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Gloucester made headlines earlier this year when its justifiably beloved Good Harbor Beach was named one of the top 25 beaches in the country by Travel + Leisure magazine. But, while no one can deny the lure of Gloucester’s beaches, the rest of the city also has a rich character very much worth exploring. 

With a vibrant and charming downtown, dozens of outdoor spots to explore, and a deep artistic heritage, the city of Gloucester is so much more than just its beaches. 

“There’s a lot more to do here,” says Elizabeth Carey, executive director of Discover Gloucester. “What makes Gloucester real special is that it’s the real deal.”

For lots of ideas, visit our list of 17 must-do things in Gloucester.

Gloucester sprawls across 41 square miles of land and water, and much of this area remains undeveloped, providing plentiful opportunities to enjoy the outdoors away from the beach. 

“One of the things I really love about Gloucester is that classic Cape Ann landscape—the granite, the big glacial erratics,” says Cathy Lanois, director of development and engagement for the Essex County Greenbelt Association. “It’s wild and it’s unique and it really kind of speaks for itself.”

Tompson Street Reservation’s rugged terrain can challenge ambitious hikers who choose to climb Sunset Mountain and Eagle Rock for sweeping views of the area. Or stroll the gentler trails of the Gabriel and Selma Kleimola Reservation to check out abandoned quarries from the heyday of the region’s granite industry. 

For more outdoor ideas, download the Greenbelt Go app, which lists and describes Greenbelt properties in the area, including ten in Gloucester. 

Downtown Gloucester bustles with activity in the summer. Photograph by Elise Sinagra

When you’re ready to return to civilization, ease in with a visit to Stage Fort Park or a walk down Stacy Bouelvard, a long, waterfront strip that is home to the famous Man at the Wheel Statue, the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Memorial, and gardens that are perpetually abundant with colorful, exuberant flowers.

Then head downtown. Walk Rogers Street and the Harbor Loop—past the historic dory shop, mounds of lobster traps, and plenty of fishing boats—to absorb the maritime heritage that is still very much a part of the fabric of Gloucester. If you’re feeling hungry, pop into Cake Ann for a cupcake or cookie, or grab a table on the patio at Decklyn’s, a new venture by the owners of Essex’s C.K. Pearl. 

“It is a very active, lively working waterfront,” says Ken Riehl, chief executive of the Greater Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce. “We have boats coming in literally all times of day and night, bringing in all manner of fish.”

Then turn down Main Street, where many of the buildings hark back to the 19th century, and independent shops and eateries create a dynamic and appealing district. Browse high end home and kitchen goods at Goodlinens Studio, buy some fresh handmade ravioli and a bottle of wine for dinner at Pastaio via Corta, or shop unique clothes and accessories at Design of Mine. 

A wander downtown is also a great way to start exploring the artistic traditions of Gloucester. 

“There is something substantial here in every genre of arts,” says Jacqueline Ganim-DeFalco, spokesperson for the Cape Ann Artisans, a guild of local creators that organizes studio tours that allow visitors to glimpse artists’ working spaces and buy some of their work. 

Several downtown galleries offer curated selections of art from the classic to the contemporary. Public art brightens many side streets and alleys; note the giant golden lobster that peers down from the new Harbor Village apartment building and the mosaic fish swimming across the warehouse building on Rogers Street. 

Cape Ann Museum Green

Head to the Cape Ann Museum to browse work by the many artists, past and present, who have been inspired by the scenery and character of Cape Ann. The collection includes works by Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Fitz Henry Lane, the Folly Cove Designers and dozens of other painters, sculptors, and craftspeople. 

Artistically inclined visitors will also want to head down to Rocky Neck, one of the country’s oldest operating art colonies. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the modest spit of land hosted many working artists inspired by the views and the people. Today, quirky, colorful galleries and studios still dot the neighborhood. 

And the area is still evolving: This year, a new collaborative endeavor, the Cove Gallery, will be opening, featuring work by several of the neck’s artists, and noted Boston chef—and Gloucester resident—Barbara Lynch is set to open a restaurant this summer.

What makes Gloucester a special destination, locals agree, is the combination of history, industry, and culture that gives the city a texture and authenticity that is impossible to duplicate. 

“It’s still very much a fishing community,” Riehl says, “but there’s so much more to see.”