Seacoast Region, New Hampshire

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New Hampshire has a mere eighteen miles of coastline, but it makes the most of it. The southern half around Seabrook and Hampton Beach are as chock-a-block beachy and touristy as the most crowded parts of the Jersey Shore. The northern half around Rye and New Castle are less developed and more refined, as in affluent. The Seacoast region includes Portsmouth, the port city near the mouth of the Piscataqua River, and extends inland amid tidal rivers and bays to include Kingston, Exeter, Durham and Dover – a mix of history and industry, much of it off the beaten path.

PORTSMOUTH

Settled in 1623, three years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Portsmouth is the nation's third-oldest city. It grew up along the tidal Piscataqua River, whose shores produced such a profusion of wild berries that its founders called their new home Strawbery Banke. The downtown developed in and around harborfront warehouses reputed to be the tallest buildings in the United States at the time. The restored warehouses, cobblestone streets, grand residences and church spires impart a patina of history that pervades much of the small city, which retains its sense of place as well as its scale. Although the seacoast is nearby, Portsmouth is essentially a river city and the river defines its character.

Six of Portsmouth's finest house museums are open individually and linked by a walking tour. Considered the one not to miss is the 1763 Moffatt-Ladd House, a replica of an English manor house located at 154 Market St., just above the Ceres Street restaurants and shops. The 1716 Warner House is perhaps the finest example of a brick urban mansion from the 18th century left in New England. The waterfront Wentworth-Gardner House (1760) is a perfect example of the Georgian style. Once owned by New York's Metropolitan Museum, it narrowly escaped being torn apart and rebuilt in Central Park. The 1758 John Paul Jones House, the imposing Governor John Langdon House (1784) and the Federal-style Rundlet-May House (1807) also are worth viewing. Most are open six or seven days a week from June to mid-October.

Strawbery Banke, Marcy Street, Portsmouth.
Billed as "an American original," this walk-through museum is the careful restoration of one of the nation's oldest neighborhoods. More than 40 structures across ten acres date from 1695 to 1945 and depict four centuries of cultural and architectural change. Some have simply been preserved. Some are used by working artisans (independent of the museum, they are earning their living as well as re-enacting history). Others are used for educational exhibits including archaeology, architectural styles and construction techniques and, on the outside, historic gardens. Strawbery Banke's collection of local arts and furniture is shown in ten historic houses. George Washington, Daniel Webster, John Hancock and John Paul Jones all visited here. Yet these are not all homes of the rich or famous, but rather of ordinary people. And the mix is one of its most compelling factors.
(603) 433-1100. www.strawberybanke.org. Open daily 10 to 5, mid-April through October; also evening candlelight stroll, first two weekends in December. Adults $12, children $8. Tickets good for two consecutive days.

The Isles of Shoals. This group of nine rocky islands located about ten miles off shore is reached by the Isles of Shoals Steamship Co. cruises from Barker Wharf, 315 Market St. Charted by Capt. John Smith when he sailed past in 1614, the islands originally drew European fishermen for their "shoals" or schools of fish. The two largest islands, Appledore and Star, became summer resorts in the 1800s. Since early in the 1900s, Star Island has been operated as a religious conference center by the Congregational and Unitarian churches. Visitors hear the legends of these mostly barren islands during daily cruises.
(603) 431-5500 or (800) 441-4620. Variety of cruises daily, mid-June to Labor Day; fewer in spring and fall. Isles/Harbor tours daily at 11:25 and 2.25; adults $17.50, children $10.50.

The Town of New Castle, quaint islands reached by short bridges and causeways, are part of the original settlement established in 1623. The meandering roads and treed residential properties, many with water views, mix contemporary-style houses with those of days gone by. You can view Fort Constitution with one of several towers built during the War of 1812 and visit the seacoast park at Great Island Common, where there are waterfront picnic tables, a playground and views of the Isles of Shoals. The old Wentworth-by-the-Sea, a majestic resort hotel if ever there was one, remains in transition. Its golf course was sold to make way for expensive houses, but Ocean Properties Inc. was planning to restore the Victorian hotel with its original shell into an upscale, 180-room hotel and conference center.

>> Portsmouth Lodging and Dining Suggestions

Sheraton Harborside Portsmouth and restaurant Harbor's Edge, 250 Market St., Portsmouth. (603) 431-2300 or (877) 248-3794.

>> Portsmouth Lodging Suggestions

Martin Hill Inn, 404 Islington St., Portsmouth. (603) 436-2287.

Sise Inn, 40 Court St., Portsmouth. (603) 433-1200 or (877) 747-3466.

>> Portsmouth Dining Suggestions

Anthony Alberto's, 59 Penhallow St., Portsmouth. (603) 436-4000.

43º North, 75 Pleasant St., Portsmouth. (603) 430-0225.

Jumpin' Jay's Fish Café, 150 Congress St., Portsmouth. (603) 766-3474.

Lindbergh's Crossing, 29 Ceres St., Portsmouth. (603) 431-0887.

Porto Bello, 67 Bow St., Portsmouth. (603) 431-2989.

Cafe Mirabelle, 64 Bridge St., Portsmouth. (603) 430-9301.

Dunfey's Aboard the John Wanamaker, One Harbor Place, Portsmouth. (603) 433-3111.

RYE

Although scenery and sophistication are not the New Hampshire Seacoast's strong suits, upscale Rye is an exception. Scottish fishermen landed in 1623 at what is now Odiorne Point State Park, Route 1A, and created the first English settlement in New Hampshire. The largest undeveloped stretch of the state's seacoast, the 330-acre park at its northernmost point harbors walking trails, picnic tables by the ocean and vestiges of Fort Dearborn, built for coastal defense during World War II. The Seacoast Science Center, operated by the University of New Hampshire, provides exhibits, nature programs, naturalist walks and maps of the park.

>> Rye Dining Suggestions

The Carriage House, 2263 Ocean Blvd. (Route 1A), Rye. (603) 964-8251.

HAMPTON

Fuller Gardens, 10 Willow Ave., North Hampton.
One of the last remaining estate gardens of the early 20th century, these were part of Runnymede-by-the-Sea, erected by former Massachusetts Gov. Alvan T. Fuller, whose family members still live in nearby mansions. The house was razed in 1961, but the grounds and gardens – designed in the early 1930s and typical of Colonial Revival estate gardens – are maintained for visitors. An extensive tulip display opens the season in early May. Wisteria, azaleas and rhododendrons in a Japanese garden follow. Two thousand rose bushes burst into bloom in late June and continue through October. Perennials and annuals are interspersed among fountains and statuary, all within sculpted hedges. A greenhouse contains tropical and desert plants.
(603) 964-5414. www.fullergardens.org. Open mid-May to mid-October, daily 10 to 6. Adults $6, children $2.

>> Hampton Dining Suggestions

Ron's Landing at Rocky Bend, 379 Ocean Blvd.(603) 629-2122.

Bontá, 287 Exeter Road, Hampton. (603) 929-7972.

KINGSTON

>> Kingston Dining Suggestions

The Kingston 1686 House, 127 Main St., Kingston. (603) 642-3637.

Pond View Restaurant, Route 125, Kingston. (603) 642-5556.

EXETER

Exeter strikes many as an unusually appealing and urbane town, both architecturally and from a livability standpoint. Located beside the falls of the Squamscott River, it was the first capital of New Hampshire and was home to leading patriots during the Revolution. The red-brick buildings of famed Phillips Exeter Academy, chartered in 1781, dominate the south side of town.

American Independence Museum, 1 Governors Lane, Exeter.
On a two-acre site in the heart of Exeter's historic downtown, the museum is housed in the National Historic Register's restored Ladd-Gilman House, built in 1721. Formerly known as Cincinnati Hall, the house served as the state treasury during the Revolution and as the governor's mansion during the fourteen terms of John T Gilman. Gilman family members were political and military leaders during the Revolution, when Exeter served as a Revolutionary capital. The first state constitution was signed here in 1776, making New Hampshire the first colony to formally declare itself an independent state. The house holds diverse exhibits. The museum complex includes the 1775 Folsom Tavern.
(603) 772-2622. www.independencemuseum.org. Open May-October, Wednesday-Sunday noon to 5. Adults $5, children $3.

>> Exeter Lodging and Dining Suggestions

The Inn of Exeter and restaurant Tavern, 90 Front St., Exeter. (603) 772-5901 or (800) 267-0525.

>> Exeter Lodging Suggestions

The Inn by the Bandstand, 4 Front St., Exeter. (603) 772-6352.

>> Exeter Dining Suggestions

The Tavern at River's Edge, 163 Water St., Exeter. (603) 772-7393.

NEWFIELDS

>> Newfields Dining Suggestions

Ship to Shore Food & Spirits, 70 Newmarket Road (Route 108). (603) 778-7898.

DURHAM

The University of New Hampshire campus dominates the center of this college town of 12,000. The Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, 37 Concord Road, is a bird and wildlife sanctuary encompassing more than 4,500 acres of tidal waters and wetlands.

>> Durham Lodging and Dining Suggestions

Three Chimneys Inn, 17 Newmarket Road, Durham. (603) 868-7800 or (888) 399-9777.

DOVER

Considered the oldest permanent settlement in the state, Dover was founded in 1623 by fishermen and traders who moved inland along the Great Bay from the ocean. Its old mills now house high-tech startups.

Local history is on display at the Woodman Institute, a three-building complex at 182 Central Ave. The 1818 Woodman House holds natural history and war exhibits, while the hand-hewn 1675 Dame Garrison House and abolitionist Sen. John Hale's 1813 house contain period furnishings and historical collections.

>> Dover Lodging Suggestions

Silver Street Inn, 103 Silver St., Dover. (603) 743-3000.

>> Dover Dining Suggestions

Big Night, 422 Central Ave., Dover. (603) 742-8349.

ROCHESTER

>> Rochester Lodging and Dining Suggestions

The Governor's Inn, 78 Wakefield St., Rochester. (603) 332-0107.


This content is excerpted from New England's Best, by Nancy and Richard Woodworth, copyright 2002, published by Wood Pond Press.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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