Rockport, Mass.
Sibylla Dangar (L), of Australia, and her mother-in-law Jean Wilke of Reno, Nev. walk through Rockport's Bearskin Neck, a popular shopping area replete with shops selling sweatshirt and trinkets and toys. (John Blanding/Globe Staff)
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A world to wade into

From historic sights to shops, this town is oriented around the sea

The artist Ivan Kamalic , who has wandered among the streets and seascapes of Rockport with brush in hand for more than 20 years, says, "The town is a fortress." He points to a painting of Front Beach , where high stone walls separate sand and buildings above. He talks of wide tides, of gusts and gales.

In so much of coastal New England, the sea can be a distant thing, salt breezes and gulls wafting over marsh to busy streets and highways. Not so Rockport, at the edge of Cape Ann, so woven against the Atlantic that, while walking along the shop-lined stretch of Bearskin Neck, you may be closer to a sunken lobster pot than a moving car.

The town, both its cozy, storied center and its moneyed, long-viewed neighborhoods, angles in and out against the sea, and so, whether in the dog days of August or the brisk break of autumn, it is a place to come to feel the power of the ocean, or from which to set off into it.

Do

Each June, there is the Rockport Chamber Music Festival (www.rcmf.org ). And the Rhodes 19 national sailing championship was held last week at the Sandy Bay Yacht Club. And the artists costume ball over at the Rockport Art Association (www.rockportartassn.org ). And the meet-the-author event with long-distance open-water swimmer Lynne Cox. . . . You get the idea. There's a steady flow of fare for the active and interested alike.

If you are near Rockport, consider the Sandy Bay Historical Society Annual Meeting and ``Chowdah" Supper on Friday. Slides and a presentation on Old Rockport will accompany the meal. The town has long been as much about artists' interpretations of the place as about its real estate, so stop by the Thacher Island Art & Photo Show & Exhibit Sunday and Monday for recent impressions. Or wander downtown streets for family fun at the Rockport Harvest Festival Oct. 14-15. Details on these events and more can be found at www.rockportusa.com , or by calling the Rockport Chamber of Commerce at 978-546-6575.

Rest

Everything here, it seems, is pointed toward the crash of waves and watery sweep to the east. So decide whether you want to rest against the life of the town itself or looking out to sea. The Eagle House Motel (8 Cleaves St., 978-546-6292, www.eaglehousemotel.com , double $85) is tucked one block off Main Street, making it a tidy option to be in the thick of things. Closer to the harbor? Consider the Bearskin Neck Motor Lodge (64 Bearskin Neck, 978-546-6677, www.rockportusa.com/bearskin , double $149) for basic rooms set only steps from the water's edge.

More secluded? Then drive a mile into the southern neighborhoods and stop at the Captain's House (69 Marmion Way, 978-546-3825, www.captainshouse.com , double $150), a big B&B. If isolated elegance is the goal, then turn north a bit, to Emerson Inn by the Sea (1 Cathedral Ave., www.emersoninnbythesea.com , 978-546-6321, double $159). Rates at these and others will drop with the temperatures this fall.

Fuel

Rockport is a tourist town, and at every turn ice cream shops and cafes offer fast fuel for frantic families and idling couples in sensible shoes. The real catch here, though, is the lobster pulled from pots offshore. Options abound, and one of the best for red-boiled crustaceans in the rough is the Lobster Pool (329 Granite St., 978-546-7808, www.lobsterpoolrestaurant.com , entrees $7.50-$26.95). The restaurant is tucked in a bend of the road at the edge of Folly Cove; Maine has nothing on this place.

Amid the bustle of town, catch a water view from the windows of the Fish Shack (21 Dock Square, 978-546-6667, entrees $6-$19), near the entrance to Bearskin Neck. Just passing through? Then pick up a lobster to go, or some swordfish for that matter, at Roy Moore Lobster Co. (39 Bearskin Neck, 978-546-6696, daily prices), a shed of a shop with its back to the harbor.

If you want your fish treated with more culinary care than a deep fryer can do, duck into Beach Street Bistro (18 Beach St., 978-546-0055, entrees $10-$20). Owner and chef Debbie Demakis makes the lobster bisque with plenty of meat. The baked haddock is tender and hidden in crumbs. The salmon comes glazed with lavender honey. And yes, there are gourmet treatments of lamb, chicken, and steak.

Play

Nothing like keeping young legs moving, and Halibut Point State Park (www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/northeast/halb.htm) offers gentle trails and epic views of the rugged remoteness at the northern edge of Rockport and Cape Ann. Stop and stare from a hilltop lookout at the sweep of coastline from Crane Beach in Ipswich to Mount Agamenticus in Maine and plenty of water between. Wander down to the rocky shoreline and feel the sea spray while a buffer of 400-million-year-old granite to your back separates you and the modern world .

Those looking for a bit of history -- originally called ``Haul About" Point by sailors rounding Cape Ann, the land was worked for farms and granite -- can drop by the visitors center. There, a trail map offers a self-guided tour of the old quarry operations and relics that remain. For those with young legs not yet tired by the prospect of the short return hike to the car, climb four flights of stairs to the top of the old World War II lookout tower. A series of narrow, north-facing windows capture like nowhere here the world beyond.

Party

You can thank Hannah Jumper and the Ladies Temperance Banner brigade. A few years before the Civil War, the group got fed up with liquored-up locals and busted up barrels of booze. That lasted until residents eased the liquor ban in 2005. Several restaurants now serve drinks as long as appetizers are ordered; many others are BYOB. There are no bars in town.

But Jumper may have been on to something. All that's needed after a meal here is to wander shadowed streets. Some Main Street galleries, such as Kamalic's , are open into evening. The town takes on a sleepy, European feel, with side streets leading to darkness, the ocean lurking unseen, and little to do but wander and wonder.

Spend

Here you are on your own, because there are so many temptations -- and yet nothing at all that you may need. Galleries abound along Main Street, and shops selling sweatshirts and trinkets and toys line Bearskin Neck. Home decor shops peddle plates, and the fine little Toad Hall Bookstore is thick with volumes of fact and fantasy.

Peruse silver jewelry? Best to park -- keep an eye on the meter -- and wade into the shops of the central town. Press a nose against windows, collecting only the smell of sea air and a quick-melting cone, or wander with fistfuls of money in search of an oil-and-canvas rendering of Rockport to hang at home.

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