Maine has 3,478 miles of coastline. Massachusetts has 192. New Hampshire has 18. But everyone knows it's not size that matters. Though it is eight miles shorter than the Kancamagus Highway, there are enough beaches, shops, art venues, galleries, restaurants, historic sites and knockout scenery on the New Hampshire coastline to keep a visitor busy for weeks. And like any place worth discovering, it's best explored on foot. What follows is 18 of our favorite walks - one for every mile of the seacoast.1. Seabrook to Hampton - Distance: 1 mileIn Seabrook the nuclear power plant lies to the west, a mammoth monument to technology lumbering over the tidal flats. Take a left onto Eastman's docks. That's where the deep-sea fishing boats depart, but the locals are attracted by the seasonal restaurant with outdoor dockside dining and flopping fresh seafood. From Eastman's take a stroll over the Route 1A Bridge from Seabrook to Hampton Beach State Park. As you head north over the bridge, check out the anglers that congregate fishing for flounder and mackerel on the incoming tides. If you're nice, they may let you see what you caught.2. Hampton Beach State Park to Club Casino - Distance: Approx. 2 milesYou don't have to go to Cape Cod to find sand dunes. There are plenty near the entrance to Hampton Beach State Park on Route 1A. Popular with birders, equestrians, beachcombers and nature lovers off season, in addition to the sun worshipers who converge on the beach during the summer, you can take a wonderful walk a couple of miles along the scimitar-shaped beach before approaching the cotton candy stands and T-shirt stores at the center of the beach.
3. Ocean Boulevard, Hampton Beach to Great Boar's Head - Distance: 2.3 milesCall it the working person's resort. The strip at Hampton Beach from the bandstand to Boar's Head has been the haven for working-class Granite Staters and out-of-town visitors since the 19th century and it still holds all the allure of a hot summer day, flip flops in hand, your best tan on display for all to see.Watching over it all amidst the aroma of fried dough and fresh sea air is what locals call "The Lady" or "The Mermaid," aka The New Hampshire Marine Memorial for Granite Staters lost at sea in defense of their country. The haunting female figure, made of New Hampshire granite by Concord artist Alice Cosgrove, stoically looks to sea with a mourning wreath in her hand. If she had ever turned around in the 52 years she's kept her vigil, The Lady would see a constant undulation of people making their way to the arcades with joyful names like Playland, Happy Hampton and Fun-A-Rama. And the devotees who come here for the first or the 50th time, making pilgrimages to iconic food stands - Blink's Fry Doe, to name just one. There are the tourists picking up T-shirts and tchochkes at Ben's Beach Supplies and Mrs. Mitchell's Country Shoppe. Music lovers flock to the Seashell Stage for free concerts and the historic Hampton Beach Casino for A-list music and comedy performances. The Casino (which refers not to gambling, but rather the Italian word for summer house) was built in 1899 by Gilded Age Massachusetts railroad baron Wallace Lovell to attract mill workers and other workaday New Englanders to hop on his newly-built trolleys and head to Hampton Beach. Just a few of the acts that have performed at the seaside venue throughout the years are Simon and Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, Willie Nelson, U2, Martina McBride, Ray Charles, Jimmy Dorsey, George Carlin, BB King, Jerry Seinfeld, and Crosby, Stills and Nash.The town itself offers scads of free events in the summer, including concerts three times a day at the Seashell Stage, fireworks every Wednesday evening, the Master Sand Sculpture Competition in June, the Catamaran Regatta in July, the Hampton Beach Idol Contest in August and the Seafood Festival and Sidewalk Days in September. (Go to www.hamptonchamber.com for a more detailed listing.)Entertainment means food, too, and Hampton Beach has more to offer a hungry beachcombers than just cotton candy or a cheeseburger. There are some great sit-down restaurants with views of the ocean and beach goings-on.At the Purple Urchin Seaside Café and Patio Pub on the second floor of the Casino building, you can take a table on the deck and have a better-than-bird's-eye-view of a concert at the Sea Shell stage. The Ocean Wok is good Chinese cuisine with a view, and for seafood check out tried-and-true spots like the Sea Ketch, Ron's Landing at Rocky Bend and Little Jack's Restaurant and Lobster Pool.When dinner is done, the sun sets and the parties are over, hundreds flock to their rented cottages or rooms, some that harken back to the time when Hampton Beach began to bloom as mill workers headed here for a week or two on the coast - places like The Ashworth By the Sea, an early 20th-century oceanfront hotel, restaurant and café with live entertainment and D.W.'s Oceanside Inn, with its antique furnishings, cozy feeling yet renovated interior.
4. Little Boar's Head to Jenness State Beach, Rye - Distance: 2 miles
Call this the mansion walk. Truth be told, this is a fantastic strip of coast that so many of us have just zoomed by in cars. But if you hoof it you get to take in all the splendor of the magnificent old seaside mansions that line this portion of the coast. Before Little Boar's Head became a district of North Hampton in 1905, it was a tiny fishing and agricultural area.But when the rail came through, the wealthy headed north and to the coast and began building magnificent ocean-view mansions. Yes, prepare to be envious. But remember this is all part of our New Hampshire experience - even if some of it involves living vicariously. But there are stops along the way where you can do more than ogle from the outside. Stop into Fuller Gardens on the right corner of 1A at 10 Willow Street in Little Boar's Head, North Hampton. The 1920s Fuller house was home to former Massachusetts Governor Alvin Fuller and the magnificent estate gardens, so popular among the wealthy in the early 20th century, are open to the public to smell and see.
There are more than 1,700 rosebushes, a Japanese garden with a koi pond, of course, and a tropical plant conservatory. There's also a small gift shop with garden supplies, jewelry, soaps, candles and wind chimes. But not all the historic structures in this area are so grand - don't miss North Hampton's famous wooden shake fish houses, first built in the early 1800s for working fishermen to store gear and now mostly used as summer cottages. While heading north to Rye you might also want to get a little spiritual. Get off Route 1A and head to Church Road in Rye to St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, a summer Episcopal chapel built in 1876 that has been opening its doors for service to the public for more than 130 years. It's also said this is the only Episcopal church in America through which visitors enter via a lych, or wooden-roofed gate. Sunday worship is held at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. from late June through early September and refreshments are served in the churchyard after both services.5. Jenness State Beach to Rye Harbor - Distance: 1.3 milesThis playa-to-playa (that's "beach-to-beach" to gringos) mosey begins on the sandy shore of Jenness State Beach in Rye and follows Route 1A north. On the way it passes the site of the receiving station for the first Atlantic cable laid in 1874. According to the historic marker at low tide, you can sometimes see it wending its way through the remains of a sunken Ice Age forest. The payoff is a choice of some great restaurants - The Carriage House at 2263 Ocean Blvd. with its signature Island Lady entrée (pan-roasted lobster and sea scallops, flamed in Pernod with an herb beurre blanc) or Saunders at Rye Harbor, a restaurant that has been a fixture at the site since the 1920s. Sip a draught beverage, maybe quaff some oysters on the half shell or a lobster roll in the lounge overlooking the picturesque rock-encircled harbor and marina. And check out the hammerhead shark hovering above the bar in the lounge, where a piano player stops by once or twice a week. He, the shark that is, sports a lei and some impressive bling. After all that walking and eating you might want to spend the night. The Dunes Motor Inn, an oceanfront motel, has a free continental breakfast and a great view.6 Rye Harbor to Wallis Sands State Park - Distance: Approximately 1 mileHey, you can't stay on your feet all the time. Near the dockmaster's stand at the commercial Rye Harbor, there are small cottages where you can charter a fishing boat, find a whale-watching trip or climb on a tour boat heading for the Isles of Shoals. Keep in mind that an army marches on its stomach and so does a tourist. Four miles as the crow flies, this walk also follows Route 1A, where you can do some bird and seal (during the right season) watching, both of which can work up an appetite. Good thing. You pass Ray's Seafood and Lobster Pound, where you can recharge your batteries with moderately priced fried fish and seafood, Petey's Summertime Seafood and Bar, where they claim the fried fish and seafood is "as good as it gets on paper plates." The walk ends at Wallis Sands State Park. Across the street accommodations may be found at the cabins at Wallis Sands Place.7. Odiorne State Park/Seacoast Science Center - Distance: 137 AcresYou can walk the breakwater at Odiorne State Park or skip rocks on the water at the 137-acre oceanfront park on Route 1A in Rye. The park has many trails for a waterfront stroll on the largest undeveloped stretch of shoreline on the coast. Take a ride on the swings at the playground or enjoy a picnic lunch at one of the tables on the rock ledges scattered among the beach roses. Bird watchers, bring your binoculars and field guides.Odiorne is named after one of the first European families who settled in the area in the early 17th century. Before that it was home of the Abenakis.Military history buffs will love walking around the giant cement bunkers and gun emplacements still on the site from when Odiorne became Fort Dearborn during World War II.
Make sure you take the time to visit the Seacoast Science Center at the park where you can touch sea stars and other sea critters in the nature center's indoor tidal pool, or check out the denizens of the Gulf of Maine in a 1,000-gallon tank. Look out the windows at the center onto the rocky seascape and grab a view of the Isles of Shoals. The Gregg Interactive Learning Studio that opened in 2007 allows visitors to make a virtual visit to sea otters in their home in the kelp forests of Monterey Bay and ancient shipwrecks off Turkey.
Don't miss the Music-by-the-Sea Concert Series held Thursday evenings in July. The concerts start at 6 p.m. but the gates open at 5 p.m. for those who wish to partake in food cooked on a wood-burning grill and sold before the performance.
8. Wentworth By the Sea to Fort Constitution - Distance: 1.5 milesWentworth by the Sea, the stately grand resort, was originally built on a bluff overlooking the ocean in 1874 and renovated and revitalized several years ago. With its pool, spa and world-class dining, there would seem to be no reason to leave. But why not walk the mile or so to Fort Constitution? The walk follows the coast to the village of New Castle. After a short walk downhill you arrive at the site, which has been fortified since the 1600s. Shortly before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, colonists took over the redcoat-occupied fort and removed the powder. It was used by the colonists at the Battle of Bunker Hill. In clear weather you can see the Isles of Shoals 10 miles out to sea.
9 Great Island Common and New Castle Beach - Distance: A quarter mile, give or take a few pacesGreat Island Common off Route 1B in New Castle isn't as much a walk as a state of mind. This microcosm of all things salty has picnic tables, barbecue stands and a small beach. There are gorgeous views of the Whaleback and Portsmouth Harbor lighthouses and a weathered old Coast Guard station across the water in Kittery. You can explore the sea life among the rock ledges, walk an open grated jetty and try your luck at the fish pier.
10. Fort Stark - Distance: A quarter mile, give or takeFort Stark on Wild Rose Lane in New Castle has been fortified since the American Revolution, but its current configuration reflects its use to protect the harbor during World War II. The fort is rarely visited and only has parking for about a dozen cars, but it's a nice place for a stroll. There is a small grassy area great for flying a kite or slinging a Frisbee, a rocky beach and a jetty suitable for fishing.11. Urban Forestry Center - Distance: 2 milesGo up a creek without a paddle at the Urban Forestry Center off Route 1 on Elwyn Road in Portsmouth - Sagamore Creek, that is. This reservation is the former site of the Langdon Farm, which was established in the 18th century. The 182 acres of forest and wetlands along the creek are administered by the state Department of Resources and Economic Development's Division of Forests. Several trails provide self-guided tours. The tree-identification trail leads visitors through deciduous and forest and marsh, wetlands, red pine and blue spruce plantations. The Goodwin trail offers a two-mile roundtrip. Maps are available at trailhead boxes. Dogs are welcome as long as they are on a leash.12. Pierce and Four Tree Islands - Distance: Half a mile Pierce Island is particularly popular with people who want to walk their pooches, but you don't need a four-footed friend to enjoy the waterfront park. It has a magnificent view of the river traffic and is directly across the Piscataqua River from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. We began our stroll at the end of Prescott Park Gardens off Marcy Street and crossed a hump-backed bridge, past the Portsmouth Fish Pier, where the fishermen were hauling and repairing their nets. We saw a tug chugging out to the ocean to help guide a tanker that was anchored off New Castle. Once scruffy and overgrown, the paths on the island have been maintained better for the past year or two. The attached Four Tree Island situated in the Piscataqua River has a magnificent view and picnic tables and makes a great resting spot. 13. Prescott Park and State Street shopping area - Distance: Three quarters of a mileAcross from Strawbery Banke, in what was once a rundown industrial area, is one of the most beautiful parks in New England, thanks to local schoolteachers Josie and Mary Prescott, who set aside a chunk of a family inheritance to buy land along the Piscataqua River for the purpose of creating a public park. It's not a long walk but rather a sensually pleasing meander through 10 acres of gorgeous flower gardens and fountains with no less of a backdrop than the Piscataqua River. And not all the historic architecture is across the street at Strawbery Banke. There are several well-preserved remnants of Portsmouth's original glory days as a major seaport, including the more than 200-year-old Shaw's Warehouse and the circa 1705 Sheaf's Warehouse, which is open to the public in the summer and is a venue for a juried art show. In the summer the park is a never-ending party, thanks to the Prescott Park Arts Festival, which includes live theater and musical performances in the amphitheater as well as art exhibits. And each Saturday there are special events, including a chowder fest, chili cook-off and a folk festival. 14. Strawbery Banke - Distance: 300 years
Walk through time at Strawbery Banke, the museum where the buildings and showcase gardens don't talk, but they do their best to relate the stories of Portsmouth settlers from the 17th through the 20th centuries. More than 40 buildings - either saved from urban renewal in the neighborhood formerly known as Puddle Dock or moved from out of the area - have been furnished to reflect life from various periods from the Colonial era to the Cold War. The museum shop offers books and gifts and The Dunaway restaurant at Strawbery Banke is one of the most highly-regarded restaurants in the area.
15. Market Square - Distance: about one mileAt the corner of Congress and Market Street is Market Square - the heart of the city. Several walking tours of the city begin at the information kiosk here. Guided tours are conducted during the summer season. The granddaddy of them all is the Portsmouth Harbor Trail, which includes more than 50 historic buildings.You may want to start with breakfast at the funkiest retro eatery in town, The Friendly Toast at 121 Congress. If you're on Congress at dinnertime and crave seafood served in an upscale manner hit Jumpin' Jay's Fish Café. For the barbecue lover there's Muddy River Smokehouse. Now you're re ready to shop. Need some plastic poop or a Vincent Van Gogh action figure with a detachable ear? Head to Macro Polo on Market Street. At Odd Showroom you'll find offbeat, used consignment items as well as one-of-a-kind yarn ware and some modified vintage clothing. At Treehouse Toys and Gee Willikers you'll go back to a time when you believed elves made your dolls and jack-in-the-box.
16. Bow to Ceres Street - Distance: About a half mile
Start your walk well rested with a night's stay at the Bow Street Inn Bed and Breakfast after a performance at the Seacoast Repertory, where Neil Simon's "Rumors" is currently being staged. There is no shortage of eateries - grab a chimichanga at Poco's Bow Street cantina or a burger and sweet potato fries at Fat Belly's Grill and Bar. On Ceres Street on Merchant's Row at the edge of Portsmouth's old harbor, you can pick up a classic ice cream cone at Annabelle's or a vintage wine to take back to the hotel at the Ceres Street Wine Merchants. Or dine out. There are plenty of choices.There's the Oar House, which has live music Thursday through Saturday, an outdoor deck and killer shrimp and lobster. Two Ceres restaurant is one of the new spots on the row, replacing Tugboat Alley, where the city's iconic work boats are tied up. And dinner is always a special occasion at the Dolphin Striker, aficionados dine in the Spring Hill Tavern downstairs, where the bar looks down into an 18th-century well.
17. Albacore Park - Distance: 204 feet-plusGo for a walk in the footsteps of the men who went down, down, down to the sea in ships at Albacore Park off Route I Bypass in Portsmouth. OK, it's not a very long walk - the USS Albacore is only 204 feet in length, but it's quite a trip. Visitors may slip into a bunk above a torpedo bay and see what it's like to be one of the 49 men and five officers who shared cramped quarters on the grounded sub that rises above the Piscataqua River like a beached whale. Beside the grounded ship is a garden with stone memorials to subs that have been lost. There are also several benches where you might have a picnic lunch. ***BONUSGreat Bay Discovery Center - Distance: .5 mileWhile not obviously on the seacoast, the Great Bay Discovery Center is connected to the coast through the Great Bay estuary. The center is accessed from Rte. 33 in Stratham. The universally accessible trail and boardwalk allow visitors to explore a variety of habitats, including upland hardwood forests, freshwater wetlands, salt marsh and mud flats. You can stand on the deck of a 19th-century gundalow replica or wander through the native gardens surrounding the center. Birders find the Discovery Center an excellent location to watch for Great Bay's wintering eagle population, migratory warblers, waterfowl and locally nesting pairs of osprey.
18. Memorial Bridge to State Street - Distance: 1 mileThe most dramatic way to approach the coast is to stroll over Memorial Bridge, a lift bridge, from Kittery, Maine, across the Piscataqua River to Portsmouth, the state's principal seaport and cultural center. The pedestrian friendly 86-year-old steel structure provides a sailor's eye view of the approach to the port. As you stroll across the bridge, built to celebrate the solders and sailors who fought in World War I, soak up the salt air from a perch 40 feet above the surface of the river and drink in the surroundings in the seaport first settled by Europeans in 1623 and visited in the summer by Native Americans for millennia before them. On your left is a stretch of wharves, warehouses and dry docks of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where you can often see a submarine docked on the river and the former Portsmouth Naval Hospital made famous in the movie "The Last Detail" on the horizon. Ahead looms the city of Portsmouth where the whitewashed steeple of North Church towers over the city that still holds the charm of a colonial seaport. Brick buildings with mansard roofs and Federal style mansions climb toward the horizon. As you walk over the wooden deck of the bridge a klaxon sounds, wooden gates descend, traffic halts and the center span of the bridge rises 120 feet to allow a freighter through on the river below. It may be a freighter carrying road salt to add to the pile at the Port Authority or a tugboat on its way back to port after helping a tanker leave on the tide.Once over the bridge you'll find yourself on State Street with some of the city's best restaurants, art galleries and boutique shopping.The first restaurant you'll see on the left is The Rosa, an Old World, family-owned Italian restaurant at 80 State St., with to-die-for pasta e fagioli to warm you up if the bridge stroll leaves you with a chill. And check out the cozy bar if you'd prefer to warm up with a brandy. But if warming up means spicy cuisine there are two Mexican restaurants a few paces west on State Street. Agave is an upscale Mexican dining venue with a chic interior and amazingly fresh takes on traditional Mexican fare. For just a refreshing taste of Mexico stop in for a margarita or the Cocktail De Marisco. If you are in the need for a quick bite, try the traditional Mexican lunch at Dos Amigos Burritos at 107 State. But this is an area rife with good dining including the Library Restaurant, McMenemy's and Ristorante Massimo (on Penhallow Street around the corner) just to name a few.State Street is also home to the New Hampshire Art Association, which operates the Robert Lincoln Levy Art Gallery. And a few doors down on 110 State is the cutting-edge ellO Gallery and Shop.And no matter what time of year, it's never too early to do holiday shopping for artsy, offbeat gifts in the State Street area in boutique shops like Botanica, a floral designer that specialize in faux or permanent flowers, Puttin' on the Glitz, which carries more than 30 lines of jewelry, and Upscale Resale for those who love their fashion consignment style. NH
This article appears in the April 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine