Take a day trip, or make it a weekend. There's adventure to be had, and you don't have to go far to find it.
Pin it on the economy, or the cost of flying the whole family to an exotic locale. Perhaps you're feeling environmentally conscious these days and want to travel green. They're all valid reasons for sticking closer to home this summer. And more of us are doing just that, according to a recent survey from the US Travel Association, which found more Americans are planning daytrips and long weekends, rather than the traditional weeklong getaway.
Of course, when you consider the abundance of destinations that are, oh, just about an hour's drive (or less) from Boston, it's little wonder that this is fast becoming the Summer of the Staycation. Think of it as an excellent excuse to discover (or rediscover) the offerings in our own backyard without spending a ton of money or time behind the wheel. Filled with historic museums and kid-friendly beaches, funky boutiques and laid-back fish shacks, these mini-adventures mean less hassle, more fun. Which is what a vacation - of any length - is all about.
Miles from downtown Boston: 37
Drive time: 57 minutes
9 a.m. Settle in at Crane Beach (400 Argilla Road, Ipswich, 978-356-4354, parking is $15 weekdays, $22 weekends). Arrive early to get prime towel real estate and the best parking spots, then kick back on the soft, white sand dunes and watch the tykes frolic in the warm tidal pools.
11 a.m. Take off for Woodman's (121 Main St., Essex, 978-768-2559) and beat the lunch line for an early dose of fried clams. Or grab some at the less-crowded Farnharm's (88 Eastern Ave., Essex, 978-768-6643), and dig in while sitting at one of the picnic tables overlooking the salt marsh.
12:30 p.m. Return to Crane Beach and head to the Crane Estate (Argilla Road, Ipswich, 978-356-4351). The beach pass you bought earlier allows you to stroll the picturesque grounds. Then purchase another ticket to tour the Great House, a Stuart-style mansion, taking in the grand architecture and deluge of period antiques. Hours vary and kids have to be 8 or older for the tour.
3 p.m. Thus inspired, hunt for antiques at nearby dealers: Andrew Spindler (163 Main St., Essex, 978-768-6045) and Americana (48 Main St., Essex, 978-768-6006) have great finds for art, furniture, and accessory hunters. Bribe the kids to wait through it all with a trip to Silly Goose (166 Main St., Essex, 978-768-4545, www.usillygoose.com) for retro toys or something from the epic selection of games.
5 p.m. Tuck into an easygoing but hearty dinner of simple, fresh Italian at Zabaglione (10 Central St., Ipswich, 978-356-5466); its 10 tables fill up fast with diners from all over the North Shore. And don't bypass the artichoke ravioli if it's on the menu.
Sleepover option The George Fuller House (148 Main St., Essex, 978-768-7766, $115-$175, kids welcome at no extra charge) offers all the essentials of a historic B&B (country decor, fireplaces, homemade breakfasts, and private bathrooms) plus free wi-fi.
Miles from downtown Boston: 62
Drive time: 1 hour, 9 minutes
9:30 a.m. Swing by Partners Village Store and Kitchen (865 Main Road, Westport, 508-636-2572) for coffee and a scone, then pick up a bundle of homemade sandwiches, soups, and cookies for the road.
10:30 a.m. Make sandcastles on Horseneck Beach (5 John Reed Road, Westport, 508-636-8816), followed by a picnic of the above fixings.
2:30 p.m. Drive over to Westport Rivers Vineyard (417 Hixbridge Road, Westport, 508-636-3423) for a free tour at 3 p.m., followed by a wine tasting ($7) of its well-respected sparkling, white, and rosé wines (and pick up a few bottles on the way out). Owned and run by the Russell family, the property is New England's largest - and arguably prettiest - vineyard.
6 p.m. Watch the sun set over a dinner at Back Eddy (1 Bridge Road, Westport, 508-636-6500), brought to you by restaurateur Chris Schlesinger and featuring dishes like habanero meatloaf or lobster with green goddess mayo. Wash it all down with a mean sangria.
Sleepover option If you're a camper, Horseneck Beach offers sites at the eastern end of the reservation through Oct. 11. To reserve a site, call toll free 877-422-6762 or visit www.reserveamerica.com. Otherwise, less rustic quarters are offered nearby at The Paquachuck Inn (2056 Main Road, Westport Point, 508-636-4398, $125-$150), where every room has a glorious water view.
Miles from downtown Boston: 26
Drive time: 40 minutes
9 a.m. Fill up on lemon ricotta pancakes and overstuffed omelets at Caffe Graziani (133 Washington St., Salem, 978-741-4282), run by the affable Graziani family and filled with folks on a first-name basis.
10 a.m. Steer clear of the kitsch-meets-witch tourist traps (leave that to the October hoards) and, instead, soak up the town's authentic history at Maritime Historical Park (160 Derby St., Salem, 978-740-1650). It's nine acres full of tall ships, wharves, and exhibits.
Noon Even cost-conscious staycationers need retail therapy. Browse for savvy beauty finds at Rouge Cosmetics (322 Derby St., Salem, 978-740-1044) and for nautical and sterling silver pieces at Antiques Gallery (69 Wharf St., Salem, 978-741-3113).
2 p.m. Point yourself toward Peabody Essex Museum (161 Essex St., Salem, 978-745-9500). Grab a quick nosh at the in-house cafe, then visit the museum's excellent collections of maritime art and Yin Yu Tang, a Qing dynasty merchant's house. If the whole family's in tow, there's a discovery room just for tykes.
5:30 p.m. Dinnertime. With kids along, the high-energy seafood spot Finz (76 Wharf St., Salem, 978-744-0000) manages to please everyone. For a more romantic meal, The Grapevine (26 Congress St., Salem, 978-745-9335) has one of the loveliest dining patios on the North Shore.
Sleepover option Comfy and close to the harbor, Henry Derby House (47 Summer St., Salem, 978-745-1080, $75-$185, kids are welcome at no extra charge) offers simple but pretty rooms in a Greek Revival building surrounded by well-kept gardens.
Miles from downtown Boston: 63
Drive time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
9 a.m. Get your caffeine fix, and at least one of the namesake pastries, at Popovers on the Square (8 Congress St., Portsmouth, 603-431-1119), where half the town seems to convene for morning gossip.
10 a.m. Spend hours touring historic homes and watching demonstrations - from hearth cooking to pottery making - at the Strawbery Banke Museum (14 Hancock St., Portsmouth, 603-433-1100), a re-creation of everyday American life spanning the late 17th century to the 1950s. For kids, there's also an interactive discovery center and daily garden craft program.
1 p.m. Hit Jumpin' Jays Fish Cafe (150 Congress St., Portsmouth, 603-766-3474) for the catch of day - top it with the tapenade aioli and you can't go wrong.
3 p.m. Shop the town's boutiques: Atrezzi (78 Market St., Portsmouth, 603-427-1667) for nifty kitchen gadgets; Portsmouth Candle Co. (62 Congress St., Portsmouth, 603-430-0353) for blown glass; and Serendipity (42 Pleasant St., Portsmouth, 603-427-0650) for summery women's dresses.
5 p.m. Dig into dinner at Pesce Blue (103 Congress St., Portsmouth, 603-430-7766). The grilled seafood dishes are standouts, but so, too, are house-made Italian specialties like lamb sausage lasagna. Or head to the basement of Portsmouth Gaslight Co. and its cozy pizzeria-cum-pub, Downtown Pizza (64 Market St., Portsmouth, 603-430-9122). The brick oven there fires up addictive pies (the Isle of Shoals is a crispy-gooey tangle of prosciutto, roasted red pepper, artichoke, and loads of mozzarella), and the dining room manages to be kid- and adult-friendly.
Sleepover option The Inn At Strawbery Banke (314 Court St., Portsmouth, 603-436-7242, www.innatstrawberybanke.com). In-season rates, $160-$170 for a double; children 10 and older are welcome, at an extra charge of $25 a night. Breakfast is served in the 200-year-old home's serene sunroom, overlooking the gardens.