Cape Ann, MA area. Will we regret not renting a car?
May 23, 2013 12:57 PM   Subscribe

Thanks to AskMefi, we have figured out we can get from Boston to the Cape Ann area by commuter rail. What I can't determine for certain is if we will want a car when we get there.

Our family of 4 plans on spending a few days in Boston and a few in the coastal area north of the city. If we want to stay in Rockport for example, but visit Gloucester and Salem, will having a car make that easier? We are also terrible packers - is lugging all of our luggage on the train going to be a pain? We will be visiting from a small town in a flyover state - our only public tranporation here is the lady who takes people to and from the casino outside of town. So, while I am confident in navigating the mass trans system in the area, i have never used a mass transit system for anything more complicated than a short trip to dinner or an event or something like that. Any food, lodging or entertainment suggestions for a family with teenagers for the North Shore area are welcome too!

So, do we ride the train out and back and forth in between those small towns or do we rent a car at logan and stop at our leisure along the way?
posted by domino to Travel & Transportation around Boston, MA (9 answers total)
Luggage on the commuter rail totally acceptable. It can be a pain from the airport to North Station, but it's a minor inconvenience mostly. Or you can take a cab to North Station.

It's entirely possible to go from Rockport to Gloucester or Salem and back in one day and very easy. THERE IS NO NEED FOR A CAR IN SALEM! None. For what you'd want to do, anyway.

And in Gloucester? Rent bikes from Big Mike's Bikes (owned and operated by MeFi's own kpht), which is within very easy walking distance of the Gloucester commuter rail.

Do not try to do both Gloucester and Salem in the same day, however --- even by car. There's lots to do and look at. Each town should get its own day.

I also live in Salem and commute on the Newburyport/Rockport line every day. Feel free to ask me any questions about that line.
posted by zizzle at 1:05 PM on May 23, 2013

Gloucester and Salem have a lot of walkable destinations near the train stations, but the schedule may leave a bit to be desired. In addition, getting from the airport to North Station is a pain. You will need to lug your bags onto the train and then take two subway lines.

Wow, zizzle already answered my answer.

Note: non-folding bicycles are only allowed on off-peak trains! (with some exceptions)
posted by mkb at 1:07 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Based on the pure fact that the scenery is gorgeous in cape Ann and I regularly drive the 45 minutes from Boston up there just to drive around and marvel at how beautiful it is, I say you'll regret not having a car.

Also, save the train up there, public transit to my knowledge is scarce up there. Though I've not really looked into it ever since I've never needed it. You can easily get from the Rockport or Gloucester train stations to downtown Salem by commuter rail. But getting around each town, not so much...
posted by danapiper at 1:08 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

This depends. If you just wanted to visit Salem for the day, I would suggest using the commuter rail. The commuter rail system is designed to get people from those towns into and out of Boston during commuting hours. But while it is possible, in theory, to schedule a trip such that you have a day in Salem then the next day grab the train to Gloucester and then the next day grab the train to Rockport and then head back to Boston, this sounds like something that would make your life to complicated, especially with 4 people and their luggage.

Go to Boston, hang around a few days using the local T system to get around, then go the airport, pick up a rental car for your visit to the North Shore for a few days, and on the last day, drive back to the airport, drop off the car, and fly home.
posted by deanc at 1:09 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Getting around Gloucester and Salem by car is far more of pain than walking or biking, even for residents.

I really disagree regretting not having a car.

I think the opposite -- especially if you don't know the traffic patterns and the towns already.
posted by zizzle at 1:10 PM on May 23, 2013

You could probably do it, but I think it would be worth your while (and not as difficult as it seems) to rent a car. Don't rent the car for the days you're in Boston. But there are several non-airport car rental locations, or really the airport locations are just to the north of Boston anyway, on your way to the North Shore.

But if you did go car-free, your worst case scenario would be that you would end up taking some taxis (there's at least one company in Gloucester) or maybe you'd end up renting a car in Gloucester or Salem. And it's not just the commuter rail that serves Cape Ann, there's also a regional bus service (with limited schedules, to be sure, but it's an option). Another thing to consider: Rockport center is a good little walk from the train station; you would want to choose a hotel that could pick you up if at all possible.

So: if it was me, I'd rent the car. But nothing terrible will happen if you don't rent a car.

(Qualifications: I grew up on the North Shore and lived car-free in Boston for many years.)
posted by mskyle at 1:55 PM on May 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hi! I own a bike shop with a ton of rental business in Gloucester, and I also live around the corner from the train station (shop is within sight of the station as well).

You don't need a car to see Cape Ann, and you don't need a car to get to Cape Ann, but if you're lugging all your trip's stuff with you, it'll be too much to get on the train and rent a bike with a whole trip's worth of luggage, even though we have cargo bikes. If I was you, I'd stay in Boston, and then just take a day trip via train to Gloucester, and then a day trip another day to Salem. Finding places to park in both cities is a real pain in the butt. Salem is walkable, and downtown Gloucester is walkable, but better by bike (again, I own the bike shop, so I'm biased). The whole of Cape Ann can be doable by bike, as Rockport is only like 5 miles. You can get to Rocky Neck, Halibut Point, Eastern Point, all the beaches, etc very easily by bike and you certainly don't have to be in any kind of shape.

However, there's a bunch of really great places to stay on Cape Ann. Tons of GREAT restaurants, a taco truck, a cupcake bakery, vintage clothing stores, etc. Every day I'm like "this is the best town everrrr." Send me a PM if you want advice on where to go!
posted by kpht at 5:28 PM on May 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Rent a car. The commuter rail runs fairly infrequently (as compared to MetroNorth, say). And what if you decide you want to go to Woodman's in Essex, or visit the First Period homes in Ipswich, or just drop by a beach? Unless you stick to a very rigid schedule, relying on the commuter rail will hamper your travel.
posted by heigh-hothederryo at 5:57 PM on May 23, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all of your answers! I think we will either do each town as separate day trips or rent a car and spend a couple nights up there, even If we mostly walk or bike once we get there.
posted by domino at 8:50 PM on May 23, 2013

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