Ipswich & Essex, Massachusetts

This destination duo on the North Shore brings a lot to a laid-back day trip or weekend getaway.

  • Current
    Weather

Clear & 40°

  • When to
    Visit

Summer or Fall

  • Population
     

4,400 & 3,000

  • Founded
     

1633 & 1634

By Olivia Vanni

Less than an hour north of Boston at the base of Cape Ann, you’ll find the quaint seaside towns of Essex and Ipswich, Mass. Known for clam flats and shipbuilding history, these North Shore towns bring a lot to a laid-back day trip or weekend getaway. Whether you’re up for an afternoon at Crane Beach, cruising down the Essex River, or checking out the area’s dozens of antique shops, this destination duo has a lot more action than first meets the eye. That goes for the food scene, too. From fried clams to a gourmet coffee roaster and homemade ice cream, here are seven spots to drink and dine while in Ipswich and Essex.

Less than an hour north of Boston at the base of Cape Ann, you’ll find the quaint seaside towns of Essex and Ipswich, Mass. Known for clam flats and shipbuilding history, these North Shore towns bring a lot to a laid-back day trip or weekend getaway. Whether you’re up for an afternoon at Crane Beach, cruising down the Essex River, or checking out the area’s dozens of antique shops, this destination duo has a lot more action than first meets the eye. That goes for the food scene, too. From fried clams to a gourmet coffee roaster and homemade ice cream, here are seven spots to drink and dine while in Ipswich and Essex.

Credit: Jesika Theos

Sandpiper Bakery
Start your morning off right with some freshly baked goods at Sandpiper Bakery. Situated in downtown Ipswich, this little spot specializes in pastries and other goodies made from scratch each day. While the exact offerings shift from season to season, you can expect a variety of croissants, buns, scones, and muffins. Folks who favor a savory breakfast can snag a quiche, breakfast sandwich, or avocado toast. Lines tend to form well before this cafe even opens the doors each morning, especially on the weekends, so get there bright and early to ensure you’ll have the pick of the day’s full inventory. Take me there.

Credit: Stephen Schultz

Little Wolf Coffee
Coffee aficionados love it up here, because Ipswich is home to one of the best roasters in the Bay State. Step inside Little Wolf Coffee—a white brick storefront on High Street—and you’ll find a bright cafe freshly brewing beans roasted in the back. The bar offers all of your favorite espresso-based drinks, as well as a variety of Little Wolf’s own batched coffee blends. After sipping your way through a morning mug, be sure to grab some bags of beans or canned cold brew to-go so you can bring Little Wolf back home. Take me there.  

Credit: Brian Samuels

The Mill
Located within an old cider mill in Essex, this casual cafeis ideal for grabbing a quick bite to go. With a pastry case, a fridge filled with daily prepared foods, and shelves stocked with local provisions, The Mill offers plenty of ready-made options. However, if you have time for a short wait, go for a sandwich. Whether you pick the pork-packed Cubano; the six-inch-thick Chicken Club; or a Breakfast Banh Mi brimming with egg, bacon, and pickled vegetables, each of these hefty handhelds is speedily made to order for the perfect beach picnic. Pair with a cold kombucha from nearby Pigeon Cove Ferments or a freshly brewed coffee, and you’ll have the perfect mid-roadtrip pick-me-up. Take me there.

Credit: Brian Samuels

Essex Seafood
Ask any North Shore native about Essex, and they’ll likely say one thing: It’s synonymous with fried clams. The Great Marsh is supposedly the birthplace of the battered bivalve, and casual seafood shacks alongside the river’s causeway attract tourists with greasy shellfish platters throughout the warm months. While many visitors choose to endure the outrageous line at Woodman’s, most locals know better and head to Essex Seafood when they need a fried clam fix. Pull into a booth at this counter-service joint for a boat of corn flour-dredged clams pulled fresh from the fryolator, or take it to go to enjoy alongside any number of nearby waters. No matter what, be sure to get the whole-belly clams and not just the strips—a rookie mistake made by squeamish non-locals. Take me there.

Credit: True North Ale Company

True North Ale Company
Though Ipswich is home to one of Massachusetts’ original craft breweries (the titular Ipswich Ale Brewery), its answer to the beer craze is True North Ale Company. A buzzing brewery boasting a taproom and patio, True North welcomes visitors every day but Monday with full pours and flights of award-winning brews like Northern Haze juicy IPA, Vincianne Belgian blonde ale, and Cerveza Mexican lager. There’s always a rotation of seasonal experiments, too, plus growlers and cans to-go. Folks are encouraged to bring in their own food or buy bites from the fleet of food trucks that pull up to the patio, such as The Beefie Boys and Sacred Cod. Take me there.

Credit: Brian Samuels

CK Pearl
Just as the name implies, CK Pearl is a true dining gem. Located on Essex’s picturesque estuary, it boasts water views from essentially every vantage point, whether you’re indoors; on the covered, three-season porch; or outside on the patio. Watch boats pass by while digging into some casually cool eats. Expect a changing tide of seafood-centric dishes made with locally sourced ingredients alongside mainstays such as the signature Chowda topped with crispy pork belly; Lobster Carbonara over house-made spaghetti; and a selection of tasty barbecue plates pulled straight from the onsite smoker. The bar here is also bustling at all hours, serving up creative cocktails like the vodka-laced Beach Water, featuring elderflower, pineapple, pomegranate, cucumber, and basil; and New England beers. Take me there.

Credit: Brian Samuels

DownRiver Ice Cream
After a day of boating or catching some rays on Crane Beach, treat yourself to DownRiver Ice Cream. This small, roadside shop is right on the border between Essex and Ipswich, pulling in a crowd from both towns and beyond. All of the ice cream is made in-house using local ingredients, including dairy from a family-run farm. Flavors range from the tried-and-true classics (think Strawberry and Butter Pecan) to specialties like Deer Tracks (toffee ice cream with peanut butter truffles and fudge) and a double-chocolate brownie batch named after nearby Hog Island. Grab a scoop of your choice—or make it a frappe—and savor it on one of the few seats scattered outside. Take me there.

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