Are you looking for a list of the best things to do in Rockport Massachusetts? Look no further! In this guide, we’ve got you covered with all the essentials to plan a perfect trip to scenic Rockport!
If you’re looking to escape the bustle of Boston, or simply wanting to experience a quintessential New England seaside getaway then it doesn’t get any better than planning a visit to picturesque Rockport and its surrounds.
Here you can spend lazy summer days browsing through hip and happening Bearskin Neck where you can cool down with delicious ice cream, indulge in local lobster delicacies, all whilst washing it down with a refreshing local craft beer in hand too! Of course, being set on the Atlantic Ocean makes Rockport an exhilarating destination to visit for outdoor lovers wanting to take advantage of the pristine ocean and nature found here!
There is so much to love about this charming town, set in Essex County in Massachusetts, that you’ll find it hard to get bored here! Whether you’re enjoying a romantic seaside getaway, planning a family trip, or simply traveling for the stunning scenery and nature, there’s something here for everyone to enjoy.
In this guide, we’ve decided to round up our 15 favorite things to do in Rockport MA, to hopefully inspire you to explore and uncover all the hidden gems on offer in this lovely town!
How to get to Rockport MA
Rockport is situated roughly 40 miles north of Boston and set on the edge of the Cape Ann peninsula and surrounded by other well-known seaside communities such as Manchester-by-the-Sea and Gloucester.
Most visitors arriving in Boston by air will opt to travel by car and reaching Rockport in just under an hour from Boston. If you prefer to travel by public transport then you may prefer to journey on a commuter train that connects Boston’s North Station to Station Square in Rockport in around an hour and a half. Once you arrive at Rockport, it’s a short 5 – 10 min walk to get to downtown Rockport.
For up-to-date train timetables and fares, you can check out the MBTA website here.
Where to stay in Rockport MA
Finding the perfect spot to rest and unwind in, in picturesque Rockport is not a difficult task at all. There are plenty of good quality accommodation choices to choose from that exude charm and personality and will ensure a great stay in Rockport.
Two of our favorite, top-rated choices include the gorgeous Addison Choate and the beautiful Sally Webster Inn. Both of these properties are only a short walk away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Rockport and are excellent choices to consider for your trip.
Alternatively, if you prefer a self-catering apartment-style option, why not browse through these wonderful VRBO accommodation options and find your perfect home away from home in Rockport instead!
15 Best Things to do in Rockport MA
Visit Motif Number 1
When visiting Rockport it is only fitting that you start your trip off at the most iconic landmark and symbol of the community. Unquestionably Motif #1, a small red fishing shack that dates back to the 1800s, has become somewhat synonymous with the town and has been photographed and painted by many a visitor and artist alike.
Despite its charm, Motif #1 also boasts a rich and colorful history too. During its lifetime it has served as a fishermen’s storage facility, transformed into an artist’s workshop, and today is a recognized city-owned monument for local veterans.
According to legend, an artist gave the building its unique moniker after noticing that several of the town’s artists frequently painted and drew inspiration from it. This is clearly evident, even today, as Rockport’s many art galleries often house stunning photographs and paintings of Motif #1 depicted at various times of the day and from all its beautiful angles and views!
Explore Halibut Point State Park
A mere 7 minutes by car from Rockport center is where you’ll find this stunning gem, Halibut Point State Park. If you’re a nature lover, then heading out to this tip edge of Cape Ann is certainly one of the top things to do in Rockport.
What was once a granite quarry has become one of the star attractions in Rockport. Meander through some of the lush walking trails till you meet up to the ocean’s edge where dramatic granite boulders and rocks open up into gorgeous views out over the ocean and surrounding areas.
If you’re lucky to visit on a day with great visibility, you may even be able to spot Mount Agamenticus, located in Maine 81-miles out!
Apart from the hiking trails, visitors can also settle for a scenic picnic, go fishing, or enjoy some birdwatching.
Halibut Point State Park is open almost all year round from 08:00 am until sunset. Do note that parking is limited and there is a small parking fee charged for these spots.
Snack on some Lobster Rolls
Traveling to Rockport and not indulging in one of the town’s most notable delicacies, lobster, would be an absolute shame. This is especially true for Rockport’s much-loved lobster rolls, a delicious New England treat that you simply have to taste when visiting.
Thankfully, you are spoilt for choice by the sheer selection of awesome restaurants and dining spots to choose from to grab the perfect lobster roll. A few of the most well-known of these include Roy Moore’s, Blue Lobster Grill, The Lobster Pool, as well as Feather and Wedge to name a few.
Regardless of whether you opt for a lobster roll or any other lobster dish variation, one thing is for sure, you’ll definitely be licking your fingers and wanting to return for more!
Visit an Art Gallery
Rockport is a buzzing artsy town, known for its vibrant art scene. Here you’ll find over 30 art galleries showcasing a wide range of art by talented local artists from both Rockport and its surrounding areas that have all been drawing inspiration from this picturesque coastal village.
As you wander through Bearskin Neck and Dock Square you’ll find many of these galleries and can browse through at your heart’s content admiring the stunning pieces on display. A few of the most well-known galleries found here are Scott Tubby, The Art Nook, Lauri Kaihlanen, the Tusinksi Gallery, and the Mosher Art Gallery.
Art lovers will also want to pay a visit to the Rockport Art Association & Museum. After admiring all the beautiful galleries, a visit to this association and museum will round out your trip perfectly. With a history spanning over 100 years, this association was founded in 1921 helping, promoting, and advancing the local art scene of Rockport.
Visit Bearskin Neck for Shopping & Ice Cream!
Bearskin Neck, Rockport’s hippest of neighborhoods and set on the edge of the peninsula, is lined with quirky boutique stores, a range of restaurants, art galleries, and ice cream shops (several of them to be precise).
It’s the perfect spot to wander through for a spot of shopping, to dine out, or to grab a delicious ice cream from the much-loved Ice Cream Store on a balmy, hot Rockport summer’s day.
Enjoy a spot of Ocean Kayaking
Perhaps it is only fitting for a town that is surrounded by water, the Atlantic Ocean to be precise, that watersports would feature heavily on our list of the top things to do in Rockport MA.
Kayaking the length and breadth of the coastline here will no doubt be an unforgettable adventure as you explore the many sights, lighthouses, indigenous wildlife, and scenic natural vistas along the way.
If a kayaking trip in Rockport sounds like a fun adventure to you but you don’t have your own gear, then we have great news! You can rent from a range of different rental companies in town. One such popular choice being North Shore Kayak, through which you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, and even arrange guided tours too!
Discover the Rockport Quarries
What you may or may not know is that granite is big in Rockport, and throughout Massachusetts in fact. Moreover, Rockport is renowned for its abundance of quarries, most of which are no longer operational and waiting to be explored by eager outdoor enthusiasts!
Throughout the Industrial Revolution, these quarries became an important supplier and source of stone resulting in a lucrative and thriving industry in the heart of Rockport, some of which is still evident today in the numerous streets paved in granite from these very same quarries.
Unfortunately, the Great Depression signaled the end of the once-bustling granite industry of Rockport and its surroundings, with demand never really recovering as focus shifted to other construction materials such as steel and concrete instead.
Thankfully, throughout the decades since, nature has reclaimed what was once her and the quarries have become a refreshing stop for many visitors wanting to jump into and swim in these freshwater quarries surrounding by lush greenery.
Why not make the most of your visit and tick a few of these off your list, including “Johnson’s Quarry”, “Flat Ledge Quarry”, or “Carlson Quarry” to name a handful.
Go Whale Watching – Rockport MA Things to Do
If there is one thing you opportunity you simply shouldn’t miss out on when visiting Rockport, it would be getting the chance to spot some majestic humpback whales on a whale watching tour!
The locally-run tour by 7 Seas Whale Watch departs from nearby Gloucester (around 10 minutes by car from Rockport), and will undoubtedly be the highlight of your trip if you’re lucky enough to spot a few of these incredible creatures.
In fact, Gloucester is regarded as one of the best premier whale watching destinations thanks to its prime location set close between two main whale feeding regions, Jeffrey’s Ledge and Stellwagen bank. In other words, depending on the most recent whale sightings and reports, whale watching boats departing from Gloucester/Cape Ann can go to either side, thus increasing your chances of a whale sighting.
Go Scuba Diving
Of course, as far as popular marine activities go, we couldn’t not mention a scuba diving experience as another of the best things to do in Rockport MA!
A respected and long-running dive company is the Cape Ann Diver II that runs scheduled Scuba diving excursions to dive sites that range from the rocky ledges off Cape Ann to wreck sites like those on Stellwagen Bank.
Be sure to check the diving schedule as they offer various different charters based on your level of experience, ranging from beginner-level dives to more advanced scuba diving charters. Take note that the diving season normally lasts from the 1st of April to the 31st of October, but is of course weather dependent.
Explore Thacher Island – Top Things to do in Rockport Massachusetts
Standing on the Rockport shore you may be able to spot the famed Thacher Island with its most notable feature jutting out in the far distance, a pair of lighthouses known as “Twin Lights.” These two lighthouses erected back in 1861, are exactly the same and rise to a dizzying 124 feet above the water’s surface.
Visitors to the island also have the chance to climb to the top of the lighthouses and admire breathtaking vistas from this high up vantage point, on a clear day you may be able to spot Boston’s skyline to the south, towards the northwest the mountains of Maine, and much more.
Thacher island can only be reached by kayak or by boat and once there you’ll be able to explore the length and breadth of the island, the twin lighthouses, as well as pop into the island’s museum to learn more about its colorful history and artifacts found here.
For those visitors wanting a more adventurous visit to Thacher island, depending on the time of year you visit you could set up camp and overnight on the island too!
Head to the Beach
Whilst it does ring true that the New England coastline is generally a rocky one, and the area being more renowned for its ocean-based activities such as kayaking, fishing, and whale watching, you can still find some lovely beaching running the length of this stunning coastline.
Front Beach is the nearest, and it’s only a short walk from downtown Rockport. Even though it’s a little beach, there’s enough space on the shore to relax and soak up the rays. With its calm waters, Front Beach makes for a great swimming spot.
A bit further afield you’ll find the larger, more expansive Long Beach, on the boundary between Rockport and Gloucester. This long stretch of sandy beach offers a bit more space to relax and stretch out whilst relaxing in the sun and has become a popular spot for both locals and visitors and it’s recommended to get there earlier as parking spots are limited here.
Another of the beaches in Rockport MA is known as Pebble Beach. Yes, you’ve guessed it! This beach consists of mainly small pebbles and rocks as its name implies and is probably not the most comfortable beach to lounge about on. Regardless, it’s still a pretty beach, even if only to snap a photo or two at!
Enjoy a Beer Tasting at a Local Brewery
A small family-run craft beer brewery, Rockport Brewing Company, has become a local favorite. Co-founded by two local residents, Jordana and Ray Pickup, after contemplating the area’s local amenities whilst sitting on Long Beach, this charming brewery set its sights on producing high-quality artisan beers.
While visiting Rockport, it is only fitting then that you at least indulge in a bit of beer tasting and sample some of the brewery’s most famous ales. From its double India Pale Ale, the “Twin Lights”, to the “Jetty Juice” India Pale Ale, the “Whale Cove” White Ale, or their Dry Irish Stout named “Mcateer’s”, there’s bound to be a beer to suit satisfy every tastebud!
In fact, these have become so popular amongst the locals that many of the town’s stores now stock these too. When visiting Rockport, be sure to check their website for any special events taking place at the brewery to make the most of your visit.
Tour Hammond Castle
Although not technically located in Rockport itself, a visit to nearby Gloucester is well worth the trip. It’s here that you’ll be able to tour one of the US’s most famous castles, Hammond Castle.
This dramatic castle, which seems like it’s been plucked straight out of the English countryside, was once the residence (and laboratory) of the eccentric inventor John Hays Hammond Jr., who is often referred to as being the “father of radio control”.
Today, you too can tour this impressive castle’s architecture, grounds, and interiors which is a treasure trove of antiques and artifacts, some of which date as far back as the Renaissance!
Of course, what really adds to the character and soul to this place is to learn more about the backstory of life at the castle as Mr. Hammond’s home and all the wacky tales of mischief that goes along with it!
A visit to Hammond Castle currently costs around $18 per adult, $10 for children aged 5 to 12, and free for kids under 4. Do take note that the castle does have a lot of stairs and may not be great for visitors who may find navigating through these a challenge.
Make sure to check in advance as Hammond Castle also plays host to a number of special events and exhibits throughout the year too.
See a Show at the Shalin Liu Performance Center
After a long day out sightseeing and exploring all the top things to do in Rockport MA, what better way is there to end the day than to grab a bite to eat and then head over to the exquisite Shalin Liu Performance Center to catch a show in one of the most stunning music halls you’ll visit.
Not only does the stone and wood-detailed interiors exude warmth, but the real star here is looking out over the stage and through the massive glass windows that provide for a dramatic backdrop out over Sandy Bay. It’s no wonder then that classical pianist, Wendy Chen, stated: “It is the most beautiful hall in which I’ve ever performed…it is intimate and awe-inspiring. As a performer, it brings out a different inspiration for my music and performance.”
No matter your taste in music, the 300-seater Shalin Liu Performance Center hosts a variety of musical events ranging from folk to classic, to pop, and jazz to name a few. Throughout the year they also play host to a range of special events too. Be sure to consult the Rockport Music website to plan ahead and book a show for your stay!
Plan a Day Trip to Salem MA
I’m pretty sure that most people who think of Salem will instantly be conjuring up images of the now famous trails which took place from around February 1692 through to May 1693. At a mere 35 minute drive by car (roughly 23 miles), Salem is a perfect day trip from Rockport MA, especially if you have a few days extra to spare on your itinerary.
Of course, the fascinating and fairly brutal stories surrounding the witch trials are a major drawcard for many visitors wanting to learn more about this dark period in American history. Whilst many visit over Halloween, or plan their visit around spooky and interesting sights such as the Witch House, the old Burying Point, and the Salem Witch Museum, the town has so much more to offer visitors that don’t center around the trials.
Other notable sights and activities include visiting the Joshua Ward House, the 85-feet high High Rock Tower, enjoying a Hocus Pocus tour (where you’ll get to see some of the spots this much-loved film was shot at), the New England Pirate Museum, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, and much more.