Looking for the best things to do in Essex Massachusetts? Here are our favorite local activities you won’t want to miss.
Hey there, fellow explorers! Today, we’re taking a trip to the charming town of Essex, Massachusetts.
Nestled in the heart of New England, this place has more to offer than just its picturesque landscapes and old-world charm. Whether you’re a history buff, a nature enthusiast, or simply seeking some laid-back vibes, Essex has something special in store for you.
Essex, Massachusetts, is definitely on the smaller side, but that’s part of its charm! It’s a quaint and picturesque town nestled in the heart of New England. You won’t find towering skyscrapers or bustling city streets here, but what you will discover is a cozy and welcoming community that’ll make you feel right at home.
Where Is Essex Massachusetts?
Essex, Massachusetts, is located on the eastern coast of the United States, specifically in the New England region. It is part of Essex County, which is situated in the northeastern part of the state of Massachusetts.
The town of Essex is nestled along the Essex River and is bordered by the neighboring towns of Ipswich to the north, Hamilton to the west, and Manchester-by-the-Sea to the south.
The coastal town is approximately 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Boston, making it easily accessible for both local and out-of-state visitors. With its picturesque landscapes, maritime history, and charming atmosphere, Essex has become a beloved destination for those seeking a quintessential New England experience.
With a population of only about 4,000 people, Essex is super small, but certainly has its own charm!
Here are the best things to do in Essex Massachusetts that you won’t want to miss.
When in Essex, one simply cannot miss the chance to explore its beautiful coastline and nearby waterways.
Head down to the Essex River Basin, where you can rent a kayak or join a guided tour. Paddle along the serene river, and as you glide through the salt marshes, keep an eye out for majestic herons and playful seals.
If you’re more of a maritime history buff, hop aboard the Essex River Cruises and take a narrated tour on an authentic riverboat. Learn about the town’s shipbuilding legacy and the tales of seafaring adventurers who once called this place home.
Essex boasts a thriving antique scene that’ll delight any vintage lover.
Stroll along Main Street, where you’ll find numerous antique shops housed in charming colonial buildings. Spend hours sifting through a treasure trove of vintage furniture, classic vinyl records, quirky collectibles, and unique jewelry pieces.
Don’t forget to strike up a conversation with the friendly shop owners, who are always happy to share fascinating stories about their prized finds.
For a more immersive experience, plan your visit around the Essex Antiques Trail, a series of events where you can explore antique shows, auctions, and flea markets, all packed with hidden gems waiting to be uncovered.
Antiquing is one of the absolute best things to do in Essex MA and is what the town is known for!
Essex is renowned for its succulent seafood, particularly its famous clams and lobsters. Head to one of the local seafood shacks, where you can savor mouthwatering clam chowder, buttery lobster rolls, and crispy fish and chips.
For an authentic experience, visit during the annual Essex Clamfest, where you can indulge in all things clam-related, from clam shucking contests to clam-inspired arts and crafts.
And hey, why not take home some fresh catch to cook up your own seafood feast at your accommodation? The local fish markets offer a delightful array of ocean delights that will leave you craving for more.
Ready to delve deeper into Essex’s seafaring heritage? The Essex Shipbuilding Museum is a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts.
Step back in time as you wander through the exhibits showcasing the town’s shipbuilding legacy. Learn about the craftsmanship and skill that went into constructing majestic schooners, and gain insight into the lives of shipbuilders and their families.
Don’t miss the chance to climb aboard the working replica of a historic ship and experience a slice of maritime history firsthand.
The museum also hosts workshops and educational programs, making it a fantastic spot for families and curious minds alike.
9. Unwind at Nearby Wineries:
Essex isn’t just about the sea; it’s also home to some fantastic wineries! Take a short drive to one of the local vineyards, where you can enjoy a relaxing afternoon surrounded by lush vineyards and picturesque views. Sample a variety of locally produced wines, ranging from crisp whites to full-bodied reds, and discover the unique flavors of the region.
Russell Orchards Winery in Ipswich offers delicious fruit wines made from their own farm-grown fruits, and Jewell Towne Vineyards in South Hampton (NH) is just a short drive away and provides a cozy setting to sample locally crafted wines.
8. Attend a Live Music Event at the Chebacco Lake Amphitheater:
If you’re a music lover, make sure to check out the Chebacco Lake Amphitheater. This outdoor venue hosts an array of live music performances, from local bands to renowned artists.
Imagine sitting under the stars, surrounded by the serene beauty of the lake, as the melodies of various genres fill the air. It’s the perfect setting to unwind, dance, and connect with fellow music enthusiasts.
Don’t forget to pack your lawn chair or blanket for the ultimate relaxing experience.
Hop on a bike and explore the stunning landscapes of Essex and its surroundings. The area offers a variety of scenic bike trails suitable for all levels of cyclists.
From leisurely rides along country roads lined with picturesque farms to more challenging trails through nature reserves, you’ll find the perfect route to soak in the natural beauty of the region.
Don’t worry if you didn’t bring your own bike; there are local rental options available to ensure everyone can enjoy a two-wheeled adventure.
Experience a true taste of Essex’s maritime culture at the Essex ClamBake Festival, an annual event not to be missed!
This quintessential New England celebration is all about clams, lobsters, and good old-fashioned fun. Feast on a mouthwatering spread of fresh seafood, from succulent steamed clams to buttery lobster tails.
Enjoy live music, craft vendors, and even traditional clam-digging contests. It’s a lively and delicious way to immerse yourself in the local culture and create unforgettable memories with friends and family.
5. Explore the Charming Nearby Towns:
When you’re in Essex, take advantage of its ideal location and venture into the neighboring towns for a diverse and enriching experience. Essex is super small, so it doesn’t hurt to see some of the local towns just a short drive away!
Gloucester: Just a short drive away, Gloucester is a historic fishing town that boasts stunning coastal vistas and a lively maritime culture. Explore its picturesque harbor, watch fishermen bring in their daily catch, and visit the iconic Fisherman’s Memorial statue. Art lovers will appreciate the local galleries and studios, while outdoor enthusiasts can hike along scenic trails in Dogtown Common or relax on the sandy beaches.
Rockport: Known for its artistic community and postcard-worthy scenery, Rockport is a gem on the Massachusetts coast. Stroll through its charming streets lined with art galleries, boutiques, and seafood restaurants. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit Motif No. 1, often referred to as the “most often-painted building in America.” The rocky beaches and coastal paths provide a perfect backdrop for a leisurely day of exploration, but there are plenty of active things to do in Rockport, too!
Manchester-by-the-Sea: Experience New England elegance at its finest in Manchester-by-the-Sea. This upscale town is renowned for its stunning waterfront properties and historic architecture. Enjoy a walk along Singing Beach, known for its unique sand that “sings” under your feet. If you’re a history enthusiast, visit the Masconomo Park and its iconic Trask House, which houses the Manchester Historical Museum.
Salem: Delve into the fascinating history and mystique of Salem, famous for its witch trials in the late 1600s. Explore the Salem Witch Museum and other historic sites that shed light on this haunting past. Beyond its witchcraft history, Salem offers an array of things to do including cultural attractions, boutique shops, and delicious dining experiences. Don’t forget to stop by the scenic Salem waterfront for a picturesque view of the harbor.
Ipswich: Travel back in time in Ipswich, a town brimming with colonial charm and rich heritage. Visit the Ipswich Museum and discover artifacts from the town’s long history. Nature enthusiasts will appreciate exploring the serene Crane Beach and the lush trails of the Crane Estate. And, of course, you can’t leave Ipswich without indulging in its mouthwatering clam chowder and other delectable seafood dishes at local Ipswich restaurants.
For a peaceful retreat in nature, head to Great Marsh Park.
This hidden gem offers breathtaking views of the Great Marsh, one of the largest salt marsh ecosystems in New England. Find a cozy spot on the grassy knolls, set up a picnic blanket, and enjoy a relaxing afternoon surrounded by the sights and sounds of wildlife.
Birdwatchers will be in their element, as the marsh attracts a diverse array of avian species. Keep an eye out for graceful herons, majestic egrets, and maybe even a glimpse of a red-tailed hawk soaring above. It’s a tranquil escape that will rejuvenate your spirit.
Join the locals in celebrating the beauty of the Essex River at the annual Essex Riverfest & Kayak Regatta.
This lively event brings the community together with a host of activities and attractions. Watch as colorful kayaks race along the river in a friendly competition or participate in the race yourself for some paddling fun.
Enjoy live music, local vendors, and educational exhibits that highlight the importance of preserving the area’s natural resources. It’s a wonderful opportunity to connect with the community and show your support for the conservation efforts that keep Essex’s natural wonders thriving.
For a dose of natural beauty and tranquility, head to Castle Hill, part of the Crane Estate in Ipswich Massachusetts (just one town over). This stunning property offers breathtaking views of the ocean and rolling landscapes, making it the perfect spot for a leisurely stroll or a peaceful picnic.
Take a guided tour of the historic mansion, and marvel at the grand architecture and lavish interiors. Castle Hill’s extensive grounds also feature several walking trails, allowing you to explore hidden gardens, serene meadows, and even a dune-backed beach.
Whether you’re a nature lover, history enthusiast, or photography enthusiast, Castle Hill promises an unforgettable experience.
Calling all beach lovers! Crane Beach is a gem you can’t miss. With its pristine sandy shores and crystal-clear waters, it’s the perfect spot to bask in the sun and unwind.
As part of the Crane Estate in Ipswich Massachusetts, the beach is surrounded by breathtaking dunes and salt marshes, offering a diverse ecosystem to explore. Take a dip in the refreshing Atlantic Ocean or enjoy a leisurely stroll along the shoreline.
Crane Beach is also a hotspot for birdwatchers, as it’s a nesting site for the endangered piping plovers. So, don’t forget your binoculars! Pack a picnic, grab your beach gear, and spend a glorious day under the sun at this New England paradise.
FAQs About The Best Things To Do In Essex MA:
What are the must-try seafood dishes in Essex, MA?
Essex is renowned for its seafood delicacies. Don’t miss the chance to try the famous clam chowder, buttery lobster rolls, and crispy fish and chips. You can also indulge in freshly shucked clams, steamed mussels, and succulent oysters for a true taste of the coastal New England cuisine.
What is the best time to visit Essex, MA?
The best time to visit Essex is during the warmer months, from late spring to early fall. This period offers pleasant weather, perfect for exploring the town’s outdoor attractions and enjoying the coastal activities. However, keep in mind that summer can be the busiest tourist season, so if you prefer a quieter experience, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of spring and fall.
Can I go whale watching in Essex?
While Essex itself doesn’t offer whale watching tours, you can find whale watching excursions in nearby coastal towns such as Gloucester and Newburyport. These tours typically take you out to sea, where you can spot majestic whales breaching and frolicking in their natural habitat.
Are there any family-friendly activities in Essex?
Absolutely! Essex caters to families with a range of family-friendly activities. The Essex River Cruises and the Essex River Basin offer enjoyable experiences for all ages. You can also visit the Essex Ice Cream Parlor, participate in the Essex ClamBake Festival, and explore the Great Marsh Park for a fun-filled day with the whole family.
Can I rent bicycles in Essex for exploring the town?
Yes, there are bicycle rental shops in Essex that offer a variety of bikes for rent. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely ride or an adventurous trail exploration, renting a bike is a fantastic way to see the town and its beautiful surroundings.
Is there public transportation available to get to Essex, MA?
While Essex is a small town with limited public transportation, you can reach it by car or taxi from nearby cities and towns. If you prefer public transportation, you can take a train or bus to a nearby city like Boston or Salem and then use a taxi or ride-sharing service to reach Essex.
Are there any events or festivals held in Essex throughout the year?
Essex hosts several events and festivals throughout the year. The Essex ClamBake Festival, Essex Riverfest & Kayak Regatta, and the Essex Antiques Trail are some of the popular annual events. Additionally, keep an eye on the local events calendar for art festivals, live music performances, and community gatherings.
Where To Stay In Essex MA:
Essex is a very small town, so there aren’t a ton of hotels, but here are some of our favorites:
Cedar Hill Farm Bed & Breakfast: Experience the tranquility of the countryside at Cedar Hill Farm Bed & Breakfast. Tucked away amidst lush greenery and scenic landscapes, this charming B&B offers a peaceful retreat for nature lovers. The cozy rooms are tastefully decorated and equipped with modern amenities, ensuring a comfortable stay.
Wake up to the sounds of birds chirping and enjoy a scrumptious homemade breakfast featuring farm-fresh ingredients. Take a leisurely stroll around the property’s gardens and soak in the serene ambiance. The warm hospitality of the hosts will make you feel right at home, making Cedar Hill Farm B&B a delightful choice for your Essex getaway.
Shea’s Riverside Inn & Motel: Get breathtaking views of the Essex River at Shea’s Riverside Inn & Motel. This family-owned establishment offers comfortable rooms and waterfront suites, where you can unwind while taking in the tranquil river scenes. Enjoy the convenience of nearby dining options and easy access to water activities.
Best Restaurants In Essex Massachusetts:
One of the best things to do in Essex MA is eat, so it’s no wonder that there’s some great restaurants, especially if you’re a seafood lover!
Woodman’s of Essex: No visit to Essex is complete without indulging in the mouthwatering seafood at Woodman’s. This iconic restaurant, established in 1914, is famous for inventing the fried clam. Treat yourself to their delectable clam chowder, buttery lobster rolls, and perfectly crispy fried clams. The family-friendly atmosphere and waterfront dining make it a perfect spot to enjoy a classic New England seafood feast.
CK Pearl: Located in a beautifully restored 19th-century building, CK Pearl offers a delightful fusion of classic and contemporary dishes. The menu showcases seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, making each meal a flavorful and fresh experience. Indulge in their creative cocktails and dishes like wood-fired pizzas, grilled steaks, and enticing seafood offerings.
Shea’s Riverside Restaurant & Bar: Overlooking the serene Essex River, Shea’s Riverside Restaurant & Bar provides a picturesque setting for a memorable dining experience. Whether you’re in the mood for seafood, steak, or hearty pub fare, Shea’s menu has something for everyone. Savor your meal on the outdoor deck while watching boats sail by and enjoying the peaceful ambiance.
The Farm Bar & Grille: Combining delicious food with a cozy, rustic atmosphere, The Farm Bar & Grille is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Their farm-to-table approach ensures that the dishes are crafted with the freshest local ingredients. From juicy burgers and savory seafood to delectable vegetarian options, there’s something for every palate.
Village Restaurant & Pub: A true local gem, the Village Restaurant & Pub in Essex MA serves up comfort food with a friendly and welcoming ambiance. The diverse menu features classic American dishes, including hearty breakfast options, juicy burgers, and delightful seafood plates. Enjoy the down-to-earth atmosphere and the warm hospitality that will leave you feeling like a part of the Essex community.
Be sure to make reservations, especially during peak seasons, to secure a spot at these popular dining destinations.
Hopefully this post gave you plenty ideas for the best things to do in Essex Massachusetts! Happy traveling!