17 Best Things to Do in Essex County, MA

 Essex County, MA
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Essex County is one of the biggest and richest counties in Massachusetts because of its booming tourism.

Situated by the Atlantic Ocean, you can expect a lot of seaside and coastal attractions here—some prominent cities and towns include Rockport, Salem, and Gloucester.

There’s a lot in store for you here, ranging from quirky museums, nature preserves, to trendy beaches.

Much like other counties in the state, Essex is also brimming with history.

With so many townships and cities, planning an itinerary can be overwhelming.

So, check out this list of the 17 best things to do in Essex County, Massachusetts for the ultimate guide.

Do All Sorts of Activities at Stage Fort Park

Gazebo at Stage Fort Park
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Stage Fort Park is a fantastic destination in Essex County, being one of the most visited attractions overall.

It’s located in the city of Gloucester, and is situated by the Gloucester Harbor that flows out from the Atlantic Ocean.

Stage Fort Park has a lot of things in store for you—there are beaches, tennis courts, picnic grounds, and various trails in this huge open space.

A beach at Stage Fort Park
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It also doubles as a historic location, as you can see many remnants here such as life-sized cannons from the 19th Century.

Beyond that, there’s also a dog park along with a harbor that’s great for relaxation and photography.

The grounds of Stage Fort Park
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Do Wildlife Immersion at Mass Audubon Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

Daytime view of Mass Audubon Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary
John Phelan, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Mass Audubon Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the most amazing nature areas in Essex County, located in Topsfield Township.

It’s a beautiful place to enjoy all sorts of nature trails and terrains—one of the best traits about this sanctuary is its wetlands.

Because of this, it’s a haven for boating activities such as canoeing and kayaking; you’ll be able to spot a lot of aquatic animals by doing so.

Make sure to bring your binoculars as well, many small birds and critters are found all throughout Mass Audubon Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary.

The guest fees here are affordable, so give this a try if you’re big on nature.

Do a Historic Tour of the Hammond Castle Museum

Exterior of the Hammond Castle Museum
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The Hammond Castle Museum is a great place to experience 19th Century history, found in Gloucester City.

Named after John Hays Hammond, this museum was once his estate—Hammond was a renowned philanthropist, pioneer, and inventor during the mid 1800s.

Much of the castle is preserved really well, and it won’t take you that long to tour the place as well.

Interior of the Hammond Castle Museum
Robert Linsdell from St. Andrews, Canada, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Lots of artifacts are found here, and the gardens are a great place to take some photos with family and friends.

Open for tours, this is a great addition to your itinerary if you want to learn something new and diversify your experience.

A pond at the Hammond Castle Museum
Robert Linsdell from St. Andrews, Canada, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Go Swimming at Good Harbor Beach

Daytime view of Good Harbor Beach
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No trip to Essex County would be complete without checking out its many beaches.

One of the most touristy places to experience the nice beaches in the county is found in Gloucester City through Good Harbor Beach.

Visited by thousands of people weekly, Good Harbor Beach is a perfect place if you want to be by the sea while immersing yourself in beach culture.

People at Good Harbor Beach
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While it’s often visited by a lot of people, make no mistake—the beach is huge and still maintains a serene ambiance for relaxation.

The waves here are huge, and the place is clean as well—it’s truly one of the best beaches in Essex County.

Aerial view of Good Harbor Beach
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See the Quarries at Halibut Point State Park

Quarry at Halibut Point State Park
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Halibut Point State Park is one of the must-see destinations in Essex County, located in the town of Rockport.

The state park is a haven for history enthusiasts and outdoor lovers, as these are prehistoric grounds that date all the way back to millions of years ago.

You’ll see majestic rock formations here, and because of its location, you’ll have sweeping views of Ipswich Bay as well.

The waters of Halibut Point State Park
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Still, the most exciting part about Halibut Point State Park are the quarries—these austere terrains are a perfect spot to do all sorts of unique photography.

There’s a visitor center here as well, so pay a visit before exploring the place further.

Daytime view of Halibut Point State Park
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Go Sightseeing at Lodge Park

The town of Nahant is one of the most scenic places in Essex County because it’s an island that stretches far out into the Atlantic Ocean.

While there are a ton of attractions within it, Lodge Park is one of the best to start your day trip to Nahant.

Lodge Park is situated at the southernmost tip of the town, and it gives you all sorts of scenic views that feels like you’re at the tip of the world.

There are tons of different rock formations found in Lodge Park, along with historical markers that go centuries back.

Not many people go here because of how far it is, so this is a great way to spice up your adventure in Essex County.

Take Photos of Motif #1

Exterior of Motif #1
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Motif #1 is a simple fishing shack in Rockport that has a vintage aesthetic, dating back to the mid 1800s.

While this may not sound exciting at first, Motif #1 is the icon of Rockport and has attracted various artists to draw inspiration from its experiential aesthetic.

There’s a certain allure to exploring a fishing town, and that’s what Rockport and Motif #1 bring to the table.

Facade of Motif #1
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It almost feels like being in a new country, somewhere far in the coastal waters of Europe.

One of the most peaceful places in Essex County, you can’t afford to miss out on the beautiful Motif #1 and its aesthetically engaging surroundings.

Far view of Motif #1
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Watch a Concert at the Rockport Music Shalin-Liu Performance Center

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It’s a unique experience to watch a live performance by the ocean, especially if the performance center has huge windows that show off the sea.

You can experience exactly that at Rockport Music Shalin-Liu Performance Center, easily one of the best in Essex County that’s found in Rockport.

The architecture here is amazing because of its modernity, giving an intimate vibe no matter what kind of concert you attend.

Building details of Rockport Music Shalin-Liu Performance Center
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Various events are held here, ranging from acoustic performances to jazz.

So, if you love music and other performance arts, don’t miss out on Rockport Music Shalin-Liu Performance Center.

Interior of Rockport Music Shalin-Liu Performance Center
Photograph by Peter Van Demark, (c) Rockport Music, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Appreciate Art at Peabody Essex Museum

Exterior of Peabody Essex Museum
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Located in the city of Salem, Peabody Essex Museum is one of the can’t-miss destinations in Essex County because of its pedigree.

It’s easily one of the most notable art museums in all of Massachusetts, which is saying something considering how big and historic the state is.

What makes Peabody Essex Museum special is its interior layout—it’s a stylish and modern museum that utilizes its collection to bring out its unique aesthetic.

Interior of Peabody Essex Museum
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Peabody Essex Museum has a lot of variety in terms of genre, and you can see legendary artists here such as Georgia O’Keefe.

It’s also brimming with huge art installations, so don’t miss out on it even if you’re a casual enjoyer of art.

Exhibits in Peabody Essex Museum
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Experience the Creepy Witchcraft at Salem Witch Museum

Exterior of Salem Witch Museum
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One of the things that makes Massachusetts so enjoyable is its rich history and heritage.

In Salem City, witchcraft from the 17th Century is one thing that the city has utilized to attract millions of tourists each year—you can best experience this in the Salem Witch Museum.

Located in a vintage castle-like structure, Salem Witch Museum houses eerie exhibits that showcase an abundance of all things witchcraft which was taboo back in the day.

Building sign of Salem Witch Museum
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You can see mannequins here that are part of witchcraft diorama, as well as creepy animatronics.

Make no mistake, however—Salem Witch Museum isn’t a haunted house, it’s just kind of creepy!

Statue in front of Salem Witch Museum
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See The House of the Seven Gables

Exterior of The House of the Seven Gables
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Another nice addition to your itinerary in Salem is The House of the Seven Gables.

It’s a historic landmark in the realm of literature, as it’s the 17th Century homes that were inspired from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s hit novel of the same name.

Today, you can see the beautiful architecture and history of The House of the Seven Gables and relieve that novel if you’ve already read it.

Even if you’re not a fan of Hawthorne’s works or books in general, the location of this area is scenic as it’s right by the sea.

Likewise, there’s a lot of beautiful seaside gardens surrounding the house, so it’s a perfect way to snap some photos during your trip.

Sundial at The House of the Seven Gables
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Enjoy the Flora of Maudslay Castle Park

An underrated attraction in Essex County is Maudslay Castle Park that’s found in the city of Newburyport.

If you visit during the spring season, this place blooms into extravagance—very few places in the county can have as much plant life as this park.

Brimming with various gardens, nature trails, and ponds, Maudslay Castle Park is a haven for horticulture enthusiasts.

Even if you’re not passionate about botany or horticulture, the park is a perfect spot for dates or photo opportunities.

There’s even an arts center and theater within Maudslay Castle Park, so consider paying it a visit.

Go Camping at Harold Parker State Forest

The waters of Harold Parker State Forest
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Found in the township of Andover, Harold Parker State Forest is a huge expanse of nature that’s perfect for campers.

It’s a great place to do all sorts of outdoor activities if you want to allot multiple days for it in your itinerary.

There are dozens of ponds here to explore, along with sprawling nature trails that seem to go on forever.

In fact, Harold Parker State Forest is one of the biggest attractions in Essex County; it’s a testament to its sheer size.

Because of that, expect a ton of flora and fauna along your way.  

The grounds of Harold Parker State Forest
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Relax at Singing Beach

Sunny day at Singing Beach
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Found in the town of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Singing Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Essex County as well.

This beach is a lot more serene and quiet compared to the northeastern beaches found in Essex County.

And unlike places such as Rockport and Gloucester, Manchester-by-the-Sea is found on the southern bend of the county, giving you a different experience in terms of the ocean.

It’s not as rich in tidepools or strong waves, but Singing Beach’s fine sand and gentle waters make it perfect for relaxation.

Not to mention, it’s much smaller than other beaches, giving this an intimate atmosphere.

The waters of Singing Beach
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Tour the Castle Hill on the Crane Estate

Aerial view of Castle Hill on the Crane Estate
Jay Burnham, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Castle Hill on the Crane Estate is one of the most lavish mansions not just in the county, but in the entire state of Massachusetts.

The estate features sprawling gardens that surround the huge Tudor Revival-style mansion that was once owned by Richard Teller Crane, Jr. who was a renowned businessman.

The lavish mansion almost feels like it’s straight out of England—you’ll feel like a prince or princess here as you explore every nook and cranny it has to offer.

Exterior of Castle Hill on the Crane Estate
Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The entrance and tour fees here are extremely affordable, so don’t be scared to add Castle Hill on the Crane Estate to your itinerary.

It’s found in the township of Ipswich, acting as the town’s primary tourist destination.

A bedroom in Castle Hill on the Crane Estate
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Trek through Lynn Woods Reservation

A tower at Lynn Woods Reservation
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Lynn Woods Reservation is another prominent nature area in Essex County that’s famous for day trip hikes and treks.

One of the most unique things about the place is that it has caves to explore and towers to see—it’s a nice addition to spice up your adventure.

The reservation is also surrounded by giant ponds, so expect a lot of wetlands as you explore Lynn Woods Reservation.

Because of its topography, it’s home to a lot of wildlife; owls and deer are some of the prominent animals you’ll often see here.

Found in the city of Lynn, this is a must-experience for any outdoor adventurer.

The waters of Lynn Woods Reservation
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Check Out Winter Island Park

Lighthouse at Winter Island Park
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Winter Island Park is another attraction in Salem that’s found at the very tip of the city.

While there are many things renowned about this park, this is a nice addition to your itinerary because of its lighthouse.

After all, what’s a trip to a coastal county without seeing a gorgeous lighthouse? At Winter Island Park, you can do that and plenty more.

Some other activities here are visiting its sandy shores called Waikiki Beach; camping via RV is also another popular activity here.

Easy to visit since it’s in Salem, this is a quick stopover to add in your itinerary.

Waikiki beach at Winter Island Park
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Final Thoughts

Essex County is a haven for any kind of tourist because of its diverse range of attractions.

Whether you love castles or you’re into beaches, the county is brimming with photo opportunities and hotspots for fun.

Some of the can’t-miss attractions here are Halibut Point State Park, Motif #1, Castle Hill on Crane Estate, and beaches like Good Harbor Beach.

The best things to do in Essex County, Massachusetts are waiting for you—let this list guide you in your adventure!

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