In the seaside town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, you can stroll past historic homes, peruse a 17th century graveyard, dine with a harbor view, and so much more.
By Alyson Horrocks
Aug 18 2022
Don’t miss the stunning harbor view fromPhoto Credit : Alyson Horrocks
Please note that many establishments throughout New England have modified their hours and/or operations in response to COVID-19. Always check for the latest information before making travel plans.
Perched on a rocky peninsula that stretches out into the Atlantic, the seaside town of Marblehead features some of the most striking views and stunning scenery that northern Massachusetts has to offer. Due to its unique location, Marblehead’s coast became an irresistible draw to industrious colonists in 1629, who made quick work of turning it into a thriving fishing village.
As a commercial center, Marblehead enjoyed rapid growth in its early years, becoming one of the biggest towns in the colonies in the days before the Revolutionary War. Homes of merchants, mariners, sailmakers, and more sprang up all over town. Though Marblehead has gone through many phases — finally emerging as a seaside resort and major yachting center in the late 19th century — those early homes still dominate the town’s historic center today. With nearly 300 surviving colonial-era homes — said to be the most of any town in the country — strolling Marblehead’s old neighborhoods is one of the biggest reasons to visit.
Strolling Marblehead can be an educational experience, with historic plaques placed on each home, giving you the year of construction, the name of the first owner or two, and their professions. (A bit of trivia: You may notice a fair number of old homes that were once owned by a cordwainer, in other words, a shoe maker. For a good portion of Marblehead’s history, shoe making was a major industry in the town.) In Marblehead’s Old Town, you will find a historic district packed with an impressive collection of colonial homes, shops, galleries, restaurants, and inns, with the added bonus of being only a short walk to the harbor and to dining with incredible views. If you can find a parking spot in historic downtown, take it.
There are many good choices for dining in Marblehead. For finer dining, 5 Corners Kitchen on School Street serves mouth-watering cuisine. The dishes consist mainly of French bistro fare, though local influence, as well as that of other nations, can be tasted in 5 Corner’s menu. While it is higher-end than the other recommendations here, 5 Corners Kitchen still offers that relaxed, coastal environment Marblehead is known for, and isn’t at all stuffy.
If you’re looking for casual, seafood-geared dining paired with a fantastic view, I always love The Landing or The Barnacle. Both are on Front Street, overlooking the harbor, an easy walk from old downtown. For a well-made cocktail or a quick bite, locals directed us to Maddie’s Sail Loft on State Street and we weren’t disappointed. Maddie’s is location is perfect too, tucked in amongst the old colonial homes of downtown.
While in the downtown historic district, you’ll find a charming array a small shops to explore. My personal favorite is F.L. Woods, because it is a true Marblehead original. Starting out as a nautical instrument and supply store, it has since expanded to include American-made clothing in their signature Marblehead green, as well as their own totes, accessories. F.L. Woods has done business in the same storefront on Washington Street since 1938 and is truly a Marblehead institution.
Only a short drive from downtown, is Old Burial Hill. Founded in 1638, it is the resting place to many puritans and other early residents. The centuries-old stone carving artwork and epitaphs gives you a revealing glimpse into another time. Sitting high on a hill, it can be difficult to see from street level and is easy to miss. Keep an eye out for the historic marker at the intersection of Orne and Pond streets. If you are willing to climb the stairway up its rocky side, you are rewarded a stunning view of the harbor.
While in town, the scenic drive down Marblehead Neck is a must. Be sure to drive all the way to the end and park at Chandler Hovey Park. Here you will find Marblehead’s unique lighthouse. Marblehead lighthouse was built in 1895 to replace an earlier one that was considered too small to do its job. The lighthouse, an iron skeleton structure, may be considered strange or ugly by some, with an appearance somewhat reminiscent of schoolyard jungle gym. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed watching children as they play around the old iron tower. The main attraction of Chandler Hovey Park, however, is its beautiful view of Marblehead Harbor.
There are so many other attractions to visit in Marblehead, like Fort Sewall, Devereux Beach, or Marblehead Museum, and so many other shops and restaurants to check out. If a day trip just isn’t enough to see all that you want to see of Marblehead, there are many charming inns to tuck into for the night. My favorite is Harbor Light Inn, which was built in 1729 as the home of Samuel Goodwin. It retains its historic charm, while offering modern amenities, and is right in the middle of old downtown.
Whether you are in town for a day trip or for a long stay, Marblehead, with its quiet coastal charm and deep-rooted history, offers the best of New England. With its many layers of history, quaint neighborhoods, and endlessly scenic drives, Marblehead will have you wanting to come back to see its changing vistas in every season.
Have you ever visited the historic coastal town of Marblehead, Massachusetts?
This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated.