Even if you’ve never been to Rockport, you’ve seen Motif #1. The buoy-decked red fishing shack sits on a granite pier jutting into Rockport Harbor, practically begging visitors to take photos of the picturesque scene.
But Rockport, situated at the very end of Cape Ann, is far more than its most famous photo op. It is traditional landscape paintings alongside bold modern art. It is fried clams and hot dogs up the street from farm-fresh baby kale salad and Japanese-inspired swordfish. It is a walk along the rugged coastline and a seat at a world-class chamber music performance.
“It mixes old and new in a really fantastic way,” says Sarah Kelly, a local writer and the founder of Rockport Exchange, a nonprofit that promotes cultural events and activities in the city. “There are so many options for ways to enjoy Rockport.”
Rockport began as a part of the Gloucester settlement, with the first residents coming to live there in the 17th century. In the late 1700s, the town began to develop a granite trade, driven by the needs of construction projects in Salem and Boston. Until the early 20th century, the industry was one of the town’s main economic drivers.
In the 1900s, artists discovered the town, drawn by its unique light and sweeping views. As the Great Depression set in and sped the decline of the granite industry, Rockport was transformed into an artist colony, full of notable names and acclaimed works. Each summer, artists poured into the town in droves, many there to paint—of course—Motif #1.
Today, both granite and art are still very much present in the town. Abandoned quarries, now filled with water, dot the area, and galleries and studios are abundant. Visiting artists are still drawn to the scenic coastline and the picturesque buildings of Bearskin Neck. And it’s hard to pass that iconic red fishing shack without spotting someone taking a selfie.
Modern-day visitors tend to concentrate on the charming commercial area defined by Main Street, Dock Square, and Bearskin Neck. And there is plenty to be enjoyed here. “It’s an adorable, commercial downtown with everything you could need,” said Sarah Wilkinson, chair of the town’s board of selectmen.
Bearskin Neck is lined with local independent shops housed in historic buildings. You can grab a coffee, treat yourself to fudge or strudel, and browse shops selling toys, recycled sail tote bags, fair trade home decor, hand-printed t-shirts, and a lot more. Wander all the way to the end and emerge to sweeping ocean views.
Head down Main Street or Mt. Pleasant Street and you will encounter more shops, restaurants, and galleries. Longtime Rockport institutions like Tuck’s Candy and the Rockport Art Association share space with contemporary offerings such as the stylish housewares at Lula’s Pantry and the decadent house-made donuts at Brothers’ Brew Coffee Shop.
Throughout the year, community events bring together the town’s residents and businesses. In the fall, Harvestfest serves up local food and music, while May’s Motif #1 Day celebrates the town’s artistic heritage. Throughout the summer, a weekly farmers’ market has become a community focal point where locals gather to enjoy food, conversation, and live music.
North of the town center, up Route 127, scenic views and quaint homes quickly replace the tourist bustle. About two miles up the coast, the Atlantic Path starts. The trail is a patchwork of public lands and private rights-of-way that let walkers trace the shoreline all the way to the northernmost tip of Cape Ann, if they’re feeling intrepid.
At that topmost point—just continue driving up 127 if you’re not up for the trek—sits Halibut Point State Park. The heart of the property is a former granite quarry now filled with water. Trails wind around the pit, through the surrounding woods, and down to the rocky shoreline. A self-guided walking tour lets visitors learn more about the history and practices of the granite industry, and a 60-foot World War II fire tower offers views as far as Maine on a clear day.
To find the best the town has to offer, Wilkinson suggests hitting a coffee shop and striking up conversation with a local. Just about everyone in the town, she says, is grateful for the chance to be there and eager to share the wonder. “Whether you’re coming here for vacation or at the end of a long workday, I think everybody just feels so lucky to live, work, and be here. It’s special.”
Notable Rockport Residents:Singer-songwriter Paula Cole, Pixar writer-producer Andrew Stanton, singer-songwriter Bobby Hebb, perpetual presidential candidate Vermin Supreme, author Kevin Baker
Rockport Schools: Rockport Elementary School, Rockport Middle School, Rockport High School
Dates and Statistics:
Date of Settlement: 1623
Date of Incorporation: 1840
Area: 7 square miles
Zip Code: 01966
Median Household Income: $72,015