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|Where’s Jan? Rye Beach, NH|
A long weekend in: Rye Beach
New England's sleepy seaside escape is the perfect summer getaway.
By Janice Russillo
Rye Beach, also known as the Gold Coast of New Hampshire, is one of those rare places known more for its social distinction than its geographic location. Once a bustling Victorian summer resort, this quiet enclave, officially known as The Precinct, maintains its own US Post Office with its coveted zip code, to distinguish it from the larger (population 5,000) Town of Rye, of which it is part and parcel.
A few years back, Barron's Magazine named Rye Beach one of the 20 best places in the world to retire. The entire state is a tourist Mecca and Rye Beach is the hidden jewel in the crown.
The hotels of yesteryear are long gone, replaced by comfortable family homes on quiet, tree-lined streets. The prettiest neighborhood is clustered around a private country club and golf course one block in from the sandy beach. Stately homes still line Ocean Boulevard, the remaining "summer cottages" that recall its past glory.
A jaded visitor once called Rye Beach "a cemetery by the sea," but that quiet, off-the-beaten-path quality is exactly what makes Rye Beach so desirable. Once the summer residence of Midwestern merchants and tycoons with names like Studebaker and Marshall Field, these estates are now home to writers and artists, corporate CEOs and self-made industrial giants. The powerful and famous are able to live quietly here, enjoying the natural beauty of the verdant countryside, and the miles of winding coastline and sandy beaches that give the area its unique flavor. In Rye Beach, U.S. Senators and world-class celebrities are just the guys and gals next door, and these residents prize that anonymity.
The New Hampshire Seacoast is only about 18 miles end to end, and a full one third of it lies within the Town of Rye. There are state parks with lovely beaches, picnic tables, bathrooms and plenty of parking, but these belong to the Town. Only the southernmost beaches are included in the designation "Rye Beach" and the limited parking spaces are reserved for local residents.
Besides the beaches and gorgeous scenery, there are many things to do in this seaside escape. Visitors will find many options in Portsmouth, seven miles north of Rye, or Hampton, just three miles south. Both towns are destinations in their own right, and well worth exploring. Boston is just 50 miles south, and Portland, Maine 50 miles north, making Rye Beach the perfect springboard from which to explore all that the area has to offer.
The town of Rye has a full and colorful history in its own right, and much of it is documented. Rye is the site of the first European settlement in New Hampshire, having been incorporated in 1622. Visitors will want to explore the vast photographic record maintained by the Historic Association Museum, located next to the town library in the center of Rye.
Historic markers dot the area. One of the most famous denotes the location of the first totally undersea telegraph cable between the United States and Europe, a development of the Rye office of the Direct United States Cable Company. Biking along Route 1-A, between Jenness Beach and Rye Harbor, is the best way to discover it.
There have been many skirmishes here, from the War of Independence to The Battle of Rye Harbor during the War of 1812. Visitors can explore the old Forts, which line the coast, as well as the state parks and the Seacoast Science Center at Odiorne Point to gain a more complete picture of Rye's history.
Odiorne Point State Park offers sweeping ocean views, hiking, fishing, boat launch, picnic tables, paved bike paths, a playground and restrooms. If you time it right, the whole family can picnic to the sounds of the local bands that play Odiorne Park on Thursday evenings during the summer. Children will especially enjoy learning about the coastal environment through the interactive exhibits at the Science Center, open daily from 10am to 5pm.
Wallis Sands Beach State Park offers a variety of food and drinks, as well as hot showers. The gate is open from 8am to 8pm, weather permitting. Further south is the popular Jenness Beach, an easy walk from Rye Beach, though parking is limited. Food is available at shops across the street, but a picnic is a better option here.
Bicycles and sea kayaking are always popular along the seacoast. Portsmouth Kayak Adventures offers rentals and tours. Call (603) 559-1000 for more information. Surfing is popular in Rye and local shops offer everything you need. Try Cinnamon Rainbows Surf Company in Hampton for advice and gear. Call (603) 929-7467.
Day trips to the Isles of Shoals, visible about seven miles offshore, can be arranged at Rye Harbor, along with fishing and whale watching cruises. Call Atlantic Fleet, Rye Harbor, (603) 964-5364 for reservations. Four of these historic Isles belong to the town of Rye. The Rye Garden Club maintains Celia Thaxter's famous garden, which is now owned by Cornell University. Though visits must be arranged through Cornell, the Victorian style M/V Thomas Laighton (800-441-4620 makes daily runs to the Isles of Shoals from nearby downtown Portsmouth. They also offer sunset dinner cruises on nearby Great Bay. Trips can also be arranged through the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company, 315 Market St. in Portsmouth, (603) 431-5500.
There are many wonderful restaurants in the area, about a hundred in Portsmouth alone. Start your day with coffee in Market Square and enjoy the urbanity of this delightful town. Just ask a local for a recommendation and you're sure to find a good place for dinner. There are several spots for live music, too. Just check the banners outside Breaking New Grounds, 14 Market Square, Portsmouth.
Be sure to check out The Music Hall, Portsmouth's historic Theatre, recently designated an American treasure. For history buffs, a day at Strawbery Banke Museum on Marcy Street will be educational and fun, and dinner at The Dunaway will satisfy the most discriminating palate.
South of Rye Beach, Hampton Beach offers an old-fashioned boardwalk with arcades, fudge, fried dough, T-shirt shops and lots of fast food. The beaches are wide and sandy and you may stumble upon a sand castle contest. There are nightly concerts at the Sea Shell bandstand and fireworks on Wednesday nights. Though it lacks the quiet panache of neighboring Rye Beach, Happy Hampton has been pleasing families for decades.
The seacoast is famous for seafood, but my personal favorite place for lobster, fried clams, or fish 'n' chips is Al's Seafood on Route One in North Hampton. It may not be fancy, but it's a local institution, and the food is fresh and delicious. Save room for the best homemade ice cream at Lago's Loan Oak, 71 Lafayette Road (Route One) in Rye.
As for accommodations, motels and tourist cabins line Ocean Boulevard, also known as Coastal Route 1-A. Private homes and cottages are available for rent in Rye Beach, and bed and breakfasts can be found in the Town of Rye. For luxury accommodations, try Wentworth by-the-Sea (Marriott) at 588 Wentworth Road in New Castle, (603) 422-7322.
While in Rye Beach, be sure to have at least one dinner at The Carriage House, a local favorite. The food is wonderful, and you never know who might be sitting at the next table. 2263 Ocean Blvd, Rye, (603) 964-8251.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
No stranger to five star resorts, Jan Russillo often chooses off-the-beaten-path adventures for unique educational and cultural experiences. Jan has explored the natural wonders of the world by caravan, yacht, train, helicopter and kayak. Her love of art and architecture has taken her to Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Lhasa, and the great cities of Europe and North America. Travel adventures include trekking in Nepal and Tibet, hiking in Big Sur, and kayaking amidst whales and seals in remote coves along the Alaskan coast. Jan holds degrees in architectural design, urban planning and transpersonal psychology, and is currently at work on a series of children's books with an environmental message.
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