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This coastal town just 35 miles north of Boston is considered a model of preservation, thanks to a 1970s urban renewal project that revitalized the downtown to showcase its lovely waterfront setting and historic architecture. Today, visitors are drawn to Newburyport’s treasure-trove of local independent businesses and restaurants, the cultural attractions of the Firehouse Center for the Arts and the Maudslay Arts Center, and the promise of outdoor adventure in the form of bird- and whale-watching, kayaking, hiking, and more. To get you started on your itinerary, here are some of our favorite places to eat, favorite places to stay, and favorite things to do in Newburyport, MA.
SEE MORE: Coastal Weekend Getaways in New England | Your Perfect Weekend
Things to Do in Newburyport, MA
Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
Less than four miles from downtown Newburyport is this sprawling sanctuary, whose 4,662 acres span a variety of wildlife habitats: salt marshes, swamps, maritime forests, sand dunes, beaches, salt pannes, and so on. A walk through the refuge is a great way to spy out the songbirds, waterfowl, and shorebirds that make this barrier island their home at various times of the year. The several miles’ worth of boardwalks and clearly marked hiking trails make it easy to find your way around; maps are also available at the visitors center. Entrance at 6 Plum Island Turnpike, Newburyport. 978-465-5753; fws.gov/refuge/parker_riverSEE MORE: Walks Worth Their Salt | New England Ocean Walks
Custom House Maritime Museum
Restored and opened as a museum in 1975 during Newburyport’s landmark redevelopment efforts, this 1835 structure is one of the town’s architectural gems. Designed by Robert Mills, architect of the Washington Monument and the U.S. Treasury Building, the custom house is today a gateway to Newburyport’s maritime history. Highlights include model clipper ships, a collection of shipwreck and salvage items, and a diorama of the 19th-century Currier shipyard, as well as exhibits on ship building, the Coast Guard (which got its start in Newburyport), and local author John Marquand. 25 Water St., Newburyport. 978-462-8681; customhousemaritimemuseum.orgSEE MORE: New England Maritime Museums, Historic Sites, Art, and Cruises
Newbury Kayak & Canoe
One of the best ways to appreciate the natural beauty of the greater Newburyport area is from the water, and the Duffield family is eager to help get your voyage under way. Opened by husband-and-wife team Michael and Kate in 2014 — and staffed in part by various family members — Newbury Kayak & Canoe is ideally located on the Parker River, right on the edge of the national wildlife refuge. They can outfit everyone from novices to pros with a wide range of kayaks, canoes, and standup paddleboards; plus they offer kayak classes for those looking to hone their skills. 291 High Road (Rt. 1A), Newbury; 978-465-0312; newburykayak.com
Brown Sugar by the Sea
This sister restaurant to perennial Best of Boston favorite Brown Sugar Café upholds that standard with some of the best Thai food in Newburyport. Located in a bright, modern, glass-walled space in the Tannery Marketplace, Brown Sugar serves up curries, stir-fries, soups, and other Thai-accented dishes that are bursting with spices and fresh produce. For lunch in a hurry, you can pick up a wrap (filled with pad Thai, chicken green curry, etc.) or a rice bowl for under $10, and there’s even a kids’ menu of simplified classics. 75 Water St., Newburyport. 978-499-8424; brownsugarbythesea.com
Mad Martha’s Island Café
No trip to Newburyport is complete without a visit to this beachy-keen institution, which has been in operation since 1986. And even though its owners have changed over the years, its laid-back vibe and emphasis on fresh, creative, affordable fare have remained the same. Breakfast is Mad Martha’s claim to fame: Egg sandwiches are a standout, and include the Crabby Patty (with crab, cheese, and horseradish) and Fire on the Mountain (with turkey bacon, salsa, jack cheese, and hot sauce). You can also find big, fluffy folded omelets, egg scrambles, and sweeter treats like blueberry granola pancakes and caramelized banana French toast. The ever-changing lunch menu is listed on the blackboard each day, and every now and then during the summer you’ll hear of Mad Martha’s offering three-course dinners (reservations definitely recommended). 51 Northern Blvd., Newbury. 978-462-7707; madmarthasislandcafe.com
The Paddle Inn
One of Newburyport’s newest eateries, the Paddle Inn is the brainchild of executive chef Suzi Maitland, Beau Sturm, and Josh Childs, whose three other restaurants — Audubon in Boston and the Starlite Lounge and Parlor Sports in Somerville — help set the bar for hip dining in the Hub. At this bar-restaurant on State Street in downtown Newburyport, the surfer/tropical island atmosphere puts guests at ease as they dig into upscale pub food like coconut beef skewers, roast vegetable tacos, and a catch-of-the-day fish sandwich with lemon-tarragon remoulade. The craft cocktails are a delight, too, from the Rocking Chair (ginger, lemon, and bourbon-infused with black tea) to the Last Days of Pompeii (gin, punt e mes, rosemary/grapefruit cordial). 27 State St., Newburyport. 978-572-1242; paddleinnsurf.com
Newburyport Hotels & Inns
A 2016 renovation breathed new life into this longtime Plum Island destination, including a new color palette (blues, beiges, and whites) that mimics the beach scene just steps from the 13-room hotel. Options include five stand-alone cottages with a full kitchen, hot tub, and fire pit, ideal for a family escape. Or gather some friends and all the fixings for a classic New England lobster bake, and reserve the two-bedroom Blue Suite: The 2,200-square-foot space offers a full kitchen, a private hot tub, a fireplace, and your own private entrance to the beach (which you probably won’t leave until the sun rises the next morning). 20 Fordham Way, Newbury. 978-463-6128; blueinn.comSEE MORE: Best New Hotels in New England
The Garrison Inn
Situated on Brown Square Park in downtown Newburyport, the Garrison Inn is still sparkling from its $1 million renovation in 2011. The 24 rooms in this four-story National Historic Landmark building merge an overall clean and modern look with the industrial spirit of a newspaper letterpress workshop (a nod to native son William Lloyd Garrison, editor of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator). Made-to-order breakfast and an afternoon tea service are included in the room rate; other perks include free access to the Y across the street. Pets are welcome, for a fee. 11 Brown Sq., Newburyport. 978-499-8500, garrisoninn.com
The Clark Currier Inn
The former summer retreat of a relative of Nathaniel Currier (of Currier & Ives fame), this 1803 Federal-style mansion offers 11 distinctive guest rooms outfitted with a medley of New England antiques (the Hale Room, for instance, features a 19th-century sleigh bed and an antique wrought-iron stove). Make yourself at home in the garden, which features a gazebo, or relax in the parlor or library. 45 Green St., Newburyport. 978-465-8363; clarkcurrierinn.com
What are your favorite things to do in Newburyport, MA? Let us know in the comments!
This post was first published in 2017 and has been updated.