Top things to do in historic Marblehead + where to stay & eat
Located on a rocky peninsula south of Salem and north of Boston, historic Marblehead, Mass., has a little something for any visitor. If you are seeking one of the best places to travel north of Boston along the coast, one that promises history, spectacular coastal views, and wonderful places to eat, Marblehead should make the list.
The historic downtown of Marblehead is built around a harbor and, in a nod to maintaining its seafaring history, it has narrow, winding streets lined with houses that were once home to sea captains and prominent traders. And, of course, there are the requisite cozy cafes, chowder and seafood restaurants, and shops…plenty of shops. There is, frankly, quite a lot to see and do in Marblehead and most of the sites are walkable, if you are so inclined, since the town covers only about 20 square miles. If you prefer to drive, keep in mind that finding parking right in downtown Marblehead can be, well, more than a bit challenging, so if you find a spot, take it! During my last trip there, I kept my car parked at the Hotel Marblehead where I was staying. You can also get around very easily by bike. Ask at your hotel or B&B if it has bikes to use since many do.
Things to do in historic Marblehead
Here are our top picks of things to do in Marblehead, plus where to eat and, if you are so inclined, where to spend the night:
This is where I would start a visit, simply for the views. The park, located just off Front Street beside the Marblehead Harbor, has a public restroom (good to know if you are in need), benches, and stunning ocean views of the harbor. It can be peaceful, or a bit crowded as Crocker Park does play host to numerous weddings and public events throughout the year. Proof of its beauty.
Assuming you started your visit at Crocker Park, head east, walking along Front Street past numerous restaurants, shops, boatyards and boat houses, until you arrive at Fort Sewall. This fortification was built in the 1600s with barracks and other work completed in the late 1700s. Since the fort is located at the mouth of the harbor, this is a perfect place to watch sailing regattas and boats come and go to your heart’s content. Look across the bay, and you will see Marblehead Neck and its lighthouse in Chandler Covey Park – another place worthy of a visit (see below).
Fountain Park & Old Burial Hill
From Fort Sewall, head back along Front Street to either Fort Beach Lane (it will turn into Doaks Lane) or Franklin Street and turn right. At Orne Street turn right again and stay on Orne until you reach the intersection of Orne and Pond streets. Fountain Park will be to your right, up some steep steps. Old Burial Hill Cemetery (founded in 1638) is to your left. Start by climbing the stairs up to the historic marker atop Fountain Park and enjoy yet another amazing view of the harbor. Then, scramble back down and head into the cemetery. Here you will find stone-carved gravestones marking the final resting place of many of historic Marblehead’s earliest residents, including some Revolutionary War dead.
This destination is often overlooked for a visit but shouldn’t be! Located on Washington Street (not far from Crocker Park), the red-brick clock tower is visible from most places in downtown Marblehead. It is Marblehead’s town hall, but it’s open to visitors for free. There is often a volunteer guide to explain features of this historic building and the art and artifacts it holds. A must-see is the Selectmen’s Meeting Room (open when the town council is not in session) immediately to the left of the main entrance door. There, on the far wall is the famous painting, The Spirit of ’76, by Archibald M. Willard. There are many other historic artifacts in this room. Be sure to look to the left as you face the painting and you will see the deed (from 1684) that transferred ownership of 3,700 acres of land from the Naumkeag Tribe of the Algonquin Nation to British settlers from nearby Salem – the land upon which historic Marblehead was built.
If it is more local and area history you are after, then Marblehead Museum is for you. The museum is actually housed in three, separate, historic colonial buildings (J.O.J. Frost Gallery, the Jeremiah Lee Mansion, and the Civil War and G.A.R. Museum) all fairly closely grouped in downtown Marblehead. Visit the museum website to view admission fees and exhibit schedules.
You might want a car or bike to go here, as it is a bit of a walk from downtown Marblehead (approximately 2.8 miles from Abbott Hall). The lighthouse is a cast iron structure located in Chandler Hovey Park – the point across the harbor you see from Fort Sewell. The lighthouse, now automated, was built in 1835 and then rebuilt in 1836.
Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary
If it is a walk on the wilder side you crave, and perhaps a bit of bird watching, then stop in at the Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary on your way to or from Chandler Covey Park. The sanctuary is 18 acres and has some lovely trails making it a great place for peaceful walks, albeit short ones.
As you are driving, biking or walking along Ocean Avenue crossing to Marblehead Neck and to see the Marblehead Lighthouse, you passed by this beach on your right. It is Marblehead’s most popular beach with over five acres of sand as well as picnic tables (got lunch?) and a nice playground.
Wondering where to stay in Marblehead?
I would fully recommend the Hotel Marblehead. You can read our review here. This 14-room historic boutique hotel is a perfect base not only for exploring Marblehead, but for venturing farther north to the towns of Salem and Rockport.
Where to eat in Marblehead
Ed Note 2021: Sadly, this restaurant has closed, another victim on the COVID pandemic downturn. We will miss it as it was fabulous! Reportedly, Chef Stephane Colinet has moved on to become the general manager of Café Escadrille in Burlington. One place that you must absolutely try is the Turtle Cove Bar & Grille, run by the husband-and-wife team of Stephane and Gayle Colinet and where my taste buds were tantalized beyond belief during a visit in 2018. The menu French chef Stephane presents is simple and approachable, but the flavors a diner will experience are decidedly complex and delectable. I had fresh oysters that were sublime, a crudo with tuna so fresh it practically melted in my mouth, and then a lobster scampi that surprised me – in a very good way. The menu says only that it is made with fresh lobster meat tossed with garlic, butter and linguine. In truth, it is lobster meat so perfectly cooked it remained tender and sweet tossed into the linguine with a melted butter sauce flavored with garlic and infused with a hint of lemon, orange and lime. Oh my!
A few others that are worthy of a mention too are Three Cod Tavern to experience a bit of local flavor along with clam chowder and baked haddock, Casa Mia if you are feeling decidedly Italian, and 5 Corners Kitchen Restaurant for that upscale bistro dining ambiance (and prices).
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