Great Escapes: The New Hampshire Coastline
The New Hampshire coastline is just 13 miles away. If a visitor were to enter the Granite State from the south and cut too quickly towards the seashore, he might think that the state should never have chosen to develop its coastline. Hampton Beach is a disappointing beach town. At best, it might appeal to nostalgic fans and the cast of the first season of The Jersey Shore.
But if you drive north along the coast, through Rye and into Portsmouth, New Hampshire just might have the perfect stretch of coastline in the country: gorgeous mansions and manicured lawns to the west; pristine beaches and incredible September waves in the east.
While Hampton Beach has little to offer, two places with Hampton in its name are certainly worth a stop. In Hampton proper, west of the Atlantic and back on Route 1, a wonderful cafe, Blue Harbor Coffee Co., offers excellent beers and breakfast sandwiches for those taking a boat trip. early or trying to park on the beach in Rye.
If you’d rather stay close to the coast, take Alternative 1A, which runs along the Atlantic, and stop at Beach Plum in North Hampton for lunch or dinner. The Beach Plum serves one of the largest (10 oz) and most delicious lobster rolls along these 13 miles. More impressive is their ice cream menu. The “kiddie” size is huge, the ice cream is delicious.
Continuing north along 1A, you’ll pass a handful of seafood restaurants with more impressive menus than the limited offerings at Beach Plum. Rye is home to Ray’s Seafood and Lobsters and Petey’s Summertime Seafood, both of which offer an abundance of seafood rolls, fried platters, and ready meals. But if you’re looking for the classics, like steamboats and mussels, Ray’s has the go ahead.
Once you’re tired of the fish and shellfish, but still want that shore, Kook’s Café has a nice alternative: coffee and smoothies by day, and a tiki bar in the evening with decent tacos at night. The joint also offers live music and comedy a few days a week.
Eventually, New Hampshire’s Atlantic access runs out of space and you head to the harbor town of Portsmouth, the only town of any size – albeit a quaint size – in the area. Portsmouth has a number of breweries scattered around. The Liar’s Bench, a brewery in a former plumbing supply warehouse, is removed from the hubbub of the city center, but offers great beer in a rather quiet beer garden, except when the trains pass by. For a more central beer garden, visit Earth Eagle Brewings, a small microbrewery near the High Street that serves gruits, which are plant-based beers instead of hops, as well as the more common offerings, many of which carry gruits. names of avian inspiration.
For breakfast in Portsmouth, head to Congress Street for Popovers On the Square. For a dinner-only menu – a menu that changes every few weeks – and something fancier than those seaside seafood dives, visit the Black Trumpet, a farm-to-table price with a wonderful wine bar. For more of a literary bite and sip, check out the Portsmouth Book & Bar. They organize live music and poetry readings. On quieter nights, browse one of their books, order a small plate, and have a drink of your choice.
James Beard restaurateur and semi-finalist Jay McSharry has contributed incredibly diverse menus to downtown Portsmouth, including the Franklin, where oysters, fried chicken and the Po Boys deliver a bite from the south to the north, Jumpin ‘Jay’s Fish Café, for seafood, and Moxy, a lively, New England-style tapas spot. But one of its best restaurants is a short drive from the city center: Vida Cantina. Between tortas and tacos, the dishes here are traditional and inspired. And the chef brings sweetness to every dish, like a beautifully simple yet clever green gazpacho. Save room for the churros.
Driving the coastline, at least the northern half, from Rye to where the harbor heads towards Portsmouth, is one of the most beautiful half a dozen miles in the country. The estates overlooking the Atlantic resemble those of Gatsby, and the value of property within those short six miles could potentially rival the real estate prices of any other land in New Hampshire.
For the giants of the sea, head to Rye Harbor, where the Granite State Whale Watching Tour has expertly followed whales for decades. The boat primarily searches for humpback whales, but also finds tiny whales, endangered right whales, and seventy-foot whales on occasion. All of these marine mammals feed on the nutrient-rich waters surrounding Jeffrey’s Ledge in the Gulf of Maine. Customers are guaranteed one observation or free trip to use within one year. But the company reports that it sees whales at least 99% of the time.
For giant waves, the Summer Sessions surf shop about a mile south is across from Jenness Beach and offers surf lessons, rentals, and a kids’ camp. (Outside of the hurricane swell, the surf is usually not giant at all.)
While Rye Beach is gorgeous and the town has the most coastline, traveling further north reveals the quieter beaches. Between Wallis Sands State Beach and Odiorne State Park, there are a few stops that provide hour-long parking for passers-by to explore the rocky headlands, small beaches, and tidal pools that are most beautiful near sunset. At Odiorne Point State Park, visitors can stroll through tidal pools, trek wooded trails, have a seaside picnic, or explore signs of a former military occupation. The national park is also home to the Seacoast Science Center, which caters to families with young children.
For a bit of history, the Strawbery Banke Museum sits on 10 acres of land in downtown Portsmouth. The historic buildings and gardens are populated by craftsmen, like coopers and basket makers, and actors who tell more than three centuries of New England history. The property features colonial taverns where Patriots and Loyalists partied, mid-20th century convenience stores, rare flowers and authentic Victory Gardens.
The streets of Portsmouth are also a great walk: visit the bustling Market Square, head to Prescott Park for outdoor concerts, or cycle around town, then head to New Castle Island.
While a beach holiday is ideal, there are few offers with a view of the Atlantic apart from renting a private residence. Portsmouth city center offers the best accommodation.
The Ale House Inn occupies the once hoppy halls of the Portsmouth Brewing Company warehouse, which had operated from 1871 until the Ban Amendment was ratified. Located in the market square area, the hostel is within walking distance of all restaurants and attractions. The Ale House Inn offers cold brew coffee, beautiful brick-walled common areas, comfortable rooms, and beach cruising bikes.
At Sailmaker’s House, an adult favorite property, rooms are comfortable and the property offers the modern luxuries expected of an upscale inn. Yet much of the historical features that date back to 1801 are part of the building’s charm. The stairs are narrow and some of the original windows have been preserved. Everything is juxtaposed with contemporary amenities such as keyless entry to rooms and local organic teas.
For a completely modern stay, Marriott’s brand new AC Hotel Portsmouth has lounges, library and bedrooms that speak nothing of the past. The property also has a rooftop bar, which offers wonderful harbor views.