Explore the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway
The Essex Coastal Scenic Byway lies entirely within the Essex National Heritage Area, a 750 sq. mi. region designated by the U.S. Congress as one of forty-nine heritage partnership parks of the National Park Service. For additional information about the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway, please visit EssexCoastalByway.org.
Travelers along the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway experience the best of coastal New England. The 90-mile coastal byway guides visitors and residents on a journey of discovery though one of the country’s most picturesque and historically significant regions: Boston’s legendary North Shore.
The state-designated byway features mile after mile of breathtaking vistas, working harbors, quaint villages, world-class art and culture, and distinctive local food, shops, lodging and visitor services. Recreational adventures such as hiking, biking, paddling, and swimming abound at the byway’s numerous parks, trails, conserved open spaces, waterways and beaches.
At the midpoint of the scenic byway lies beautiful Cape Ann with its four communities of Essex, Gloucester, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Rockport. Over 40 miles of the byway traverse the varied and dramatic landscapes and seascapes that define Cape Ann, from the salt marshes and tidal rivers along Route 133 in Essex and West Gloucester to the rugged granite shoreline traced by Route 127 in Rockport.
Driving north from Salem and Beverly via Routes 1A and 127, you will arrive first at Manchester-by-the-Sea. The byway takes you on a winding shoreline drive and along the edge of picturesque Manchester Harbor, through a charming and historic downtown filled with a diverse array of shops, galleries, and restaurants. Enjoy a summer evening concert and Festival by the Sea at Masconomo Park, stroll along scenic Tuck’s Point, or walk barefoot through the Singing Beach sands! From Manchester-by-the-Sea, the byway continues along a coastal route toward Gloucester. Be sure to swing through the village of Magnolia, on the Gloucester/Manchester line, to enjoy the Lexington Avenue shops and restaurants and cool summer shoreline breezes.
If arriving from the north and west, via Routes 1A and 133, head eastward along Route 133 through Essex and its newly restored Main Street causeway. Allow plenty of time to enjoy scores of unique and enticing boatyards, antique shops, galleries, and restaurants, while boats of all shapes and sizes move up and down the meandering Essex River that shapes and defines the village. You will want to linger a while to explore the entire Essex River Cultural District, a compact and walkable treasure trove of attractions in the heart of the village.
A little farther along, a wooded section in West Gloucester opens to a view of the Annisquam River and its tributaries and marshes, bringing the route to its junction with Route 127 and Gloucester Harbor. The harbor’s magnificent, sweeping vistas are among the most beautiful and expansive views along the byway. No wonder explorer Champlain called Gloucester “le Beauport” when he first arrived here more than 400 years ago.
Follow the byway along the harbor edge and across the Blynman Drawbridge, spanning the canal that connects the Annisquam River to Gloucester Harbor and delivering you to the island portion of Cape Ann. Stop and stroll along Stacey Boulevard, site of the Fishermen’s Memorial and the Fishermen’s Wives statues, and walking back across the drawbridge visit Stage Fort Park with its sheltered beaches and expansive harbor vistas. Take the time to follow the pathways along the harbor and up and over Tablet Rock, marking Gloucester’s settlement in 1623 by the Dorchester Bay Company as a fishing port.
Heading eastward from the Boulevard the byway leads you to Gloucester’s new HarborWalk and Harbortown Cultural District, from the inner harbor’s working waterfront through Gloucester’s historic downtown with its vibrant restaurant, shopping, and arts and live music scene.
At the head of the harbor, turn right at the light onto East Main Street and follow the harbor through East Gloucester to the Rocky Neck Art Colony and Cultural District at Smith’s Cove. Park your car in the public lot along the causeway and spend a leisurely afternoon or evening strolling among the galleries, shops and restaurants of America’s signature artists’ haven.
As you continue on, pause at Nile’s Beach to catch a glimpse of the Boston skyline on the horizon beyond Dog Bar Breakwater and the Eastern Point Light. Now turning easterly and then northerly to Atlantic Road you will shortly arrive at Gloucester’s back shore and Bass Rocks, with sweeping vistas eastward to Thacher Island and its Twin Lights and the pounding surf of the open Atlantic Ocean. Complete the East Gloucester loop and rejoin Route 127A and the byway near Good Harbor Beach.
Explore Rockport’s rugged, ever-changing shoreline as you continue along byway Routes 127 and 127A. From a Twin Lights sunrise at Long Beach to sunsets over Ipswich Bay at Halibut Point, you can spend a delightful day or a whole lifetime meandering Rockport’s byway miles and its woodland pathways, coastal trails and public rights of way. Its unique mix of light and sea and sky, granite-edged harbors and coves, and sweeping tides, reveals constantly renewing vistas at every turn. Yet through the years and the cycles of the seasons, Rockport’s beauty and allure endure.
Take the time to experience Rockport’s Cultural District, nestled between Rockport Harbor and Sandy Bay in downtown Rockport, filled with a wide array of attractive shops and galleries and featuring world renowned music and art venues in a beautiful seaside setting. Walk out to the Headlands to catch a sunrise and panoramic, ever-changing views of the harbor and the town along the bay.
Complete your byway excursion by touring Cape Ann’s villages and coves from Pigeon Cove to Riverdale. Along the way linger awhile in Lanesville and Annisquam, and be sure to take in the scenic vistas at Folly, Plum, Lobster, and Goose Coves.