Waving pectoral flippers in the air while floating on its back for its amazed ocean audience, this magnificent Humpback Whale was the real thing – and only an hour after I left Gloucester Harbor under the watchful gaze of the Gorton’s Fishermen’s Memorial of fish stick fame (“they who go down to the sea in ships”).
Whale watching is a rare opportunity anywhere, but jutting into the Atlantic northeast of Boston and Cape Cod, this quick access to Massachusetts harbor is a vibrant alternative ranking as one of the top ten whale watching spots in the world by the World Wildlife Fund. The home of NatGeo’s Wicked Tuna, Gloucester is one of New England’s richest nautical and historical experiences featuring a multitude of seas-side nature and cultural appreciation for singles and families alike.
“Paaak” the “Caaa” (local dialect for park the car) and get aboard a comfortable tour boat for an unforgettable and easy ride to the Stellwagen Bank marine protected area at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay. Fishing boats, sail boats, marinas, and historic shoreline communities are sprinkled everywhere en route, and on a clear day will see a new and distant perspective of Boston’s skyline. This is the time to break out the under-used telephoto lens sitting a bit too long in the drawer.
While a whale sighting is not guaranteed, it is virtually unheard of to miss it during the season of April through October – my favorite time is September for less crowds and prime-weather. The lumbering mammals actually enjoy slapping their tails and fins along with breaching. Try Captain Bill’s tours conveniently located near the Gloucester Maritime Heritage Museum making a great way to finish the day after the boat returns. The museum features marine science exhibits and aquarium touch tanks – don’t miss the Gorton’s seafood company display.
Nearby, my favorite under-publicized and modest attraction in the entire city is the Diving Locker – a home-grown maritime “museum”. The lower level consists of two delightfully crammed rooms of the most amazing diving antiques, treasures, and quirky collection of nautical curiosities casually run by a retired gentleman who surely must have known Lloyd Bridges of the 1960’s Sea Hunt TV show.
Accommodations across Gloucester’s inner harbor on the Atlantic shore offer brilliant sunrises (not that I am necessarily up mind you) and unexpectedly rocky beaches. Try the very popular Bass Rocks Inn or Atlantis Oceanfront Inn. Getting there from Gloucester requires a drive past Good Harbor Beach, one of the most scenic beaches ever, especially at sunset and low tide.
The best beach for lounging and family time is a short drive north to Wingaersheek Beach – a kind of local version of Maine’s Bay of Fundy boasting some of the most drastic tide changes in the region. Check the tide charts, bring beach chairs, walk hundreds of yards into the ocean in just inches of water, and enjoy the tide pools for educational entertainment.
Home to Gloucester’s first settlers in 1623, Stage Fort City Park is an enriching snapshot of history with huge climbing boulders, secret cannons, amazing overlook, hidden beach, and bathrooms.
Many premium water-side eateries abound in walking distance as the town is not geographically vast, and of course feature seafood. Do not leave without having ”lobsta”, clams, or mussels.
As part of the larger encompassing Cape Ann peninsula, round out the Gloucester experience with an afternoon excursion to nearby Rockport, billing itself as a world famous “quaint seacoast village”. Check it, and Cape Ann, out for a leisurely postcard coastal drive with an art colony flavor. Stop randomly at fishing villages and remote rocky beaches along the way – just do it.