Rockport, Massachusetts Guide
North of Gloucester is the small seacoast town of Rockport, famed as an artists' colony and, well, just as a very picturesque place.
Front Beach in the center of Rockport MA.
Front Beach in the center of Rockport MA.
It's been a long time since Rockport was a village of hearty, independent fishermen and their wives, living by their daily struggle with the sea, and today you're likely to see 100 times as many day-trippers from Boston, 41 miles southwest (map) as you are to see colorful village types.
What to See & Do
Rockport = Art
The Rockport Art Association is active—the town is dotted with boutiques and galleries holding paintings and crafts both pleasing and awkward, and amateur daubers test their skill at capturing daily life all over town.
Rockport = Music
The Rockport Music is renowned for the quality of its performers and performances, and its superb Shalin Liu Performance Center is the perfect venue for them. The back of the stage is actually a giant picture window overlooking Rockport Harbor. providing a memorable visual as well as musical experience.
Pianist onstage at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport...
Free band concerts take place at the bandstand by the beach on most Sunday evenings in summer, and the Fourth of July parade and the evening huge bonfire (topped by an outhouse) is a significantly fun event, especially for kids.
First thing every visitor does upon arriving in Rockport, Massachusetts, is to take a stroll down Bearskin Neck, the narrow peninsula jutting into the water off Dock Square, the town's main square (map).
The rustic, historical fishers' cottages on Bearskin Neck have been converted to shops, boutiques, art galleries and eateries, and a stroll along the Neck to its tip for a view of the harbor is an essential Rockport activity
Motif No. 1
Other strolls in town are also rewarding, and local brochures will urge you to take a photograph of the red fisherman's shack called Motif No. 1, apparently named for its popularity among the first picture painters who moved to Rockport.
Actually it should now be named Motif No. 2, as the original shack was swept away in the great storm of 1978 and a new one was built from scratch. Motif No. 1 is now famous because it's famous.
Rather, spend your time admiring buildings made from the local granite. It was cut at the town's Swan Quarry (now flooded), and shipped out, giving Rockport its name.
Curbstones, markers, pavements, foundations, piers, even whole buildings were made of the durable stone during the town's quarrying heyday.
For swimming, walk along Beach Street north to Front Beach and Back Beach, or wander (in your car or on your bike) about two miles north along the coast on MA Route 127 to Pigeon Cove, about a half-hour walk.
You can go farther than Pigeon Cove by car or bike. In fact, you can make a loop of Cape Ann on MA Route 127 via Pigeon Cove, Folly Cove, Plum Cove, Annisquam, and Lobster Cove, ending in Gloucester (map).
"Haul-About Point," the granite tip of Cape Ann, became Halibut Point over the years. It's among the most dramatic scenic places north of Boston. Come to walk, wade, fish or sunbathe.
Head north out of Rockport on MA Route 127, toward the Cape Ann villages of Lanesville and Annisquam, and after a few miles you'll see a sign pointing off to the right (north) to Halibut Point State Park (map), at 4 Gott Avenue, Rockport MA.
Parking & Admission
Drive to the parking lot, pay the admission charge ($5 per Massachusetts car, $20 for others), park your car, then follow the footpath through the forest for 10 minutes and you'll come to an old granite quarry, now flooded with water.
The park interpretive center is in the building that dominates the quarry. Exhibits demonstrate the flora and fauna of the reservation, and how granite quarrying contributed to the culture and economy of the region.
A weird World War II concrete observation tower has been grafted onto the building, a typical clapboard Cape Ann house. From the tower during the war, sharp eyes kept a lookout against enemy submarines.
Continue along the path to reach the Observation Point atop a promontory of granite quarry tailings. Far beneath the promontory, the Atlantic's waves roll in and crash on the smoothed granite bedrock below.
Halibut Point: all granite. Note the three tiny humans in white...
You can make your way down to the shore. Some people go swimming here, although it's not recommended: The water is always chilly, the rocks difficult and slippery, the waves sometimes perilous.
Rather, stay back from the water, dabble your feet in protected pools, do some rock-hopping, or sit and sun, read or chat in this beautiful, dramatic place.
You reach Cape Ann by following I-95 or I-93 to MA Route 128 north.
MA Route 127
MA Route 127 takes you to Rockport through the middle of Cape Ann, then loops around the northern and western shores to return to Gloucester.
MA Route 127A
MA Route 127A, on the other hand, takes you up the eastern shore of Cape Ann before reaching Rockport.
If you get lost, don't worry. In a short while the loop will bring you back to one or the other town.
If you come by car, parking places are sure to be scarce any time in summer, so find a nice back street, or use the town-supported parking lot on the outskirts rather than getting snarled in the press of traffic downtown. The town lots charge several dollars per day for parking, but they offer a free shuttle bus from the lot to downtown Rockport. This isn't a bad deal, considering the frustration you'll endure to find a legal spot to park downtown.
Where to Stay in Rockport
Rockport MA is a charming, but you must plan ahead because lots of other vacationers want the same thing. Not only that, many of these charming hostelries are quite small, with only a handful of rooms.
Inns on the Outskirts
Some inns, such as the fine 3-star, 36-room Emerson Inn by the Sea and the 4-star, 8-room Yankee Clipper Inn, are on the outskirts of the town, so it's good to have a car or bicycle to reach the center.
Inns in the Town Center
Other inns and bed-and-breakfast houses are right in the town, an easy walk to Bearskin Neck, the Shalin Liu Performance Center, churches, shops and the waterfront.
The 6-room Lantana House, for example, is an easy walk to everything.
Vacationers who stay at the town's few motels, like the 2-star, 8-room Bearskin Neck Motor Lodge—the only lodging with this many rooms right on Bearskin Neck—tend to return year after year.
You can also stay in nearby Gloucester and visit Rockport for the day.