Gloucester, just north of Boston long known for its fishing industry, is well worth a visit if you’re heading that way over the summer as lonely coastal roads about the town lead to some spectacular scenery just waiting to be discovered.
Situated some 36 miles north of Boston, Gloucester nestles out along the foamy shores of the wild Atlantic in the quiet splendor that is Cape Ann. This place reputed to be America’s oldest fishing port and long famous for its off shore fishing grounds was first settled in the year 1623 by English fishermen from Dorchester. Gloucester became a center for the fishing industry as that great eating fish Cod – was found to be abundant and helped to build Gloucester’s fishing fame.
Today Gloucester still thrives as a commercial fishing center, although over fishing has curtailed the industry; nevertheless, fishing activity is still very much the main business of the town.
I negotiated my way north of Boston via my trusty Ford Focus, along rte – 93 north to rte -95 north that turns into 128 and exit 14 brought me on a direct heading to Gloucester and the ocean just down the road.
Traveling along on the outskirts of Gloucester I pass by the many boat yards, and fish plants that dot the terrain. As one progresses nearer to the town center, marinas, fish restaurants and more fishing plants and businesses come into view and by their sheer weight of numbers disguise the harbor that nestles behind.
Speaking of fishing plants – hark back to the days of those glorious childhood delights called fish fingers, the one and only Birds Eye Fish Fingers – Yes! For it is here in Gloucester that the frozen fish and food inventor, non other than, Clarence Birdseye – the man himself! – Moved his General Seafood Corporation from New York to Gloucester and here he would develop his business exponentially as he is the one who came up with the idea of freezing food, in his case frozen fish firstly and then frozen meats and other frozen food stuffs later.
Staying with a food theme in mind, I had heard from a well informed source that the New England Clam Chowder – a creamy soup of clams, and potatoes, and cod too if you want to make it a Fish Chowda’ with some veggies chopped and thrown in – that, there was to be had some mighty fine clam chowder in these parts. So as I am a chowda’ lover, a visit on the way back would be in order to one of these fish restaurants along the harbor.
In the town having parked the car, a task not overly taxing but could be a hassle come the busy summer months, I stop into the Gloucester visitor center located by the water (visitor center itself has parking).
Here one can browse the literature available for the inquisitive tourist as it is always a good idea to see what sorts of things the area has to offer by way of accommodation, attractions, beaches, dining and so on. Some interesting photos of 1920’s -30’s lifestyle of the area, adorn the walls to the rear where some magnificent black and white photographs of gatherings of people are forever frozen in time.
Good Harbor Beach is pointed out to me on a map by a helpful person behind the counter and I make good for its calling. But first a quick walk through the twisty main street of the town to get a feel for the place, and as well as of course to find that special coffee shop.
Main Street meanders quietly up a gentle hill where shops beckon the tourist to take a gander in. The eye travels along the windows of art galleries, clothes shops, gift shops, and some bookshops. This is a neat and tidy street and I spy up ahead an interesting coffee shop called the Lone Gull.
Imagine the nicest Starbucks you have ever been in and double it, actually triple it, for the Lone Gull is a coffee shop haven. Clean, shining wooden floors. Leather seating that would do any executive lounge proud. Floor to ceiling windows and a nice red brick wall. And the coffee was as good as how good the place looked – I could have stayed here all day long – no joking! A palace among coffee shops it was!
And the young man who handed me the coffee who was courteous and glad to be there, was a dead wringer for Jim Morrison of the Doors – I kid you not.
Rte. 127 A, along Atlantic Road takes you out to the beaches. This route turns into an ocean drive not to be missed. The ocean is all along to your right while nice looking houses dot the landscape here and there on your left. Back off the road on the left you will find plenty but not over crowded accommodation, mostly in the guise of motels. Prices here and in the Gloucester look to run the gamut from mid range to high end $70-$80; $99-$125 and $125-$210, with some B&B accommodation running between, $65-$94. Some accommodation has weekly rates also.
Along the oceanfront, a rocky shoreline breaks out into the sea. Lots of little rocky pools abound along the surf. It is known that rod fishing for bass and blue fish is a time-honored tradition off these same rocks. This is majestic driving for it is a lovely place.
Niles Beach is found further along. It’s nicely oval shaped but not one of the sandiest beaches I have ever seen and not as big as others or as popular as Good Harbor Beach, which we’ll talk about in a minute. However, there is parking so you can pull in off the road to gaze for a while onto the ocean. And if you look closely you will see that in the far off distance on the sea’s horizon, you will see the Boston skyline.
This is quite a sight to behold from such a distance away, I was taken aback by the city seeming to rise out of the ocean with the city glow looking lovely nearing dusk.
Further on we find Good Harbor Beach and it must be said it is impressive. It’s big, real big. It’s a fine sandy beach. Very flat and smooth with plenty of leg room although I’ve seen this place on the 4th of July and it was packed. Yet it is still big enough in that you can get away from your sunbathing neighbor.
On it’s far end it has a nice rocky cropping where one could find some shelter from the wind. A little island comes into view looking out on the ocean, while at the other end of the beach, and at a good distance, the hilly landscape is dotted interestingly with houses should the eye want to wander as you stroll along the beach or sit up from sun bathing and take stock of the world.
A bit further on down the road we come across Long Beach. This beach again is very sandy but the beach itself has a boulevard running adjacent to it which gives it a more built up area feel than Good Harbor. It is more arced though and very big but not as wide as GH. It’s a fine beach but thought GH better.
Heading back into town I pass through the famous artist colony section where artists from all over have come to paint the land and seascapes that nature so gracefully appointed. Painter, Fitz Hugh Lane, was born here and took his inspiration from the scenic surroundings. Fellow painter, Winslow Homer, is known to have visited and painted in the Gloucester area also. Many artists today have opened shops and studious where the browser is always welcome to pass awhile.
One rides by a wharf where notices of Deep Sea Fishing Charters’ abound where offers of fishing trips for cod and haddock are advertised. Then a notice that catches the eye is the offering of Whale Watch’ trips, offered by 7 Seas Whale Watch, out of Gloucester harbor. Sightings of types of whales are Humpback, Fin, and the smaller Minke Whale; some Dolphin as well, as also a notation of sea birds’ for the bird lovers.
Before I hit the road back to Boston, I stopped into the Gloucester House Restaurant at Seven Seas Wharf, to sample a bowl of Clam Chowder and it was indeed hearty – stick to your ribs stuff in fact. Very tasty with excellent bread accompaniments and a nice menu as well. A nice restaurant to laze in a while with a lovely view of the fishing boats at rest in the harbor.
There is also plenty of antique shopping as well in the area along with a Maritime Heritage Center Museum and a Whale Center Museum to indulge the mind and be-at-one with the local community culture and seascape.
A visit to Gloucester should you make it this summer will be well worth the while. Even if it is a day trip out from Boston, Gloucester has many shining jewels to offer and the Atlantic Road drive is indeed a scenic highlight.