Exploring Massachusetts’ Harbors

As summer melts away into fall, it’s prime time for boating trips up and down our Massachusetts coastline. Given a nice weekend weather forecast, this is the perfect time to explore some nearby ports of call, enjoy some dockside dining, shop along pretty streets and maybe spend an hour or two soaking up the rays at a new beach.

From the South Shore to the North, Massachusetts is blessed with numerous protected bays and harbors, and some quintessential New England villages and towns to explore.  Here’s a short list of some of our favorites.

Marblehead

The town where “dawns breaks over” is certainly a boating center on the North Shore: there are more than 1,200 recreational boats registered here, two-thirds of them sailing vessels. 

There is no dearth of slips or moorings in this town, which is home to some of America’s oldest and most prestigious yacht clubs: the Marblehead Yacht Club, the Eastern Yacht Club, the Boston Yacht Club, the Pleon Yacht Club, the Dolphin Yacht Club and the Corinthian Yacht Club. Call ahead and you should be all set for a tie-up. The harbormaster’s office is near Crocker Park at Tucker’s Wharf, and you can tie up for 30 minutes at the town dock.

You’ll feel like a veteran of the America’s Cup just by wandering around the crooked streets of Marblehead’s waterfront district. Good food can be found at places like The Landing, 5 Corners Kitchen, Maddie’s and The Barnacle.

Salem

We all think of Salem as the place where they burned the witches, but this town has a lot more history than just that episode. Today, Salem is a bustling North Shore town with an active waterfront.

Visiting boaters will pass by Winter Island on the city’s north, home to the Fort Pickering Light and the town harbormaster (978-741-0098), who can direct you to the slips and moorings available in town. Just past the Safe Harbor Hawthorne Cove Marina, you’ll see the gray clapboards of the House of the Seven Gables, from the Hawthorne novel. Historic Derby Street also contains the Custom House, the Hawkes House and other 18th and 19th century buildings.

Pickering Wharf, behind Derby and Central wharves, contains shops, condos and restaurants, and is another place where boaters can tie up for a day.

From the base of Central Wharf off Derby St., the National Park Service offers both walking and trolley tours of the town, and trolley riders can get on and off where they wish.

Finz Seafood and the Sea Level Oyster Bar offer views of the harbor, and the Mercy Tavern is noted for its great burgers. Turner’s Seafood, Opus and the Howling Wolf Taqueria are also recommended eateries.                     

Boston

Every boater in Massachusetts ought to spend at least one day exploring “the Haw-bah.”  Yes, it can be crowded, busy, expensive and even maddening, but it’s also fascinating and the inner harbor is full of great places to explore by boat.

Finding a place to tie up for a few hours can be a challenge, but try the Yacht Haven Inn and Marina (617-367-5050) on Commercial Wharf, the Boston Waterboat Marina on Long Wharf (617-523-1027) or the Marina at Rowe’s Wharf (617-748-5013).  Each one will put you close to one part of another of downtown Boston and its many restaurants and cafes. 

There are 34 islands sprinkled around the harbor within sight of the city. Many of them are part of a National Recreation Area. You won’t want to miss a visit to Fort Warren on Georges Island, Boston Light on Little Brewster, or the marine and learning center on Spectacle.

Scituate

This old fishing village has been an active commercial port since its founding in 1636. Today’s mariners can easily pick up the red-white “SA” gong a half mile east of the harbor entrance and follow the well-marked channel through the breakwater and past the iconic old Scituate lighthouse. 

There are several places a visiting boater can tie up for an afternoon or overnight visit. The Cole Parkway Marina ((781) 545-2130, VHF Channel 9) , the Scituate Marine Park Marina ((781) 545-2130, VHF Channel 9),  Scituate Harbor Marina ((781) 545-2165) and the Mill Wharf Marina ((781) 545-3333)  all welcome boaters.

Once ashore, Front Street is the main attraction: a lovely street full of boutiques, nautical gift shops, art galleries, ice cream and coffee shops, breakfast spots, wine and gourmet shops, a movie theatre, a bowling alley, a hardware store, a bank, and the Village Market. For good eats, the locals recommend pubs like TK O’Malleys, the Satuit Tavern or Barker Tavern, or fine dining at Restaurant ORO, Galley or Riva

Plymouth

If you went to school anywhere in Southern New England, you probably did a field trip to Plymouth: saw the Rock (not very impressive), toured the Mayflower II (better) and maybe spent some time visiting Plimouth Plantation outside of town (very interesting and educational).

Today, if you motor into Plymouth Harbor, past the three-mile long stretch of Plymouth Beach, a wonderful birding site as well as a great swimming beach…you’ll find a busy modern town with lots to do and see.

You can tie up at the Safe Harbor Marina (508-746-4500, Ch. 9) or the Plymouth Town Wharf (508) 830-4182, Ch. 16), or contact the Plymouth Yacht Club (508-746-7207), which has some reciprocal slips on offer. 

Water Street follows the waterfront in Plymouth, and is full of quaint shops and sights. For dining, you’ll find the East Bay Grill, Waterfront Bar and Grill, Sam Diego’s, Surfside Smokehouse and the Water Street Cafe. Spending the night? Try the Hotel 1620.

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