“I could have been a contender!” – Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando), On the Waterfront
I’m a Midwestern girl living on the West Coast and I do love LA! But if I get the chance to hang out on the East Coast in summer or fall, I make a beeline for the quaint little town of Newburyport, MA! It’s a New England gem with friendly and smiling natives, an outstanding waterfront, and great food and lodging. You’ll definitely know you’re not in Kansas anymore!
When I was a young girl, family vacations in summer became a ritual. It went like this: Pack five gangly and noisy siblings, a German shepherd, and two parents into a beat-up, paneled, station wagon with piles of suitcases tied onto the rooftop and head north to Ghost Lake, Wisconsin. It was an all-day marathon, an 8 to 9-hour drive, as the excitement and anticipation continued to build as we looked forward to spending two magical weeks on a picturesque lake surrounded by cozy, rustic log cabins.
With summer in full swing, my dream vacation is a little different these days! Waterfront is a necessary requisite of the ideal summer vacation in my world. Summer means hot days and warm nights. It calls for delicious, dripping ice cream cones in 31 flavors and more. It means endless hours spent with wide-open space and an empty agenda. It means giving ourselves permission for some guiltless R & R. And, most of all, it means taking refuge and restoring our hearts and souls through the stillness and beauty found in Mother Nature.
Having left Chicago over 8 years ago, I’m now a full-fledged, card-carrying California girl. California captured my heart long ago. The west coast is brimming with glorious beaches, boho blonde bombshells, and some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. I’ve also discovered there is pure gold on the opposite side of the country. The West Coast has a decidedly more bohemian vibe than the East Coast. The East Coast feels like the more established grown-up while the West Coast feels a bit more like its younger, wild child. The East Coast allows us the experience of traveling back in time, bringing with it the flavor and charm of the European culture with its cobblestone streets, coastal beaches, and gorgeous waterfronts.
The jewel of New England is a tiny, waterfront community called Newburyport in Massachusetts that lies just over an hour outside of Boston just south of the New Hampshire border. As I shared in a recent blog post, Newburyport may be the happiest place in all of New England. If you can’t travel across the pond to Europe, you can experience a little slice of it right here in Newburyport. Be prepared to inhale joy I as I’m pretty sure they spiked the air with happiness. At least, that’s what it felt like to me. I was on a perpetual high, lifted by the hearts and spirits of the local vibe. The town couldn’t be more charming as everyone is genuinely invested in your well being and personal experience. My last post covered the history and downtown of Newburyport. This time, I’m taking you on a tour of the gorgeous waterfront and a visit to one of my favorite restaurants.
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The birthplace of the US Coast Guard, Newburyport is one of the oldest towns in New England. The Waterfront Park runs along the Merrimack River where it meets the Atlantic. My days would begin with an early morning walk through downtown Newburyport and over to the Waterfront Park. It’s the perfect place to people-watch or practice a little gentle yoga before beginning the day. There are benches galore where you can choose to do absolutely nothing other than people watching and gazing at the beauty of the waterfront. If you return at lunchtime, you’ll find the waterfront has come alive, teeming with people of all ages and tourists making the most of their stay. The attractions include various local musicians adding to the joy factor. There’s everything from theater to live entertainment and even an annual Riverfront Music Festival that’s a huge draw for locals and tourists alike. Whale watching is a highlight throughout the summer where you just may be lucky enough to see gigantic humpback whales up close and personal. Just don’t forget the Dramamine and wristbands, if you have a tendency to get a bit seasick like CGO!
What to wear for a visit to Newburyport? As a maritime capital, the nautical look is always in style. As a seaboard village, blue and white seemed to fit the bill. My first look of the day was a pale blue cotton tunic from Tory Burch from last season. This one is long gone but I’ve linked a few of my favorite finds from this season. I tossed it on over a pair of skinny white jeans and light blue suede kitten heels from Zara, pink dangly earrings from J Crew and the perfect straw bag, also from Zara. These have sold out but I’ve linked a few I’ve discovered that are available online. As the temperatures began to rise throughout the day, I was glad I brought along a breezy sundress, also with an east coast vibe. This one sold out at J Crew. I’ve found a few similar styles. The sunnies were a great sale find from Free People and the strappy sandals are from Schutz. This pair is long gone but they always have a few current similar looks which I’ve linked for you to take a peek. The round jute bag is from Zara and I found a current style from Shopbop that I love! You’ll see nautical and maritime shops throughout the town along with a lot of shops that feature the classic, New England prep look.
What’s a summer vacation in a coastal mecca without delicious, freshly caught seafood right off the dock? Fortunately, I didn’t have to find out as the Sea Level Restaurant is located right in the heart of downtown adjacent to the Waterfront Park. The first thing you’ll notice entering Sea Level is their world-famous Oyster Bar. You can choose to dine inside or out as their cozy back patio overlooks the Newburyport Waterfront. The restaurant is known for some of the freshest and most extensive seafood selections in town. It’s also a popular nightlife spot with a bar that winds its way through much of the restaurant and a menu with lots of creative libations and concoctions.
As it was a hot, humid summer day, we decided to head indoors to bask in the air conditioning. I ended up skipping the oysters in favor of a fresh, jumbo shrimp cocktail. I had heard some of the locals talking about the mouth-watering hot lobster rolls. What’s a trip to Newburyport without testing out the local fare? After polishing off the shrimp along with an icy cold glass of chardonnay, I was ready to tackle the tasty lobster roll. Served up on a fluffy brioche bun loaded with warm, buttered lobster meat, and topped off with fresh bibb lettuce and some homemade chips, one bite and I knew I was in food heaven! The expansive Sea Level menu will make you want to try a little bit of everything. Choices range from freshly caught sea scallops and tuna to a baked seafood pie, delicious shrimp linguine or a gigantic, steamed lobster tail. Of course, you could always try the “Plum Island Clambake,” named after a nearby popular historical attraction that’s loaded with fresh lobster, little-neck clams, mussels, chorizo and topped off with smashed potatoes and perfectly grilled corn. (And don’t forget to visit beautiful and wild Plum Island like CGO did in this post!) A wide range of fresh, fish tacos are another popular option. If you have an ounce of room left over for dessert (heck, it is a vacation!), I would highly recommend the Stuffed Brioche Donuts topped off with the perfect amount of whipped vanilla panna cotta and a dusting of cinnamon sugar.
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After a filling and mouth-watering dinner experience at the Sea Level, it was time to walk along the waterfront to burn off a few calories before heading back to the Essex Street Inn. A cozy yet deceptively expansive inn just a block from downtown, it’s loaded with old-world charm and the latest in contemporary comfort. It’s family-owned with an emphasis on personal experience. It’s the one and only place I would recommend staying in Newburyport. You can read more of my experience at the Essex Street Inn here. The town truly does feel as though everyone swallowed a happy pill. It’s an experience I highly recommend. If you’re looking for the perfect summer escape, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump in you’re if the New England area. It’s also worthy of a spot on your summer vacation destination wishlist. I’ll be back, Newburyport, as you’ve captured a little bit of my heart.
Cheers Beauties. Have you been to Newburyport? What’s on your summer vacation wishlist?