Category Archives: New England

Witch City Eats: My Top Places to Nosh in Salem, Massachusetts

Salem, Massachusetts may be a small city, but the variety of restaurants is impressive.  Here are my favorites, listed in order of greatness, in the Witch City.  Don’t visit Salem without eating at, at least, the first two.

1. Caramel

I’m starting with dessert for a very good reason . . . I can honestly tell you that I haven’t enjoyed French pastries this good outside of Paris.  As soon as you enter, your eye will be drawn to the long, glass counter filled with meticulously made pastries of every shape and color.  Just admiring them is a feast for the senses.  I always take several minutes to decide what I want because there are too many good choices.  I’ve also been known to order two desserts just for myself!  Before making your selection, be sure to wander over to the case of scrumptious macarons in a variety of flavors.  The master chef at Caramel comes from South Central France, and the techniques that he uses to magically create the pastries have been passed down to him from his great grandfather who opened a patisserie in France back in 1931. If you love French pastries as much as I do, then run (don’t walk) to Caramel.  If you visit Salem without stopping there, you are seriously missing out!  

2. Boston Burger Company

Do you love a juicy, delicious, big-as-your-head burger as much as I do?  If so, there’s no better place in Massachusetts to get one than at Boston Burger Company!  Mind you, these are not your everyday burgers.  From the “Killer Bee”, with a stack of beer-battered onion rings, honey, BBQ sauce, and American cheese, to the “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”, piled high with mac and cheese, pulled pork, onion rings and BBQ sauce, to “The King”, featuring peanut butter, bacon, and fried bananas, to the “Sophie” topped with prosciutto, goat cheese, candied walnuts, fig jam, greens, and a balsamic reduction, the large menu has something for everyone in your group.  Boston Burger also offers a variety of lip-smacking frappes (milkshakes) and a plethora of options to crank up the flavor on their hand-cut fries.  Why eat regular fries when you can have them covered with bruschetta, garlic parm, Greek or nacho toppings, caramel and cinnamon, or even clam chowda’?  Boston Burger Company also offers appetizers, salads, boneless wings, and sandwiches, but I always stick to their namesake.  The restaurant is very popular, but if you have to wait too long for a table, don’t skip eating there.  Just call in an order for take out and then find a bench or a nice piece of grass to settle in.   Boston Burger is so good that you should resort to all options to eat there!

3. The Clam Shack

If you love classic New England fried seafood, then the Clam Shack is the place for you.  Located in the grounds of Salem Willows and overlooking the ocean, eating at the Clam Shack is a no-frills (think outside picnic tables) experience for your taste buds.  Please do not let the outdoor seating put you off, the seafood here is the best!  The menu ranges from perennial favorites like whole belly clams or clam strips to flaky haddock to (my favorite) fried calamari.  Can’t make a decision?  Then order the Captain’s Combo.  The Clam Shack lets you decide how hungry you are, or in my case, how hungry I think I am!  Choose from a roll, a box, a basket, or a full dinner plate portion.  They even have non-seafood options for you landlubbers. The best thing about the eating there (other than the food, of course) is that you can combine your meal with an enjoyable afternoon or evening at Salem Willows.

4. Flatbread Company

Seafood not your thing?  Do you have people in your group with special diets or food allergies?  Don’t worry because I’ve got you covered!  Flatbread Company serves pizza (and more) made from organic ingredients, that are sourced from local farmers, cooked to perfection in a natural, wood-fired clay oven.  They’re happy to make substitutions in any of their meals and have menu items that cater specifically to vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free diets.  Try “Mopsy’s Kalua Pork Pie”, with smoked pork shoulder, free range chicken, mango BBQ sauce, pineapple, whole milk mozzarella, parmesan, garlic oil and their own herb mixture.  If your mouth isn’t watering yet, imagine digging into the “Punctuated Equilibrium” featuring a ton of veggies and imported Kalamata olives or the “Jimmy’s Free-Range Chicken” with black beans, cilantro tomatoes, roasted corn, mozzarella and parmesan, jalapenos, and a sour cream lime drizzle.  It makes me want to phone in an order right now!  You can also design your own pizza from a wide variety of organic toppings, and Flatbread even has gluten free crusts, that my friend attests are the best she’s ever had.  If all of this wasn’t enough, you can enjoy waterside, outdoor seating, and . . . get ready for it . . . connected to the restaurant is a small candlepin bowling alley.  How fun!  Make a day, an afternoon, or even a date night out of it.  Flatbread Company is my number one choice for pizza in the Witch City, if not in the entire North Shore of Massachusetts!

5. Passage to India

Looking for something more exotic and full of Asian flavors and spices? Passage to India will take you on an amazing food journey from the northern to the southern parts of the Indian Subcontinent without ever having to leave your seat.  Every meal is served fresh and features spices that are ground in-house.  I recommend starting with the vegetable pakoras, the meat samosas, or the delicious coconut soup.   For a main course, I recommend the flavorful Chicken Mango or the creamy Lamb Korma.  If you’ve never tried a dosa before, I highly encourage you to order one.  Picture a thin and very long crepe, made of ground lentils and rice, stuffed with meat and/or vegetables of your choice, and served with sweet coconut chutney.  I dare you to try finishing it in one sitting!  I may have once or twice J.  Passage to India also offers a plethora of vegetarian options, and don’t forget to partake in some made-to-order naan bread with your meal.  Go for the Kashmire Naan that’s loaded with raisins, cashews, and coconut.  I think it’s more like dessert than a side course, but that’s an even better reason to enjoy it!

6. Turner’s Seafood

For slightly more upscale seafood dining, my “go to” place is Turner’s Seafood.  Turner’s began as a wholesale fish company in 1954, and one of their fresh fish markets continue to exist today right inside the restaurant located in the old Lyceum Hall building.  Whether you’re enjoying lunch or dinner, start with fresh-shucked oysters, steamers, tuna sashimi, lobster or shrimp cocktail, or cherrystones and littlenecks from their raw bar.   Alternatively, try the award-winning lobster bisque or cherry pepper calamari.  For main courses, Turner’s has a variety of fish dishes, fried seafood, pastas, and even a sandwich board.  They also feature New England lobsters (both regular and lazy-man’s, as I call it), a made-to-order New England bouillabaisse, and many gluten-free options.  If you’d like to have a lovely, sit-down, New England style dinner, you can’t beat Turner’s Seafood.

7. Ye Olde Pepper Companie

No, I’m not sending you to store that sells peppers or spices.  Ye Olde Pepper Companie is actually the oldest candy company in the United States (since 1806).  If that’s not enough of a reason to visit, their chocolates, fudge, salt water taffy, caramel corn, and other old fashioned candies are hand-made using original recipes that have been passed down through the generations.  I dare you to walk into the store, take in the intoxicating aroma of chocolate and sweets, and leave without buying anything!  If you plan on visiting the House of Seven Gables, Ye Olde Pepper Companie is located right across the street.  How convenient!


Click on a name to be taken to a driving or walking map.

Caramel is located at 281 Essex St. in Salem, MA.

The Clam Shack is located at 200 Fort Ave., Salem Willows Park, in Salem, MA.

Boston Burger Company is located at 133 Washington St. in Salem.

Flatbread Company is located at 311 Derby St. in Salem.

Passage to India is located at 157 Washington St. in Salem.

Turner’s Seafood is located at 43 Church St. in Salem.

Ye Old Pepper Companie is located at 122 Derby St. in Salem.

Christmas in Massachusetts: My Favorite Holiday Destinations & Traditions

Although I’m still recovering from back surgery and won’t be participating in any of my annual holiday outings, I’d like to share some of my favorite seasonal activities so that you might make them part of your traditions as well.  Let me show you a festive Christmas in Massachusetts!

Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village

Christmas Massachusetts Old Sturbridge Village

Courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village

Christmas Massachusetts Old Sturbridge Village

Courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village

Christmas Massachusetts Old Sturbridge Village

Courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village

Christmas Massachusetts Old Sturbridge Village

Courtesy of Old Sturbridge Village

Nothing evokes the simple pleasures of an old-fashioned holiday like Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village.  As you meander around the early 19th century village, each beautifully decorated building features a different activity or holiday tradition to experience.   You can hand craft an ornament in

the tin shop, take a ride in a horse-drawn sleigh while singing carols, listen to Christmas stories or live music, cozy up to the bonfire, marvel at the incredible entries into the gingerbread house competition, enjoy a scrumptious open-hearth baked holiday treat and a cup of warm apple cider, and much more!  I’ve been to Christmas by Candlelight many times, and my favorite part is interacting with the costumed interpreters to learn more about the activities that they’re doing and about holiday traditions in the past. I highly encourage you to make Christmas by Candlelight at Old Sturbridge Village part of your family’s holiday tradition. It will always be part of mine.

Christmas by Candlelight runs Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings from late November through December.  For more information and to purchase tickets, visit their website by clicking here.

The Enchanted Village at Jordan’s Furniture

Christmas Massachusetts Enchanted VillageWhen I was younger, I fondly remember my mother taking me on a Christmas Massachusetts Enchanted Villagespecial trip into Boston to see the Enchanted Village in what used to be the Jordan Marsh department store in Downtown Crossing.  Since the store was sold to Macy’s, the Enchanted Village has changed hands several times, but it’s found a permanent home at Jordan’s Furniture in Avon, Christmas Massachusetts Enchanted VillageMassachusetts. Adults and children alike will delight in the quaint Christmas village Christmas Massachusetts Enchanted Villagefilled with animatronic children, adults, teddy bears, and other animals participating in holiday rituals and traditions.  Before leaving the village, don’t forget to indulge in a delicious blueberry muffin, made from the original Jordan Marsh recipe!  While in the store, you can also take several spins around the 4,000 square foot skating rink, featuring holiday music and dramatic lighting effects. After all that, if you’re still in the holiday spirit (like I would be!) check out Jordan Furniture’s Motion Odyssey Movie (MOM) featuring the Polar Express in a way that you’ve never seen it before . . 4-D!  There’s so much to do at Jordan’s Furniture in Avon that you could make a day trip out of it!  All of the activities at the store are open from mid-November to the 1st of January.  Click here for further details, hours, and pricing information.

Two Decked-Out Dwellings

Christmas Massachusetts Everyone knows that neighborhood house whose residents go all out in Christmas Massachusetts decorating their home for the holiday season.  Each year, I’ve always made it a tradition to drive around and discover new holiday light displays and experience old favorites.  In Danvers, Massachusetts, there are two houses on Arthur Christmas Massachusetts Street that you simply cannot miss! The homes use more than 90,000 lights and over 1,000 lit up figurines and Christmas Massachusetts characters to create an awe-inspiring holiday extravaganza, including, my favorite part, the waterfall display.  While there, be sure to make a donation to Children’s Hospital, who buses in their child patients to see the spectacle for themselves and experience some of the holiday spirit. Do you have a favorite decorated home that makes Christmas in Massachusetts extra special?  Leave the the street address and city or town in the comment section below. I’d love to hear about them!

THE Festival of Trees

Christmas Massachusetts Metheun Festival of Trees

If you love Christmas trees as much as I do, then a visit to the Festival of Trees in Christmas Massachusetts Metheun Festival of TreesMethuen, Massachusetts, is a must during the holiday season!  The festival has been going on for over 25 years and features almost 250 trees and wreaths, that have been donated by various community organizations, businesses, and families.  Each tree is decorated based upon a theme chosen by the individual or group donating it.  While I enjoy simply marveling at all of the intricate decorations and imaginative themes, children can complete a fun scavenger hunt to win a prize, and visitors can purchase raffle tickets and place them into boxes next to the trees or wreaths of their choice in the hopes of winning them.  The Festival of Christmas Massachusetts Metheun Festival of TreesTrees is attended by over 30,000 visitors from across 14 different states, and all of the proceeds provide funding for heritage and restoration projects of historic structures in the greater Merrimack Christmas Massachusetts Metheun Festival of TreesValley. So what are you waiting for?!  Go to see the largest collection of decorated trees in Massachusetts and, at the same time, support a worthy cause, which is what the holiday spirit is truly about.  The Festival of Trees is open from mid-November through early December.  For more information click here to visit their website.

The Christmas Village at Yankee Candle

Christmas Massachusetts Yankee CandleAlthough it’s open all year round, one of my favorite holiday destinations is the Christmas Village at the Yankee Candle Flagship Store in South Deerfield, Massachusetts.  While the village is located entirely within the store, to get there, you’ll have to pass through the Bavarian Forest room where, if you wait a minute or two, you will experience snowfall, no matter what the season or temperature outside.  Emerging from the forest, you would think you stepped into a 14th century Bavarian town that’s been decked out for Christmas. You’ll need a minute or two just to look around and take it all in, trust me.  Each of the quaint shops contains a differentChristmas Massachusetts Yankee Candle theme of over 100,000 holiday ornaments for sale.  Explore the village to get inspiration for your own holiday, and I dare you to leave without picking out an ornament or decoration to purchase.  Looking to create a village of your own?  Yankee has an entire room full of incredible holiday village scene displays to inspire you to design one or just to marvel at.  What’s a medieval village without a castle?  Cross over the moat via the drawbridge and enter the Nutcracker Castle Christmas Massachusetts Yankee Candlewhere you’ll find a variety of German-themed ornaments, nutcrackers (including a 6 ft. tall one!), and a set of thrones that are perfect for selfies.  Next, move on to Santa’s workshop, which contains a plethora of toys for sale to delight children of all ages.  If all of the holiday shopping has made you work up an appetite, Yankee has plenty of tempting choices in its New England Market, including Christmas Massachusetts Yankee CandlePopcornopolis, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Yankee Candy, homemade fudge, and an Au Bon Pain restaurant.  After you’ve refueled, explore the rest of the enormous flagship store which includes the Candle Emporium, with over 200,000 candles in 200 fragrances, the General Store featuring baking mixes and delicious foods, the kitchen shop, the gift boutique, the home store, and the garden shop.  For me, one of the most intriguing parts of the store is the Candle Museum where you can learn about and see how candles were made in the past and the present.  Speaking of making candles, at Yankee you can create your own custom candle with no experience required.  Just choose your shape and color, and an assistant will guide you through the process. If you’re looking for an even more personal experience, you can even make a wax mold of your own hand!  The Yankee Candle Flagship Store in South Deerfield is a fun experience at any time of year but feels even more festive during the holiday season.  For more information about hours and activities, visit their website by clicking here.

A Christmas Festival of Lights

Christmas Massachusetts Christmas Lights LaSalette Shrine

Courtesy of LaSalette Shrine

I absolutely love Christmas light displays!  My absolute favorite place Christmas Massachusetts Christmas Lights LaSalette Shrineto see them is the Christmas Festival of Lights at the LaSalette Shrine in Attleboro, Massachusetts.  This immense holiday display features over 300,000 lights spread across 10 acres!  While the displays have a religious Christmas Massachusetts Christmas Lights LaSalette Shrinetheme, even if you’re not a believer you’ll be thoroughly amazed by this holiday light exhibition.  Be sure to dress warm because the light display is located outside, but don’t worry because hot apple cider, fried dough, make-your-own s’mores and other warm and tasty treats are available for purchase on site. While there, you can also visit the International Creche Museum which features hundreds of different nativity scenes created by artists from all over the world.  Best of all, the light display and creche museum are totally free!   The Christmas Festival of Lights is on display from late November to early January.  For more information visit their website.

The Largest Christmas Store in New England

Christmas Massachusetts Christmas PlaceMy last, but not least, favorite Christmas in Massachusetts destination is a place where you can shop ‘til youChristmas Massachusetts Christmas Place drop for holiday decor. The Christmas Place in Abington, Massachusetts, is the largest Christmas store in all of New England.  If you’re looking for a particular ornament they have aisles and aisles, carefully arranged by theme, full of them. Need garland, tinsel, ribbons, tree skirts or toppers? The Christmas Place has more than you can ever imagine.  They even have a room full of 85 different styles of Christmas trees and an entire lighting department with a huge variety of holiday lights, in countless different styles, to decorate them.  For the outside of your home, the store carries over 150 different types of holiday figures.  Know someone that has a Christmas Massachusetts Christmas PlaceChristmas Village?  The Christmas Place carries over 200 different Department 56 houses and buildings, and even if you’re not looking to buy them, you can admire the holiday village scenes located throughout the store. Speaking of scenes, the Christmas Place has one of the largest Playmobil displays in the country.  Don’t forget to check it out near the entrance of the store.  So if you are looking for some holiday decorations, need a special gift for someone who is crazy about Christmas, or just love to browse like I do, head to the Christmas Place!  And don’t forget to take a selfie with the enormous Nutcracker outside the entrance.

Locations for a Festive Christmas in Massachusetts

Click on a link to be taken to specific driving directions.

Old Sturbridge Village is located at 1 Old Sturbridge Village Rd in Sturbridge, MA.

The Enchanted Village is located at Jordan’s Furniture at 100 Stockwell Dr in Avon, MA.

The “Two Decked Out Dwellings” are located at 3 and 5 Arthur St. in Danvers, Ma.

The Yankee Candle Flagship Store is located at 25 Greenfield Rd, South Deerfield, MA.

The Christmas Festival of Lights is located at the LaSalette Shrine on 947 Park St, Attleboro, MA.

The Christmas Place is located at 1500 Bedford St, Abington, MA.

Stevens-Coolidge Place: Spectacular Colonial Revival Gardens and Mansion

Stevens-Coolidge PlaceThe Stevens-Coolidge Place (formerly known as Ashdale Farm) is a historic home and Stevens-Coolidge Placegardens located in North Andover, Massachusetts. The extensive gardens are always free and open to the public. However, the house is available to tour only on open house days and special events. Check their website for details about their many special events throughout the year.

Even if the home is not open for tours, I highly recommend visiting just to see the extensive gardens. They include a Stevens-Coolidge Placeperennial garden with geometric beds and countless varieties of plants, a French Garden and Stevens-Coolidge PlaceSerpentine Wall (modeled after one designed by Thomas Jefferson), a cutting garden (where you can pay a small fee to pick-your-own flower bouquet to take home), a rose garden, a vegetable and flower garden, and a greenhouse complex. Meander through the spectacular gardens, bring a picnic, choose a quaint spot, and settle in for a few hours of relaxation.

Stevens-Coolidge Place

While the property belonged to the Stevens family since 1729, the most current Stevens-Coolidge Placeresidents were Helen Stevens Coolidge and her husband John Gardner Coolidge, who was a diplomat and a descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Isabella Stuart Gardner.  Between 1914 and 1918, they hired an architect to remodel the two adjoined farmhouses and gardens into a Colonial Revival estate, which the couple used as a second home.  When her husband died in 1936, Helen Steven Coolidge continued to live in the home until her death in 1962.  She granted the entire estate, the home, and all of the contents to the Trustees of Reservations.  The tour guide told me Stevens-Coolidge Placethat all of the family’s belongings remain in the house, from the china in the cupboards, to the clothes inStevens-Coolidge Place the closets, to every item that was in the all of the drawers in house (which are still in them!).  As a historian, I know how rare it is for a home to remain intact just as if the owners had left, so the Stevens-Coolidge Place is really special.  In addition, the Coolidges were world travelers, and many of the furniture and Stevens-Coolidge Placeitems that you will see in the home have been accumulated from all over the world.  I strongly encourage you to check out their website to visit on a day when a house tour is available.  Whether you’re interested in antiques and collectibles, fascinated by family histories, or just curious about how people lived in the past, you’ll be amazed by all that the Stevens–Coolidge Place has to offer.

For more information about other things to do in Massachusetts, check out our other blogs posts and head on over to this great list!

Location of the Stevens-Coolidge Place

The Stevens-Coolidge Place is located at 137 Andover St. in North Andover, Massachusetts.  If you’re familiar with the area, the estate is located near the intersection of state routes 133 and 125 and very close to route 495.  For driving directions, click on the map below.Stevens-Coolidge Place

Canterbury Shaker Village: Community, Spirituality, and Innovation in the New Hampshire Hills

Canterbury Shaker VillageStepping onto the grounds of Canterbury Shaker Village, I was immediately struck by the beauty of the area and the sense of peace and relaxation that the site exudes.   By the time that I left, several hours later, I was amazed by the generosity, ingenuity, and spirituality of the Shakers. A trip to Canterbury Shaker Village is, by far, one of the best things to do in the state of New Hampshire.


Canterbury was the largest community of Shakers in New Hampshire. There’s so much to see in the village that every member of your family will find something intriguing to explore. The Shakers embraced and invented new technologies, and in your visit, you’ll see their steam engine-powered washing machines, a generator that powered some of the first electric lights in New Hampshire, and state-of-the-art innovations, of the time, including early telephones, radios, and TVs. You’ll see modern artisans recreating Shaker crafts including the making of period clothing, furniture, oval boxes, and brooms. Children will love exploring the old schoolhouse, running through gardens, and interacting with the farm animals.


Canterbury Shaker VillageWhen visiting Canterbury Shaker Village, I recommend taking one of the guided tours to get an introduction to the Shakers and an overview of daily life in the community. On the tour, you’ll see several building which aren’t open to the public (including the laundry whose many technological inventions made it one of the most interesting places in the village), and you’ll learn about Shaker beliefs and practices such as gender and racial equality, suffrage for women, communal living, pacifism, and support for the poor, orphans, and victims of natural disasters. After the tour, you’re free to explore the buildings on your own.   Visit the Dwelling House to ring the Paul Revere bell, marvel over the Shaker’s built-in furniture and incredible organizational system, check out the kitchen and bedrooms, and learn about how the Shakers even put on concerts and plays for the community!  Here are some other sites not to miss:


  • the recreated syrup shop, where the Shakers made cooking and medicinal syrups, canned goods, and jams and jellies
  • the Sisters’ Shop, where you can see staff making Shaker clothing and textiles
  • the Brethrens’ Shop, in which artisans show how the Shakers created furniture and wooden boxes
  • the Carpenters’ Shop, featuring broom and printmaking demonstrationsCanterbury Shaker Village


Consider ending your day with a visit to the museum store where you can purchase artisan-created Shaker arts and crafts as gifts for others or mementos of your visit. If you get hungry during your time in the village, food is available from the Shaker Box Lunch, which is run by the local food co-operative and features many ingredients grown on-site. The cookies and baked goods were especially tasty!


Canterbury Shaker Village

I’ve been to many historical and religious sites, but I was, frankly, blow away by what I learned and saw at Canterbury Shaker Village.  The staff is incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, and they show pure joy in sharing their enthusiasm for the Shaker way of life. Ask questions about what they’re doing and what you’re seeing so that you, too, will be amazed by all that the Shakers were able to achieve and create.  To make the most out of your visit, check out their website for information about daily tours and special seasonal events.  Canterbury Shaker Village is the best thing to do in Concord, New Hampshire, if not the entire state!





Canterbury Shaker Village is located at 288 Shaker Rd. in Canterbury, NH.  Click the map below for directions







The Isle of Shoals: Only a Hop, Skip, and a Ferry from Portsmouth

Taking a day trip to the Isle of Shoals or Star Island is easy via ferry from Portsmouth.  Star Island is the largest of a group of islands, called the Isle of Shoals, seven miles off the coast of Portsmouth, New Lighthouse Isle of ShoalsHampshire. There, visitors can enjoy “island life” for a day, a night, or even (if you really want to get away from it all) a week.

Getting to Star Island, or the Isle of Shoals, by ferry is part of the experience. Trips include spectacular views of local harbors, the Atlantic Ocean, several islands in the Isle of Shoals, and a lighthouse. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a whale! You can take a ferry from Portsmouth or Rye, both in New Hampshire. We choose the one in Rye because it’s a smaller boat, and therefore, a more intimate experience. For more about how to  Isle of Shoals Star Islandget to Star Island or the Isle of Shoals, see “locations” below.

Once on the island, it’s all about slowing down the pace and enjoying the natural beauty. To see all of the sites, take the perimeter loop that circles the island. It’s well marked and the island is small that there’s no chance that you’ll get lost!  Be sure to wander off the loop onto the side trails to discover the many amazing views of surrounding islands, to marvel at the gorgeous oceanscapes, to check out the monuments scattered throughout the island, and to see Gosport Village from above. In the Oceanic Hotel, there’s a small gift shop, bookstore, restaurant, and restrooms. Cap your visit off by unwinding in a rocking chair on the hotel’s fine front porch, which has lovely views. Imagine what life was like on the island many years ago with fine Victorian ladies and gentlemen taking in the ocean breezes.   Isle of Shoals

John Smith, of Jamestown and Pocahontas fame, mapped the Isle of Shoals way back in 1614, and for all you history buffs, there’s even a monument to commemorate his visit. Star Island was sparsely inhabited, except for fishermen, until the building of the Oceanic Hotel in 1873, when city dwellers began journeying Oceanic Hotel on Star Island in Isle of Shoalsto the island to take advantage of its cooling ocean airs, before the invention of air conditioning. Star Island was, and still is, also a popular spot for religious conferences, many of which are sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Church. However, even those of lesser or no faith are most welcome on island.

Star Island is a beautiful location to visit, but honestly, there aren’t a lot of activities.  I would, therefore, recommend a short, half-day trip.  We were on the island for one hour and twenty minutes, and I thought that was enough time.  To lengthen your visit, dine in the hotel’s restaurant, or even better, bring a picnic lunch that you can enjoy in the gazebo, at the picnic tables, or spread out on the lawn.  Whatever your plans might be, a visit to Star Island is about slowing down the pace of life, being Oceanic Hotel on the Isle of Shoalspresent, and enjoying the wonders of nature.

Want to Make a Day out of It?

  • Check out my blog post on seeing a submarine and abandoned forts in Portsmouth and neighboring New Castle
  • Visit Strawberry Banke Museum to see historic homes from across the decades
  • Go shopping in Portsmouth; be sure to check out my favorite stores: Off Piste (quirky and fun), Pickwick’s Mercantile (gifts in a unique setting), , Diversions (games), Bull Moose (used & new music & videos), and Macro Polo (gag items)
  • Grab coffee and German pastries at Kaffee Vonsolln
  • Have dinner in Portsmouth at one of my recommended restaurants: The Friendly Toast or the River House (waterfront dining)
  • Head to Rye Beach, located right near one of the ferry points (see below)


Star Island is accessibly only by boat, and two ferry companies provide service to visitors. Of the two, the Isle of Shoals Steamship Company, located in Portsmouth, offers larger boats and more options in terms of the type and length of cruise. If you choose this company, you’re going to get the typical ferry experience with multiple decks, more detailedStar Island on the Isle of Shoals commentary, and many fellow tourists on board.  On the other hand, if you want a more intimate and less touristy experience, go with Island Cruises, located in Rye, New Hampshire.  In general, if you’re looking for a cruise that focuses on comfort and variety, go with the Isle of Shoals Steamship Company, but if you’re looking to travel on an authentic New England fishing ship, check out Island Cruises, in Rye.

We chose to leave from Rye and were surprised at how small the boat was and how few other passengers were aboard.  We left on the 11:15 boat, were on island at 12:00, departed from Star Island at 1:20, and arrived back in Rye at 2:15, after a short tour of the islands by boat.

Please be advised to check times and cruise availability on the websites below, as they change based on the season.

Isle of Shoals Steamship Company315 Market St, Portsmouth, NH – Click on the map for directions.


Island Cruises – 1870 Ocean Blvd, Rye, NH – Click on the map for directions.


isle of shoals











Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Explore a Submarine and Abandoned Forts!

Hi-Diddly-Dee, A Sailor’s Life for Me

U.S.S. Albacaore submarine in Portsmouth, New HampshirePortsmouth, New Hampshire, is probably best known for its quaint, downtown shops and boutiques and the historic Strawberry Banke museum, but I would like to show you a few of the lesser-known, yet incredibly enjoyable, attractions of this New England city.

If you’re driving along Route 95 approaching Portsmouth, you might be surprised to see a historic submarine permanently moored to, not a dock, but a park right next to the highway.  Our first stop is the U.S.S. Albacore, a former research submarine, that was designed by the U.S. Navy to test experimental features that are used in similar vessels today.  The Albacore may have never seen combat, but it was in commission from 1953 to 1972.   It’s a fascinating place to visit that will bring out the kid in anyone.

After purchasing tickets from the small visitor’s center (where you can get U.S.S. Albacore paraphernalia, including hatsU.S.S. Albacaore submarine in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and captain’s whistles – beware parents of having to listen to them all day if you purchase one!), you follow a self-guided tour through the submarine.  You can choose to get as much or as little information as you want by reading the pamphlet and/or pressing the red buttons in each part of the submarine to hear the pre-recorded audio tour.

U.S.S. Albacaore submarine in Portsmouth, New HampshireI was amazed to see how cramped the living space truly is on a submarine.  Imagine sleeping in these quarters or having to shower in such a narrow cubicle.  How can anyone live for months at a time, deep under the ocean, like this?!  Bravo to our brave sailors!

Kids will love to sit in the driver’s seat, look into the periscope, pass through the hatches, and play chess in the mess hall.  They can even pop a squat on a sub’s toilet!  Visiting the sub is fun for the whole family.  I even enjoyed it myself on a solo visit.

The U.S.S. Albacore is located at 600 Market St, Portsmouth, NH, right off of Interstate 95 (see locations below).


The Misty Remains of a Former Fort

Fort Constitution in Portsmouth, New HampshireJust outside of Portsmouth, in New Castle, New Hampshire, are the remains of Fort Constitution, which protected the harbor from 1631 to 1961.  Originally designed to guard against French-Canadian attack, the Americans captured the fort from the British during the Revolutionary War and renamed it after the famous national document.  It was later rebuilt during World War II to defend Portsmouth Harbor from German submarines through the use of underwater mines.  How cool!

On the day that I visited, fog was still present from the morning, which added an extra Fort Constitution in Portsmouth, New Hampshireeerie effect to the remnants of the fort.  There’s no visitors center or attendants on duty, so you’ll likely have the place almost all to yourself to wander and explore.  Located next door are Fort Constitution in Portsmouth, New Hampshirean active U.S. Coast Guard Station and a lighthouse, that, unfortunately, aren’t open to the public, but are nice to look at!

Fort Constitution is located at 25 Wentworth Rd. in New Castle, NH.  See “locations” below for the route, parking, and other tips.



An Eerie Military Remnant

Fort Stark in Portsmouth New HampshireDo you enjoy creepy, abandoned locations?  Then I have a place for you!  If you don’t enjoy the spook factor, can I at least lure you in by saying there’s a small, free beach and park at the same location?

Located near Fort Constitution, which is described above, Fort Stark is the most fun to explore of the two former military installations.  Much of it is fenced off and covered by the graffiti of vandals, but that actually adds to the otherworldly atmosphere.

Fort Stark in Portsmouth New HampshireBoth kids and adults will love exploring Fort Stark, which saw service from 1905 to 1948.  While I was visiting, a family of four was ahead of me, and their two children were clearly having an awesome time wandering around and climbing up onto the gun batteries.  Don’t worry parents– there are no more guns on site!  From the fort, the views of the ocean and harbor are also amazing; so bring your camera.

The grounds are open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week, hence the graffiti, but there is a small visitor’s Fort Stark in Portsmouth New Hampshirecenter on site which is open on Saturday (from Memorial Day to Labor Day) from noon to 4:30.  I was there on a weekday, so I explored on my own.  Most people were there to use the small, free, public beach and park that are adjacent to the fort.  The beach is quite rocky, but there’s enough sand and green space (with picnic tables) to make it an enjoyable afternoon outing.

Fort Stark is located at 211 Wild Rose Ln. in New Castle, NH (see location below).




U.S.S. Albacore

600 Market St, Portsmouth, NH, right off of Interstate 95 – Click on the map for directions.

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Fort Constitution & Fort Stark

Getting There: The drive out to Fort Constitution and Fort Stark is absolutely beautiful.  If you don’t believe me, the route has been designed as a New Hampshire Scenic Byway!  From Portsmouth, take Route 1B (click here for directions) which forms a loop across several small and larger islands, affording stunning views of the harbor and ocean, and which winds through picturesque New England colonial towns.  Click on the maps below to get driving directions to each specific fort.

Parking: When going to Fort Constitution, follow the signs and then park in the “Fort Constitution Parking” which is immediately in front of the fort remains, just beyond the larger public parking lot.

Bring Water & Snacks: I would recommend bringing water and maybe some snacks, because as I found out the hard way, once you leave Portsmouth, there are few stores in the immediate area.

Want to make a day out of it?  I suggest adding a trip to Strawberry Banke, which is an excellent museum composed of dozens of historic buildings from the 1600’s to the 1900’s.  Also, check out my eating recommendations below.

Looking for a place to eat?  I highly recommend the Friendly Toast at 113 Congress St. in Portsmouth for breakfast all day or yummy sandwiches and plates.  They bake their own bread in-house and are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Want dessert or coffee?  Check out Kaffee Vonsolln at 79 Daniel St. in Portsmouth for German pastries and creative coffee creations.


Fort Stark- Click on the map for directions.


Fort Constitution – Click on the map for directions.


What to do in Portsmouth New Hampshire