City and town clerks across Massachusetts are sharing their favorite places to go for culture, nature, and relaxation in the cities and towns they know so well. Do you want to see your favorite city or town featured? Let us know in the survey below or e-mail [email protected].
Richard Burke Jones was born and raised in Newburyport, a seaport community along the mouth of the Merrimack River in northeastern Massachusetts.
Visitors are drawn to the city’s downtown for its boutique shops and waterfront restaurants, and rightly so, Jones said. But Newburyport has much more to offer, according to the city clerk for the past 15 years.
“The architecture of this town affects you beyond words,” he said, adding that Newburyport’s trails, museums, and beaches are well worth the trip.
Ahead, discover some of Jones’s picks for where to go and what to do in Newburyport.
Take in the architecture.
Newburyport’s brick downtown buildings and historic federal-style architecture are what makes the city special, Jones said.
“We do have the Colonial period, we have the Federalist period, we have the Victorian period, we have almost good representation of every architectural period,” Jones said. “But clearly the Federalist period is something we hold our hat on.”
Federal-style architecture, built between 1780 and 1830, are rectangular or square in shape, have brick or clapboard exteriors, are often symmetrical, and stand two or three stories high. Visitors can ogle plenty of impressive Federal-style homes on High Street, he said.
The city’s downtown brick buildings offer a unique look and feel, Jones said. And the area’s tight streets with older buildings situated close to one another make for “warm, friendly neighborhoods.”
Immerse yourself in maritime history and the arts.
The Custom House Maritime Museum, which Jones called a hidden gem, displays maritime objects, models, art, and historical documents from the 17th to 20th centuries. The Museum of Old Newbury, is “very overlooked,” he said. The museum is housed inside the historic Cushing House, an 1808 brick Federal mansion, and includes period rooms and gallery spaces depicting local history. It is currently closed due to COVID-19 and a major restoration project but will host its 42nd Annual Garden Tour from June 12-13.
“It’s a treasured collection and it’s something that, if you love history, you can just go there and you’re just going to come out a few days later,” Jones said with a laugh.
If you fancy art and theater, Newburyport has that, too. Art lovers can check out the Newburyport Art Association, Jones said, another hidden gem, where artists exhibit work throughout the year in open, juried, invitational, featured artist, and featured interest group shows.
“It’s a really vibrant, significant place that adds a lot for the visual arts,” he said. “People forget it a lot of times.”
Firehouse Center for the Arts is a great place to take in a show, Jones said. The 191-seat nonprofit arts organization hosts live theater, concerts, and arts education programs. The center, which closed last year due to the pandemic, announced a grand reopening in September in celebration of its 30th year.
“Culturally, it’s a significant part of Newburyport,” Jones said.
Eat at a Newburyport institution.
“Newburyport downtown is made up of offices that people often forget, shops that people usually remember, and restaurants that people always remember,” Jones said.
The city, long known for its waterfront dining scene, will offer even more outside dining throughout the city this season due to the coronavirus pandemic, Jones said. Many restaurants are busy securing the proper permitting and creating patio areas this spring, he said.
“Everybody knows that it creates an ambiance not only for the restaurants but for the town itself,” he said about outdoor dining. “It’s fun, it’s healthy, and it’s pandemic-friendly.”
Jones’s favorite restaurant? The Grog. The 50-year-old two-story pub offers 32 beers on tap, live music (currently on pause), and outstanding clam chowder.
“It has famous clam chowder,” he said. “It’s really known for that.”
The Grog’s menu notes that its clam chowder has been “our No. 1 seller for over 49 years.”
“The meals are very good,” Jones said. “It’s an institution. I think if you asked your random 100 people in Boston what they knew about Newburyport or to name one restaurant, they would probably come up with The Grog.”
The Grog does not have plans for outside dining this season.
Spend time on a trail or boardwalk.
Jones said his favorite place to meet a friend is at downtown Waterfront Park, with its scenic boardwalk that runs along the Merrimack River.
Before the pandemic, the park sometimes hosted live music on the green, he said. The boardwalk is a great place to relax, people-watch, and take in the view of fishing vessels and ships. Also, an early morning visit to the park is well rewarded, he said.
“You’ll see the sun come up over Plum Island,” Jones said. “What’s better?”
Plum Island, an 11-mile barrier beach island that stretches through Newburyport, Newbury, Rowley, and Ipswich, boasts miles of public beaches as well as the 4,662-acre Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
“Any beach on Plum Island is gorgeous,” he said.
Jones’s favorite place to explore nature is Maudslay State Park. The 450-acre park, with 19th century gardens, rolling meadows, and water paths, is great for walking, jogging, and biking riding, he said.
“It can get a little peopled on the weekends,” he said. “But during the week, if you want to feel like you own an estate, head on up.”
Newburyport also has wonderful trails, Jones said. For example, the Clipper City Rail Trail is full of local art and the Clipper Heritage Trail offers a series of self-guided history tours of Newburyport.
“You can easily come to Newburyport and leave without knowing anything about the Clipper Heritage Trail,” he said.
What readers say about Newburyport:
When we asked readers for Newburyport recommendations, the answers flooded in.
“Custom House Maritime Museum,” wrote bharkin89. “Great collection of model ships & early coast guard/lighthouse service artifacts.”
“Exploring Maudslay State Park,” wrote xokatgale.
Readers kradontheroad and fremonster95 recommended both Plum Island and Bob Lobster in Newbury.
Breakfast spots loved by readers include Olives Coffee and Bake House “for coffee and treats in the morning!” wrote samantha.e.hughes and bagels from Abraham’s Bagels, wrote luv2runinnbpt, lindseyterjanian, and curtis_gallant.
Readers offered up plenty of favorite restaurants.
“Michael’s Harborside is the BEST restaurant in town, everything from fancy to bar food,” wrote peachgrizzly. “Sometimes live music and everyone out chilling on the deck.”
“Agave Mexican Bistro, amazing food and margaritas,” wrote tbk718.
For dessert, grab ice cream at Harbor Creamery, wrote whitfieldbix.
The Modern Butcher Shop “IS AN ABSOLUTE MUST STOP!!!” wrote porkandpintsboston.
Reader alarie_heos provided a complete itinerary for an overnight getaway: Visitors should stay at Blue — Inn on the Beach or Garrison Inn, get lunch at health and natural food store The Natural Grocer, then head over to Maudslay State Park for an afternoon hike. Finally, make dinner plans at The Paddle Inn and end the night at Tuscan Sea Grill & Bar “for cocktails at sunset on their deck.”