For a harbor city, Boston is surprisingly lean on (good) waterfront dining. But with miles of beautiful Massachusetts coast stretching in either direction, those willing to explore can find plenty of spots by the waves. We've gathered our top picks for oceanfront eats both in Boston and its surrounding summertime destinations, concentrating on the North and South Shores (since we recently covered the best in Cape Cod newcomers here).
Boston: Legal Harborside
It's hard to deny the appeal of this behemoth spin-off from the Legal Sea Foods chain, a whale of a restaurant right on Boston Harbor with three floors offering unique concepts: the fish market-style first floor, more distinguished second-floor dining room and, best of all, a buzzing third floor (pictured at page top) with retractable roof that transforms the space into an awe-inspiring open-air setting. The ocean views are unparalleled elsewhere in the city. Plus, while no other Legal outpost can call itself a bona fide pickup scene, Harborside baits afterwork crowds who come to slurp, sip and flirt.
270 Northern Ave.; 617-477-2900
Gloucester: The Rudder
The North Shore town has plenty of history: Gloucester's town motto proclaims it as "America's Oldest Seaport," and Rocky Neck is considered one of the oldest continuously operating art colonies in the country. There you'll find The Rudder, a charming seaside shanty that used to be a fish packing establishment. Dine inside beneath trellis ceilings adorned with sparkling string lights and live green vines, or hit the heated harbor side patio and dive into an eclectic, globally inspired seafood-focused menu. Bonus: The Rudder has its own dock, available on a first come, first served basis for seafaring diners who prefer to arrive by boat.
73 Rocky Neck Ave., Gloucester; 978-283-7967
Image courtesy Alma Nove
Hingham: Alma Nove
Before chef Paul Wahlberg was being trailed by A&E network cameras for Wahlburgers, the reality show based on his growing burger chain founded with celeb brothers Mark and Donnie, he was surprising diners with genuinely fine Italian cuisine at this upscale restaurant right on the marina. Named for his mother Alma ("Nove" is Italian for nine, her number of children), it's a legitimately lovely option for sophisticated pastas and Mediterranean-inspired seafood — like pan-seared salmon with Sardinian couscous and ragu of smoked mussels. And the marina-side patio boasts some tantalizing fire pits for romantic dates with red wine.
22 Shipyard Dr., Hingham; 781-749-3353
Hull: Jake's Seafood Restaurant
For about 70 years this waterfront institution in Hull has been putting out fresh clams, lobsters and other locally caught seafood — fried, steamed, grilled, broiled — that lure diners to a super picturesque setting right by Nantasket Beach. You can laze a while, digging into baked seafood casserole or cedar plank-roasted salmon on a the waterfront deck, but Jake's is also popular for its fish market component. Get some grab-and-go eats — fish cakes, buffalo shrimp rangoons — or select some super fresh fish on ice for a cooking up at home.
50 George Washington Blvd., Hull; 781-925-1024
Marblehead: The Landing
The harbor-side deck hangs right over the water at this Marblehead well-loved local haunt that serves up plenty of seafood standards alongside more creative plates: from steaming skillets of lobster mac 'n' cheese to flounder almondine. You'll frequently find live music going down inside the pub-style environs, and the place lures a a fun scene of locals and North Shore tourists alike.
81 Front St., Marblehead; 781-639-1266
Newburyport: Black Cow Tap & Grill
When it comes to North Shore towns, Newburyport has a particularly competitive dining scene. Nancy Batista-Caswell's delightful duo Brine and Ceia Kitchen + Bar are among the spots luring city slickers to the historic seaport, and more openings are on the way: like The Paddle Inn, opening this Fall to serve globally inspired coastal cuisine from the team behind Trina's Starlite Lounge, Audubon and Parlor Sports. But when it comes to waterfront dining, Black Cow is where it's at. The elevated gastropub offers contemporary surf and turf and a cool craft beer list on a spacious outdoor deck right on the harbor.
54 Merrimac St., Newburyport; 978-499-8811
Photo courtesy East Bay Grille
Plymouth: East Bay Grille
For most Massachusetts folk, Plymouth is regarded as the gateway to Cape Cod: the final town you'll traverse before crossing the Sagamore Bridge and officially entering a vacation state of mind. But even if it's just for a quick fuel-up to break up the drive, it's worth stopping at this waterfront restaurant in Pilgrim land. (Don't miss its yacht club-evoking dining room, Adirondack chair-strewn patio and big, covered outdoor bar.) There's a quintessential, classy New England vibe, right down to the dress code: "business casual," all the better to enjoy those bay views (and upscale surf 'n' turf) with a sense of breezy refinement.
173 Water St., Plymouth; 508-746-9751
Rockport: My Place By the Sea
May we move in? Plopped on Bearskin Neck, a small, rocky peninsula that juts out into Rockport Harbor, this multi-level restaurant feels like a fabulous vacation home. The gorgeous sunset views, glimpsed from a pretty patio right on the cliffs, is worth the trip alone. The elegant dishes don't hurt either — think hoisin-glazed steamed salmon, barbecue lamb chops and baked swordfish with béarnaise, all arranged with an eye for presentation that may rival the waterfront view.
68 Bearskin Neck, Rockport; 978-546-9667
Salem: Sea Level Oyster Bar
Salem is a cool little city with loads to lure day trippers beyond the high Halloween season — especially when it comes to dining. And one of the more recent entries to the Witch City's scene is Sea Level, perched upon historic Pickering Wharf. You'll nosh in a first-floor dining room with open garage doors mere feet from the water, or on a second-floor waterfront deck beside of The Friendship Salem, a 171-foot replica of an 18th-century trading vessel docked at Salem Maritime National Historic Site. And Sea Level has a hipper vibe than most, so its bar scene teems with craft beer-loving locals digging into raw bar eats, a "Salem Sound lobster bake" or even a hot dog slathered in ale mustard.
94 Wharf St., Salem; 978-741-0555