#1 WATCH THE BIGGEST MAMMALS ON THE PLANET
Make sure whale watching goes on your bucket list. People say: “It’s a lifelong dream fulfilled,” “It’s the best thing I ever did,” and “It made me cry,” reports Paul Frontierro of Gloucester, who has never tired of running whale watches for almost 30 years. Every single day is different. You might see mothers and calves, or whales breaching, flipper slapping, blowing or tail lobbing. On an extraordinary day, you could see 40 or 50 whales. Seasoned whale watchers go out several times a year.
#2 SOAK UP CULTURE AT THE SHALIN LIU
Like a fairytale palace with perfect acoustics, the Shalin Liu Performance Center rises from the Rockport waterfront. Its huge oceanfront windows let you watch the sun set over the harbor behind the performers while enjoying concerts of all stripes, plays, high def Met simulcasts and film festivals. What’s not to love?
#3 DIG DOGTOWN
A wild, mysterious wood blankets Cape Ann’s vast middle, a place of storied ghosts, pirates and murder. All that’s left are cellar holes and words painted on boulders: “Courage,” “Never try, never win.” So you don’t get lost, join a tour (contact the Chamber), or park on Cherry Street at Dogtown Road in Gloucester and follow the fire roads in and back. Don’t go late in the day. Bring your cell.
#4 VISIT “THE ANTIQUES CAPITAL OF AMERICA”
So many antiques shops crowd Essex’s waterfront on Rt. 133 that you’ll have to pick and choose: Americana, white elephants, fine art, European imports, something for everyone’s collection. When you weary of shopping, sample the seafood establishments also lining Rt. 133.
#5 BEACH IT UP
We have them all: spectacular barrier beaches like Wingaersheek and Good Harbor; shallow, child-friendly beaches like Rockport’s Front Beach; a beach with a dune made entirely of rocks, and even a beach that sings. Take your pick. Just don’t forget your camera.
#6 DINE WITH A VIEW
If you love seafood the way we do, you’ll love it even more with a view. You can have lobster in the rough at a rocky cove, elegant linen service overlooking the ocean, and everything in between. Bon appétit.
#7 COME FOR CHRISTMAS, STAY FOR WINTER
Nothing stops Rockport’s town tree lighting, not even a nor’easter. Santa comes by lobster boat, you can watch candy canes being made by hand, and see a live nativity with real animals, a torchlight procession, and a community carol sing. In Gloucester, Santa parades from the State Fish Pier all the way down Main Street to Stacy Boulevard for their tree lighting, and the Middle Street Walk shows off period houses. A Christmas tree made entirely of lobster traps glows above Main Street.
Essex has a Toy Land Parade, Santa’s arrival at the town landing, and breakfast with Santa.
Christmas by the Sea in Manchester finds open houses in the shops, the Jingle Bell Walk,
and the lighting of the Friendship Tree.
Rockport hosts an alcohol-free New Year’s Eve celebration throughout downtown, with clowns and puppets for children, and every kind of musical concert imaginable, from jazz, rock and roll and country and western to classical, Cajun and sea chanteys.
Between New Year’s and spring, you can enjoy some spectacular winter birding, snowshoeing, and walks in the woods. Others enjoy mountain biking in the snow, surfing the winter waves, or just plain storm watching. The less adventurous might prefer to book an inn and curl up in front of a toasty fire, hot mulled cider in hand.
Author: Patricia Mandell