15 Things to Do In Essex, MA | The Complete Local’s Guide
Thinking about taking a trip to the north shore and exploring Essex, Massachusetts but you’re looking for some things to do on your journey? Well, you’ve come to the right place. There is so much to explore in Essex and there is something fun for just about any interest.
Essex, MA is a vibe and must visit on your trip to Cape Ann. In this article, we will take a comprehensive look at some of the most popular Essex, MA attractions and some things that are a little more under the radar.
So, before we ramble on too much more, let’s take a closer look at 15 Things to do in Essex, MA.
Ok so if you are visiting Cape Ann, Woodman’s is a must stop. This iconic New England Seafood shack was founded back in 1914, making it through two world wars and the Great Depression, and it’s easy to see why it has been successful for so long.
Woodman’s is a throwback to your childhood seafood experience. You order in line and get a number that is called out when the food is ready. The piping hot fried clams, scallops, lobster and fries are then brought out on a tray that you can pick up and enjoy in a classic wooden table.
Woodman’s lobster rolls are one of our favorites on the north shore and the restaurant even claims to have invented the fried clam. We won’t recount the fried clam history here but if you are interested in the details you can check out the story on their website.
Suffice it to say, that a stop at Woodman’s is one of our favorite things to in Essex, MA and we would definitely recommend a visit if you are traveling in the area.
119 Main Street
Essex, MA 01929
If you are visiting Essex, or any of the towns of Cape Ann for that matter, you should definitely consider popping into Cape Ann SUP. Inspired by classic New England surf shops, like Hampton Beach’s Cinnamon Rainbows, Cape Ann SUP started back in 2010 with a truck and 6 paddleboards.
Cape Ann SUP now has a beautiful board barn in Essex, along with 3 other locations. Cape Ann SUP offers rentals and sales of both paddleboards and surfboards. They will even drop off a surfboard or paddle board right here at Addison Choate or at the beach!
Interested in surfing but not sure it’s something you can learn on your own? Cape Ann SUP has you covered with both group and private lessons. The pricing is very reasonable and it’s really a great way to spend a day on the water here on Cape Ann.
Cape Ann SUP
2 Southern Ave
Essex, MA 01929
Located right in the heart of Essex, MA, Essex River Cruises has been offering guests river cruises for over 20 years. Essex River Cruises has 2 vessels the Essex River Queen I and the Essex River Queen II and they offer public and private cruises ranging from 90 minutes to 7 hours.
It’s a great way to see the beautiful coastline, beaches, rivers, salt marshes and the incredible wildlife in the area. They even offer your own private tidal beach clambake!
It’s such a perfect way to enjoy the beauty of Cape Ann with friends and family. Whether it’s a birthday, wedding, or family reunion it’s a wonderful way to connect and a great excuse to indulge in some tasty crustaceany goodness.
Essex River Cruises
35 Dodge Street
Essex, MA 01929
Essex, MA is known as America’s Antique Capital and for good reason. There is such a great variety of antique shops winding through the coastal village.
It’s the perfect way to spend the day digging for that perfect piece of furniture or art that you need for your home or discovering that hidden treasure you didn’t even realize that you needed.
We take a deeper dive into the Essex MA Antique Trail in this blog, but what’s great about antiquing in Essex is there is something for every taste and budget. Whether you are looking for 17th century European furniture, a beautiful maritime painting, or an old record from your childhood, Essex has you covered.
In addition to the shops right on the antique trail in Essex, there are other wonderful shops like Anntiques just up the road in Ipswich, and Salt Marsh Antiques in Rowley that are absolutely worth a visit.
We recommend making a day of it and grabbing lunch at one of our favorite spots in town like Woodman’s or CK Pearl. It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Essex, MA.
If you are looking for a relaxed, down-home place to enjoy a meal that doesn’t necessarily involve seafood you should try out The Farm Bar and Grille in Essex.
It’s a little off the beaten path, we literally stumbled upon it driving home one afternoon through Essex. It’s a great farm house vibe with both indoor and outdoor seating.
The Farm Bar And Grille has some delicious salads, burgers, BBQ, and pub grub fare like mac and cheese and fish and chips. We’re not sure if the burgers rise to the level of the Big Kahuna Burger, but they are damn good.
The Farm Bar and Grille also has a comfortable bar area with a nice selection of homemade cocktails and a respectable selection of bottled beers and beers on tap. It’s a great spot to watch a game or just unwind with some delicious comfort food.
Farm Bar & Grille
233 Western Ave
Essex, MA 01929
A more recent addition to the Essex dining scene is the Great Marsh Brewery. A 15,000 Square Foot brewery/restaurant/tap room located right on the main drag in town. Great Marsh offers weary travelers a wide variety of sweet hop nectar to choose from.
The volume and quality of beer that is coming out of Great Marsh is really pretty impressive. You can sample everything from a Milk Stout to Mexican Lager to Bavarian Hefeweizen to a double dry hopped New England IPA clocking in at a formidable 8.5% ABV. There is truly something for every palate.
Speaking of palates, Great Marsh also churns out some tasty pub grub. The menu includes a nice variety of items that are the perfect for lining the stomach in preparation for a hearty session. Whether it’s traditional beer pretzels, burgers, tacos, mac and cheese or wings, Great Marsh has you covered.
Great Marsh Brewery
99 Main Street
Essex, MA 01929
If you are looking to get a few holes in on your vacation, you can always head over to the Cape Ann Golf Club in Essex.
A nicely maintained 9-hole course, the Cape Ann Golf Club is the perfect spot for a quick and casual outing. From the whites, the course has a 120 slope and is comprised of all par 4’s and par 3’s. From the tips the slope is 118 and stretches out to 3,036 yards.
You can make reservations for a tee time up to 7 days in advance and proper golf attire is required. The Cape Ann Golf Club even has food and drink on site. The Fairway Pub serves up some tasty clam chowder, clam rolls, fried clams, sandwiches and drinks.
Cape Ann Golf Club is truly a hidden gem and seems to be open almost year-round.
Cape Ann Golf Club
99 John Wise Ave Rt 133
Essex, MA 01929
There are a group of passionate citizens who believe that birds aren’t real. We will leave you to be the judge of whether our feathered friends exist or not. If you are interested in doing some research into this important issue you can find some great spots for birding in Essex.
For example, the Manchester-Essex Woods is a 3,400 acre preserve that is the perfect birding habitat. You will find a great variety of water birds such as the Wood Duck, Mallard, Great Egret, Blue Heron, Virginia Rail, Double-crested Cormorant and others.
Of course, you will also find all of the warblers, finches, blue jays, nuthatches, chickadees, and even pileated woodpeckers.
The woods are maintained by the Manchester Essex Conservation Trust and they have an incredible resource guide that you can access here: https://www.mect.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/The-MECT-Woodland-Guide-rev-7.16-new-logo.pdf
There are also many other birding opportunities on your trip to Cape Ann, including an annual excursion with the Chamber of Commerce that takes birders out to Stellwagen Bank to view a great variety of sea birds. No question that Essex and Cape Ann is truly a birders paradise.
Essex, Massachusetts has a rich history of shipbuilding that dates back to the 17th century. Since the mid-1600’s Essex craftsmen have churned out over 4,000 ships. Pretty impressive. You can learn more about the history and craft of shipbuilding at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum.
The museum is home to a number of photographs and exhibits housed in an historic schoolhouse. The tour guides are a wealth of information and you will learn about the early history of the colonies, the Cape Ann fishing industry, and the tools of the shipbuilding trade.
If you are in Essex it’s worth a stop. It will only take an hour or two but you will leave with a wealth of interesting information.
If you are interested in viewing historic ships in full sail you should also consider a visit during the Gloucester Schooner Festival. For the last 40 years or so, Gloucester has had these historic schooners visit the harbor at the beginning of September. There is even an annual race. Learn more here: https://www.maritimegloucester.org/schooner-festival
For a more interactive experience, =you can also set sail out of Gloucester harbor on the Schooner Ardelle, Schooner Lannon and Schooner Adventure.
Essex Shipbuilding Museum
66 Main Street
Essex, MA 01929
One of our favorite things about Essex and the Greater Cape Ann area is the concentration of talented makers and artists that call this beautiful coastal region home.
Family owned by James and Elizabeth McLeod, the Bubble Factory is a fully operational glassblowing studio. The studio is housed in a converted horse barn that James and his students personally transformed into a fully operational glass blowing facility. I mean it doesn’t get much more Essex than that.
The best part is that you can blow your own glass! It’s the perfect way to spend an afternoon with family and friends and create your own glass masterpiece. Learn more about the wide variety of classes that are offered here: https://www.bubblefactoryma.com/signup
In addition to the Bubble Factory, they also have a shop on Rockport’s Bearskin Neck, called Cleod Glassworks, where you can purchase their handblown glass. They have everything from stemless wine glasses to lamps and custom light fixtures and have been featured in North Shore Magazine and even on HGTV’s Farmhouse Fixer.
The Bubble Factory
69 Choate Street
Essex, MA 019292
Cogswell Grant In Essex is a 1728 farmhouse that is set on 165 acres. Formerly a working farm, Cogswell Grant is now a museum that houses some interesting American Folk Art collected by previous owners Betram K. and Nina Fletcher Little.
It is one of the largest protected plots of land in Essex. The original grant of 300 acres of land was conveyed to John Cogswell in 1636. The land was ultimately divided, but the current 165 acre parcel has remained intact since it was passed to John Cogswell Jr back in 1717.
A visit to Cogswell Grant is a portal back to simpler times of coastal farming on Cape Ann and worth a stop if you are visiting Essex.
60 Spring Street
Essex, MA 01929
After a long hot summer day, sand in your shoes and color on your skin, there is no better way to end the day than with a nice ice cream cone. In Essex, you can head over to Down River Ice Cream for a relaxing end to your day.
With fresh creamy flavors, made in-house with ingredients sourced from a local dairy farm, the ice cream is about as fresh as it gets.
Down River churns out a great variety of flavors to choose from with wild names like Kung Fu Grasshopper and Phyrexian Peanut Butter Corruption so there is always something new and exciting to try out.
Down River Ice Cream
241 John Wise Ave
Essex, MA 01929
Taking a cruise through the Essex River estuary and through the creeks in the area is a beautiful way to spend a day. You can actually paddle out to a variety of islands including the 135-acre Choate Island.
Choate Island was the location for the film, The Crucible. You can wander the island, walk along the 5 miles of trails and view the old Crane burial site on the property.
While on your journey you could catch some stripers for dinner or even make your way all the way out to Crane’s Beach for some sunbathing. We think Crane’s is one of the best beaches in the area and they even have a concession stand where you could refuel.
Should you decide to embark on this excursion you should be aware that the haul out to the beach is pretty good and could be strenuous for inexperienced paddlers.
A visit to the Old Burying Ground in Essex is a step back in time. The cemetery dates back to 1680, when Essex was known as Chebacco Parish. The cemetery contains a number of soldiers from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
There is a lot of interesting history surrounding this particular cemetery, including an 1818 grave robbing of 8 of the graves. The town put out a $500 reward for information leading to the capture of the responsible party. Turns out, it was a local doctor, Dr. Thomas Sewall.
Sewall hired Daniel Webster as his defense counsel, but was still found guilty, fined $800 and banished from the parish.
After being ordered out of the community, Dr. Sewall moved to Washington DC and became a founding faculty member of the medical school that would become a part of George Washington University.
His work revolved around temperance and the impact of alcohol on the human body. His most famous contribution is his series of drawings of the alcohol diseased stomachs. You can check them out here: https://www.alcoholproblemsandsolutions.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/image-1.jpeg You can imagine these did wonders for the temperance agenda.
Ok so our last suggestion of things to do in Essex, MA is to go a little outside the confines of town of Essex itself and head to the neighboring town of Ipswich. Hey it’s our guide we can color outside the lines a little bit if we want!
But, in all seriousness, we think that you will have fun and it’s worth the short drive. So just down the road in Ipswich there is a wolf sanctuary called Wolf Hollow. It is a non-profit sanctuary and educational facility dedicated to the protection of the North American Gray Wolf.
You can tour the facility, see the wolves, and view a presentation. The staff is passionate and knowledgeable, you will learn a lot, and get to meet this incredible cast of characters: https://www.wolfhollowipswich.org/#currentwolves I mean, when is the last time you got to hang out with wolves?
114 Essex Road
Ipswich, MA 01938
We hope that you enjoyed our guide on 15 Things To Do in Essex, MA. We are really just scratching the surface here. When you visit Essex, we always say you are visiting all of Cape Ann. The neighboring towns of Rockport, Manchester and Gloucester are all worth exploring but there is definitely something special about the rural, coastal landscape in Essex.
If you are interested in further research on Cape Ann, we have put together guides to each of these Cape Ann Towns which you can view here:
Things To Do In Rockport
Things To Do In Gloucester
Things To Do In Manchester