Massachusetts is a small coastal state, located on the East Coast of the United States in New England. While it’s relatively small compared to other states in the US, it has a substantial amount of coastline, along with some great coastal towns. These gorgeous towns offer lovely beaches, beautiful views, fantastic restaurants, and more. Read about eight of the best coastal towns in Massachusetts.
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9 of The Most Beautiful and Best Coastal Towns in Massachusetts That You Absolutely Have to Visit
Massachusetts has several coastal regions, despite being a small state. The North Shore of Boston is the area north of Boston up to the New Hampshire border. The South Shore is the area south of Boston, to Cape Cod. Finally, Cape Cod is the cape bordered by the Cape Cod Canal. Along the coast, Massachusetts shares borders with Rhode Island and New Hampshire.
Because of the size of the state, it’s relatively easy to include multiple coastal towns, including Boston, in your family vacation plans. To do that, you’ll probably want to fly into Boston’s Logan Airport and then rent a car for your road trip.
If you are hoping to visit the beautiful beaches, you’ll want to visit in the summer months. July and August are the peak season and the warmer months, although it can be nice in the late spring, or early fall. Cape Cod especially has many restaurants and shops that are only open seasonally. While you are visiting Massachusetts, be sure to try a delicious lobster roll, oysters, fried clams, homemade ice cream, and other local specialties.
You’ll notice that while many of these destinations have hotels, motels, and inns, there aren’t a lot of large chain hotels in these Massachusetts coastal towns. In addition to local hotels and resorts, vacation home rentals are popular.
Located on Cape Cod, Chatham is the quintessential Cape Cod town. This quaint and preppy town is bustling in the summer months, with lots of tourists visiting the various attractions, restaurants, and shops. Chatham is a popular destination. A few of the highlights include:
- The Chatham Lighthouse
- The Chatham Fish Pier, where you can see harbor seals playing in the water
- Chatham’s town center offers a row of shops including local favorites and small chains
- Chatham Orpheum Theater
- Chatham Shark Center
- Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge
Where to stay: One of the most popular family resorts in Chatham is the waterfront and luxurious Chatham Bars Inn.
If you are looking for a fun, classic beach vacation, Yarmouth (including the villages of South Yarmouth, Yarmouthport, and West Yarmouth), is a great option. It offers several beautiful beaches including Smugglers Beach, Seagull Beach, and Gray’s Beach (which has a beautiful boardwalk over a salt marsh). This is the type of destination where you can play mini golf and get ice cream in the evenings after a long beach day.
Yarmouth is also centrally located on the mid-Cape, so you can do all sorts of Cape Cod day trips right from your home base. It’s the perfect place to stay, with easy access to the other Cape Cod towns.
Activities in Yarmouth (in addition to the beaches) include:
- The Whydah Pirate Museum
- Mini Golf
- The Cape Cod Inflatable Park
- The Cape Cod Baseball League
- Ice Cream shops, including Cape Cod Creamery
- Bike paths, including the Cape Cod Rail Trail
There are several great family resorts and hotels in Yarmouth. Many are located within a short walk to the beach. Here are some of the most popular:
- Red Jacket Beach Resort
- Ocean Club on Smuggler’s Beach
- Red Jacket Riviera Beach Resort
- The Escape Inn
Located at the tip of Cape Cod is Provincetown, a vibrant coastal community with great shops, restaurants, entertainment, beaches, and more. Provincetown is a bit of a drive from Boston, although there are seasonal ferries that can make it a shorter trip. I prefer to stay mid-Cape and take a trip to Provincetown for the day, but you can also choose to stay there.
Summer visitors to Provincetown can enjoy the following activities:
- Beaches – the Cape Cod National Seashore, Race Point Beach, and more.
- The Pilgrim Monument
- Provincetown Museum
- Dune Tour
- Whale Watching
- Shopping and dining on Commercial Street
Hotels with great reviews include:
Gloucester, located on the North Shore on Cape Ann, is one of my favorite places to visit in Massachusetts. Known as the setting for movies such as The Perfect Storm and CODA, Gloucester is a fishing community with some of the best beaches.
Things to do in Gloucester include:
- Beaches, including Wingaersheek Beach and Good Harbor Beach
- Deep sea fishing
- Whale Watching
- Stage Fort Park
Well-rated hotels and inns in Gloucester include the following:
Located right next to Gloucester is Rockport, another fishing community. Rockport offers a quaint downtown area, called Bearskin Neck, where you’ll find shops and restaurants, as well as beautiful views. Rockport is one of my favorite Massachusetts towns. It’s not as tourist as the Cape Cod towns, although it still is very busy in the summer months.
Rockport offers the following activities:
- Sightseeing (don’t miss the beautiful and iconic Motif #1, a red fishing shack
- Halibut Point State Park
- The Paper House
Plays to stay in Rockport include the following:
While Salem is most popular as the home of the Salem Witch Trials, it’s also a gorgeous coastal town where you can enjoy shopping, waterfront dining, historic sites, and more. Unless you are specifically at Salem to celebrate Halloween, I recommend that you visit in the summer months, and not in October. Salem gets extremely busy in the weeks leading up to Halloween.
Activities in Salem include:
- Salem Heritage Trail
- Peabody Essex Museum
- Salem Maritime National Historic Site
- The House of the Seven Gables
- The Salem Witch Museum
- Walking Tours
- Boat rides
Here are some popular places to stay:
- Hawthorne Hotel
- Salem Waterfront Hotel and Suites (the only hotel with a pool in Salem)
- The Hotel Salem
Martha’s Vineyard: Oak Bluffs and Edgartown
Martha’s Vineyard is one of the two Massachusetts resort islands located off the coast of Cape Cod. The only way to get there is either by ferry or airplane, but the island of Martha’s Vineyard is a very popular vacation destination in the summer months. You’ll want to visit in the summer, but keep in mind that it can get very busy.
Oak Bluffs is a beautiful town offering seasonal ferry service to mainland Massachusetts. It’s also a great place to walk around, shop, and eat. Oak Bluffs is probably most known for the adorable gingerbread cottages on the streets, as well as the Flying Horses Carousel in the center.
Another popular coastal town on Martha’s Vineyard is Edgartown. It offers some great restaurants and shops in a very walkable downtown.
- Joseph Sylvia State Beach
- Day trip to Chappaquiddick Island
- Shopping downtown
- Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary
If you are traveling to Martha’s Vineyard during peak season, you must book your ferry transportation early. During the busy season, they can fill up – especially the car ferries.
Like the rest of the towns on this list, there aren’t a lot of chain hotels on Martha’s Vineyard. Here are some popular local options:
Ipswich is a small town located on the North Shore of Massachusetts. It’s known for its clams, so you’ll want to get some during your visit. It also has some great beaches and other places to visit.
You can combine a trip to Ipswich with visits to Rockport and Gloucester if you’d like to do a coastal North Shore day trip. Here are some of the things you can see there:
- The Crane Estate (including Crane Beach)
- Eat at the iconic Clam Box (which is actually shaped like a fried clam box)
- Russell Orchards
As a smaller town, Ipswich offers mostly inns and bed and breakfasts. When traveling with a family, we recommend staying at a hotel in a nearby town.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you like seafood, you have to try some of the most popular seafood specialties, including lobster rolls, oysters, clam chowder, and fried clams.
If you are flying into Massachusetts for your vacation, you’ll want to rent a car. It’s pretty essential to get around.
While Boston is the most obvious answer, other airports are nearby. These include Worchester Regional Airport, Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport, the Cape Cod Gateway Airport, and the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.