoninnbythesea.com; from $159) an antique-filled charmer with lawns that slope to the rocky shore. Amenities include an outdoor pool, a small spa, and a Sunday jazz brunch with live piano. And yes, namesake Ralph Waldo Emerson really did sleep here. Rockport also has several B&Bs. A favorite is the Seafarer Inn (50 Marmion Way, 978-546-6248; www.seafarer-inn.com; from $149; ages 12 and up), a six-room cottage by the sea located on one of the most beautiful streets in town. Walk to Straitsmouth Cove and Old Garden Beach, or take a longer walk to Bearskin Neck.
You’ll see people munching on overstuffed lobster rolls as they stroll Bearskin Neck; most likely, those came from Roy Moore Lobster Co. (39 Bearskin Neck; 978-546-6696; lobster rolls $15), a wildly popular eat-in-the-rough joint (look for the lobster-shaped sign and a line out front). Baked stuffed clams are a specialty too. Family-run Ellen’s Harborside (1 T-Wharf, 978-546-2512; www.ellensharborside.com; from $10.99) has been serving up seafood, burgers, and award-winning clam chowder for 60 years, but this local favorite keeps up with the times; there’s now a gluten-free menu that features all their best items. The Red Skiff (15 Mt. Pleasant St., 978-546-7647; from $4.99; breakfast and lunch) is the go-to spot for breakfast — and you know you’re in a seafaring town when you can get eggs and fishcakes at 6 a.m.! For seafood on the beach, you won’t go wrong with takeout (you can also eat in) from Nate’s at Front Beach (18 Beach St., 978-546-0055; www.natesatfrontbeach.com; from $7.95). Wraps and fried seafood “boats” fly out of the kitchen here. For dessert, Rockport offers temptation aplenty, including a candy shop, a “fudgery,” an ice cream place, and a cupcake bakery. For a treat that’s distinctly Rockport, stop into Helmut’s Strudel (69 Bearskin Neck, 978-546-2824), a cute sweet spot that’s been there as long as anyone can remember.
DURING THE DAY
It’s fun to pop in and out of the unique tiny shops and galleries on Bearskin Neck and along Main Street, including The Pewter Shop (16 Bearskin Neck, 978-546-2105; www.rockport-pewter.com), the oldest shop in Rockport, and Toad Hall Bookstore (47 Main St., 978-546-7323; www.toadhallbooks.org), where the net profits are donated to local environmental causes. And of course you’ll take the obligatory selfie at Motif #1 on Bradley Wharf, where schooners were once built. From there, take a scenic ramble. The Rockport Visitor Map (available at Dock Wharf and at the trolley parking lot) outlines seven worthwhile walks. We love The Headlands, off Atlantic Avenue and a short walk from town, where a footpath leads to a rocky outcrop with gorgeous views of the harbor and bay. If you’re itching to get out on the water but didn’t BYOB (as in boat), rent a kayak or take a paddling tour with the folks at North Shore Kayak Outdoor Center (9 Tuna Wharf, 978-546-5050; www.northshorekayak.com; half-day rentals from $25; tours from $40-$50) and explore the coastline in a kayak or on a stand-up paddle board. We’d recommend a paddling tour to Thacher Island, 3 miles from Rockport Harbor, home to twin lighthouses, a small museum, and 3 miles of walking trails. Not a kayaker? Get there on the Thacher Island launch (T-Wharf, 617-599-2590; www.thacherisland.org. Call for reservations. Wed, Sat, June to August, $20). Climb the 156 stairs in the lighthouse for beautiful views (and a good workout). It’s worth sticking around to check out another cool, outdoorsy spot just 2½ miles from the village center: Halibut Point State Park (Gott Ave., 978-546-2997; www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks; $2 parking fee), a former granite quarry laced with hiking trails. On a clear day, you can look across Ipswich Bay to New Hampshire’s Isles of Shoals and Mount Agamenticus in Maine.
Rockport’s brag-worthy Shalin Liu Performance Center (37 Main St., 978-546-7391; www.rockportmusic.org) is the hub for cultural events. This 330-seat waterfront music hall offers superb acoustics and a floor-to-ceiling glass window that incorporates ocean views as a backdrop to the stage. Rockport Music presents classical, jazz, folk, and pop artists here; catching a performance here may be the highlight of your visit. Another place to enjoy live music is the Old Sloop Coffeehouse at the First Congregational Church (12 School St., 978-546-6638; www.rockportucc.org/oldsloopcoffeehouse).
Rockport is about 40 miles north of Boston. Information at www.capeannchamber.com or www.rockportusa.com.com.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.