It may be January and visiting Cape Ann may not be the first place that comes to mind, but towns along the North Shore offer a great things to do in the off season. With no summer crowds to fight and no time lost hunting for parking, the winter months can be a prime time to experience this area for things that aren’t weather dependant. The scenery is still beautiful and most restaurants and shops are open year round making for a great retreat. As we take a look at the four towns that make up this spectacular enclave we unearth what makes it such a unique place.

Manchester by the Sea. Typically known for the hot destination “Singing Beach” during the summer, Manchester by the Sea has been on the radar for those in search of a patch of sand for that weekend day at the beach. However, in the off season the beach is also top destination, only to those whose children may have four legs instead of two. Canines may be banned from May through October, but for the rest of the year it makes for a great run for your dog, not to mention the beautiful winter coastal scenery. The town’s center is also made up of quintessential New England charm. Here you will find a wooden church, library, antique shops, homes and restaurants for you to stroll along for your entertainment pleasure.

Rockport. Enjoy the easy parking in this town off season with access to all of what Rockport has to offer. Stow the wheels and then stroll along the shops and galleries that line the streets. Spend some time browsing the art in the windows as you nurse your coffee or stop in and search for that perfect piece that you have been looking to purchase. After dining for lunch at one of the great restaurants, take a break and soak up the sun while you watch the birds on the rocky coast or endulge in some fudge from the local candy shop.

Essex. Known for two big draws, both having no bearing on warm or cold weather; clams and antiques. If antiquing is your thing, you have arrived at your ideal. With more than 30 antique stores, what more could one ask for when in search of those historic pieces? Hours of operation may be a bit more limited or irregular during the winter months, but there are certainly plenty of them open to keep your day fulfilled. Looking for that perfect lunch in between your browsing? Grab a seat at the well known Woodman’s restaurant for some chowder or some Essex clams. Equally as delicious in the off season, but most likely a shorter wait and potentially a table with a view.

Gloucester. Gloucester offers many different aspects to enjoy. For those who like the outdoors, there is the Stage Fort Park, a great place to take a stroll. Interested in the arts? The Rocky Neck Art Colony is a haven for artists. The Cape Ann Historical Museum, not only displays local art, but also that of the 19th century master Fitz Hugh Lane. The Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Memorial is also a sight including a memorial statue of a wife and her two children on the lookout for their fisherman father’s return.