The most famous sight in Rockport has something of an "Emperor's New Clothes" aura -- it's a wooden fish warehouse on the town wharf, or T-Wharf, in the harbor. The barn-red shack known as Motif No. 1 is the most frequently painted and photographed object in a town filled with lovely buildings and surrounded by breathtaking rocky coastline. The color certainly catches the eye against the neutrals of the seascape, but you might find yourself wondering what the big deal is. Originally constructed in 1884 and destroyed during the blizzard of 1978, Motif No. 1 was rebuilt using donations from residents and tourists. It stands on the same pier as the original, duplicated in every detail and reinforced to withstand storms.
Nearby is a phenomenon whose popularity is easier to explain. Bearskin Neck, named after an unfortunate ursine visitor who drowned and washed ashore in 1800, has perhaps the highest concentration of gift shops anywhere. It's a narrow peninsula with one main street (South Rd.) and several alleys crammed with galleries, snack bars, antiques shops, and ancient houses. The peninsula ends in a plaza with a magnificent water view.
Throughout the town, more than two dozen art galleries display the works of local and nationally known artists. The Rockport Art Association, 12 Main St. (tel. 978/546-6604; www.rockportartassn.org), sponsors major exhibitions and special shows. It's open daily mid-morning to late afternoon in the summer (except on Sun, when it opens at noon); in the winter, it's open Wednesday through Saturday 10am to 4 or 5pm, and Sunday noon to 5pm.
To get a sense of the power of the sea, take Route 127 north of town to the tip of Cape Ann. Turn right on Gott Avenue to reach Halibut Point State Park (tel. 978/546-2997; www.mass.gov/dcr and www.thetrustees.org). The park is a great place to wander around and admire the gorgeous scenery. On a clear day, you can see Maine. It has a staffed visitor center, walking trails, and tidal pools. Swimming in the water-filled quarries is absolutely forbidden. You can climb around on giant boulders on the rocky beach or climb to the top of the World War II observation tower. To take a self-guided tour, pick up a brochure at the visitor center or the chamber of commerce. Check ahead for information about talks, tours, demonstrations, and other special programs; a good resource is the park blog (www.halibutpoint.wordpress.com). The park is open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day 8am to 8pm, otherwise daily dawn to dusk; parking costs $2 from Memorial Day to Columbus Day.
A genuinely wacky attraction between downtown and Halibut Point is the Paper House, 52 Pigeon Hill St., Pigeon Cove (tel. 978/546-2629; www.paperhouserockport.com). It was built beginning in 1922 entirely out of 100,000 newspapers -- walls, furniture, even a newspaper-covered piano. Creator Elis Stenman made every item from papers of a different period. The house is open April through October daily from 10am to 5pm (closed Nov-Mar). Admission is $1.50 for adults, $1 for children 6 to 14. Follow Route 127 north out of downtown about 1 1/2 miles, watching carefully until you see signs at Curtis Street pointing to the left, then go left on Pigeon Hill Street.
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.