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Taking an early morning walk downtown for coffee and running into a neighbor out walking their dog. Meeting for a picnic dinner on the beach with friends who live next door. Attending block parties and neighborhood events with people and families you’ve known for years—or maybe only months. It’s all part of a community spirit that makes living on the North Shore so special. These eight neighborhoods may embody that community spirit in disparate ways, but they all have one thing in common: the love of the people who call them home. 

Annisquam Gloucester

A thin peninsula in Gloucester between Lobster Cove and the Annisquam River, Annisquam is a bit of an island within an island. It has only one way in and out, is more accessible on foot or by bike than by car, and has always been less industrial and built up than the rest of Gloucester, which is celebrating its 400th anniversary this year. 

Like all of Cape Ann, Annisquam has long attracted artists.

“It has marvelous light, with how it reflects off the water into sort of a pastoral scene with the marshes and beaches,” says Dave Pearce, president of the Annisquam Association, which owns property with a number of historic buildings, including a former school and firehouse, that have been reimagined into new uses.

Yet Annisquam still manages to pack a ton of culture into its small footprint. Yes, it has one restaurant, but that restaurant is Talise, a highly reviewed seasonal spot on Lobster Cove that taps local farmers and fishermen for its dishes. It’s also home to the Cape Ann Shakespeare Troupe, an art gallery, historical society, and the Annisquam Yacht Club. 

Over the years, Annisquam has stayed quiet, serene, and hard to get to. It’s also a true neighborhood, where many families and traditions, like the Fourth of July parade, go back decades.

“We’ve been able to maintain a village atmosphere in an otherwise fast-moving age, and people kind of appreciate that,” says Steve Harris, president of the Annisquam Village Hall Association. “They feel that when they come here.”

The North Common, Lawrence

Lawrence has long been a melting pot, where generations of immigrants change and rechange the fabric of the city as new groups move in and out. A fantastic, living example of this is the North Common neighborhood, which is a mix of old-school Italian and new-school Hispanic businesses, people, culture, and events. 

On the old-school side is the neighborhood’s Italian heritage. A century ago, this neighborhood was predominantly Italian, and vestiges of that remain, thanks to iconic spots like Tripoli Pizza & Bakery and Fisichelli’s Pastry Shop, where people come from near and far for pizza, bread, cannoli, cookies, and other Italian specialties. 

Father Francis Godkin, FPO, Holy Rosary Shrine and Tony Palmisano, president of the Saint Alfio Society | Photograph by Jared Charney

Another Italian-American tradition there is the annual Feast of the Three Saints, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Every Labor Day weekend, the feast takes over Common Street to celebrate three martyred saints—Italian brothers Alfio, Filadelfo, and Cirino—with food, music, a parade, games, and more. 

“We are an Italian cultural festival, and we’re proud of being Italian-American, but you don’t have to be Italian to enjoy,” says Tony Palmisano, president of the Saint Alfio Society, a nonprofit, cultural charitable organization that runs the Feast of the Three Saints. 

Today, the neighborhood has become home to families from places like Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and other Hispanic countries, and that’s reflected in the businesses and events that make the neighborhood so vibrant, from the annual Semana Hispana festival in June that celebrated Hispanic culture with rides, live music, and food, to restaurants like El Taller, Terra Luna Café, and Bali’s Restaurant.

Downtown Haverhill

Downtown Haverhill, with its location on the Merrimack River and iconic, antique brick factory buildings, has been experiencing something of a slow-burn Renaissance over recent years, with the addition of new restaurants and businesses, high-end living space like The Heights, a UMass Lowell satellite campus at Harbor Place, and a beautiful riverfront boardwalk. There are also largescale outdoor murals, public art, and a loop-walk that crosses the river twice and includes the Bradford Rail Trail, not to mention drinking and dining options ranging from local brews and river views at The Tap Brewing Company to authentic Irish food and music at The Peddler’s Daughter. 

“There’s always people around, there’s always people walking downtown,” says Alexandria Eberhardt, president and CEO of the Greater Haverhill Chamber. “It’s really an amazing cultural atmosphere.”

Now, downtown Haverhill’s renaissance is continuing with projects like Lupoli Companies’ plan for a mixed-use development with apartments, retail and commercial space, a new parking facility, and outdoor areas. A just-approved apartment development on nearby Water Street is also in the works. 

And, of course, you can’t mention downtown Haverhill development without talking about Historic New England’s ambitious, transformative plan to build the Historic New England Center for Preservation and Collections (read more about it here), which promises to be a cultural destination for Haverhill, New England, and beyond.

As downtown Haverhill continues to break ground on new projects, it’s also becoming more and more of a draw for people looking for fun, vibrant, and multicultural city living that’s accessible to Boston (downtown is steps away from the commuter rail) while still being affordable. 

“There’s a real urban feel, which I think makes it so attractive to younger folks,” says Kate Martin, vice president of the Haverhill Chamber.

Salisbury Beach, Salisbury

The word “neighborhood” might not jump to mind when you hear ”Salisbury Beach,” but that just means the people who live there are in on a fabulous little secret: Your summer vacation spot is the place they call home.

From high-end condos and apartments with ocean views to the beachfront and beach-adjacent houses located near the shore, more and more people are calling Salisbury Beach home all year long.

“There have been amazing, incredible changes in the landscape down here from a residential perspective over the last 10 years,” says Kathy Aiello, managing director of Atlantic Hospitality Group and member of the board of directors of the nonprofit Salisbury Beach Partnership. 

In fact, Salisbury Beach has been undergoing an incredible revitalization over the past 15 years, thanks to the work of the Salisbury Beach Partnership, a collective of local residents and beach merchants who wanted to create a better community and destination for families and visitors. Their work has ranged from revitalizing the dunes, to creating more accessible beach access, to adding family-friendly programming like free outdoor concerts and weekly fireworks over the ocean.

You can spend an entire weekend, eating, drinking, and living well, thanks to spots like the easy, breezy Groundswell Surf Café, the elegant Seaglass Restaurant and Lounge, Blue Ocean Music Hall, Capri Seaside Italian Kitchen & Pizza, and Sin-A-Loa Tacos and Tequila, not to mention “beach pizza” faves Tripoli and Cristy’s and many other spots.

Salisbury Beach’s newest addition is a beautifully restored, historic carousel, which just opened at the end of June. The year-round, handicapped-accessible carousel is located in a “brand-new, stunning pavilion building . . . right on Broadway,” Aiello says.

That’s saying nothing of the beach itself.

“Salisbury Beach is really a hidden gem,” Aiello says. “There’s three miles of pristine beach that starts at the mouth of the Merrimack River and goes up to the New Hampshire border.”

Meeting House Common District, Lynnfield

Lynnfield has become a North Shore hub for shopping and dining, thanks to MarketStreet Lynnfield, but the town’s historic heart is the Meeting House Common District around the Town Common. 

“While MarketStreet has a lot of great advantages and benefits, there are still a lot of residents who like that old, quiet town square,” says Kirk Mansfield, chair of the Lynnfield Historical Commission and lifelong Lynnfield resident. 

There’s a lot to like. Mansfield points to recent improvements to the Town Common, including new lamps, benches, grass, and sprinklers. Visiting the Town Common also provides a chance to experience the Lynnfield Tree Story Walk, which teaches visitors about 12 different native trees on the common

The district isn’t just named for the common, though. It’s also named for The Old Meeting House, which is one of the oldest Puritan Congregationalist meeting houses still standing in Massachusetts and has become “very popular” for rentals. The entire district is also on the National Register of Historic Places and includes other historic buildings and the Old Burying Ground, which includes the grave of Daniel Townsend, one of the first soldiers killed in the Revolutionary War.

Whether it’s to get a glimpse of history or just enjoy the quiet of nature, the Meeting House Common District offers respite from the bustle of daily life.

“It’s beautiful,” Mansfield says. “It just gives you that very quaint feeling.”

Marblehead Neck, Marblehead 

Chandler Hovey Park and Marblehead Neck. Photograph by shutterstock

Marblehead is one of the North Shore’s most definitive “can’t get there from here” destinations, and that’s especially true for Marblehead Neck. Connected to the mainland by a causeway between Marblehead Harbor and the open ocean, Marblehead Neck is one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Massachusetts, filled with stately mansions and not one but three yacht clubs: Pleon, Eastern, and Corinthian. It also provides the perfect perch to watch sailboats, including the annual Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race.

Photograph by Adobe Stock

But its seaside and sailing proximity isn’t the only reason Marblehead Neck is worth a visit. Its northern tip is home to the striking metal Marblehead Lighthouse at the 3.74-acre Chandler Hovey Park, where benches overlooking the ocean dot the rocky shore.

The south-central end of the Neck contains the 20-acre Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, where migratory birds take refuge in the swamp, thickets, and woodlands during their spring and fall migration season. Explore the habitat and woodlands on nearly a mile of the sanctuary trails. 

Shawsheen Village Historic District, Andover 

Today, Shawsheen Village Historic District is a picturesque, tree-lined neighborhood within walking distance of downtown Andover. Kids play in their neighbors’ backyards, the residents celebrate with block parties, and everyone knows everybody else. 

“There’s just a sense of community that I imagine you don’t find in many other places,” says resident David Clermont, who’s lived there with his wife and four kids since 2014.

It was, in fact, built to be that way. 

One hundred years ago, in 1923, the American Woolen Company moved its headquarters from Boston to Andover, and in doing so, built a self-contained company village for its upper and middle management. The identical white houses with green shutters in “White Shawsheen” were designated for the company’s middle management and clerical staff, while the fancier brick houses in “Brick Shawsheen” were built for upper management. The company also built amenities for shopping, boating, sports, movies, bowling, and swimming, creating a place where employees lived, worked, and played. 

Today, the company has gone, but the village remains, and so does the community. Clermont lives in White Shawsheen, and says he probably knows the names of families in every one of the roughly 100 houses. At the same time, the neighborhood is within walking distance to downtown Andover and close to the commuter rail and highways. But most important are the people. 

“Walking around, you get the feeling that everyone’s out to take care of each other,” he says. 

Byfield, Newbury

Byfield is a small village in the town of Newbury, with one restaurant (the don’t-miss BBQ joint, Rusty Can) and little in the way of commercial activity. It’s also quiet and pastoral, tucked along the Parker River and beside the Byfield & Boxford Rail Trail. 

“It’s a really cool, quiet neighborhood. Very friendly and super-artistic,” says Dave Hill, who grew up in Byfield and is now president and general manager of the Byfield Community Arts Center.

Locals and visitors can experience Byfield’s artistic proclivity, thanks to the newly refurbished Byfield Community Arts Center, home to live theater, music, and arts programming. With a performance space and a small bar offering beer, wine, and basic cocktails, the Arts Center is having a grand reopening around Labor Day, with a brand-new slate of programming starting this fall and running through the season, which ends in May. It also hosts resident theater groups and offers space for art classes.

“We’ve got a lot of cool events happening starting in September that we’re really excited about,” Hill says. “People can expect on Fridays and Saturdays to be able to say, ‘Hey, I wonder what’s going on at the Art Center.’”

Among the already scheduled happenings in September and October are performances by Wanderheart, Entrain, Soul Rebel Project, and many others, with additional events being added soon for later in the season.

“There’s no other place like it around locally for kind of this kind of showcase atmosphere for live music,” Hills says.