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Summer is Rockport’s chance to show off a little.

The town of roughly 7,000 people is a quaint spot all year. The Shalin Liu Performance Center is always a breathtaking venue for live music, the ocean views are always stunning, and the donuts at downtown café Brothers Brew are always some of the best on the North Shore.

Come summer, however, the little town at the northernmost tip of Cape Ann blossoms into a destination unrivaled for natural beauty, artistic inspiration, and classic New England charm. The seasonal shops, restaurants, and galleries downtown throw open their doors, a colorful riot of dahlias blooms at the Roving Radish flower farm, and the sun shines on the lobster boats anchored in front of the iconic red fishing shack Motif #1.

“There’s spectacular natural beauty, the small-town vibe, world-class art,” says Kristin Czarnecki, interim executive director of the Rockport Art Association and Museum. “It really is a picture-book seaside town.”

For visitors coming in from out of town, downtown Rockport is usually the first destination, says Marshall Tulley, owner of Addison Choate, a boutique inn located just outside the town center. The main attraction in the neighborhood is Bearskin Neck, a strip lined with low-slung, shingled buildings that house dozens of independent shops, eateries, and galleries. Several of these spots have recently been taken over by a new generation, bringing a fresh and exciting energy to the neck, Tulley says.

Along the way, locals are eager to share their beloved community with visitors, Tulley says.“The painters will tell you all about their process and maybe a little bit of history,” he says. “There are so many stories and so many open and welcoming people.”

Many visitors, Tulley says, come to town specifically to attend a show at the Shalin Liu Performance Center, where acclaimed musicians play in a gorgeous auditorium of burnished wood and textured stone—the room stood in for the Berklee College of Music in the Academy Award–winning movie Coda. From June 7 to July 7, the venue hosts the Rockport Chamber Music Festival.

Art-loving visitors can also cross the street to the Rockport Art Association and Museum, where paintings, photographs, sculptures, and other works by the association’s juried members appear in rotating exhibits. Regular classes, workshops, and artists’ demonstrations let visitors immerse themselves in the artistic process.

“They are some of the most well-regarded, experienced artists around, and they are doing magnificent work,” Czarnecki says. “Seeing the art here and buying art from the Rockport Art Association and Museum is a really special opportunity.”

There are also opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, even in the heart of town. Front Beach and Back Beach, connected beaches right off the main drag downtown, are popular destinations for swimming and sand. Nearby, in Millbrook Meadow, plenty of shade trees alongside a playground, pond, and babbling brook offer a bit of respite from the crowds that can jam the Rockport sidewalks on a sunny day.

Halibut Point State Park | Photograph by Shutterstock

Beyond the confines of downtown, even more beauty awaits. A perennial favorite is Halibut Point State Park, where shaded paths circle an abandoned granite quarry and wind down to the rocky waterfront, combining local history with natural splendor. At the visitor center, you can climb the World War II–era guard tower for views across the entire property and as far as Maine, on a clear day.

For even more out-of-the-way nooks, check out the town’s extensive networks of rights-of-way, paths that cross forested land, circle quarries, and edge along the ocean with little fanfare and no crowds. Tulley likes to wander out to Loblolly Cove, where he has spotted deer and coyotes en route to peaceful water views.

Even with so much to do, though, many visitors choose to keep their schedules light, wandering the town, enjoying some chocolate from Tuck’s Candy, and browsing the boutiques and souvenir shops, just immersing themselves in the small-town charm, Tulley says.

“They love the quaint nature of the town,” he says. “For a lot of people it’s a breath of fresh air, it’s an opportunity to unwind.”