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Best Bets: 7 Ways to Soak Up Summer North of Boston

By Keith Spencer

Known for her time spent in Western Massachusetts, Edith Wharton once wrote, “Summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

Across Massachusetts, residents are spending their vacations exploring everything this great Commonwealth has to offer, trying to make the most of those beautiful summer afternoons we’ll be begging for come winter (do I dare write the word?).

Those who reside north of Boston are truly lucky as their diverse communities offer many memorable experiences. With the approach of August, you’re probably looking for ways to continue soak up the summer season. Whether you climb high into the skies, dive deep into the sea, or find respite on the shores, these seven adventures simply cannot wait.

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[accordion title=”Dive Deep in the Waters of Cape Ann” icon=”” state=”close”]

Cape-Ann-DiversIf you live in the NoBo region, you’ve undoubtedly visited one of the gorgeous beaches of Cape Ann. It may not be the Caribbean blue so many think about when diving, but it certainly is a unique New England experience to explore these beautiful coastal waters. The visibility, variety of sea life, & shipwrecks to explore are simply superb, making these rocky reefs just off our shore an attraction for divers from around the world.

Whether you have experience with a scuba tank or not, Cape Ann Divers has everything divers of all levels need to make the most of their time on the waters of the NoBo region.

Through out the summer, Cape Ann Divers offer free guided dives for certified divers at more than a dozen locations. They operate two boats that are able to take divers farther offshore for a truly Atlantic experience. The 45 foot Cape Ann Diver II (the largest dive boat in New England) and the 31 foot Cape Ann Diver take groups of 2 to 20 divers to some of New England’s best offshore dive sites. The boats have heated cabins and galleys, and the “Diver II” has a bathroom and a hot shower on deck! What’s better? They’ll even run a boat with as few as 2 people to a dive site.

For those looking to explore & making diving a new hobby, Cape Ann Divers offers a multiday course in pool and ocean “classrooms” And for those looking for more adventure. They also operate a fully-stocked dive store offers air fills for your next dive, repairs to your equipment, and a full line of of SCUBA and snorkeling equipment and accessories.

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When?  Book a scheduled dive or learn more about upcoming courses here

Where? Cape Ann Divers, 127 Eastern Avenue, Gloucester

Cost? Group certification course is $250; Half-day offshore trip is $80/diver.

For more information or to book a dive, call (978) 281-8082 or visit capeanndivers.com.

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[accordion title=”Tour the Seacoast from the Skies” icon=”” state=”close”]

North-Andover-Flight-Academy-Seacoast-TourTour the North Shore like never before, soaking up sights in Gloucester, Crane Beach, Plum Island, and other NoBo seacoast communities from high in the sky. View the Atlantic and take in the majectic, scenic coastline of Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire. Even combine your ride with a tour of Boston that includes views of Fenway, the Pru, and the Hancock building!

Operated by Boston Air Tours under an FAA certificate issued to North Andover Flight Academy, your tour will depart from the Lawrence Airport aboard a Robinson R-44 helicopter, the most popular helicopter ever built. Tours comfortably seat up to 3 passengers for the tours, but remember that weight restrictions do apply. Tours operate 7 days a week, and are certified for both day and night flights which conclude at 10PM.

North Andover Flight Academy is a complete helicopter flight school and a certified Robinson helicopter service and overhaul facility. They offer helicopter ground classroom training with flight training that is customizable to your own individual schedule.

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When? Tours available 7 days a week, 8AM to 10PM – 978-689-7600.

Where? North Andover Flight Academy, Lawrence Airport, ADDRESS, North Andover, MA

Cost? $375 for up to 3 people

Call the Lawrence Location at (978) 689-7600; Book your tour or purchase a gift certificate at Quickgifts. Visit www.bostonairtours.com or www.northandoverflightacademy.com.

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[accordion title=”Kayak the Essex River Basin” icon=”” state=”close”]

Trustees Guided Kayak TourIPSWICHThe Trustees of Reservations are partnering with Essex River Basin Adventures to offer guided kayak tours of the Crane Wildlife Refuge every weekend through September 15.

During the two-hour guided tour, paddlers are introduced to the basics of sea kayaking before setting out on an interpretive paddle though the refuge, the refuge is an island-studded patchwork of salt marsh and tidal creeks located in the heart of Essex Bay.

The Crane Wildlife Refuge was once part of the vast early 20th century summer estate of Chicago industrialist Richard T. Crane, Jr. The Refuge was established in 1974 as a gift of Miné S. Crane in memory of her husband, Cornelius Crane who are both now buried at the summit of Choate Island, the largest of the islands at 135-acres.

A portion of Castle Neck and seven islands in the Essex River Estuary (Choate, Long, Dean, Dilly, Pine, Patterson, and Round) are included in the refuge. The refuge is surrounded by the largest contiguous salt marsh in New England, the Great Marsh, which covers more than 25,000 acres.

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When? Saturdays & Sundays at 2PM through September 15, 2013

Where? Crane Wildlife Refuge, Ipswich, MA

Cost? $40 for Trustees members & $50 for nonmembers. Price includes kayak rental and equipment, tour guides, and parking at the boat dock. Pre-registration is required.

For more information or to register, please call (978) 356-4351 ext. 4052 or (978) 810-5892. You may also visit the Visitor Services Center at Crane Beach.

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Boston-Kite-SchoolExpert kite flyers from the Boston Kite School can help train you to show off some of the coolest land & water skills using a kite and the NoBo region’s powerful winds. Adam Gordon founded the school in 2005 in order to help other new kiteboarders enter the sport safely and share “the stoke”.

Adam has been kiteboarding in Massachusetts since 2000. He has been teaching music and leading sports programs for children in the Boston area since 1996. Above all, Adam is a dynamic and innovative educator who leads through example, often referred to as “Captain Safety” by other kiters. His thoroughness and advocacy for safe kiteboarding allows his students to feel safe & secure while exploring a wild, new adventure.

Typically a student is ready to progress safely on their own after 2-4 lessons. The school’s Total Package offers sufficient training for most students.

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When? Click here to see available lessons; Contact the school as they may also be able to add or adjust lesson times and locations.

Where? Kite Skills lessons take place in Dorchester, Nahant, and mid Cape Cod. There are 6 different locations for water classes from the Northshore to Falmouth; A majority of lessons take place in Nahant, MA as the company is located in Lynn.

Cost? The Total Package is $599 which includes 9 hours of lessons & receive $50 off new gear purchases. The Intro Package includes a basic kite skills lesson and a water lesson for $399. A three-hour kite skills course runs $189 while two-hour private lessons are $300. Water lessons (which require basic kite-skills as a pre-requisite) are three-hour lessons for $249. Register here.

For more information or to book a lesson, please call (617) 331-3786, email info@bostonkiteschool.com, or visit www.bostonkiteschool.com.

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[accordion title=”Respite at the Blue Inn on Plum Island” icon=”” state=”close”]

Blue-Inn-on-the-Beach-NewburyDespite its fragility & recent issues with extreme weather, Newbury is one of my favorite NoBo destinations without question. If you’re looking for a quick respite without traveling afar, the Blue Inn on Plum Island is the perfect place to escape the North Shore without ever leaving it.

Whether you want to be pampered or spend some time with that special someone, The Blue Inn has something for everyone. Not your typical NoBo region accommodations, this year-old boutique hotel is perched atop a wide strip of sand, offering most guests ocean-view suites and private decks overlooking the Atlantic. Enjoy the majesty of the sunrise or soak in an outdoor hot tub amongst the quiet sounds of waves & wind.

Their comfy lounge chairs in the sand or a covered cabana allows guests to enjoy the beachfront that thousands come to visit each summer. Staff can bring you a cold, nonalcoholic drink (you can bring your own booze) or surfboards to get out enjoy the powerful waves the area is known to receive. Breakfast is served surfside, in a picnic basket at your door, or in the penthouse.

Nature enthusiasts and bird-watchers will also be in the glory as the Parker River Wildlife Refuge offers diverse wildlife in a unique wetland sanctuary that is just a short walk or drive away.

The Blue Inn will also help you customize your getaway, allowing visitors to choose from their “a la carte menu”: Pampered, Romantic, Starry-eyed, or Extravagant.

These individual items, their larger packages, and the suites are generally expensive, but well-worth draining your vacation account. At the Blue Inn on the Ocean, you truly will “escape to the unforgettable”.

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When? Rooms available year-round; Check availability here.

Where? 20 Fordham Way, Plum Island, Newbury, MA

Cost? In season rates range from $435 to $1,135 per night with a minimum purchase of two nights

For more information or to book your reservation, please call (978) 465-7171 or visit www.blueinn.com.

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[accordion title=”Cycle the Streets & Trails North of Boston” icon=”” state=”close”]

Cycling-North-of-Boston-MapsNORTH OF BOSTON – Cycling buffs come to Cape Ann and the NoBo region to get a taste of New England, riding trails across North of Boston from Gloucester to Medford. Trails bring you along the the rocky shores and the mansions & cottages that overlook the ocean, through dense woodlands & forests, and through communities that have long made Massachusetts and the North of Boston region infamous across the nation.

If you’re looking to meet up with other enthusiasts, North Shore Cyclists is a recreational bike club with more than 300 members. From beginning cyclists to advanced riders looking to be challenged by fast paceline riding, most rides are routed along the back roads and shorelines north of Boston.

The club has weekday, scheduled recurring rides and Sunday rides, as well as cookouts, weekend excursions, and the Blazing Saddles Century Ride in mid-August. For more information, visit www.nscyc.org.

Here are a five of my favorite bike trails and rides across the North of Boston:

  • Road Scholar Cape Ann Tour: Start your ride at Kaede Bed and Breakfast on N. Main Street in Ipswich, and follow the route to Manchester-by-the-Sea. Meander through Gloucester, America’s first seaport made famous by The Perfect Storm, and explore the rocky coastline & truly New England community of Rockport. The 39-mile route is part of Bike New England’s Cycling Tour of the North Shore, a 6-day trek that takes riders across the entire NoBo region.  Click here to see a map and get detailed directions for the route. Visit www.bikenewengland.com for more information about their cycling tour packages.
  • The Mountain Bike Loop at Middlesex Fells Reservation: The under-rated Middlesex Fells Reservation has one of the most accessible mountain bike trails so very close to Boston & its immediate suburbs. Go for a quick ride or spend an entire afternoon exploring the Mountain Bike Loop that snakes through Malden, Melrose, Medford, Stoneham, and Winchester. Click here to learn more about this trail.
  • The Northern Strand Community Trail: Better known as the Bike to Sea trail, this path will one day connect riders in Malden and the gateway cities to the shores of Lynn & Nahant. The Northern Strand Community Trail is not yet completely constructed, and is currently undergoing paving in two communities. By summer’s end, you will be able to ride or walk the trail in Everett, Malden, and Saugus. Work on the trail in Revere is expected to begin in 2014, however, approval to build the trail through Lynn is still needed. Click here to learn more about this trail.
  • Danvers Rail Trail: This trail is a 4 1/3-mile non-motorized shared-use path linking schools, downtown Danvers, parks, residential areas, and trails in the neighboring towns of Peabody, Wenham, and Topsfield. It is an ideal spot for walking, biking, or jogging. The trail was recently built along a portion of the historic Boston to Maine railroad running from Newburyport to Danvers. Click here to learn more about this trail or email info@danversrailtrail.org.
  • The Bay Circuit Trail: The most ambitious of all my suggestions, the Bay Circuit Trail is 120 miles (projected to be 170 to 200) are open to the public, encircling Boston from Newburyport to Duxbury similar to the location of I-495. The nonprofit Bay Circuit Alliance is coordinating the cooperation of 50 cities and towns to make this trail possible. Whether you want to travel a few miles or a few dozen, this trail has portions that are perfect for riders of all ability. Click here for more information or view a map of the trail.

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[accordion title=”Family-Fun at Castle Creek Adventure Land” icon=”” state=”close”]

Castle Creek Adventure Land BannerHave you had enough of the beach this summer? Are the kids complaining they’re bored? Looking for somewhere fun that the entire family can enjoy? Castle Creek Adventure Land in Salem is a great spot to spend an afternoon or evening this summer.

Their outdoor, 18-hole miniature golf course is beautifully landscaped, including cascading waterfalls, fountains, a cave, a out-of-this-world castle complete with bridges & more. Their “speedy little go carts” are electric, so there’s no fumes or loud engines to disrupt your enjoyment. Single seated carts are available, however drivers must be 54 inches tall. Double seated carts available for children under 54 inches, however their drivers must be 18 with a valid driver’s license.

The complex includes:

  • Go Carts: State of the art outdoor family track
  • Mini Golf: 18-hole miniature golf course
  • Driving Range: A brand new field, new targets, and 40 stalls with new mats
  • Ice Cream & Food: Richardson’s Ice Cream and over 50 soft serve flavors as well as grease-less fryer for all of your favorites!
  • Arcade: Arcade games for the whole family

 The go-cart track, mini golf course, and driving range are well-lit for visitors to enjoy their evening after the sun goes down.

Where? Castle Creek Adventure Land, 100-114 Swampscott Road, Salem, MA

When? Monday – Sunday: 9:00am – 10:00pm; Last round tickets may be purchased 30 minutes prior to closing.

Cost? Daily Special including 1 go cart ride, 1 round of mini golf, & 1 regular ice cream for $17; Click here to see all prices

For more information, call Castle Creek Adventure Land at (978) 825-9056, email info@castlecreekadventureland.com or visit castlecreekadventureland.com.

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