Driving in a car on a road trip is cool, but you can still travel to some beautiful seaside towns around Boston if you don’t want to drive.

Seagulls fly over the sky when we get off at Rockport station.
Seagulls fly over the sky when we get off at Rockport station
Photo by Anqi Zhang

There is a lot to do in Boston, Massachusetts. You can come across many historic buildings just by walking along any street in the city. Boston has an exceptional academic reputation with world-level universities that are open to the public. You can even immerse yourself in nature at the parks scattered about the city. But is there anything more in the Boston area?

One thing that people should not neglect, but often do, is to visit the seaside towns located around Boston. Renting a car can be troublesome for a foreign tourist or an international student who knows nothing about the new environment. Thanks to the convenience of public transit in the Boston area, you don’t need to rent a car to see these towns. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) can bring you to these destinations, and you can see the sea within a couple of minutes’ walk. ­­­

Manchester-by-the-Sea – The Most Unlikely Tourist Site

We pass the lake on the way to Singing Beach.
We pass the lake on our way to the Singing Beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea
Photo by Anqi Zhang

The 2016 movie Manchester by the Sea brought a spotlight to this low-profile seaside town. A sense of tranquility shrouds the whole place. In reality, the area is too quiet to be a tourist site but also too beautiful to be missed. You get off the train, walk out of the commuter rail station along Beach Street, and you will see the Singing Beach within half a mile. It’s $7 per person for access to the beach. They offer facilities, including toilets, showers, and changing stalls.

Why is it called Singing Beach? You will know when you walk on it, especially dragging your feet on the sand, it produces a continuous whistling sound like birds singing. There is a divide on the singing sand mechanism. Some say the friction between the grains leads to a musical tone; Some believe it’s due to the air cushion between the compressed particles.

The beach is shy of a half-mile wide, on which you can see mountains and rocks nearby. Rows of seaside houses along the shore showcase its identity as a place for Massachusetts residents to enjoy the summer sun-bathing and leisure vacation. Bring a blanket and a deckchair; one could sit there all day staring at the sea. If you’re lucky enough, you may see fog roll towards the beach from far away; it’ll be a scene that you won’t forget.

And if you are interested in hanging around the town, there are restaurants, clothing stores, and consignment shops worth your visit. You won’t miss them on the way from the Singing Beach to the rail station. For vintage lovers, the Stock Exchange at 3 Beach Street is the destination of choice for discerning shoppers and satisfied consignors.

Rockport – The Most Artistic Seaside Town

The Bearskin Neck is one of the most photographed places in Rockport.
The Bearskin Neck is one of the most photographed places in Rockport
Photo by Anqi Zhang

Rockport is close to Manchester-by-the-Sea and is located at a corner that stands out on the Massachusetts map. It’s friendly to public transit users, and you can go everywhere in the town on bare feet. Compared with our first seaside town, Rockport is more vibrant and targets itself as a tourist site.

Before walking to Bearskin Neck, Rockport’s most famous tourist site, you could visit a variety of souvenir shops and restaurants. Houses and shops with bright pigments could naturally bring you into a festive vacation vibe. One would find it impossible to miss the lobster rolls, which is a feature on almost every menu in the restaurants. Sundays Ice Cream is another town brand attracting visitors.

At the tip of Cape Ann, a long stretch to the sea made up of various rocks will grasp your attention. That’s Bearskin Neck, whose name origin has multiple explanations. The most popular one is that the site got its name from a bear who was routed onto the Neck and hunted by early settlers. You can stroll along the rocky road to its end and sit and listen to the waves lap at the rocks. Whether walking on it or seeing the Neck from a distance, one could easily appreciate its charm.

What sets Rockport apart from other seaside towns is its galleries. A community of artists and gallery owners founded the Rockport Art Colony. Thanks to this community, Rockport has attracted artists and art lovers from all over the world since the mid-1800s. Nowadays, the community has over 30 galleries showcasing the work of more than 400 artists. Their galleries collect works of different types, including portraiture, drawings, sculpture, photography, realism, contemporary, and abstract art. Throughout the year, festivals, receptions, demonstrations, and different kinds of activities are held here to make the community develop and flourish, passing on its cultural traditions.

Provincetown – The Most LGBTQ+ Friendly Town

We came across the beautiful scenery while we are biking around the coast in Provincetown.
We came across the beautiful scenery while we are biking around the coast in Provincetown
Photo by Anqi Zhang

Provincetown is farther from Boston compared to the other two towns I’ve mentioned. The only public transit that can directly take you there from downtown Boston is the ferry. It’s $94 for a round trip that takes less than two hours. The sea view on the way may be worth the price for some. Another bonus is the geographical position of the ferry stop, which means you could walk to the heart of the town from the harbor.

Located at the end of the hook of Cape Cod, Provincetown is known as a vacation destination for the LGBTQ+ community. Drag queens have performed there since the early 1940s. The town had a significant gay population by the 1970s, who were attracted by its bohemian culture and relatively low life cost and rent. In 1978, the Provincetown Business Guild (PBG), a tourist-based business and marketing non-profit, was formed to promote gay tourism. Nowadays, the PBG consistently promotes Provincetown to the LGBTQ+ market worldwide, through their colorful festivals and events.

I recommend two ways of transportation when you visit Provincetown. One is on foot, walking among the crowds and seeing shops and streets. Festivals and parades are held there all year round, which you may jump into while your window-shopping. The other is to rent a bike downtown and ride it around the whole coast. In this way, you could avoid most groups of tourists, enjoy the white sands, green trees, and blue skies, and make a stop at different beaches along the way. Many hills along the way can be considered good cardio exercise for bike riders.

Grand events are canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, but the organizer has listed future events that will, hopefully, happen as planned. There is the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival in September, Women’s Week in October, and Holly Folly, Provincetown’s annual LGBTQ+ holiday-themed festival, in December.

The restaurants and food in the town are another highlight. There are hardly any chain-brand restaurants. What replaces them are dining places with different characteristics infused by enthusiastic restaurateurs. We had dinner at an outdoor seated area of a restaurant last time. The diners who sat next to us at another table was a family of two fathers and a daughter. For me, it was a unique experience that I don’t often see elsewhere.

Of course, one can always drive to these towns to save more time. But from my perspective, the view on the way before you get to a destination is full of surprises. Sitting next to a window on the train, you would find yourself surrounded by a moving scenery of pictures that may be familiar or rather strange. Taking a nap on the way back is also lovely, as long as you don’t forget to get off at your intended stop.