Ipswich and Essex are each worth a day trip of their own, but getting the best of both is easy, and you hardly have to veer off Route 133.
Start in Essex. Take your coffee out to Essex County Greenbelt’s Cox Reservation, (82 Eastern Ave., 978-768-7241, www.ecga.org), the onetime home of muralist Allyn Cox, whose work can be seen in the US Capitol. The farmhouse is now Greenbelt headquarters, but you’re only parking there. Walking north on the trail past the meadows to the end, an area known as Clamhouse Landing, look for the quiet spot where a bench overlooks the Essex River. Sip your java, look for egrets, herons, and other birds. Make a plan.
It will only take a few minutes to drive into town, cross the river, and park at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum (66 Main St., 978-768-7541, www.essexshipbuildingmuseum.org). Here you’ll learn about this small town’s extraordinary 400-year history as a shipbuilding center. Explore the boats and exhibits. Then walk up around the corner to the museum’s second site, with its archive and old burial ground.
While you’re there, spend a little time browsing the antique and curio shops along that corner of Route 133/Main Street, some of the numerous such shops in Essex.
Or if you’re not intent on shopping, take a short driving detour to the Historic New England farm known as Cogswell’s Grant (60 Spring St., 978-768-3632, www.historicnewengland.org), formerly home of a director of Historic New England and still the repository of a fabulous collection of folk and vernacular art.
And what’s for lunch? Well, Woodman’s of Essex (121 Main St., 978-768-6057, www.woodmans.com) bills itself as the birthplace of the fried clam and still serves approximately a gazillion of them every year. We tend to go for a clam roll, fries, and cole slaw with a pint of whatever Massachusetts-brewed beer happens to be on tap. Archrival J.T. Farnham’s (88 Eastern Ave., 978-768-6643) has good food too. It’s a more bare-bones setting, but the picnic tables outside offer a nice marsh view that includes an osprey nesting platform.
Now on to Ipswich.
If you’re here on the weekend and coming from Essex after lunch, you might want to check out Wolf Hollow ($8.50 adults, 114 Essex Road, 978-356-0216, www.wolfhollowipswich.org).
The nonprofit center offers a one-hour structured presentation with its wolf pack on Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 p.m., weather permitting. This is a fascinating spot with beautiful animals, and it’s worth a stop, but call ahead. In any case, next you’ll head north on Northgate Road to Argilla Road and the smell of salt air.
Most Ipswich visitors will find a reason to visit the Crane Estate (Argilla Road, www.thetrustees.org). More than 2,000 acres of the estate once owned by industrialist Richard T. Crane Jr. have been donated to the Trustees of Reservations over the decades.
Castle Hill ($10 per car, extra for tours of the house, 978-356-4351) is the 165-acre Crane residential estate best known for the Great House, a David Adler-designed mansion completed in 1928 and decorated with period furnishings (though part of the house is now used for trustees offices). Actually Castle Hill is best known for the Great House’s backyard, the Grand Allée, a vast and beautifully designed greensward with border plantings and sculptures that is a popular location for events public and private.
The Grand Allée served as Jack Nicholson’s yard in the film “The Witches of Eastwick,” based on a novel by a onetime Ipswich resident, the late John Updike.
The Crane Estate also includes Crane Beach (978-356-4354), a vast space of beach and sand dunes extremely popular on hot summer weekends for swimming, sunbathing, and trail walking. (Heads up: Parking can run as high as $25 a carfor nonmembers on summer weekends.)
The adjacent 700-acre Crane Wildlife Refuge encompasses parts of the Great Marsh as well as wooded Choate Island, which is accessible by boat. (That’s where scenes from the Daniel Day-Lewis film “The Crucible” were filmed in 1995.) Check the website for access info and programs.
If there’s time when you leave the Crane Estate via Argilla Road and 133/1A, stop at the Ipswich Museum ($10 adults, May through late October, 54 S. Main St., 978-356-2811, www.ipswichmuseum.org).
You can enjoy touring two period houses, the Federalist Heard House and the 1677 Whipple House across the street, as well as the recently constructed replica of theeven earlier Alexander Knight House.
Make sure to check out the paintings by nationally recognized native Arthur Wesley Dow in the Heard House.
Then, steer into town for dinner. Popular spots range from the upscale Ithaki Mediterranean Cuisine to locals’ favorites like the Choate Bridge Pub and The Riverview pizzeria. But we’ll steer you to the new Salt Kitchen and Rum Bar (1 Market St., 978-356-0002, www.saltkitchenandrumbar.com) right by the corner of 133.
Modern dishes favoring local ingredients top the menu at this newish downtown hotspot.
To truly get the Ipswich experience, top off your evening with coffee and/or ice cream across the street at Zumi’s (40 Market St., 978-356-1988, zumis.com), which manages to be both the modern/environmentally correct sort of place and the one where you run into everyone in town.