Turn of the last century summer cottages abound on the water next to a bustling downtown
There aren’t many places where you can walk along the ocean on one of the world’s few stretches of “singing” sand, experience the beautiful music of a renowned regional symphony, explore a remarkable diversity of conservation land, and end the day with a delicious dinner and cocktails, all without leaving a single 18-square-mile town. Luckily for people who call the North Shore home, Manchester-by-the-Sea is one of those rare and special places.
“There’s a lot of natural beauty there,” says Thomas Kehoe, chairman of the board of selectmen in Manchester-by-the-Sea and a lifelong resident of the town.
That natural beauty is evident in the town’s name, which was adopted—first colloquially in the 1880s, then officially in 1989—to differentiate it from other Manchesters in New England, especially its industrial northern neighbor, Manchester, New Hampshire. But once you visit Cape Ann’s Manchester, there’s no confusing it with anywhere else. The town’s location at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean and Manchester Harbor means that its seaside views are second to none, and the town’s focus on preserving the natural world means that residents, visitors, and generations to come get to enjoy that beautiful landscape, too.
Many of those landscapes are located at conservation lands within the town, including Coolidge Reservation, a 66-acre expanse of land at ￼ Coolidge Point peninsula that opens to the dramatic seaside Ocean Lawn. A 150-year-old beech tree provides lovely shade, and families revel in the chance to picnic, play, and explore the reservation’s extensive woodlands and wetlands.
“The best part about Coolidge is that it has multiple habitats all in a very short walking distance,” says Ramona Latham, Cape Ann education director at The Trustees of Reservations, which manages Coolidge. She points to the rocky, glacial erratic outcroppings at Bungalow Hill that are perfect for climbing, as well as forested areas and a wetland habitat, including Clarke Pond. She adds that visitors in the late spring and early summer can watch heron chicks hatching and feeding. Throughout the year, hikers can witness other wildlife, too, like turtles, cormorants, ducks, and geese. There’s also a bridge that crosses a tidal flow pond, and a stream that’s another great wildlife-viewing habitat. Just beyond the wetlands and woodlands are the Ocean Lawn, ocean, and a portion of Magnolia Beach.
“It’s got it all within a 10-minute walk,” Latham says. But “if you’re stopping and exploring you can plan to spend an hour-and-a-half or two.”
There’s also the Manchester-Essex Conservation Trust, which owns and protects almost 1,000 acres of woodlands and wetlands and oversees 160 acres of land under conservation restriction in Essex and Manchester. In those protected and designated areas, there are boardwalks for exploring and more than 25 miles of trails for biking, hiking, and cross-country skiing.
Tuck’s Point is another local favorite spot, where people can visit a small beach in the inner harbor, a park for picnicking, a lovely rotunda with great views of the boats, and a playground for kids. Kehoe says kids love crabbing there, too (no permit needed). Tuck’s Point also boasts The Chowder House—a beautiful building with a kitchen area, open walls, and picnic ta- bles—which is available for rent and can seat up to 125 people.
But the town’s most famous natural attribute is, without a doubt, Singing Beach, so named because of the gentle “singing” sound that the sand makes when it’s walked upon. The lovely beach is popular with both residents and day-trippers, who either park at the nearby Masconomo Park—itself a center of community events, including a summer concert series—or take the easy-to-access commuter rail train from Boston and other nearby towns.
“I like to call them the beach trains,” Kehoe says. “You can always tell when one of the trains has come into the station because there’s just a parade of people with coolers, and on bicycles, and with beach chairs, heading up the hill to the beach.”
Manchester’s commitment to conservation extends beyond its protected lands. Not only has the town started a curbside composting program, but it’s also been designated as a Green Community by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and is consider- ing placing solar panels on the roof of its fire station, Kehoe says.
The “green” focus extends to the schools, too. The new, energy- efficient Manchester-Essex Regional High School, which opened in 2009, received a Green Ribbon designation from the Department of Education for being built with recycled materials, and for its 650-gallon rainwater collection tank and extensive recycling program, according to the U.S. Green Building Council.
Visitors and residents can also find a strong sense of community in Manchester’s picturesque downtown, with its wide, walkable sidewalks, bike lanes, and pretty gas-lamp streetlights. In the summertime, events like Festival by the Sea celebrate local art, food, and music. There’s also a lack of big-box stores, which allows locally owned businesses to flourish.
And unlike much of Gloucester and Rockport, Manchester- by-the-Sea businesses stay open throughout the winter. “It is truly a year-round business community,” says Ken Riehl, CEO of Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce.
The town will reportedly have a place in cinematic history soon, too, thanks to the recently announced film titled Manchester-by-the-Sea, slated to star Matt Damon. But for Kehoe, it’s the small-town charm, not its Hollywood connection that will always make Manchester-by- the-Sea stand out from the pack.
The jewel in Manchester-by-the-Sea’s sparkling seaside crown. This famous beach gets its name from the rare “singing” sound that the sand makes when feet shuffle across it. It’s easily accessible, as the commuter rail station is nearby and nonresident parking is available at Masconomo Park. 199 Beach St., 978-526-7276 (summertime phone), 978- 526-2019 (Parks & Recreation Department phone), manchester.ma.us
Manchester-Essex Conservation Trust
This nonprofit owns and protects nearly 1,000 acres of breathtaking woodlands and wetlands with 25 miles of trails for biking, hiking, cross-country skiing, bird watching, and more. Official maps are available. 978-890-7153, mect.org
Cala’s Restaurant, Café, and Bistro
This establishment is an eclectic, New American bistro-style menu in a friendly, laid-back neighborhood setting, making it a downtown favorite for Manchester-by-the-Sea residents as well as visitors.
Central Street Gallery
The co-operative Central Street Gallery is operated by more than a dozen local artists, who showcase works in media such as oil, pastel, and watercolor that celebrate the beauty of Cape Ann’s natural landscape. 11 Central St., 978-526-7650, centralstreetgallery.com
La Casa de Luis
Helmed by a chef who grew up in Mexico City, La Casa de Luis brings authentic South Central Mexican fare to downtown Manchester, including classic dishes like ceviche, chicken and adobo, and chiles rellenos. 40 Beach St., 978-704-9599, casadeluismanchester.com
Home of the Manchester Historical Museum, the Trask House offers a glimpse into the town’s history, with period furnishings like 19th-century Manchester-made furniture and a Victorian dollhouse. 10 Union St., 978-526-7230, manchesterbytheseahistorical.org
Beach Street Café
This local gem just celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2014. It’s beloved for its easygoing atmosphere and delicious breakfast and lunch fare, including fabulous omelets, pancakes, and a huge sandwich selection. 35 Beach St., 978-526-8049, bscafeonline.com
Captain Dusty’s Ice Cream
The Manchester-by-the-Sea location of Captain Dusty’s Ice Cream is a perfect spot for seaside summertime strolling. 60 Beach St., 978-526-1663, captaindustys.com
Foreign Affairs Wine Bar & Bistro
Produce and seafood from local farms and fishermen, plus more than 40 different wines, set apart the creative, fresh food at Foreign Affairs Wine Bar & Bistro. Come for dinner or BONS award-winning brunch. 26 Central St., 978-704-9568, foreignaffairswineandbistro.com
Tuck’s Point Park & Beach
A local favorite spot where visitors can enjoy a small beach, a park for picnicking, a rotunda, a playground for kids, and a Chowder House for events. 17 Tuck’s Point Rd., 978-526-2019, manchester.ma.us
This lovely 66-acre expanse of Ocean Lawn, woodlands, and wet- lands is operated by The Trustees of Reservations. 15 Coolidge Pt., 978-526-8687, thetrustees.org
Traditional New England fare and an elegant wine list are hallmarks of the water’s edge restaurant 7 Central. 7 Central St., 978-526-7494, 7centralmbts.com
Impossibly elegant and chic, Mimi specializes in exquisite hand-selected home décor, gifts, jewelry, and pieces for dining and entertaining, as well as local artists’ works. 19 Central St., 978-525-0385, mimigiftgallery.com
North Coast Too!
Shop for clothing, gifts, and accessories at North Coast Too! 40 Union St., 978-526-4559, northcoasttoo.com
The White Lilac
This lovely boutique offers a curated collection of gifts and home décor items. 38 Union St., 978-526-8338, thewhitelilac.com
Sourcing ingredients from local farms, roasters, and artisans, Essen Café is the perfect spot to grab ham and brie or smoked turkey, green apple, and cheddar on fresh baguettes before heading to the beach. Essen also serves breakfast! 4C Summer St., 978-526-9995, essen-eat.com
Surfari offers stand-up paddleboard equipment, lessons, rentals, tours, demos, and SUP Yoga. 26 Central St., 978-704-9051, standuppaddlesurfari.com
One part coffee shop and one part gift and women’s clothing boutique, this eclectic spot offers something for the teetotaler as well as the hard-core shopper. 17D Beach St., 978-704-9388, thegrovema.com