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Big box stores and local bold-faced boutiques, restaurants, and natural attractions are in no short supply on the North Shore (here’s looking at you, Crane Beach!), but sometimes, digging a little deeper yields surprising—and special—results. Our staff and contributors deployed around the area to unearth some of its lesser-known but nonetheless fabulous locales—from specialty sports outfitters and an under-the-radar artists’ den to nature trails and a cigar bar—just in time for spring and summer exploration. Bring your appetites, your bare ring fingers and wrists, your bathing suits, and your hankering for home improvement projects and get ready to explore the unknown North Shore. 



Whether you are a Pinterest-obsessed decor maven or interior design strikes fear into your heart, you will find inspiration at Ivy Lane. Tucked in an alley off Pleasant Street, the store’s aesthetic is inspired by the eclectic style of the Anthropologie chain of fashion/home decor stores, but with a strong focus on selling the work of local artists and craftspeople. For do-it-yourselfers, the shop also hosts design and paint workshops. 31 Pleasant Street, Newburyport, 978-462-2650, Hours vary, closed Mondays and Tuesdays.


From dark chocolate balsamic vinegar to Tuscan herb-flavored olive oil, Newburyport Olive Oil Company offers 37 olive oils and 27 balsamic vinegars—all available to try before you buy. Truffle lovers flock to it for the intense white truffle oil, while just about everyone likes the Black Mission Fig Balsamic Vinegar. All the vinegars are imported from Modena, Italy, while olive oils, ranging in intensity from creamy to peppery, come from everywhere from California to Tunisia. The Tannery, 50 Water St., Mill #4, Newburyport, Suite 403, 978-462-7700, Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m, Sundays, 9 a.m.-2 p.m.


For an intimate collection of casual chic clothes of the all-natural ilk and novelty items with a vintage twist, check out Ipswich’s Gifts 4 Soul. With all the rustic charm of its host town, the lure of creatively eclectic displays (showcasing the likes of a restored manual typewriter drowning in pear-shaped candles), and designer lines that include the green-minded Ripegoods, Indigenous, and Denimacracy—Lisa Mennino’s little Market Street shop enchants with its bounty of handcrafted stock. 4 Market Street, Ipswich, 978-815-7466,

Main Street Market
Main Street Market

Fudge, toffee, barks, truffles, peanut butter cups—all are made by hand and with love at Turtle Alley. But as the name denotes, turtles are the raison d’être for this unparalleled chocolatier. Newest turtle flavors include dark chocolate ginger almond and bacon pecan. Then there are the traditional ones, featuring almonds, cashews, and every other kind of nut, exquisitely rendered in dark, milk, or white chocolate. If you go to the Gloucester shop, you can watch the candy being made. 42 Rogers Street, Gloucester, and 177 Essex Street, Salem, 978-281-4000 and 978-740-0660,


Situated in the heart of downtown Topsfield, Main Street Market offers fresh and unique seasonal menus, specializing in breakfast, lunch, and baked goods. Keeping their products local, you’ll find items from names like A&J King Artisan Bakers and Mill River Winery displayed throughout. Looking for a gift? The shop’s selection of Mariposa homewares, soy candles, and prepackaged gourmet food (don’t miss the cheese section) will make the perfect present. 17 Main Street, Topsfield, 978-887-2005,


Among the cluster of 19th-century buildings that make up the charming center of the Gloucester village called Lanesville, The Plum Cove Grind is a takeout coffee bar and bakery shop with a difference. Instead of the dispiriting pre-made pastries common at such emporiums, the baked goods are freshly made on site with superior-quality ingredients. The offerings are seasonal and they nod to special food requirements; try the vegan chocolate cake if you want to know how good virtue can taste. 1064 Washington Street, Gloucester, 978-281-3377,


When it comes to finding a cafe where reading/writing/whatever for hours at a stretch is permissible and the atmosphere inspires just that, not every coffee shop passes muster. Bean & Leaf is an exception. With a small but quality selection of baked goods, intimate seating, and a harbor view, it draws artistic types. As for the coffee, it can best be described by the Turkish proverb hand-chalked on a blackboard overhead: “Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love.” 12 Bearskin Neck, Rockport, 978-546-7500,

Buttermilk Baking Company
Buttermilk Baking Company

Ashley Bush, owner of Buttermilk Baking Co., has been perfecting her light-as-air pastry her whole life. The secret? Lots of butter and a focus on sourcing the best local ingredients. While pies are her passion—from quiches and blueberry hand pies to a giant apple pie packed with 10 apples—Bush also offers delectable muffins and scones, as well as weekends-only maple sausage buns—breakfast sausage wrapped in brioche, glazed with maple syrup. Don’t count on leftovers come Monday, though—that’s Bush’s well-deserved day off. 3 Liberty Street, Newburyport, 978-499-8278,


A throwback to days when supplying local townspeople with quality provisions wasn’t such a novel concept, the anachronistic West Village Provisions General Store and Eatery embodies that sentiment. With shelves teeming with gourmet foods, old-timey candy, handmade soaps, art supplies, books, fishing tackle, and just about everything else under the sun, it’s a real-deal general store. Fresh sandwiches, soups, coffee, and baked goods make it all the more charming. 561 Main Street, Boxford, 978-352-9711,


Lucy's Love Bus
Lucy’s Love Bus

Hughes–Bosca jewelry expresses a bold, handmade aesthetic in 18-karat gold and a startling array of materials, including diamonds, bolts, oxidized silver, and ancient beads. Their gold is lemony yellow, their design vocabulary textural and highly individualistic—each piece is singular. The goldsmiths display their gleaming wares at Side Street, a small but mighty gallery representing over 70 artists on Gloucester’s Rocky Neck. Hughes-Bosca Jewelry, Side Street Gallery, 17 Rocky Neck Ave., Gloucester, 978-283-3791,


At Mahri, jewelry is art—and all from the ultra-talented hand of Mahri (Marianthe Anagnotis Bode). A master goldsmith, she creates magic with her multi-colored gems, gold, and silver. Stones come in from around the globe, and she creates as she goes, looking for sparkle, transparency, and color to form one-of-a-kind pieces. She also offers unusual, stylish clothing, toys, and gifts. 11 Beach Street, Manchester-by-the-Sea, 978-526-7241, and 156 Washington Street, Marblehead, 781-639-6015,



Lucy Grogan was horrified when she discovered cost prevented some children from receiving the pain-relieving therapies that helped her manage pain from cancer. “That is outrageous,” her mother, Beecher, recalls Lucy saying. Before she died at age 12 in 2006, Lucy helped create Lucy’s Love Bus, a nonprofit that offers $1,000 grants to cover therapies like massage, acupuncture, or therapeutic horseback riding to kids with cancer. Already, the organization has helped 102 children in 12 states get relief.

Tim Oviatt, owner of Swampscott's newly opened Ocean House Surf Shop and Cafe
Tim Oviatt, owner of Swampscott’s newly opened Ocean House Surf Shop and Cafe

Tim Oviatt and Jake Neubacher have a good thing going. Directly across from King’s Beach in Swampscott, the brand new Ocean House Surf Shop and Cafe offers a surf-, paddle-, and longboard display room featuring name brands like Coreban; an all-organic/natural foods cafe featuring locally sourced ingredients, artisan breads, and “custom shots” poured by an educated staff who’ve passed a “barista/latte art course”; and lessons that include “Sup Yo!” (stand-up paddleboard yoga). In a nutshell: this place is cutting-edge cool! 140 Humphrey Street, Swampscott, 978-219-4787


Add this to Marblehead’s list of enchantments: an island you can visit without a boat (or a long swim)! Five-acre Crowninshield Island is reachable by foot if you cross the shallows at dead low tide. The reward for pre-planning:  a pristine, beach-y landscape of saltwater pools dotted with shells, tidal plants, and miniscule sea creatures, surrounded by fields and woodlands. Walk along the loop trail for pretty vistas of sea, sky, and harbor.


Tucked away in Rowley is an undiscovered beauty spot, the recently opened Rough Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary. Managed by Mass Audubon and the Essex County Greenbelt Association, this 250-acre property is a natural wonderland of coastal oak, salt marsh, tidal creeks, and salt pannes. Wander the trails or head to Sawyer’s Island and launch a kayak into the Parker River. Either way, you’re onto something special: Rough Meadows is part of the Great Marsh ecosystem, the largest salt marsh in the Northeast.

SLS Fitness
SLS Fitness

There are gyms aplenty these days, but there is only one SLS Fitness. Started by fitness aficionado Sherri Laffey Sarrouf, the strength and conditioning center helps clients achieve holistic health. With the idea that the body is meant to move, SLS Fitness is home to 5,000 square feet of turf and a workout area featuring TRX, heavy bags, and chin-up bars; a 2,500-square-foot fitness room with a suspended floor and state-of-the-art stereo; and, coming soon, a 2,000-square-foot MMA and boxing studio. In addition to optimal equipment, over 100 classes, and individualized attention from trainers for all 30-minute sessions, members enjoy an organic juice bar, a fitness store, childcare, and massage, chiropractic, physical therapy, and acupuncture treatments. Essentially, SLS Fitness has it all—and then some. 345 Chelmsford Street, Lowell, 978-459-5959,


For those craving scenic and cultural satisfaction, consider a ride along the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway. Numbering among the country’s nearly 1,500 byways, the North Shore’s Routes 127 and 133 give way to something pretty special. The 85-mile route stretching the length of Essex county—from Lynn to Newburyport—offers travelers the opportunity to experience the area’s inspiring views, working harbors, quaint villages, local food, boutique shops, galleries, and fine lodgings. Activity seekers can hike, bike, boat, kayak, and swim all along the route, as parks, trails, waterways, and beaches dot the route. Marked by historic, natural, and cultural beauty, the byway is an Essex National Heritage Commission project.


Everybody loves Crane Beach, but few explore its wilder side, a dazzling 5.5-mile trail system that winds through a maritime forest and alongside buff-colored dunes, with views of ocean, bay, and offshore islets. (To find it, head to the right-hand side of the main parking lot and look for the trailhead. Be subtle; we want to keep this to ourselves!) Walk amid towering dunes with stunning vistas of Ipswich Bay and the Essex River estuary.


Come summertime, easy access to the ocean is among the North Shore’s many draws, and Discovery Adventures has all the tools necessary for seafaring fun. Opening Memorial Day weekend, the Gloucester outfitter hosts guided sea-kayaking and snorkeling tours around Cape Ann and offers stand-up paddleboard rentals and instruction. What we love about Discovery is that they not only facilitate good, old-fashioned adventures for outdoor enthusiasts, but they also offer an array of kid-friendly programs that are geared toward teaching safety, marine science, and respect for the natural environment. 1077 Washington St., Gloucester, 978-283-3320,



Laura DiBlasi attended a prestigious fashion design school and perfected her craft in her native Italy before coming to North Andover. She expertly tailors and adds custom details to off-the-rack clothing until it resembles chic, couture-like apparel. DiBlasi also creates and/or embellishes wedding gowns, bridesmaids’ dresses, and

Mural by Goose Rocks Tile Studio
Mural by Goose Rocks Tile Studio

outfits for christenings, proms, and First Communions. Fees range from modest to more substantial, depending on the materials and her clients’ unique design requests. 1248 Salem Street, North Andover, 978-794-0777.


Artist Amber St. Clare draws on her training at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and years of teaching art to create her custom, hand-painted tile murals under the name Goose Rocks Tile Studio. Her tile works range from $38 for a single tile for kitchen, bath or fireplace projects, to as much as $12,000 for large-commissioned murals. St. Clare creates custom tiles from fabrics, sketches, photographs, wallpaper, and customers’ unique ideas. Her website showcases her beautiful creations. 2 Kelsey Road, Boxford, 978-888-8366,


Since 1992, Bob Frishman has sold more than 1,600 vintage timepieces and repaired 7,000 clocks. His antique clock repair includes ministering to small pocketwatches to large grandfather clocks. Bell-Time Clocks sells restored heirloom clocks valued from around $175 to over $11,000. Every customer who buys a clock or brings one in for restoration learns of the background of the clock. Says Frishman, “There’s nothing like the sound of an old clock.” 53 Poor Street, Andover, 978-475-5001,


Since the world turned its attention to Britain in 2011 with the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton, English sensibility has taken over the fashion industry, and fascinators have taken center stage. These quirky headpieces can be spotted on the heads of royals—from Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie to Camilla Parker Bowles and Duchess Catherine herself—while attending weddings and other formal occasions. Here on the North Shore, Anglophiles and fashion plates can get their fascinator fix courtesy of Holly The Hat, an online made-to-order fascinator shop owned by Holly Payne-Strange, a Nahant resident and drama student at the University of Aberystwyth in Wales who developed a penchant for pretty headgear when shopping with her mom in London as a child. Payne-Strange’s fascinators are popping up in shops in Boston and Wales, and Boston Channel 7 News anchor Anne Allred wore a Holly the Hat fascinator to the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Why we love Holly The Hat most: At least 10 percent of proceeds from the sale of her fascinators go to Annette’s Climb, a Groveland nonprofit that supports victims of domestic violence.

14 Cedar Street Studios
14 Cedar Street Studios


Housed inside a former manufacturing plant of horse-drawn carriages, 14 Cedar Street Studios enjoys circa-1871 environs. Now providing workspaces for artists, architects, designers, and entrepreneurs alike, the building’s three floors accommodate 65 leased studios. This mecca of creativity brings to Amesbury some of the North Shore’s most inspired endeavors, including classes in kung fu, yoga, cooking, stained glass, painting and watercolor. To see the space and meet its occupants, join an open studio tour where visitors are treated to free demonstrations, live music, and refreshments (the next one is May 4-5) or just pop in; the building is always open, and finding friendly folk is easily done. 14 Cedar Street, Amesbury, 978-265-6526,



Situated on Route 114 in Middleton and a staple of North Shore summers, Richardson’s Ice Cream is by no means a hidden gem. But what you might not have noticed just across the highway on your many ice cream runs is The Old Cuban Cigar Factory, a discreet structure that’s home to a cigar-lover’s wonderland. The shop offers an extensive selection of cigar brands, which patrons can peruse in the walk-in humidor, as well as a smoking lounge where aficionados can enjoy cigars and look on as fresh ones are hand-rolled (they’re blended by a master cigar roller with more than 30 years’ experience). The Old Cuban Cigar Factory happily hosts private events and provides mobile cigar bars for weddings and other special occasions. 173 South Main Street, Middleton, 978-777-4129,