Destinations worthy but less trampled

Destinations worthy but less trampled
Los Angeles Times

They get no respect. At least, that’s what the Los Angeles Times’ Travel staff thinks about these destinations. So much the better for the crafty traveler who can find a little slice of heaven away from the throngs.

Cape Ann, Mass.

Why people ignore it. Because, in the book of New England conventional wisdom, Cape Cod is where beautiful people go and Cape Ann is where cod fishermen come from. Because Paul Simon was thinking of Gloucester (Cape Ann’s biggest city) when he wrote “My Little Town” (“Nothing but the dead and dying . . .”). Because Sebastian Junger painted such a gritty picture of the place in The Perfect Storm.

Why you shouldn’t. Because Cape Ann is not only a great stretch of rocky coast about 40 miles north of Boston and one of America’s oldest fishing ports (records date to 1623), it’s also a cross-section of Yankee humanity, from blue-collar Gloucester to affluent Rockport.

For the historical big picture, check out the Cape Ann Museum, 27 Pleasant St., and don’t miss the sloop that Howard Blackburn, alone and fingerless, sailed from here to Portugal in 1901. (Better yet, go to learn the even more incredible story of how Blackburn lost his fingers.)

Milton Avery, Stuart Davis, Marsden Hartley, Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, and Fitz Henry Lane painted here, as did Edward Hopper. Rudyard Kipling set Captains Courageous here. T.S. Eliot spent many summers in the neighborhood, and John Updike lived from the late 1950s until his death early this year in Ipswich and Beverly Farms.

For a century or so, Gloucester’s smaller northern neighbor, Rockport, has been the area’s prime tourist destination: a classic New England main street, with its white-steepled church, upscale shops and eateries. There are a few hotels, two dozen B&Bs, a long-standing art colony on a finger of land called Rocky Neck, a kitschy tourist promenade on Bearskin Neck, and a handsome red shack on the wharf that’s such an inspiration for so many amateur painters that locals call it “Motif No. 1.”

My mother spent every summer of her childhood in Cape Ann, creeping around Pigeon Cove and swimming in the flooded granite quarries. Seventy-five years later, she keeps a framed nautical map of the area on her wall in Pasadena, Calif.

One more thing. I saw the most spectacular sunrise of my life so far from the Captain’s Bounty Motor Inn, 1 Beach St., Rockport, in the summer of 1999.


– Christopher Reynolds

Posted on Sun, May. 3, 2009