Founded in 1633, Ipswich is dotted with 17th-century or “First Period” houses—reputedly the largest concentration in the United States. The visitor center has a map (and a PDF at its website) of a tour that passes three dozen of them; it also offers an audio tour ($5). Many are private homes, but the Ipswich Museum, 54 South Main St. (tel. 978/356-2811) is based in the 1800 Heard House and offers tours of the 1677 John Whipple House, 1 South Village Green, and other historic properties. Guided tours ($10 each, or $15 for three houses) run Thursday through Saturday from May through October; check ahead for schedules.
If you’re traveling with children, consider a stop at Russell Orchards Store and Winery, 143 Argilla Rd. (tel. 978/356-5366). It’s open daily May through Thanksgiving. It has a picnic area, farm animals, and an excellent country store. A hayride is often an option. Be sure to try some cider and doughnuts, too.
Newburyport and Plum Island
Newburyport is a singular example of a picturesque waterfront city, with its bustling downtown on the Merrimack River. A substantial year-round population helps make Newburyport less touristy than it appears to be. Market Square, at the foot of State Street near the waterfront, is the center of a neighborhood packed with boutiques, gift shops, plain and fancy restaurants, and antique stores. It’s a great place to eat ice cream and people watch. You can also wander to the water, take a stroll on the boardwalk, and enjoy the action on the river. Architecture buffs may want to climb the hill to High Street, where the Charles Bulfinch–designed Superior Court building (1805) is one of several Federal-era treasures.
From downtown, take Water Street southeast until it becomes Plum Island Turnpike. The Parker River Refuge visitor center, at 6 Plum Island Turnpike, houses interactive displays and other exhibits about the island’s history and ecology. It’s open daily 9am to 4pm. Continue on Plum Island Turnpike and take your first right at Sunset Drive, which ends at the refuge’s entrance.
Piping Plovers: Do Not Disturb
All but a small portion of Plum Island’s ocean beach closes April 1 to allow piping plovers, listed by the federal government as a threatened species, to nest. The areas not being used for nesting reopen July 1; the rest open in August, when the birds are through. Check with the visitor center for updates.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.