The North Shore’s cities and towns may seem familiar to people who’ve lived here for years, but they take on new personalities when viewed through a different lens. Suddenly, tourist-packed streets and shops transform into places where families stroll with their dogs in the evenings, kids walk home from school, and neighbors have block parties and cultural events. Here, we explore some of those familiar—and not-so-familiar—neighborhoods that make the fabric of the North Shore so rich and beautiful.
Rocky Neck, Gloucester
Wandering through Gloucester’s Rocky Neck neighborhood is a little like taking a stroll through art history. You might see Marsden Hartley’s former studio or places where Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper spent time on their plein-air works. That artistic tradition continues today with the Rocky Neck Art Colony, one of the oldest continuously operating art colonies in the United States, where dozens of artists live and work.
“It’s just a stunning landscape, first of all,” says Courtney Richardson, director of the Rocky Neck Art Colony. “The sparkling ocean surrounds it.”
It’s no wonder that the unique light and landscape has been inspiring artists for years.“When you’re there you can always see art,” Richardson says.
And you’ll always see artists, too, whether in their galleries or out working in the landscape. You might bump into painter and mixed media artist Brenda Malloy of IMAGINE Gallery and Studio or painter Stephen LaPierre outside working on a plein-air piece.
Although it’s a seasonally driven place, it’s still very much a neighborhood that’s shaped by the landscape and history, with people and families who live there full time, year-round. In addition to the artistic community, Rocky Neck also boasts a maritime community. The Gloucester Marine Railways shipyard serves Gloucester’s fishing fleet from the end of Rocky Neck, and the nonprofit whale research and conservation organization Ocean Alliance operates research programs and artistic partnerships with the district.
In addition, two new restaurants are slated to open by the end of summer as of press time: The Rudder, newly helmed by local chef Barbara Lynch, and The Salted Cod Arthouse, says Richardson.
Most special of all, though, are the people, who love the neighborhood and dedicate themselves to volunteering for and participating in neighborhood events.
“That sense of community out here is really strong,” Richardson says.
Median Home Price: $660,674
During the height of summer, into the fall, and especially in October, Salem flexes its tourist-town muscles, so much so that it’s easy to forget that its bustling downtown district filled with witches and warlocks, goblins and vampires is actually a neighborhood, stretching about one square mile from roughly the Witch House to The House of the Seven Gables and the Blaney Street wharf, as well as the Derby Street neighborhood.
“Actually, a third of the Salem population fits within that footprint,” says Kylie Sullivan, director of Salem Main Streets. “It is only possible that we are vibrant so much of the year because we have so many great residents who live right in the downtown.”
In a walking neighborhood that’s welcoming to kids, dogs, and families, downtown Salem residents enjoy the “community center” feel of the neighborhood all year long, from off-season festivals like Salem’s So Sweet Chocolate and Ice Sculpture Festival in February, to the farmers’ market in Derby Square where residents can load up on local produce and artisanal goods, to the independent shops and boutiques.
And like close to a half-million tourists who visit every year, downtown residents also love Halloween (stroll down Salem’s narrow side streets to see evidence of that in the elaborately decorated homes) and celebrate it “backwards,” Sullivan says, starting with the popular Haunted Happenings Grand Parade at the beginning of October, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
“That’s such a resident-focused event, and that’s right in the heart of downtown,” she says. “October honestly can be a really important resident time as well.”
Despite the tourists, Sullivan says Salem Main Streets works hard to ensure that downtown residents still feel ownership over their neighborhood, and one of the ways they do that is by volunteering.
“We have almost 300 volunteers in our regular volunteer database for Salem Main Streets, and I would say the majority of them live in the downtown or the historic Derby Street neighborhood.”
Plus, she has noticed a pattern when it comes to downtown residents: Many first visited Salem as tourists and fell in love with the place and the community.
“A lot of them really fall in love with this community and stay here and are committed to making it stay as special as it is,” she says.
Median Home Price: $568,011
With a population of just over 6,000 people, Rowley is no doubt a quiet, bucolic hamlet, with its Norman Rockwellesque Main Street and lots of conservation land. But its downtown is also an amazing place for a local weekend staycation, even for people who live there or nearby.
Pack your bags and head to Briar Barn Inn, a 30-room inn right downtown. Although it’s possible to spend a very enjoyable, relaxing weekend without ever leaving the Briar Barn Inn property—where there’s a spa and a restaurant, called Grove—exploring Rowley like a tourist is even better.
Rowley is a magnet for lovers of antiques, with places like Salt Marsh Antiques as well as its crown jewel, Todd Farm Antiques, which has two indoor markets—The Barn and The House, both open on weekdays and weekends—and its legendary outdoor flea market that runs on Sundays from April to November.
Get up with the sun for the best finds at the flea market, and then when you’re finished, head just down the street for breakfast, brunch, or lunch at Stephanie’s Village Pancake House, located in an historic, 17th-century home.
Spend the afternoon exploring the coastal woodlands, salt marshes, and tidal creeks at Rough Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary before ending the day at Mill River Winery, where you can find wine flights, small bites, vineyard tours, and live music in the vineyard.
Median Home Price: $709,925
Beverly Farms, Beverly
Christy King has lived in Manhattan, Las Vegas, Charleston, and other cities and towns, but there’s a special place in her heart for Beverly Farms.
“I’ve liked a lot of places that I’ve lived,” she says. “But the Beverly Farms and Prides Crossing neighborhood is absolutely a jewel of a place to find.”
As a Beverly Farms resident and president of the Farms-Pride Community Association, King is devoted to her neighborhood, and it’s easy to see why. The little seaside hamlet is not only picturesque but filled with people who love it and work hard to make it a fun and welcoming place for everyone who lives there.
There’s West Beach, of course, and the little downtown filled with small businesses like the gourmet grocer and prepared foods shop Vidalia’s Market, Wild Oats Health Food Store, the boutique gift shop Sweetwater & Co, Chapman’s Florist Greenhouse, and Andalin Thai Kitchen & Bar. In nearby Pride’s Crossing you’ll find the local favorite Prides Crossing Confections. There’s also the walkability of the town, something King appreciates after living in Manhattan.
“It’s such a cute little village,” King says. “It’s a great place to live; it’s a great place to visit.”
But perhaps the neighborhood’s most treasured spot is the Hastings House, a community center that the Farms-Pride Community Association manages, which hosts beloved annual events like a 4th of July fundraising auction and dance; a pancake breakfast; a Christmas tree lighting celebration; cornhole tournament, and the legendary Halloween Bash. It’s also a rental space and meeting space for local groups like the Girl Scouts and West Beach Corporation.
Now in the works is a multiyear fundraising campaign to modernize the historic property, including adding ADA-compliant features, fixing parts of the kitchen, and improving fire escapes, among other enhancements, as well as building an endowment fund, King says.
It was through the Hastings House that King as a newcomer first got involved in the neighborhood: She saw a party happening there outside the window of her new apartment and wondered what all the fun was about. She introduced herself and asked if they needed volunteers, joining a rich tradition of people volunteering to keep Beverly Farms the wonderful neighborhood that it is, she says. She was welcomed immediately.
“I have not had the experience of instant acceptance and friendship from a neighborhood in quite the same way,” King says. “Open arms, come on in, please come to the party, please make yourself at home.”
Median Home Price: $674,343
Photographs by Doug Levy, by Shutterstock (Bradford Rail trail)
The Bradford section of Haverhill, located across the Merrimack River from the rest of the city, offers the best of both worlds of urban and suburban living, with its tree-lined streets, wide sidewalks, and a small-town center, and that’s one of the things that attracted Danielle Smida and her husband, who are originally from Pennsylvania.
They were drawn to the turn-of-the century houses, the walkability, and the close-knit neighborhood feel. They love the Bradford Common with its summer concert series and the newly renovated Hunking School, to which her kids can walk or ride their bikes.
“I love that you can cross the river and go downtown and it’s urban or we can take a little ride” for something more bucolic like Tattersall Farm and Winnekenni Park Conservation Area. “It’s such a neighborhood, and on our street, everybody knows each other.”
Smida is the chairperson of Creative Haverhill and cochair of the Bradford Rail Trail, which runs along the Merrimack River between two bridges on the Bradford side of the city.
Creative Haverhill has been working on a years-long project to renovate, restore, and make accessible Bradford’s former Cogswell School—itself an antique building—into the Cogswell ArtSpace. The funding for the project has been slow but steady, and when the building finally opens, it will be a community hub for art classes, a juried gallery space, studios, a printmaking studio, and a woodshop.
“I love the idea of Cogswell continuing to be a community asset and open to the public,” Smida says.
She’s also excited that the Bradford Rail Trail has received funding to do design work to connect the second phase of the trail to Groveland. Although funding for the actual connecting project will come later, Smida says this is a huge step forward.
“Having the design work in place really helps position you so that when there is funding, you are ‘shovel ready,’” she says.
That sense of dedication, volunteerism, and always working to improve the lives of its residents—along with the beauty and friendliness of the historic neighborhood itself—is among the many things Smida loves about Bradford.
“I love that when we have a fundraiser, most of my neighbors show up,” she says. “People know what’s going on.”
Median Home Price: $484,903
Winchester is well known for its stunning collection of beautifully preserved Victorian homes, and nowhere is the town’s living history more apparent than in the Winchester Center Historic District neighborhood, which not only is lined with beautiful antique buildings but is also the beating heart of the town.
There you’ll find wonderful shopping and dining options all within a lovely, compact, walkable district. There are charming shops, like Home, filled with décor, kitchenware, and gift items; sophisticated clothing boutiques like Revel, SoleAmour, and Runway Couture Boutique; an art studio and gift shop called Studio on the Common, offering art and pottery classes; and Sweet SurpriZe, a candy and novelty shop.
There are also creative restaurants and eateries like A Tavola, Lucia Ristorante, Comella’s Restaurants, Black Horse Tavern, and Mitho Restaurant, not to mention the municipal buildings that actually make town hall–type errands enjoyable.
However, it’s not just shopping, dining, and lovely architecture that make Winchester Center such a draw. A short walk brings you to Wedge Pond, Mill Pond, and the lovely and unique Griffin Museum of Photography.
Median Home Price: $1,460,193
Hamilton has a lot of history packed into its 14 square miles, including the legendary Myopia Hunt Club, but its historic district along Bay Road has been getting extra attention lately.
The Hamilton Historic District is one of the oldest in Massachusetts, and the designation aims to ensure that the neighborhood retains its historic look, feel, and integrity.
That’s why in late 2020, the town established the Hamilton Historic District Handbook, which provides solid guidance for modifying existing buildings within the district, as well any demolition, new addition, or new construction. Any such changes need to be approved by Hamilton Historic District Commission before the work begins.
It’s fun to travel through history—the town was named after Founding Father Alexander Hamilton—on a walk through the historic district, which includes notable properties like the First Congregational Church; Georgian-style homes like the Wigglesworth-Cutler House; and Victorian-era homes like Thomas Preston House, as well as the Hamilton Post Office, Village Store, Hamilton Cemetery, and the Colonial Revival–style Hamilton Town Hall.
Median Home Price: $813,423
Median home prices are sourced from Zillow.