We love strolling the streets of Portsmouth but, let’s face it, sidewalks get hot in summer. Solution: Escape to Peirce Island, a 27-acre island in the Piscataqua River, an easy hop across a bridge from the south side of the city (the island is part of and managed by the city). The island has a glorious public pool, 100 yards longs, 33 yards wide, and 14 inches down to 6 feet in depth. The public is welcome, from end of June through August. Walking trails take you to five waterfront overlooks, of Naval Shipyard, the south end of Portsmouth, and the three Piscataqua bridges. There are public boat launches and a playground. It’s like a summer day in the country next to a great small city.
Fabric Artistry Like You’re Never Seen
People interested in unique ((intended, here, to truly mean one-of-a-kind) fabric art will be charmed by Nancy Morgan Art, a working studio and gallery at 238 State Street in Portsmouth. Using very basic machine sewing gear and techniques, Nancy Morgan, artist and gallery owner, creates images, including many showing Portsmouth town and seaside views, with cloth, embroidery and quilting techniques, and finely detailed stitchery. She is happy to show and demonstrate her techniques, and her books, “Shades of Tulle” and “The Fabric of Bow Street,” offer insights. The gallery is open to the public Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Portsmouth Harbor Trail Walking Tours
Portsmouth is a delightful riverside city today, with a low-profile downtown, lots of dining and shopping, and a gorgeous park on the Piscataqua River. Its history reaches to Colonial times, when it served as a deep-water port for fishing and shipping timber from inland to the sea. This history is on display through three walking tours of the Portsmouth Harbor Trail. Guided tours are offered from June through October (call 603-610-5518). Three walks take you through or past Market Square, the heart of downtown; Prescott Park on the river; Strawbery Banke, a living history museum encompassing 400 years of the town's story; tug boats at the docks; views of the river; and several historic churches and mansions.
A New Hampshire Country Store, from Aged Cheese to Pewter Gifts
Calef’s Country Store, at routes 9 and 125 in the Seacoast town of Barrington, has been dispensing welcome, hospitality, and good food since the horse-and-buggy days. Stop in for a deli sandwich during your explorations of the area, and, if you can, pick up some great food gifts to charm the people you left back home. These include Caleb’s Snappy Old Cheese, maple foods, jams, jellies, butter, pickles, relishes, olives, chutney, salsa and pretzel dips, soup mixes, and more. Caleb’s also carries beautiful artwork by the New Hampshire Pewter Company. Open daily.
Candy, Old-Fashioned Style, and LOTS of It
Do you adore candy, especially old-fashioned penny candy? Do you yearn for mile-high and ludicrously candy-enhanced ice cream shakes? How about a fantasy land rich with “harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” visuals? All of these pleasures await at Lickee’s & Chewy’s Candies & Creamery, located in the historic Cocheco Mills at 53 Washington Street in downtown Dover. The over-the-top store is the creation of Chris Guerrette, lover of candy and fantasy and excess. Shipping and curbside pickup available.
The Light of Portsmouth
Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse in New Castle guards Portsmouth Harbor and the mouth of the Piscataqua River. Views from the top, out toward the sea, up the river, and across the towns of Portsmouth, and Kittery, Maine, are some of the most glorious inn all New England. Tours of the lighthouse are offered Sundays from Memorial Day through Columbus Day, 1 to 5 p.m.. No reservations are needed. There are 44 stairs to the watch room and a 7-rung ladder to the lantern room. Feel the thrill of New England seafaring tradition as you rise. Lighthouse boat cruises are offered periodically during the summer and fall.
Koi, Roses, Perennials Decorate this Botanical Garden
Once owned by Alvan T. Fuller, Fuller Gardens at 10 Willow Avenue in North Hampton is a shoreline gem filled with blooming life and vibrant sights and scents. The best part of Fuller’s now-public botanical garden is the variety; stroll down lines of formal English perennials, through a Japanese garden with a Koi pond, blushing rosebushes and more. Check out the garden gift shop’s book and souvenir collection before you leave. Creatively sculpted hedges protect the garden’s cozy atmosphere as guests discover exotic plant species and beautifully landscaped design. Open mid-May through October, daily, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. 603-964-5414
Meet Our Scary Godmother
New England Curiosities Walking Tours are led by Roxie Zwicker, nicknamed “New England's scary godmother” by The Boston Herald. She is accompanied on tours of Portsmouth, NH, and York, ME, by her elusive companion, Mr. Deadwick, as she leads visitors on explorations by foot into everything from the sordid history of Portsmouth’s South End to the ghostly tales behind the most dignified of colonial doors. Tours includes Haunted Pubs of Portsmouth Walk, Haunted York Village, Historic Portsmouth Legends & Ghosts, Legends, Ghosts & Graves Tour, Shadows and Stones Cemetery. Phone: 800-979-3370.
John Paul Jones Slept -- and Prepped -- Here
The Portsmouth Historical Society displays the history of Portsmouth through its collections of furniture, paintings, ceramics, costumes, and maritime artifacts at John Paul Jones House at 43 Middle Street in Portsmouth. John Paul Jones rented rooms in this house, home of the Widow Purcell, in 1781, while he supervised the building of the Navy’s ship America nearby. The 1758 house is an artifact of that period and a historic treasure. It is am easy walk from Market Square, the heart of Portsmouth’s downtown. Open Memorial Day through mid-October. Phone: 603-436-8420.
The Isles of Shoals Steamship Company offers a boat tour of Portsmouth harbor that takes visitors deep into the heart of a working waterfront of tugboats, tankers, forts, and lighthouses. This fascinating tour takes visitors past the oldest naval yard in the country, five forts, two lighthouses, and the Olde Port waterfront. Another tour offered by the company takes visitors seven miles offshore to visit the historic and romantic Star Island, once the home of a grand hotel of the 19th century. "Walkabout" or "Stopover" cruises to Star Island offer a one-to-four-hour stopover, with time to stroll past ancient hotel buildings and a historic garden. Steamship company boats docked at 315 Market Street. 800-441-4620
Disc Golf Is Fun in a Group
Cheaper, easier and more family oriented the golf; Disc Golf is the outdoor game of the future, available today. The Woods at Beauty Hill Disc Golf at 557 Beauty Hill Road in Barnstead offers a wide array of playing fields with hay fields, woodlots, and tree-lined lanes. With five different courses based on skill level, it is guaranteed fun for all ages. Disc golf is similar to golf except it uses a Frisbee-like disc and raised baskets. Open to the public all day, seven days a week. Hours: Public can play anytime. Phone: 603-724-4027.
Little Harbor Loop Trail Wanders Shoreline & Gardens
A really easy and pleasant 1.5-mile Little Harbor Trail now wanders through the the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion grounds, at 375 Little Harbor Road in Portsmouth and Portsmouth Conservation Land. The trail is flat and fine for little ones or elderly people. Views of the Piscataqua River just south of Portsmouth and tidal pools and gardens are delightful. There is free parking & trail access at the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion at 375 Little Harbor Road. Trail map.
Fruit Wines, Apple Brandy, and Vodka to Taste Year-Round
Flag Hill Vineyard and Winery at 297 North River Road in Lee has ground in 20 years from a family-operated vineyard to an established winery in this picturesque seacoast region. The winery produces more than 15 varieties of red and white wines. Flag Hill produces distilled spirits such as General John Stark Vodka and Josiah Bartlett Apple Brandy. A tasting room and gift store, offering events, tours, sales, is in a post-and-beam building that once served as a barn. Open year round, Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. except for major holidays. 603-659-2949.
Meet Our Fabulous Wetlands
Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge at 4 Arboretum Drive in Newingtonis a beautiful estuary and woodlands protected by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The refuge is open every day to the public for hiking, bird watching, photography, and other outdoor activities. Visitors will find two trails, parking lot, restroom, and an interpretive kiosk. Interpretive programs are regularly offered at the refuge. Cross country skiing and snowshoeing on these same trails are popular activities during the winter. Learn more here:
Stop to Shop
The Seacoast region has wonderful shopping for beautiful and unusual items. The Fox Run Mall in Newington is a place to start for national names, followed by a trip to Boardwalk Strip at Hampton Beach. The cream of the shopping experience has to be Portsmouth's Market Street, crammed with art, toys, home decorations, clothing, hardware, jewelry, flowers, and more. Voted one of New England's Best Shopping Streets by Travel and Leisure Magazine.