Frommer’s recently named Essex, Massachusetts as a must-see destination this summer. Maureen Woodman of Woodman’s of Essex discusses the beautiful landscape, fun things to do, and of course, food to eat in Essex. Listen or read more to find out about what to do in Essex, Massachusetts.

John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher, I’m here today with Maureen Woodman from Woodman’s of Essex, a restaurant and catering company in Essex, Massachusetts. Today, we’re talking about the Frommer’s Guide article, “Summer in the USA: 20 Best Vacation Destinations”. Welcome, Maureen.

Maureen Woodman: Hi, John. Thanks for having me.

John: Sure. So, Frommer’s Guide, who makes all those books, those travel books and with all kinds of information about where to go and places to see and things like that, they published this article that was called the “Summer in the USA: 20 Best Vacation Destinations” and they named some places all the way from Acadia, Maine to the San Juan Islands in Washington and then Santa Barbara, Tybee Island, Georgia, just all over the country. Great places to go in the summer and they named Essex, Massachusetts, where Woodman’s is, as one of their places. Why do you think that Essex, Massachusetts made the list?

The Beauty of Essex, Massachusetts

Maureen: Well, I think we’re all trying to figure that out, coming up there. You know, when you live here, you probably don’t think of yourself…

John: It’s your hometown…

Maureen: Yeah, but we do know that it is beautiful where we live. It’s very safe in Essex, it’s very unchanged in Essex. We’re truly surrounded by so much conservation land. There’s so many, so many acres in Essex and really, there’s not much buildable land in Essex when you see you have the river running through . . . it’s an inlet really of the ocean, it’s a true river.

John: There’s a tidal salt marsh (EC Greenbelt) as well.

Maureen: Yeah, you get the tidal salt marsh and you get a lot of pretty birds and I don’t know; I think it’s peaceful, it’s unchanged. Maybe for this busy world that we live in, people want that. I think the biggest thing is it’s visually colorful and it’s very, very safe. It’s very safe and it’s just one road that really goes right through there, 1A, which is the back road that follows all the water on Cape Ann, it’s a pretty road. I don’t know, there’s no street lights. It’s old fashioned, it’s unchanged.

Things to do in Essex

John: Right. So, this article named some things to do including kayaking (Essex River Basin Adventures), boating, deep-sea fishing, the area beaches, like you said you’re on a salt marsh, so Essex itself doesn’t really have the beaches, but you have Ipswich right next door that has a beautiful beach and then Gloucester right nearby that also has a bunch of beautiful beaches.

There’s an Essex Shipbuilding Museum. Also, Essex has a lot of the history of building ships and there’s a museum to go along with that. And then, more than 25 different antique shops (Essex Antiques) that are all very concentrated right in that downtown area. So, do you think that they nailed it in terms of things to do in Essex and in the area or did they miss anything?

Maureen: I think it’s a great place for the stand-up paddle boards (Cape Ann SUP), which is the modern version of the kayak. I think that the Essex River Cruises is still fun for small children and elderly people. So, I think that it does have something for everyone there. I think it’s a great opportunity for the artists that are local to come and paint (Cape Ann Plein Air) where there’s so much pretty, coastal visual. Again, with the salt marsh, the blue water, that gorgeous green, the sky, there’s so many landscape pictures that have been painted of the Essex Marsh, so I think it’s a really great place for artists to come.

I also think the food is just amazing. There are about 12 restaurants in Essex (Dining in Essex). Every one of them is just as good as the one next to it. Right now, they’re building a giant beer brewery, which we can’t even believe that this is going to happen in Essex.

John: It’s like a couple of doors down from Woodman’s on the main road there.

Maureen: It’s right on the main road. I think it’s really going to help us in the colder season, which is October, November, and March and April. We really don’t need a lot of help in the summer, because it’s very busy, because we are a true tourist destination, a summer ‘clam shack highway’, as they call us. But I think this beer brewery is going to bring a whole other generation of people to us. The Webber Restaurant Group, is going in there with a craft brewery restaurant. People are questioning the size of the building…

John: Right, it’s a big two-story or a three-story building compared to the low, one-story buildings that are typically here.

Maureen: Yeah, I think it’s changing the landscape of our causeway tremendously with the height of it, but I think that the energy that it’s going to bring for the millennials – I’m excited to see what happens, I really am.

John: Right.

Shopping in Essex

Maureen: I think there’s some fun stuff. We don’t have a lot of stores. We have a couple cute little gift shops (Sea Meadow Garden & Gifts) along with those antique stores, if you want to take a walk, there’s nothing like it. Just park the car at Woodman’s parking lot, throw the baby in the carriage and walk around. It’s so peaceful. I think that’s what it is. Maybe everybody’s just looking for peace and quiet in this busy, busy world we’re in right now and maybe that’s why we got picked.

John: I think those antique shops are a big draw too. I know that people do know about Essex and the antiques all over the country. I think if that’s the kind of thing that you’re into and you enjoy just walking into those antique shops and poking around at all of the different things whether it’s the furniture or old signs and knick-knacks and things like that, it’s just a great place, because you can just walk from one antique shop to the next to the next to the next that are all practically right next to each other. It’s great.

Maureen: Yep, and you can come by Woodman’s and get an ice cream (Gifford’s Ice Cream) or Down River (Down River Ice Cream) has really good ice cream. We’re starting to become an ice cream destination now, so that’s kind of fun.

Where to Stay in Essex

John: Right, so the article in Frommer’s Guide named Shea’s Riverside Inn & Motel as a charming place to stay. I know that happens to be right across the street from Woodman’s, so if people stay there, that’s great. Any other recommendations for places to stay in the area?

Maureen: Well, of course, there’s always those beautiful little motels in Gloucester on the back shore, Cape Ann Motor Lodge and the Mile Marker’s always fun. The Cape Ann Marina, they have a nice breakfast there as well, but they did open a little bed and breakfast in Essex, the Cedar Hill Farm, which is run by an extension of the Ginn family, who actually first owned the Shea’s Riverside Inn, which is the one referred to in the Frommer’s Guide.

And they’ve done a really, really good job there. They’re making fresh food and biscuits from the farm and they have about nine or 10 little rooms in the Cedar Hill Farm and everyone’s really enjoying it. And that’s between Essex and the Ipswich road, so also a very visual road and if you want to go down to Ipswich and go to Crane’s Beach or go see the Crane’s Estate or the Russell’s Orchards, those are all fun places to go.

Planning a Vacation to Essex

John: Right. Any other ideas for things to do in the area if someone did decide to come and visit Essex?

Maureen: I would probably go to one of the many museums (Museums & Recreation) like the Shipbuilding Museum. I’ve lived in Essex quite a long time and I can tell you; I didn’t go in the shipbuilding museum until maybe two or three years ago. I was really fascinated by it. I can’t say it was something I was ever interested in, all these wooden boats and the ships.

I didn’t realize how hard it was. I still really haven’t figured out why that happened in Essex. Why did all these shipbuilders show up in Essex? And I think it was because you had such a low . . . it was easy to launch the boat. I think it was a wide-open space where you could build and then, you had this crazy extension, this river that went to the ocean, so maybe . . .

John: And it’s protected, you don’t have a bunch of waves coming in or anything like that, because it’s so far from where the beach is, yeah.

Maureen: Maybe when you built the boat, you wanted to make sure it didn’t sink, so you tested it out in this little shallow river or something before you got all the way out in the ocean and said, “Uh oh, we got a problem.”

John: Right.

Maureen: But I think that’s kind of a fun thing to do and of course, we’re talking about Woodman’s, I don’t think you can beat the food. You have to come by and have some fried clams.

John: All right, well that’s great advice, Maureen. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Maureen: Thanks, John, thanks for having me.

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