Like many others on the New England coast, it profited from the wealth of forests inland, the plentiful fish, and the richness of trade. Today visitors come to explore its nearly four centuries of history, to enjoy a lobster dinner overlooking its harbor, to bask in the sun at one of its fine beaches, to visit its famous art colony, or heading out on a whale watch cruise. Local hotels and B&Bs provide ample lodging. More...
Founded in 1623
The Pilgrims founded Plymouth in 1620, and three years later (1623) fishermen founded Gloucester. The marvelous natural harbor and the plentiful fishing and lobster grounds made that early settlement a fishers' paradise.
Over the years, Gloucester lost so many of its sons to the ravages of the sea that the town thought it fitting to set up a memorial to them. The Gloucester Fishermen's Memorial which includes the famous statue of The Gloucester Fisherman (also known as The Man at the Wheel) with the legend They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships, 1623-1923.
The sea was Gloucester's provider until 2014, when the US government severely limited commercial fishing in the Gulf of Maine due to dangerously low fish stocks. The restrictions provided unbearable to smaller fishing boats, most of which were forced out of business.
After nearly four centuries as a fishermen's port, "fishing boats out of Gloucester" still head for the open water, but they are the larger craft which can go farther out into the ocean, beyond the Gulf of Maine. Lobster boats still troll local waters collecting the prized crustaceans for dinner tables far and near.
The joys, perils and tragedies of fishing from Gloucester—especially going farther out into the deep ocean—were dramatically chronicled in Sebastian Junger's book The Perfect Storm, and in the motion picture (2000) based on it.
Getting to Gloucester
Driving from Boston and heading directly for Cape Ann, you'll save time by taking I-93 north to I-95. Follow I-95 North, but when it heads north toward Maine, stay on MA Route 128 all the way into Gloucester.
For the scenic (but slower) coastal drive, follow MA Route 128 to the exit for Manchester-by-the-Sea. In Manchester, follow MA Route 127 north.
MBTA Commuter Rail trains on the Newburyport/Rockport Line run from Boston's North Station to Salem, Beverly, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Gloucester and Rockport. (At Beverly, some trains go north via Ipswich to Newburyport.)
The trip from Boston's North Station to Gloucester takes slightly more than one hour. Trains run about every 20 minutes during rush hours, every half-hour during the day, every hour at night and on weekends. More...
From the train station in Gloucester, it's half a mile (800 meters, 10 minutes' walk) to the waterfront and the Fishermen's Memorial statue of the Gloucester Fisherman (better known as The Man at the Wheel), even less to St Peter's Square and the harbor.
Good Harbor Beach is 2 miles east (3.2 km, 40 minutes), Long Beach is 3 miles (5 km) east of the train station.
The Stage Fort Park Shuttle bus links the large parking lot at Stage Fort Park, west of the city center, with numerous points in the city including the MBTA Commuter Rail train station, Fishermen's Memorial ("Man at the Wheel"), Marine Heritage Museum, Good Harbor Beach, Cruiseport, Rocky Neck, etc. You can park for free at Stage Fort Park, then pay $1 to ride the shuttle into the city. An all-day shuttle pass costs $3. More...
Harbor Tours, Inc. (Tel 978-283-1979) operates the m/v Lady Jillian every day in summer as a shuttle boat in Gloucester harbor, connecting several points in the city center with Rocky Neck, Cripple Cove, Cruiseport and Head of the Harbor. Your ticket is good all day ("Hop on, hop off") and provides good views—and photos—of Gloucester as her natives see her: from the sea. More...
CATA, the Cape Ann Transportation Authority (Tel 978-283-7916), runs local buses among the towns and villages of Cape Ann. Here's a route map. The buses can get you to most attractions on Cape Ann, including some of Gloucester's beaches. More...
Take your choice of hotels in the center of Gloucester, or within walking distance of the town's great beaches. Hotels in Gloucester are in three particular areas:
Use this handy Hotel Map with Prices to find the lodgings you want in Gloucester.
Center of Gloucester
Gloucester's best is the new (June 2016) 4-star, 94-room Beauport Hotel Gloucester, right in the town center overlooking Pavilion Beach. Designed to echo the glories of 19th-century New England resort hotels, the Beauport is Cape Ann's poshest place to stay, with all facilities including an outdoor swimming pool, hot tub, fitness center, restaurant, spacious bar with indoor and outdoor harbor-view seating, and terraces with panoramic views. More...
Good Harbor Beach
Gloucester's greatest concentration of hotels, motels and B&Bs is near Good Harbor Beach, 2 miles (3 km) east of the town center. Many of these hotels are within a 10- to 15-minute walk of Good Harbor Beach.
Several hotels, motels and inns are perfectly sited for ocean views on Atlantic Avenue, 3 miles (5 km) east of the center of Gloucester.
What to See & Do
Summer crowds come to Cape Ann on Boston's North Shore for its fine beaches (map), and Gloucester has the best of them.
Tip: Check on the tides before going to the beach! Some beaches are considerably smaller—and therefore more crowded— at high tide.
Your day-at-the-beach experience can be more pleasant at low tide than high tide, so plan accordingly.
If you arrive at the beach an hour before high tide, you may have several hours of cramped space. If you arrive two hours before low tide, you'll have four hours of wide space. More...
Beaches in Town
Stage Fort Park
There are also two small beaches in Stage Fort Park, south of the center of Gloucester: Half Moon Beach, the larger and most obvious, and Cressy's Beach, smaller, less known, rockier, but quieter (map). You pay to park your car in the park's lots, but after that the spacious park, its beaches and facilities are all yours without charge.
Good Harbor Beach
Guarded by islands that protect it somewhat from the open sea, Good Harbor Beach, 2 miles (3 km) east of the Gloucester MBTA Commuter Rail train station, is the most popular beach near the center of Gloucester. It's well named, a broad band of sand backed by salt marsh, with dramatic rock outcrops at either end. It will be crowded if the day is really hot, but it's a big beach and at low tide there's plenty of room. It's within walking distance of some neighborhoods of East Gloucester, a fact that the neighborhood's inns, B&Bs and small motels announce with pride to their guests.
The parking lot, reached via MA Route 127A, fills early on hot summer days. Don't even try to find a parking place on nearby streets. Fierce "No Parking!" signs warn you that your car will be ticketed at best, towed at worst. The alternative to reach the beach is the CATA public bus.
The northeastern continuation of Gloucester's Good Harbor Beach is narrower, backed by a concrete seawall, but still an inviting crescent of salt water-washed sand. This is where to go if Good Harbor is too crowded, or if its parking lot is full.
Long Beach, which starts where Good Harbor ends (at its northeast end), has its own private parking lots charging about $25 per day, per car. Follow MA Route 127A.
As at Good Harbor, you should not expect to find a parking place on the street or otherwise near the beach. Every street and other available place bears scary signs about fines and towing.
You can get to Long Beach via CATA Red Line public buses.
Wingaersheek Beach, 5 miles (8 km) northwest of the center of Gloucester, is a favorite with families because of its warm water, gentle seaward slope, and varied terrain. It's a good first choice for a day-at-the-beach out of Boston.
Check the tides before planning your arrival at the beach. Wingaersheek and adjoining Coffin's Beach usually have lots of space for everyone, even on a fine Fourth of July holiday, but there's more than twice as much space when the tide is low. More...
Families love Wingaersheek because most of it is safe for children and the shallow water is usually warm. The tide pools near the prominent rocks by the Annisquam River are populated by mussels, crabs, snails, clams and other small sea creatures kids like to see.
Boaters love Wingaersheek because they can approach it via the Annisquam River and moor just out of the channel's deeper water.
To the north of Wingaersheek Beach lie the chilly waters of Ipswich Bay, but you must walk quite a distance (depending on the tide, up to 15 minutes) through warm water to reach the choppy over-your-head cold water of the bay.
To the east lies the Annisquam River, a salt-water channel that connects Ipswich Bay with Gloucester Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean and making Cape Ann technically an island.
At low tide, the l-o-n-g sandbar that forms the western boundary of the Annisquam River channel is revealed, and you can walk for nearly a quarter mile (400 meters) out into the bay toward the Annisquam lighthouse. The sandbar is a natural causeway far out into the bay...until the tide comes in again and it disappears, only to re-appear in another 12 hours.
Salt water pools, deep or shallow depending on the tide, are usually warm as baths on a hot summer afternoon, and provide perfect placid places for all but the littlest kids to splash and play.
At the tip of the sandbar, near Annisquam Light.
There is an admission fee of $20 per car on weekdays, $25 on weekends. The large parking lots have space for hundreds of cars, and the wide expanses of beach provide beach-blanket room for hundreds of families. The beach always has room for all, but the parking lot may fill up by mid-morning on any summer weekend day.
A few of the private houses along the narrow road into the beach from MA Route 128 rent parking space, but when the main lot and these few private spaces are filled, you're out of luck. The nearest alternative parking is several miles away, and walking along the narrow, winding access road is dangerous.
Wingaersheek Beach has sufficient, if minimal, facilities—toilets, showers and a snack stand—but there is no shade on the beach, so be sure to bring your own, or at least lots of sunblock cream.
How to Get to Wingaersheek
Warning: GPS systems, particularly MapQuest, may send you to completely the wrong place if you input "Wingaersheek Beach."
Double-check your GPS! Driving from Boston, take MA Route 128 to Exit 13—before you cross the high bridge over the Annisquam River—then follow Concord Street to Atlantic Street and the beach. From the center of Gloucester, follow MA Route 128 south to Exit 13, turn right at the end of the exit ramp, then follow Concord Street to Atlantic Avenue. Here's a map. This is the only road to the beach!
If you miss Exit 13, cross the high bridge over the Annisquam River and come to a rotary (traffic circle, roundabout), you've gone too far. Go all the way around the rotary and return on MA Route 128 south to Exit 13.
Although Gloucester has MBTA Commuter Rail train service from Boston, the nearest station, West Gloucester, is 4 miles (6.4 km) south of the beach, and there are no services whatsoever at the station, and no public transportation to the beach.
Taxi, Uber, Lyft: If you arrange in advance for a taxi or Uber/Lyft to meet you at the train station (either Gloucester or West Gloucester), the driver can drop you outside the beach parking lot entrance and you won't have to pay the per-car beach admission fee.
Coffin Beach, just northwest of Wingaersheek, is a broad stretch of sand nearly two miles (3 km) long facing northeast to Ipswich Bay. Reached by Wingaersheek Road, you can combine a visit to Coffins with one to Wingaersheek.
The Cape Ann Museum, at 27 Pleasant Street (map), is the result of a century and a half of collecting, organizing and exhibiting Cape Ann's history and art—and there is a lot of both. Founded only three years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Gloucester has a long and interesting story to tell: a lot about the sea, and a lot about art.
Originally housed in the historic Captain Elias Davis House, it has expanded into a fine modern annex. I can't decide which exhibits are more alluring, the historical or the artistic. Many American artists who achieved renown came to Cape Ann for its light and scenery, especially Fitz Henry Lane and his conemporaries.
The museum also owns Cape Ann Museum Green, a four-acre campus off Grant Circle (MA Route 128) which holds two historic houses, a historic barn, and other facilities and exhibits. More...
Cape Ann Artisans, an association of independent painters, photographers, sculptors, potters and jewelry makers working in Rockport and Gloucester, on Cape Ann north of Boston, open their studios and galleries to the public for free twice a year.
Called the Cape Ann Artisans Tour, the events give visitors the chance to meet professional artists and watch them at work on their artistic creations.
Think of how everyone enjoys seeing a painter out of doors, capturing the landscape in paint on canvas. If you see a painter at work in a park, you've got to go up and look at the painting, right? Now think of seeing more than dozen artists at work in their own studios, with their tools, materials and subjects, as works of art are born before your eyes.
The autumn tour, in October, happens at the height of New England foliage season, when the colors of the leaves are a work of art in themselves.
Studio visits usually take place between 10 am and 5 pm, and are free to the public.
"Whether we were born and raised in the area, left and returned from other places, or found Cape Ann later in life, we draw our aesthetics and our inspiration directly from the color, light, and vistas of our environment.
"The quarries, the woods, the rocky coastline, and the evanescent light call to each of us and inevitably emerge in our work.
"As one of our members recalls, when he first came to Cape Ann, 'The pull of the tide over the pebbles of Cape Hedge Beach sounded otherworldly.'
"We are truly fortunate to have the extraordinary sensory offerings of Cape Ann in our daily lives and work."
East Gloucester, and especially the peninsula named Rocky Neck, due south of the town center, is famous as an artists' colony. Come to see the artists at work and to visit their galleries.
Also here is the Gloucester Stage Company, a renowned theater company staging works that often go on to worldwide production.
John Hays Hammond, Jr., the electrical engineer who invented radio remote control, radar and sonar, built himself a fantasy medieval castle home at 80 Hesperus Avenue in Gloucester.
Hammond Castle, now a quirky, fascinating museum, was built in four sections, each made to epitomize a distinct period of European architecture:
— The Great Hall is Romanesque
— The interior courtyard is fitted out as a medieval town square, with a pool and its own weather system—yes, it can create any weather the owner might desire
— The living quarters are Gothic and Renaissance French.
The caretaker and guide explains John Hays Hammond's passion for collecting, and his macabre sense of humor.
You come away from the tour marveling at the house's lovely setting, amused by its half-treasure-chest, half-gimcrack planning and construction, and puzzled by Hammond's genius, romanticism, and sheer weirdness.
Explore the Tower Galleries, with various exhibits and artifacts, and you can pick up a flyer listing the museum's many concerts, lectures, and special programs.
There are sometimes recitals on the Great Hall's fabulous 8,200-pipe organ. Other concerts have included Scott Joplin rags, chamber music, and guitar music.
There are special theme evenings as well. Hallowe'en is among the most popular, as you might imagine.
The museum is in the northeastern portion of Magnolia MA, just southwest of Gloucester MA. (map)
Coming from Boston, go north on I-93 and/or I-95 to MA Route 128 North. At MA 128 Exit 14 (Gloucester), turn right on MA Route 133, go three miles, go right on MA Route 127, go 1.5 miles and look for a sign on the left for Hammond Castle. Turn left at the sign onto Hesperus Avenue and go 3/4 mile to the musum on the left.
Whale Watch Cruises
Gloucester has changed from catching fish to watching fish and marine mammals such as dolphins and whales. Captain Fred Douglass and his sons pioneered whale-watch cruises out of Gloucester with their Daunty Fleet of boats, and now they operate Cape Ann Whale Watch (tel 978-283-5110), with daily departures from Rose's Wharf, at 415 Main Street, Gloucester, across from the Old Colony gas station.
A research naturalist accompanies every cruise. Whale sightings are guaranteed (Captain Douglass has had a 99% record since 1979). If you don't see a whale, you'll receive a free pass for a future cruise.
Reservations are requested, and tickets can be purchased from the ticket office on Rose's Wharf daily from 7 am to 6 pm.
Seven Seas Whale Watch, Seven Seas Wharf (tel 978-283-1776), operates daily cruises at similar prices. Continental breakfast is available on board ship.
In high summer, there are also sunset cruises with entertainment.