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While New England is especially famous for its stunning fall foliage, the summer season is ideal for everything from sailing, island-hopping, and taking advantage of beautiful beaches to mountain hikes and lake swimming. Some of the best whale watching can be enjoyed off the coast of Massachusetts too. These small charming New England towns are particularly ideal – choose one according to your interests and look forward to an unforgettable summer escape.
Boothbay Harbor, Maine
The Midcoast Maine town of Boothbay Harbor is known as the “Boating Capital of Maine.” A seaside gem with lots of striking natural beauty and authentic charms, the harbor’s east and west sides are connected by a long footbridge, making it easy to explore everything from historic lighthouses to rocky beaches and hidden coves. Along the town’s brick sidewalks, you’ll find shops with hand-painted signs, many of which sell local artisan-made items. There are many boat tours that depart daily for excursions that bring close encounters with wildlife like seals, puffins, and whales.
One of the most charming towns in Maine, Ogunquit translates to “beautiful place by the sea” and it truly is. Located along the Ogunquit River facing the Atlantic in southern Maine, it offers some of the best beaches in the region. Visitors and locals alike take to the flat stretch of sand that rolls down the banks of the river with inner tubes or rafts for a refreshing float. You’ll find plenty to do in town too. Once simply a small fishing village, today it’s an artist colony with boutiques that sell locally made items, classic seafood shacks, the Ogunquit Playhouse for catching summer theatrical performances, and an art museum. The Ogunquit Museum of American Art displays an impressive collection of works by major figures like Roy Lichtenstein, Edward Hopper, and Thomas Hart Benton.
Set along the eastern banks of Lake Champlain, Burlington offers plenty to do on land and water, including cruises and a wide range of water sports. You can rent a bike to ride the 26-mile Island Line Trail that travels all the way to the Canadian border, hike the trails in Mt. Philo State Park, check out the Saturday farmers’ market, and enjoy a wealth of festivals with something happening nearly every weekend throughout the summer here. There are some fantastic local brewing companies too, including the popular Magic Hat with its eclectic Victorian vibe.
Nestled between the Champlain Valley and the foothills of the Green Mountains in western Vermont, Middlebury has lots to offer. Summer is ideal for berry picking at one of the many farms in the area, and there are many trails for walking and biking. In this charming town in Vermont, you can rent a bike to pedal the 16-mile loop that circles the town or head to one of the many routes in the Green Mountain National Forest. A series of outdoor movies under the stars and live music is offered throughout the summer at the Historic Marble Works by the falls. Bring a blanket and some take out for a picnic and enjoy the entertainment.
Falmouth is the second-largest town on Cape Cod and one of the closest to Boston, just under 77 miles away. It’s one of the most picturesque towns in Massachusetts, home to nine beaches, including the striking white sands of Old Silver Beach on Buzzards Bay. In addition to the sandy beaches, you can visit the Nobska Lighthouse and enjoy everything from wildlife refuges and conservation areas for hiking and kayaking to tasty meals at waterfront seafood shacks. The historic village is home to unique shops, museums, and all sorts of eateries, as well as a weekly summer farmer’s market.
One of the best seaside locations in New England, Rockport looks like it was made for the movies with its beautiful setting and soft sandy beaches at the tip of Cape Ann Peninsula. It’s a great place for kayaking or even diving as well as offering scenic trails in Halibut Point State Park for hiking. There are paths that follow along the water and bring breathtaking views that stretch all the way into Maine and New Hampshire. You’ll find plenty in town too, including art galleries, shops, and eateries selling fresh local seafood like mouthwatering lobster rolls.
Oaks Bluff, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
Martha’s Vineyard is a popular getaway for many residents along the east coast. Oaks Bluff along the northeastern shore makes a great base for enjoying its sandy beaches, unspoiled nature, and picturesque lighthouses. It’s often recognized for its unique and colorful gingerbread cottages that give it a storybook feel. Beaches here face Vineyard Sound, which typically has only minimal surf with the calm water ideal for swimming. The town is also home to the oldest carousel in the country, the Flying Horses Carousel, which has been spinning since 1876.
Wolfeboro, New Hampshire
Seat along the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, Wolfeboro bills itself as America’s “oldest summer resort.” It’s a great place to enjoy cooling off in the summer, with just about every water sport imaginable enjoyed here. You’ll find plenty of things to do on land, including a visit to the Wright Museum of World War II and the New Hampshire Boat Museum, dedicated to all types of watercraft that have played a part in the town’s history. There are narrated trolley tours to learn even more and you’ll find art galleries and shops along the waterfront that are fun to explore.
Franconia, New Hampshire
Franconia is a great place for enjoying the outdoors in New Hampshire. It’s a tiny town but it’s home to Franconia Notch, a mountain pass with towering peaks along with beautiful waterways, bringing opportunities to enjoy everything from fishing, kayaking, and canoeing to hiking and biking. Franconia Notch State Park offers some great walks, including an easy two-mile trek to Flume Gorge that includes a good look at an iconic red bridge, a popular photo-op. It’s also possible to ride the Aerial Tramway to the top of Cannon Mountain for a bird’s-eye view and access to the alpine conditions. When you’re ready to come in from the outdoors, you’ll find cozy English-style pubs for a refreshing drink and a hearty meal.
The village of Mystic sits between Boston and New York City along the Mystic River which flows into Long Island Sound, providing easy access to the Atlantic. There’s lots to do in this tiny coastal town that was featured in “Mystic Pizza,” the 1988 hit film starring Julia Roberts. You can even visit the famous Mystic Pizza parlor on Main Street that inspired it. Other highlights include the Mystic Seaport Museum, the largest maritime museum in the country, the Maritime Gallery, Mystic Aquarium, and Olde Mistick Village, a reconstruction of an early 18th-century village with a variety of shopping experiences along cobblestoned streets.
Newport, Rhode Island
Newport is an idyllic summer destination. As the “Sailing Capital of the World, it’s a great place for those who want to spend lots of time on the water, but you’ll find plenty to do on land too. There are picturesque beaches, endless shopping venues on Thames Street, ocean-view eateries featuring fresh seafood at Bowen’s wharf, and, of course, the magnificent Newport Mansions. Some of the most lavish in the country, they offer a glimpse of the lifestyles of wealthy industrialists in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Breakers is jaw-dropping, a Renaissance-style mansion commissioned by railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1893 that was inspired by palaces in northern Italy, with Italian marble, ornate gold ceilings, French antique furnishings, and even diamonds, rubies, and other precious gems encrusted in the walls.
Stowe is a postcard-perfect down in northern Vermont ideal for outdoor adventurers and nature lovers. It’s next to the highest peak in the state, Mount Manfield and home to Smuggler’s Notch State Park, with opportunities to go cave exploring, hiking, and biking during the summer. In the historic village itself, there are many photo-ops with lovely church steeples and covered bridges, along with a wide range of shopping and dining options, including shops that sell made-in-Vermont items. Plus, Stowe Mountain Resort offers a ZipTour Adventure and Gondola SkyRide during the summer.
Block Island, Rhode Island
Just 12 miles off Rhode Island’s coast, accessed via a 30-minute high-speed ferry from Point Judith or a 15-minute plane ride from Westerly, Block Island is a 10-square-mile island with sandy beaches like Ballard’s where you can party on the beach and even have a frozen daiquiri, margarita or other icy drink delivered right to you as you sunbathe. Enjoy water sports like kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling, fishing, and sailing, as well as horseback riding and hiking, with 25 miles of trails boasting fabulous ocean views. There are many paths for cycling too, and as the island is so small, you can pedal anywhere in under 20 minutes. Shopping enthusiasts will have their pick of more than 50 stores, specialty shops, and galleries, while dining options include everything from fine dining to casual eateries serving local seafood to picnic tables.