Barely off the Marblehead coast, Brown’s Island is a popular destination for locals and tourists. But Shalane Flanagan didn’t always know that when she was growing up in the area. The scenic spot in Doliber Cove seemed like her private island and held a mythic place in family lore.
“My dad led my sister and me to believe that we discovered the island,” said Flanagan. “We’d kayak around and the first time we went out there and hiked around, my dad was like, ‘What should we name the island?’ I came to find out it was a very popular island. People go there and have picnics all the time.”
Still, for Flanagan, there will always be something magical about the North Shore and the sea. While her career has taken her to North Carolina, Oregon, and Colorado, Flanagan considers Boston and the Boston Marathon course her “home turf.” And Marblehead is her hometown, a sea-surrounded spot filled with fond memories and favorite places.
Flanagan, a three-time Olympian and top contender for the women’s title in Monday’s marathon, grew up in a peninsula-like neighborhood. On the left, there was Salem Harbor. In the other direction, there was Marblehead Harbor. Very often high school training runs would include a dip in the ocean before coming back to campus. When she returns home these days, Flanagan loves to run from her parents’ home to Fort Sewall and Marblehead Neck, taking in views of Marblehead Harbor and the Boston skyline along the way.
“I miss the water a lot,” said Flanagan, whose summer quickly fills with major track and field meets that keep her from enjoying warm weather on the Marblehead coast as much as she would like. “I miss seagulls. I miss the smell, that sea salt that would form a crust on my window. I even miss some good Nor’easter storms where the wind and the waves get kind of crazy. It’s almost beautiful to go down to the water when it’s stormy.”
Flanagan believes any trip to Marblehead should include plenty of ocean adventures, oceanfront views, and oceanside eats. She recommends taking to the water in a sea kayak and exploring the Marblehead coastline from a different perspective. You can paddle past mansions and yacht clubs and around the harbor and the neck. Maybe even head out to Brown’s Island for a hike and a picnic like Flanagan did with her family.
“Kayaking is a great way to see the lay of the land without a big commitment,” said Flanagan. “If you’re not necessarily boat savvy, a kayak is pretty simple. You can plop in anywhere and you can just hug the coastline. You don’t have to go far out. It’s a great way to see different parts of Marblehead.”
With a few hours or more to spare, Flanagan suggests going on a whale watch. Although there are no guarantees, spring, summer, and early fall tend to be good times for spotting whales.
Right on Marblehead Harbor, you’ll find Driftwood Restaurant, a local institution and Flanagan’s favorite for breakfast. She comes for the food, the nostalgia, and the cozy comforts of the place.
“It’s kind of a greasy little dive that’s been there forever,” said Flanagan. “It’s tiny and I don’t know if more than 10 people can fit in there. But it’s a fun place to go for a Sunday brunch, nothing fancy. It looks like a bunch of fishermen run the place.”
From there, it’s easy to explore the waterfront and its many stores. But when Flanagan was in high school, it was Harvard Square that drew the young runner and her friends. As a teenager, she would take the T in from Wonderland with a few girlfriends, then go shopping and hang out at coffee houses in the Square.
“We felt super cool and like grownups,” she said. “We were getting excited about that next step in our lives.”
Now that she’s moved onto that next step and more, Flanagan can’t wait to spend time back home this week.