In the News: For a change of scenery minus the hassle, think GloucesterApril 09, 2022 / Art and Music, Food and Drink, Good to Know, History/Maritime, In The News, Outdoor Adventures, Things to Do & See
| Updated April 7, 2022, 12:00 pm
First in a series of occasional stories looking at closer-to-home destinations with fresh eyes.
It’s hard to get excited about a spring break staycation when you’ve done every jigsaw puzzle, baked every pastry, and binge-watched every show imaginable (including the “Saved by the Bell” reboot and the 9,000th version of “Star Trek.”). You’re picking fights with family members just for some excitement. Please. Stop.
May we suggest … a visit to Gloucester? “Gloucester is one of those places you think you know well, but it’s a very multi-layered city, with a long history as a working fishing port and as one of America’s oldest art colonies,” says Elizabeth Carey, executive director for Discover Gloucester. This seaport city is having a moment right now; it was the backdrop and primary location for the Academy Award-winning best picture, “CODA.” Local residents worked on the film, and local watering hole Pratty’s Bar and Grill (sure to be a popular stop on tourist itineraries this summer) was the location for a climactic scene in the movie.
Since some of the galleries on our hit list were still closed for the season, we meandered into several inviting-looking shops. Adding to its authentic vibe, downtown Gloucester is home to independent shops, not chains, including two bookstores and a shoe store, Mark Adrian’s (Cute Bootie Alert). One of our favorite boutiques was Floating Lotus (169 Main St.), a husband-and-wife endeavor (they have another shop in Rockport), featuring fair-trade crafts, jewelry, and clothing, including some pieces designed by owner Karin Antanaitis. And if you’re in the market for singing bowls and gongs, this is the place.
We could’ve returned to Virgilio’s for one of their famous St. Joseph sandwiches, stuffed with Italian meats, but we opted for another local institution, The Causeway Restaurant (78 Essex Ave.). Known for its heaping portions of seafood and homey dishes like chicken parm, the low-key Causeway was full of diners. Given the stormy weather, a steaming bowl of chowder was a perfect choice. No wonder this place landed a spot in our ‘best chowder’ roundup — the haddock chowder was one of the best bowls we’ve ever had. “It looks like there’s an entire fish in there,” Paul marveled.
For more art immersion, we headed back to town and Cape Ann Museum (27 Pleasant St.; adults $12.) This four-level museum, founded in 1875, houses the world’s largest collection of work by Gloucester native and renowned marine artist, Fitz Henry Lane, as well as other painters and sculptors who lived here or were inspired by Cape Ann. The museum also collects and exhibits the work of contemporary Cape Ann artists, and artifacts from local fisheries and granite quarries. This museum is just the right size; you can see it all without being overwhelmed. Our inner tourists wanted to do more, but the promise of a warm, comfy hotel room was too strong to resist.
Entering the Beauport Hotel (55 Commercial St.; off-season rates from $199) is like stepping into a tub with one of those fizzy bath bombs; you know it’s going to be buzzy and pleasant. Built on a site that once held an old Birds Eye processing plant, this luxury boutique hotel was abustle with guests, thanks to two weddings that weekend. Pint-size flower girls in velvet dresses huddled around the fireplace, and gussied-up adults clustered around the bar. The hotel has subtle nautical touches, like marine-themed art (and ‘do not disturb’ signs that read ‘no wake’) and hues of cream and blue, plus pleasing amenities like gas fireplaces and L’Occitane bath products. The best feature: shuttles to Good Harbor Beach (in season) and to their sister property, the Seaport Grille. That restaurant is one of the top-rated dinner spots in Gloucester, so we were lucky to snag seats at the bar. We ordered — need you ask — seafood, and local brews. The bar was fun, but the best room in the house is the enclosed heated deck, enhanced with a galaxy of fairy lights. We considered crashing one of the weddings, if only to dance (can’t remember the last time we did that in public!) but we crashed instead, lulled to sleep by the faint bass-y thump of the wedding band.
It’s worth rising early to see this salty city’s morning light, so gorgeously golden, it has inspired centuries of painters. After eating breakfast in the hotel’s oceanside 1606 Restaurant & Oyster Bar, we considered our day. Although some major attractions were still closed for the season during our visit, including Hammond Castle Museum (now open) and Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann House (late May), the outdoors is always open. Given the weather, we skipped a seaside walk and headed inland to Ravenswood Park. The property has 10 miles of woodland paths and trails, dotted with jumbo-size boulders. The property is popular with dog-walkers and folks who appreciate woodsy, easy-going rambles.
Back in the car, we drove along Gloucester’s Eastern Point, agog at the beautiful homes rising along the coastline, and headed back toward Rocky Neck Art Colony to end our visit with more art. The jumble of colorful cottages that make up one of America’s oldest continuously operating art colonies looked pretty sleepy, but we found an open door at the Cultural Center at Rocky Neck (6 Wonson St.). The official heart of the colony, this c.1877 carpenter-gothic style meetinghouse is a unique space for art shows, and we knew it was a winner when we saw a piece by one of our favorite painters, Rob Diebboll of Rockport. Sadly, we’d busted our art budget (and our food budget), so it was time to depart.
Our artsy Gloucester getaway was short, but we’d made the most of it: cushy hotel, great food, wonderful art, a walk in the woods, and the chance to meet a few local folks at the galleries and shops. Wait until our friends in Dubuque hear about this. www.discovergloucester.com.