Another in a series of New England getaways on public transportation.
ROCKPORT — This little village is the end of the line for the commuter rail to Cape Ann. If it went any farther, the trains would be in the Atlantic Ocean, which surrounds Rockport on three sides. That means Rockport bathes in ocean light, an attribute that has always drawn painters to its shores.
If you missed the summertime scent of taffy and the cha-ching of cash registers on Bearskin Neck, you’ll find fall is a second, better chance to see Rockport minus the press of flesh. It doesn’t get any more painterly than early October when blue-dome skies and the low slant of the sun make Motif Number 1, the red fish shack on Bradley Wharf, seem to glow. Need more persuading? The Rockport Harvest Fest takes over T-Wharf on Oct. 19.
THE RIDE The trains on our weekend sojourn seemed, frankly, a little worse for wear. The vinyl-covered, pew-like bench seats won’t win any prizes for comfort. But the trip takes only a little over an hour and train crew members were exceptionally genial. The first segment of the trip traverses the industrial back yards of Greater Boston, but at Beverly the views turn toward the shore. By West Gloucester, the train cruises past rich marshes where egrets dot the shallows.
LOGISTICS For a commuter line, both weekday and weekend Rockport service is very convenient for daytrippers. For a full day in town, plan on an 8:30 a.m. (8:35 weekdays) departure from North Station. With return trains as late as 7:30 or 10 p.m. weekends (7:45 and 10:45 weekdays), you can stay for dinner. If you’d rather eat at home, earlier returns are available.
WHAT TO DO From the commuter rail station, it’s about a 10-minute walk down King Street to pocket-size Front Beach where you can breathe in the salt air and take a brisk stroll to work out the kinks from the train ride. For lunch, Nate’s at Front Beach (18 Beach St., 978-546-0055, $3.50-$19) is a local favorite for a lobster BLT wrap or a basket of fried clams. Rockport is so compact that the walk from the beach to central Dock Square takes only about five minutes — minus stopovers at shops and galleries along the way. The White Seagull Gallery (59 Main St., 978-546-3449), for example, features paintings of beach stones and of fallen leaves by Susanne White, as well as sea-glass jewelry that she and her husband create — much of it from glass they find on Cape Ann.
For an overview of the art scene, check out the Rockport Art Association (12 Main St., 978-546-6604, www.rockportartassn.org), which was founded in 1921 and boasts about 250 exhibiting members. Through Nov. 17, an ambitious three-part exhibition, “Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow,” features pieces from the permanent collection, work from exhibiting members, and painting, sculpture, and photography by three artists chosen to represent the future.
You’ll have plenty of time to walk the length of Bearskin Neck for the view back on the harbor from the tip. The neck is lined with shops and galleries, and we found many shops offering end-of-summer discounts. Note that many also reduce their hours after summer; late week and weekends are best for shoppers. For a memento of summer, the Pewter Shop (16 Bearskin Neck, 978-546-2105) carries a line of jewelry featuring local beach sand set in sterling silver. A few docks down, you will want to snap a photo of Motif Number 1, which has been painted and photographed so often that it’s been transfigured from cliché to icon. There’s a viewing deck at the rear of Lula’s Pantry (5 Dock Square, 978-546-0010), where you can pick up a lobster-printed apron, an octopus dish towel, or a fish-shaped cutting board or trivet.
In fact, Rockport is all about vistas. You can watch the harbor through giant windows as you eat baked haddock or lobster and fries at the Fish Shack Restaurant (21 Dock Square, 978-546-6667, $9-$23) or enjoy an equally good view to go with coffee and a brownie at Bean & Leaf Cafe (12 Bearskin Neck, 978-546-7500).
CONCLUSION Rockport is Zone 8 on the commuter rail, which costs $10 per person each way ($3 more if purchased on board). The trains were on time and, at least on a weekend, uncrowded — making Rockport a perfectly simple fall getaway to see the light. For full schedule see www.mbta.com.