From dining on a lobster roll to visiting local historical sites to touring the filming locations of Hocus Pocus, this list of the best things to do in Marblehead, MA offers a little something for everyone.
Located just 20 minutes down the road, Marblehead (that’s pronounced Marble-HEAD, btw!) feels a bit like Salem’s prettier twin. Throughout the town you’ll find lots of maritime history and historic sites but one of our favorite things to do is simply wander the streets and look for the golden fish and shell symbols on the doors of the exquisite houses.
Marblehead is also home to a big sailing community and you’ll find great seafood here, so if you haven’t had a lobster roll or fresh oysters yet – this is your place to do it!
The Best Things To Do In Marblehead
Take a Walking Tour
Several different walking tours exist along the historic Marblehead streets. Susan, a retired professor of English literature, hosts one such tour. Her literary Marblehead tour meanders through the lanes, coves, beaches, and islands of Marblehead’s old fishing village.
It includes storytelling about local history, traditions, scenery, and information about two fictional characters, Hesper Honeywood from the historical romance The Hearth and Eagle by Anja Seton and Azor Orne from the Azor books by Maude Crowley. Susan also shares a tale of rowing an escaped enslaved person to safety via the Underground Railroad. The walk is about two miles in total.
Susan hosts another walking tour of Marblehead that traverses Steer Swamp Conservation Area, Grace Oliver’s Beach, Barnegat Cove, Brown’s Island, Gashouse Beach, Gerry’s Island, Doak’s Lane boatyards and lobster shanties, Fort Sewall, the Barnacle (local watering hole!), Alley Steps, Knight’s Lane, Redd’s Pond, Old Burial Hill, Black Joe’s Pond, Town Landing, and Crocker Park.
Like the previously mentioned walk, this journey is about two miles and covers some sandy, hilly, and rocky terrain. People 12 and older are welcome to make a reservation.
Tour the Jeremiah Lee Mansion
Open June through October, the Jeremiah Lee Mansion and museum is a faithful preservation of the historic home of one of Marblehead’s most prominent citizens. Built in 1768 for Jeremiah Lee, the wealthiest merchant in Massachusetts at the time, American craftsmen created the home in the Georgian architectural style.
Today, visitors can see original decorations that have been preserved, including rare 18th-century hand-painted wallpaper. In addition to these rare wallpapers, the Lee mansion contains examples of early American furniture, with cabinets built by Boston, Salem, and Marblehead artisans. The building also features decorations from the 18th and 19th centuries, including clocks, mirrors, silver, textiles, and more.
Jeremiah Lee, who lived from 1721-1775, was a slaveowner, according to the website operated by the local historical society. Lee made his fortune by sending his ships to the West Indies filled with fish, which he sold to slaveowners to feed the people they enslaved. The ships returned to New England filled with wine, fruit, textiles, and more, which were then sold to colonists.
The Marblehead Historical Society, now known as the Marblehead Museum, has owned the Jeremiah Lee Mansion since 1909. Tours are $10 and are run hourly during the open months. The Jeremiah Lee Mansion is not wheelchair accessible, though part of its gardens, which offer a self-guided tour, is. Discounts are provided to historical society members and several other populations.
Enjoy A Lobster Roll (Or Two)
Marblehead offers a wealth of local restaurants, eateries, and markets from which you can try one local delicacy, the lobster roll. What is a lobster roll? While different regions may disagree on the specifics (butter vs. mayonnaise being one point of contention), everyone concurs that a lobster roll comprises a hot-dog-style bun stuffed with large chunks of lobster meat. There may be celery and seasonings.
Little Harbor Lobster Company, a seafood market on Beacon Street, offers a variety of award-winning lobster rolls and other prepared food, including clam chowder, fish cakes, crab cakes, and tamari gochujang marinated salmon. To illustrate the mayo vs. butter divide, the regular lobster roll comes with mayonnaise, but a no-mayo version with a side of butter is also available.
Barnacle Restaurant Inc., a 1960s-style diner on Front Street, offers its interpretation of a lobster roll served with french fries or onion rings. The Barnacle boasts of its harbor and lighthouse vistas. Check out their coffees and desserts – ask about their homemade cakes!
Down the street, The Landing restaurant also serves a lobster roll with great ocean views. With globally inspired cuisine and Instagram-worthy platings of locally sourced seafood, The Landing is a solid option for discovering the delights of the lobster roll.
Enjoy $2 Oysters at 5 Corners Kitchen
5 Corners Kitchen, at 2 School St., is a modern French cafe with a marble bar and plenty of windows, serving delicious dishes like charcuterie prepared in-house. Husband and wife team Barry and Begüm Edelman have run the restaurant together since 2010.
Oysters cost $2 each from 5 to 6 p.m., and the restaurant is open from Tuesday through Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m. The chic bistro offers a generous drinks menu with specialty cocktails, beer, and an extensive wine list. Once you’ve had your fill of oysters, consider the Mushroom Tartine starter and the Steak Frites as your entree.
The restaurant has plenty of seafood choices, steak, and a house specialty burger. For those hankering for fresh seafood, consider the “Wester Ross” Scottish Salmon or the Skate Wing Meuniere.
With accolades from Vogue, the Boston Globe, and Youtube’s Phantom Gourmet, you can’t go wrong with any of the menu items on offer here. And if you don’t fill up on $2 oysters, there’s housemade gelato and sorbet in eight tantalizing flavors on the dessert menu.
Have A Drink At The Infamous Maddie’s Sail Loft
Maddie’s Sail Loft, a cherished local bar, has stood in Marblehead for some 70 years, serving food and booze to hungry sailors and tourists alike. Some fondly call it a dive, though others say it’s obtained a bit of polish over the years.
Though a drinks menu isn’t available online, locals and tourists cautiously recommend the Thunderdome. The Sail Loft can get rowdy at times, regulars warn – but the drinks are potent, and the food is delicious.
Like many restaurants along the North Shore, Maddie’s offers a large variety of seafood specialties, from lobster quesadillas and clam chowder to lobster rolls, scallops, and seafood paella. Reviewers say the food is excellent and the drinks are always filled to the brim, but the waits can be long, so be patient.
Maddie’s Topside & downstairs is open for lunch/dinner Monday-Sunday. Topside hours are from 5 to 11 p.m., and downstairs is from 11 p.m. to midnight, with the last call coming at 11:30.
Rent A Paddleboard Or Kayak
Paddle sports enthusiasts might choose Marblehead as their next visit due to New England’s apparently endless supply of coastal waterways, inland lakes, and rivers of varying sizes.
In the warmer months, visitors should consider getting up close and personal with the ocean by renting a paddleboard or kayak from one of several local outfitters. Coast to Coast Paddle, located in Salem Willows Yacht Club, offers the rental of standup paddleboards and kayaks.
Several yacht clubs and beaches dot the Marblehead coast, where you can rent kayaks or paddleboards and enjoy a day soaking up the sun.
Marblehead Yacht Club has offered services to those hitting the waves since 1878. The club, which includes kayakers among its members, earned the 2019 Massachusetts Bay Yacht Club of the Year award.
Little Harbor Boathouse and SUP East Coast Style
Little Harbor Boathouse has been operating for a dozen years, offering event space for area organizations and supporting kayakers and paddle sports. In addition to the event space, which can be rented hourly for retreats or activities like yoga, the boathouse offers private rack space for small boats like kayaks.
Little Harbor Boathouse rents and sells kayaks and gear, too.
SUP East Coast Style offers rentals, lessons, youth programs, yoga and fitness programs, weekend adventures, and more for folks in the area during the season. The business holds year-round workshops on paddleboarding and other sports in the off-season.
Reviewers say the instructors are quick and friendly, getting you on the water fast and checking in to ensure you have a good time.
Drive or Bike the Marblehead Neck Loop
Marblehead Neck is a near island connected to the mainland by Ocean Avenue. It’s located in the very center of a peninsula that extends into Massachusetts Bay, and it is home to several parks, beaches, and a wildlife sanctuary.
The Marblehead Neck Loop is about 4 miles, with stunning views of the Marblehead Lighthouse, Massachusetts Bay, and the Audubon Sanctuary that’s smack in the middle of the small island. A note: there are no bikes or pets allowed in the sanctuary.
You’ll also be treated to views of the picturesque historic houses along the streets that make up the loop. Castle Rock Park offers breathtaking views of the bay and the castle-like historic homes nearby. You’ll hardly think you’re in the United States anymore when you see the fieldstone wall and the rocky shoreline – no wonder it’s called New England!
Chandler Hovey Park marks the tip of the loop and is where the Marblehead Lighthouse can be seen. The views of the boats in the sparkling bay are stunning from the park. The park has picnic tables and benches and offers access to the island’s rocky shores.
Step back in time with Glover’s Regiment Summer Encampment
Glover’s Regiment’s annual summer encampment at Marblehead’s historic Fort Sewall is the year’s high point for the reenactors. The fort’s location on a granite cliff facing Marblehead Harbor and Salem Bay makes it an exceptionally scenic venue for the event.
The Regiment sets up a Colonial camp in the fort’s “bowl,” complete with tents, cooking fires, a dining fly, craft activities (such as marine rope work and knot-making, leatherwork, needlework, and clothing repairs), and a variety of 18th-century merchants (“sutlers”) from whom campers and tourists can buy replicas of 18th-century goods.
Reenactors perform “colonial impressions” of soldiers, including specific historical figures and people of that time. The Glover’s Regiment website notes the women of Marblehead were particularly tough and crucial to the town’s survival. Many wives had to endure the pain of husbands being killed by French pirates or drowning due to storms and leaky ships.
They were dubbed “codfish widows” because from February to September, the fishing business routinely sent most male workers to the offshore fishing grounds. During these months, women were responsible for providing for large families and running houses on their own.
Visit Fort Sewall
Fort Sewall tops TripAdvisor’s “things to do in Marblehead” list. Fort Sewall, which was constructed in the 1640s and kept up for another two centuries, has the distinction of being Marblehead’s oldest historical landmark.
It is one of the first English coastal fortifications on U.S. soil. According to the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway, the U.S. Navy ship Constitution, pursued by two British frigates, retreated into Marblehead Harbor with the help of the fort’s guns on April 3, 1814.
The federal government donated the “Fort” to the city in 1922, and it still has subterranean bunkers and cells that were initially used to house prisoners. The headland is now a public park, and its visitors may take in breathtaking panoramas of Marblehead harbor, Cape Ann, the offshore islands, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Learn about the town at the Marblehead Museum
The Marblehead Museum comprises several different historical homes and buildings preserved through the efforts of the nonprofit organization, formerly known as the Marblehead Museum and Historical Society.
The Museum’s three-building campus includes 170 Washington Street, home to the J.O.J. Frost Gallery & Carolyn Lynch Education Center, temporary exhibits, a gift shop, offices, and an archive; the Jeremiah Lee Mansion & Gardens; The Brick Kitchen & Slave Quarters of the Jeremiah Lee Estate (opening 2025); and Grand Army of the Republic & Civil War Museum.
The Museum acquired the brick kitchen and likely slave quarters in 2021, and work is ongoing to repair and preserve the brick building constructed in 1768. The building has been used for several different purposes throughout the years, including Frank Bowen’s grocery and, in more recent years, Litchman-Orne Print Shop, according to an article by the Marblehead Beacon.
The Museum hosts Zoom lectures on historical topics and has in-person exhibits. In addition, the Museum holds some 60,000 historical documents and items, some of which can be viewed online.
See the famous “Spirit of 76” painting at Abbott Hall
An oil painting by Ohio native Archibald M. Willard titled “The Spirit of 76” hangs in the Selectmen’s Room at Abbot Hall (both town hall and history museum) at 188 Washington Street.
This painting “stirred the heart of the nation” during the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia by capturing the spirit of the American Revolution. General John H. Devereux bought it after seeing it on tour and having it shown in numerous major cities.
He subsequently gave it to his hometown of Marblehead, “…whose history is so entwined with Colonial and Revolutionary eras and whose patriotism blazed out in every century…” according to the Town of Marblehead website.
Willard’s father was cast as the primary drummer, and a farmer-soldier called Hugh Mosher was cast as the fiddler because they best embodied the bravery and resolve of the early revolutionaries, Willard said.
Henry K. Devereux, the son of General Devereux and the model for the young drummer in the painting, was a schoolboy when it was shown in Marblehead in 1880 by Archibald Willard. Tourists from all over the globe have been affected by what has been dubbed the “…most inspirational patriotic artwork in the world” since then.
Visit Old Burial Hill
Old Burial Hill is said to be one of the most stunning cemeteries in all of New England. The sea, the harbor, and historic Marblehead are all visible from this vantage point. It was founded in 1638 on the original location of Marblehead’s meeting house and is the last resting place for an estimated 600 Revolutionary War troops.
Several tombstones in the cemetery are from the seventeenth century, and they have been maintained quite well. Their epitaphs represent the eras of these immigrants, sea captains, fishermen, spouses, and children, and their carvings are excellent examples of the aesthetic and theological expression of the Puritan period.
The carvings are unique and a little unsettling if you’re used to seeing crosses and the like in graveyards: they include a winged death’s head, a skull & crossbones, and poems. The graveyard contains about 600 gravestones in total and has three entrances.
Many of the gravestones list a cause of death, with several drownings and people “lost at sea,” a somber reminder of the hardscrabble existence of the coastal colonists.
Find Daytime Cemetery Scenes From Hocus Pocus
If you’re feeling a little irreverent, you might want to see if you can spot any of the scenery used in the cult classic Halloween movie Hocus Pocus.
Even though critics panned the movie, and it didn’t make much money at the box office, it has become a cherished Halloween tradition to watch the wacky hijinks of the three soul-eating witches and the skeptical teenage boy who has to stop their plot.
For fans of the film “Hocus Pocus,” the city of Salem takes on a sacred significance for reasons beyond its role as a backdrop in the story. In the autumn of 1992, many sequences were directed and filmed in Salem and adjacent Marblehead.
The scenes shot in Marblehead include the fence around Abbot Hall, 188 Washington St, Old Town House & State Street, and Old Burial Hill. Even if you’ve only seen Hocus Pocus a time or two, you’ll probably remember the yellow-painted clapboard building standing in the middle of the street!
Chill Out On The Beach
Marblehead boasts six beaches along its shores, some of which have spooky and fascinating tales associated with them. Devereux Beach is Marblehead’s most popular beach, including 5.48 acres of beachfront with shelters, chairs, picnic tables, restrooms, a restaurant, and parking. John Devereux (1615-1695) lived there, and the beach bears his name.
Less than an acre in size, Grace Oliver Beach is a public beach accessible through Beacon Street. A lady called Doliber resided in a home adjacent to Doliber Point in the 19th century, thus the place’s eponymous name. This beach is great for kids since the water is nice and calm, and there is plenty of protection from the waves.
At the entrance to Fort Sewall, on Fort Beach, you can take a panoramic view of Marblehead Neck and Chandler Hovey Park. Local fishermen have built charming wooden shacks for keeping their gear across from the beach, adorned with nets, buoys, and other nautical items.
Visitors may find Lovis Cove just across Selman Street. Lovis Cove is colloquially known as “Screeching Woman’s Beach.” Local legend states that a pirate group from the 17th century arrived on the beach and murdered a female passenger from a captured ship.
Salem is just a 15-minute drive from Marblehead. Those interested in history or perhaps the occult will find it to be a worthwhile day trip.
Of course, Salem is famous for the Salem Witch Trials, a 1692 event in which several local women (and two dogs) were tried for allegedly practicing witchcraft and executed. The city is one of America’s oldest and is rumored to be exceptionally haunted.
It has embraced its spooky heritage and is a wildly popular destination around Halloween. Locals note wryly that Halloween starts in September in Salem. Whether you’re looking for history museums or cheesy witchy shops, you’ll find them in Salem.
Be sure to take a ride on the Salem Trolley Tour and visit the graves of Mayflower passengers in the Old Burying Point Cemetery. On a different note, The Peabody Essex Museum has the most comprehensive Asian art collection in the United States and is well worth an afternoon’s exploration. The price to enter is $20 per adult. Please take into account that the museum is only open on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holiday Mondays.