The North Shore suburbs are close to tons of amazing activities, all within minutes
By Susanna Noon
Everyone knows that the city of Boston is historically called the “Hub of the Universe” (OK, not really everyone…I only learned that after living here for many years). Nevertheless, you can make your own “Hub” in the suburbs, wherever you decide to call home. More and more people are moving to the ’burbs and are surprised to find that these aren’t the isolated places they might have feared. In fact, you can drive to a multitude of activities and locations in the suburbs quickly and easily, without having to navigate out of the congestion of the city (only to fight your way back in at the end of the day, when everyone is tired and hungry). With an open mind and a sense of adventure, you’ll find your suburban paradise can be just as much a universal hub as the city.
After moving from Cambridge to Beverly, MA, in 2018 (with the help of our own Suburban Jungle strategist, Barbara Hirsch!), we quickly found that a wide variety of cultural, historical, and fun locations were within 15–20 minutes’ drive in any direction. As we ventured out along any of the spokes of our “Hub,” we were finding everything from lobstering to polo, pick-your-own farms to downhill skiing, hiking trails to museums, county fairs to live theatre, and of course, the beach. To give you a better idea, I’ll profile some of the local spots we’ve been treasuring recently here on the North Shore.
Hiking and Nature
Drive 15 minutes in almost any direction and you’ll find that there is an excess of nature reservations to check out for hiking and exploration, including Essex Greenbelt and Mass Audubon sites. But many of our favorite places are run by The Trustees of Reservations. The group works as a preservationist of the North Shore (and throughout the state), turning what used to be the mansions and landscapes of the “Gold Coast” into nature reservations open to anyone—with hiking trails, home tours, vistas and overlooks, and beautiful gardens. Long Hill in Beverly is a favorite of ours for a quick after-school picnic or walk. My husband and daughter enjoying the trails on the Coolidge Reservation Only 5 minutes from our home, it allows you to escape into nature with (live!) chickens, manicured gardens, and miles of hiking trails. We will spread out a picnic, feeling nostalgic for the homes and gardens of yesteryear. Driving 10 minutes in the other direction, you will find The Coolidge Reservation in Manchester-by-the-Sea, which has a drop-dead gorgeous overlook of the ocean, with a wide-open lawn stretching out toward the sea, often dotted with families playing, picnicking, and flying kites. A short hike from the parking area brings you to the site of the former massive seaside mansion on the lawn, where you can still trace the outline of its old foundation.
One of the best perks of living in the suburbs, especially the North Shore, has been easy access to many beautiful ocean spots. We spend a lot of time not only playing on the local beaches, but lobstering with friends in Gloucester (15 minutes to the east), and boating on Salem Sound (15 minutes to the south). For one of our favorite beaches, check out Wingaersheek, in Gloucester. Slightly less crowded than nearby Good Harbor, you’ll find powdery white sand, tide pools, a concession stand, restrooms, and parking (for a fee). If you wanted to head 15 minutes in the other direction, you’ll find plenty of ocean fun in Salem and Marblehead. Try sailing on the Fame out of Salem for a historical harbor cruise, on a replica of an 1812 privateer, or consider joining a boat club (we did!), so you can explore on your own.
Farms/Pick Your Own
A quick 15–20 minutes to the north or west will bring you to bucolic bliss with plenty of farms, vegetable stands, horses, wagon rides, and pick-your-own fruits. One of our favorite spots is Appleton Farms in Hamilton and Ipswich, with a little bit of everything. You can take a peek at the milking cows, walk along the many nature trails, or shop for farm-stand goodies at their on-site store. Something we definitely don’t miss from our city lives was the 45-minute drive we took to various apple farms to pick apples each fall. Now we simply drive 20 minutes to Brooksby Farm in Peabody. They have farm animals, a cute country store (try the pies!), apple cider donuts, and even Christmas trees for the holidays. Appleton Farms in Essex
I love how we can always jump in the car to drive 15 minutes to the south for the historic, cultural, and city-vibe of Salem. Of course, when considering Salem, everyone thinks of the famous witch trials of the seventeenth century, and the city’s famous Halloween Happenings, but we love the shopping (Wicked Good Books is a fave) and strolling along the historic, pedestrian-only streets in the downtown. The Peabody Essex Museum is beautiful and has a preserved Chinese house relocated to the museum for you to explore, plus rotating exhibits from artists all over the country. Personally, I love checking out the fashion exhibits and our kids have appreciated that the museum’s smaller size makes it great for little legs. On the way home, we always stop by AJ King Bakery for a coffee and croissant or a baguette. And for date night, dinner and drinks at the bar in Opus always have us feeling hip for the evening, with its Asian-influenced menu, bespoke cocktails, and friendly staff. Exploring the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem.
I’d like to invite anyone considering moving to the suburbs to banish from your mind any worries over losing out on city life. A suburban hub is a great option for family life. The above examples may seem like a love note to Beverly and the North Shore, but you can truly make your own hub from almost any town. Boston suburbs are some of the best in the country and are full of interesting and varied activities. There are tons of suburban “hubs” that could be the right fit for your family. How to sort through them all? Contact a Suburban Jungle Strategist to get started. Images: Susanna Noon