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Solo Trip to the Massachusetts North Shore: Marblehead

It's been about six years since Josh and I last visited the North Shore of Massachusetts, and for the past year or so, I've been itching to get back. When we last visited, our focus was a Halloween getaway in October to experience Salem. We had a lot of fun, but little did we know just how crowded and chaotic it would be (rookie mistake). To escape the crowds in Salem one afternoon, we decided to take an impromptu drive up the coast and ended up in Rockport. We only spent a few hours there, but I completely fell in love with it, and I think those few hours were some of the best of our entire adventure. We stayed in Marblehead that trip, but because the entire weekend was pretty last-minute, and because we were so focused on Salem, we didn't research anything to do, and ended up not seeing even a sliver of what Marblehead had to offer. Since becoming more familiar with New England, and constantly researching new places I want to experience, I came to realize that our North Shore visit years ago barely scratched the surface of what is an absolutely breathtaking part of the state. You guys know how much I love the Cape and Islands, but my goodness, the North Shore can easily rival it. There's miles and miles of rocky coastline, history that dates back to the 1600's, with houses that are still standing from that time, small-town charm at every corner and salty air along the way. I was so excited to come back and really see it this time. 

Photo by Nina Weinstein Photography.


For this trip, since Josh wasn't able to join me, I traveled solo for four days. Because these towns are along the coast, they're more known for being summer destinations, but for me, I love them for a fall, or even winter, getaway. As much as I wanted some cold, moody days, and to walk around in knit hats and lots of layers with a warm drink in my hands, I lucked out and had some amazing summer weather. The mornings were still pretty chilly, but the afternoons were in the mid-70s, and bright and sunny. So I kind of got the best of both worlds. But for me, since I love sandy coastline in the summer for swimming, I love a good rocky coastline in all other seasons. 




During my trip, I explored Marblehead, Salem Gloucester, Manchester-By-The-Sea and Rockport. The great thing about this region is that the two furthest destination from each other (Marblehead and Rockport) are only about 45-50 mins from each other, making it so easy to pack a lot in during a short amount of time. In this post, I'll be sharing my time in Marblehead. In upcoming posts, I'll talk about my experience in Salem, Rockport, Gloucester and Manchester-By-The-Sea. 

Photo by Nina Weinstein Photography.



WHERE TO STAY

I chose to stay at the Harbor Light Inn, which is right in the historic district of Marblehead. I considered staying in any of the towns I was visiting, but chose Marblehead because it offered everything I would want within steps of my front door: Beautiful old houses, plenty of streets to wander, a gorgeous downtown area with shops and restaurants, waterfront parks, a lighthouse - you name it, it had it. And almost everything was walkable from the Harbor Light Inn. Because it's a small town, I found lodging options to be pretty limited. Harbor Light was the only inn that I could find in the historic district that fit what I was looking for. And I really wanted to prioritize staying within walking distance of the shops and restaurants to limit my car use, and be able to walk as much as possible. They also had free on-site parking, which was a huge bonus since a lot of parking in these smaller, historic towns is usually street parking, which can be a challenge. Once I got there and saw the parking challenges, I was so relieved to have made this decision. 

My room at the Harbor Light Inn.


I absolutely loved my stay here and didn’t want to leave. The inn has 20 rooms, and they're all individually decorated. I chose one of the more budget-friendly options, but I still had gorgeous exposed ceiling beams, plenty of space, a king bed, a newly-remodeled bathroom and some of the softest bedding I've ever experienced. But most importantly, they were taking COVID precautions very seriously, which was the other main reason I chose to stay here. The room rate also included breakfast, and every afternoon, they would leave a card on your door that asked you to fill out your breakfast choices for the next day, and then a tray would be waiting for you in the dining area the next morning. They staggered pick-up times (you could chose which time you wanted) so there was no crowding during pick-up. They also have an in-house tavern if you wanted a night cap or a quick bite to eat, and everyone working there couldn’t have been more warm and welcoming. I felt a little silly booking what is advertised as a “romantic B&B” while traveling alone, but thankfully I never felt awkward, and coming back here every night after a jam-packed day of exploration, felt so comforting. I don't think I could stay anywhere else while visiting the North Shore now. 


WHAT TO DO

Marblehead is small, but it packs a lot in. Even with so much to offer, my favorite thing to do was just wander around and look at all the houses in the historic district. The one thing I wish I had captured better was the streets of the historic district. Many of them are very narrow and winding, and since quite a few of the houses were built centuries ago, their positions on the streets are so interesting. Many of them are kind of, jigsaw-puzzled together on a street, meaning they're most definitely not all in one perfect line. They would all be facing different directions, some would be facing each other, some would be rotated 45 degrees one way, while others would be 60 degrees the other way. But their proximity to each other made it so obvious that they were all built around each other. And the colors! You'll find houses in every color here: red, yellow, blue, black, purple, pink, teal, magenta - it made long walks around the area pretty much my favorite thing. And not just in Marblehead, but in all the towns I visited, many houses will have little plaques on the front that say the year the house dates back to, the original owner's names, and some of them will list their occupation. It's just all so fascinating, and allowed me to let my mind wander about what life was like all those years ago. I wanted to take a picture of every single house.

Photo by Nina Weinstein Photography.

Photo by Nina Weinstein Photography.

Photo by Nina Weinstein Photography.

Photo by Nina Weinstein Photography.

Photo by Nina Weinstein Photography.

Photo by Nina Weinstein Photography.

I loved this little fire house. I just stumbled upon in while walking the streets. 





State Street is so picture-perfect, and right around the corner from the Harbor Light Inn.




The lighthouse in Marblehead is really different than what you would expect because it's a metal structure, the only of its kind in all of New England. After being built in 1835, it began to fall apart, and was replaced in the 1890s with what you see today. Its home is Chandler Hovey Park, and this is an amazing spot to take in views of the harbor. I really enjoyed having some quiet moments here to listen to the waves crash on the rocks.


So bummed I couldn't fit the entire lighthouse in this picture (lesson learned for next time!).
Really great views from Chandler Hovey Park.




Castle Rock is probably one of my favorite things I did in Marblehead, right behind wandering the streets. It's very small, and it's more or less just a giant rock formation with a small stretch of rocky beach. But, you get a killer view of the sunrise from here. You can watch it from either the beach or the top of the rock (both are great), but if you plan to climb the giant rock, bring sturdy shoes with you. I had Bean Boots, and that was fine. While I was there in early November, two other groups of people were there for sunrise, and left right after. So for about an hour after sunrise, I had the whole thing to myself before another person showed up. 

Definitely come to Castle Rock for the sunrise views - it will come up right over the water. 







Does anyone recognize this cemetery? You should if you've ever seen the movie Hocus Pocus. Josh and I visited Old Burial Hill Cemetery this the last time we were here together, but since I could walk here from my hotel, I couldn't resist another visit. This cemetery was established in the 1630's, and victims of the Salem Witch Trials, as well as Revolutionary War soldiers, are buried here. I'm not usually one to visit cemeteries during my travels, but this one is especially beautiful since you can take in views of the water from the very top.




Close to Old Burial Hill is Redd's Pond, which is small, but really pretty. A quick walk around the pond, with the beautiful red house in the background, is a nice way to start or end your day.





Close to The Landing restaurant, at the end of State Street, is a small little wharf area with beautiful water views. I stopped here my first night after a quick walk around town and the sunset turned the sky pink and purple. It was gorgeous. 

This image is straight outta the camera without any editing - the colors were unreal. 

Photo by Nina Weinstein Photography.


Along Fort Street is Front Beach, which is very small, but still really pretty. It has a little walkway along the road to take in the views, which was so nice. Close to that beach is a little street called Fort Beach Lane which is home to a row of lovely little fishing shacks. I'm so happy I wandered and stumbled upon it because the site of weathered wood and buoys always makes me happy. 

If you look close, you can see Christmas lights strung on this little fishing shack.
I would LOVE to see it lit up at night during the holidays. 






Even though Marblehead was my home base, there were still some things I didn't get a chance to see. I was waking up before sunrise every day, but with sunset around 4:30, it was still a tight squeeze to get everything in. If you have time, Fort Seawall may be worth a quick stop. 


RESTAURANTS AND SHOPS

I'm sad to report that while I passed so many cute little shops while staying in Marblehead, I didn't get a chance to visit any of them. I usually had most of my free time in the very early morning right after sunrise, when everything was closed, or after sunset (again, when everything was closed). And with it being off-season, many of the shops were running on limited hours and closed some weekdays. The ones the piqued my interest the most as I walked by were Scribe Paper and Gifts, FL Woods Nautical Supply, Liberty Henry and Me (all in the historic district) and Maison De Mer (just outside the historic district). 

This little guy (or maybe lady - I'm not sure) stood at the door to greet everyone. So cute. 


But restaurants? Now, those I tried. During COVID, I have a very strict no eating indoors at restaurants policy, so I did all takeout. But I still got to sample some great places

Shubies was such a great little market that's part restaurant, liquor store, deli, gifting goods and grocery store. I got a sandwich here one day to take with me for an afternoon of exploration, and it was excellent. Their baked goods were delicious, and overall, it was just such a cute little place to wander and fill a basket with goodies to take home.

I got a margherita pizza from Fresca Pizza and Pasta one night, and it was so good. They offer online ordering and curbside pick-up to make it extra safe.

Maddie's Sail Loft in the historic district was right around the corner from the inn, so for this girl who lives near absolutely zero restaurants, it was really nice to take an evening walk, even just to pick up food and go right back to the inn. They have a menu of traditional tavern fare and seafood, and the fish sandwich I got was pretty darn good. 

I also visited The Muffin Shop because I heard they made Joe Frogger cookies. I had never heard of these before until I was researching places to eat in Marblehead. Apparently, Joe Froggers are much harder to find these days, but The Muffin Shop still makes them. They were invented right in Marblehead by the wife of a tavern owner. Back in the day, fishermen used to pack these up for their voyages because they kept well over the course of days and weeks while out at sea, and they were baked about the size of pancakes. The Muffin Shop still serves them as the same size (so, basically, enormous), which I didn't know when I ordered two. They taste very much like gingerbread, but have a bit of a kick because of the rum. If you like cookies (and who doesn't), it's worth it to at least try one. 




Of all the places I visited in the North Shore, I'd have to say that Marblehead was probably my favorite (tied with Rockport). And I loved every town I visited. But there's just something about it that completely resonated with me. It was homey and cozy, and someday, I'd love to come back here for a weekend in December. In fact, I was crossing my fingers COVID would stabilize (ha!) so Josh and I could go back this December, even just for one night. But that obviously didn't happen. Hopefully someday. 

Some photos in this post were taken by Nina Weinstein Photography. I decided to have a session with her in Marblehead as well as Rockport (stay tuned) to capture some moments in some of my favorite places. I can't recommend her enough if you're looking for a photographer in the area.


SHOP THIS POST

Rust-colored jacket: Eddie Bauer
Backpack: Amazon
Boots: Bean Boots from LL Bean. Mine are very old, but they're most similar to this style.
Everything else shown is old and no longer available. 











* I traveled to this destination during the COVID-19 pandemic and took all necessary and optional precautions. While traveling anywhere during the pandemic, I take the responsibility of not only my own health, but also the health of those around me. I planned excursions and activities that were all outdoors, avoided coming within even 12 feet of another person, relied on take-out at restaurants where I could safety eat outside far from others, or back at my room at the inn where everything had been sanitized and aired-out. Safety during this trip was incredibly important to me, and please know that it was always at the forefront of my mind. 


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