A Tank Away

Newburyport offers charm, and then some

The five-room, Federal-style Compass Rose Inn is one of several B&Bs in town. It offers parking and is located within a short walk to shopping and restaurants.
The five-room, Federal-style Compass Rose Inn is one of several B&Bs in town. It offers parking and is located within a short walk to shopping and restaurants.

Often described as a “charming seaport city,” Newburyport actually sits on the south bank of the Merrimack River, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean just beyond Plum Island. Most visitors are besotted even before they reach the waterfront, thanks to the stunning array of homes that line High Street. These immaculately preserved homes date back centuries and are considered to be part of one of the finest collections of Federalist architecture in the world.

Adding to Newburyport’s eye-appeal are the red brick mill buildings that distinguish its downtown, built in the early 1800s. They were brought back to life in the 1970s, when the city launched a major preservation effort that transformed its decaying downtown into an attractive brick-and-cobblestone retail zone with a waterfront park and boardwalk. Now, it’s a vibrant scene, home to frequent festivals, boutique shopping, and restaurants galore. Newburyport is — dare we say it — charming.


This small city is a magnet for day-trippers, but there are several nice places to spend the night. The four-story brick Garrison Inn (11 Brown Square, 978-499-8500,, from $190) is a circa 1809 National Historic Landmark and — surprise — it is dog-friendly. The recently renovated 24-room boutique hotel offers amenities like afternoon tea, a made-to-order breakfast (included in the room rate), and free access to the Y across the street. Among the numerous B&Bs in town, the five-room, Federal-style Compass Rose Inn (5½ Center St., 978-675-6660,, from $179), earns rave reviews for its large, lovely suites, and niceties like pillow-top mattresses and Moulton Brown toiletries. Innkeeper Gloria Martin prepares a hot breakfast entree along with lighter fare like fruit and yogurt, and even gluten-free bread. The handsome, Federal-style Clark Currier Inn (45 Green St., 978-465-8363,, from $150) was built by a shipbuilder in 1803, and its 11 rooms are filled with period furniture. The inn’s continental breakfast includes fruit, baked goods, and delicious homemade croissants. All of these properties offer parking, and each is located a short walk from shopping and restaurants.


Diane Bair for the Boston Globe
Fried clams at Bob Lobster, a seafood shack on the Merrimack River.

This city is so rich with enticing edibles that Patrick Halloran of Cape Ann Foodie Tours ( launched a “Taste Newburyport Food Tour” last year, a fun way to sample a variety of local food purveyors. The griddle is a-sizzling at Angie’s Food (7 Pleasant St., 978-462-7959,, $5.99 and up), a classic diner where owners Kim and Steve Luz and crew turn out breakfast all day, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (6 p.m. on Sundays) for a happy troop of regulars. Count on buttermilk pancakes the size of your head, house-made muffins and hash, and non-breakfast-y options like steak tips and baked haddock. Your best bet for a meal-with-a-view is the Black Cow Tap & Grill (54R Merrimac St., 978-499-8811,, dinner entrees from $15), perched over the Merrimack River. Open for lunch and dinner, the Black Cow offers grilled steaks a la carte plus seafood (the crab cakes are a great starter) and pub fare. The outdoor deck is fun and festive when the weather’s fine. A newcomer to the mix, the hipster-ish Brine
(25 State St., 978-358-8479,, small plates $11-$15) bills itself as an “oyster, crudo, and chop bar” and is winning fans with inventive dishes like halibut crudo with shaved black truffle and crushed hazelnuts. Heading out to Plum Island? Fuel up at Bob Lobster (49 Plum Island Turnpike, Newbury, 978-465-7100,, from $12), where local lobsterman Bob Hartigan sells boiled lobsters, lobster rolls, and fried dinners from a seafood shack on the Merrimack River. Dine indoors at picnic tables, or outdoors alongside the marsh. Oprah Winfrey herself is a fan of Chococoa Baking Co. (50 Water St., 978-499-8889, ) The main event is a seriously toothsome mini-whoopie pie, available in several flavors.


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There’s so much to do, we can only hit a few highlights. Spring is a wonderful time to visit 4,662-acre Parker River National Wildlife Refuge (6 Plum Island Turnpike; 978-465-5753,, $5 per car) on Plum Island, thanks to the arrival of 15 to 20 species of warblers (songbirds). Bring your bike, or hike along the boardwalk to Hellcat Swamp for sweeping marshland views. Another great spot to enjoy the first signs of the season: Maudslay State Park (74 Curzon Mill Road, 978-465-7223, www.mass
.gov, $2 parking), a 480-acre landscape of rolling meadows, pine forests, and mountain laurel, enhanced with 19th-century plantings. Fun fact: Newburyport was the birthplace of the US Coast Guard. Get the whole story at the Custom House Maritime Museum (25 Water St., 978-462-8681,, $7). Newburyport is home to a flourishing arts scene, so you’ll want to pop into a gallery or two, perhaps the Newburyport Art Association (65 Water St., 978-465-8765,, featuring the work of member artists. As for shopping, Newburyport’s streets are lined with unique little shops that specialize in things such as soap and olive oil; call them ultra-specialty stores. We love Jabberwocky Bookshop (50 Water St., 978-465-9359,, at The Tannery Marketplace, a treasure trove of great reads, with works by local authors like Andre Dubus III and a good selection of books for kids. At the funky flea market/antiques shop Oldies Marketplace (27 Water St., 978-465-0643,, shop for everything from a vintage cameo brooch to a giant “Friendly’s” sign (although that may have been snapped up by now). Speaking of vintage, Modern Millie (41 Pleasant St., 978-961-1569, www.modernmillie is a fun place to browse for vintage and affordable modern styles.


If there’s a performance at the Firehouse Center for the Arts (Market Square, 978-462-7336,, ticket prices vary), treat yourself. It’s a go-to venue for classical and popular music performances, drama, dance, film, and family entertainment. The venerable Grog (13 Middle St., 978-465-8008,, cover charge varies) hosts the Parker Wheeler’s Blues Party every Sunday night, when guest acts join Wheeler onstage. They also host an open mike night (Wednesday) and live music from Thursday through Saturday nights. David’s Tavern at the Garrison Inn (11 Brown Square, 978-462-8077, is a relaxing spot to enjoy Beatles covers, classic rock, or Irish-American folk music on Thursday through Saturday nights. For that dive bar vibe (cash only), there’s the Thirsty Whale (24 Market Square, 978-499-4305), a true local hangout. Itching to try a Greenhead IPA or other locally brewed beer? Go to the source: Newburyport Brewing Co. (4 New Pasture Road, 978-463-8700, and sample craft brews in their Tap Room, open till 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Newburyport is 35 miles northeast of Boston. For information, visit

Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at