Ipswich has always seemed an exotic and mysterious place to me, perhaps because I grew up south of Boston. Or maybe I spent too much time reading H.P. Lovecraft stories as a kid. (In my mind’s eye, Ipswich has always been the real-life stand-in for the fictional town of Innsmouth in Lovecraft’s 1936 horror story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”) Or possibly it’s due to Ipswich’s long and intriguing history — it was incorporated in 1634 by John Winthrop Jr., the son of one of the founders of Massachusetts Bay Colony. Whatever the reason, each year when the days begin to get shorter and temperatures start to drop, I find myself drawn there. There’s just something special about Ipswich on a crisp fall day.
To get to Ipswich we take Route 133, starting in Lowell and winding through Andover, North Andover, Boxford, Rowley and Georgetown. It’s the long way, but the prettiest. This route also takes you directly past the Clam Box in Ipswich. The iconic restaurant, literally shaped like a clam box, has been featured on television shows and in numerous books, and serves some of the world’s best fried clams. If you stop here, and you should, don’t be put off by the line. It usually moves pretty quickly, and the wait is worth it.
A fine fall day is a great time to visit Crane Beach, a short drive from Ipswich’s old-fashioned downtown. Owned and maintained by The Trustees for Reservations, the beach is open year-round. Stroll along the sand searching for seashells, or go for a more serious walk along the reservation’s 5-plus miles of trails. If you’re in the mood for a swim, it’s a little-known fact that the water is warmest in September, usually somewhere in the mid- to high-60s, according to NOAA.
Ipswich is home to two rum distilleries, both of which offer tours and, yes, free samples. Turkey Shore Distilleries, on Hayward Street, produces Old Ipswich Rum, which comes in five delightful varieties. Privateer, on Mitchell Road, makes dark and light rum, both delicious.
Once you get tired of drinking rum, stop by 1634 Meadery on Short Street. Their mead comes in a surprising number of flavors, all of which are made from raw honey and local fruit. They offer tours and tastings on a rolling basis during business hours.
An autumn visit to Ipswich wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Russell Orchards. I discovered this place several years ago when I was working on an article about apple pie for this magazine, and their pies are still tops. You’ll also want to pick up some cider doughnuts and check out their selection of house-made fruit wines. Russell also offers apple picking, a menagerie of resident farm animals, homemade ice cream and a variety of produce that’s grown on-site.
On our last visit to Ipswich, we opted for dinner at SALT Kitchen & Rum Bar, located downtown on Market Street. It was a great choice. They serve local seafood, upscale comfort food made with local ingredients, and fantastic craft cocktails in a cozy, friendly atmosphere. (If you can’t make it to Turkey Shore or Privateer for a tour, you can try rum from both right here.) It’s a pleasant place to sit at the bar, talk and relax after a long day.
If you’ll be staying in Ipswich overnight, The Inn at Castle Hill on the Crane Estate is hard to beat for elegance and comfort. Located a short distance from Crane Beach, each of the inn’s 10 rooms are unique, offering spa bathrobes, original artwork, striking views of the surrounding marshes and dunes, and perhaps my favorite feature: There are no televisions. Wake up to the calls of seabirds, wrap up in a sweater and head out to the porch to enjoy your morning coffee.
Clam Box of Ipswich
Turkey Shore Distilleries
(call ahead for tour times)
(call ahead for tour times)
SALT Kitchen & Rum Bar
The Inn at Castle Hill on the Crane Estate