Seashells by the Seashore

July 21, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Rugged RyeRugged RyeNew Hampshire has less than 20 miles of ocean coastline - but what is lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. Route 1A meanders northward here through beautiful Rye past marshland and toward Odiorne Point. If you didn't realize New Hampshire has an ocean coastline, it's understandable. At under 20 miles, it's the shortest of any state. What it lacks in quantity, though, it more than makes up for in quality. You know what they say: the best things come in small packages. SerenitySerenityAs the day dawned on this humid, late-summer morning, the saturated air was completely still - transforming the tidal pool into a lovely looking glass. (Atlantic Ocean at Rye, New Hampshire)

The Granite State's Atlantic shore and coastal towns are beautiful, historic and full of charm. While each season has its own unique appeal, there's a certain je ne sais quoi about the Seacoast in the summer.

(Note to outdoor photographers...there is no shortage of subject matter.)

To drive the coast, follow routes 1A and 1B from Seabrook on the southern end to Portsmouth in the north. Along the way you'll see spectacular ocean views from both sandy beaches and rocky shoreline.

You'll also find marshland, two harbors, stately mansions, a historic fort and multiple units of the state's park system.

You can complete the drive in no time - but I promise you won't want to. Spend a few days! Whether or not you're interested in making photographs, you'll find plenty to keep you busy. 

Here are some suggestions, town by town:

Hampton Beach

The boardwalk is a little kitschy but a hugely popular place, crammed with people during the summer months. Think ice cream shops, arcades, souvenir stands, food stands, boutiques and restaurants. Into street photography? Stop here.

The beach itself is large (over a mile long), sandy and clean. Every Wednesday during the summer there's a fireworks show beginning at 9:30pm. 

The annual (June) Master Sand Sculpting Classic features artists from all over the world. If you're in town while this is going on I highly recommend it.

For an evening entertainment break see who's playing the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom. It's hosted a lot of famous acts since opening in 1899 - like Glenn Miller, Count Basie and Duke Ellington in the '30s to The Doors, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin and The Who in the '60s and '70s, to Buddy Guy, Robert Cray and Huey Lewis and the News in the '90s. 

North Hampton

Fuller Gardens is a seaside public botanical garden with unobstructed views of the Atlantic. You'll find rose gardens, a Japanese garden, a hosta garden, English perennial borders and more. Compact but lovely.

Continuing north on Ocean Boulevard (1A) you'll pass grand estates with expansive grounds overlooking the sea, many of which date back to the turn of the last century. There are some modern-day luxury homes, too, but it's the stately old ones that will catch your eye. Some are in North Hampton, others in Rye. None are for the budget-minded - but dreaming is free!


Feel like exploring the coastline from the water? Jump on board the "Uncle Oscar" at Rye Harbor for a sightseeing/whale watching cruise.

Back on land, Rye Harbor State Park is just a stone's throw up the road. Odiorne Point is the second of the town's state parks and the site of the first European settlement in New Hampshire. During World War II it was a fort and part of Portsmouth's harbor defense; the battery and gun placement mortar rings still remain.

Turn away from the sea and you'll find a lot of protected salt-water marshland to the west: great for bird watching.

Rye's beaches range from bustling Jenness State Beach to smaller, quieter options.

Hungry? Enjoy catch fresh off the boat at restaurants just steps from the water. 

New Castle

The smallest town in the state, New Castle is also an island.

Near the bridge connecting the town to Rye stands one of New Hampshire's four remaining Gilded Age grand resort hotels, Wentworth by the Sea (1874). This historic building stood vacant for a number of years and narrowly escaped demolition in the mid-1990s but was ultimately rescued. The renovated hotel reopened in 2003.

Standing at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbor are Fort Constitution (first fortified by the British in the very early Colonial era) and Portsmouth Harbor Light (1771). Neither are open to the public this year but you can see/photograph the lighthouse from nearby Great Island Common. And there's a double bonus: from the Common you can also see Whaleback Light (1872) marking the entrance to the Piscataqua River. Both lighthouses are on the National Historic Register. 


Founded in 1623, this is one of the country's oldest cities.

There's a lot to like about Portsmouth, not the least of which is that it's easily walkable. Stroll past the many red brick buildings on cobblestone sidewalks; you'll feel like you stepped back in time. 

This historic seaport has a vibrant, working harbor. Millions of tons of cargo move in and out every year. Watch the Moran tugs in action escorting a tanker or photograph them moored along Ceres Street. The busy commercial fishing pier is also a good place to hang around with the camera.

To survey the waterfront and/or ocean from offshore there are a few options: Portsmouth Harbor Cruises, the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company, or if you prefer sailing, the Gundalow.

Also on the waterfront is Prescott Park, a 10-acre jewel with the lovely Formal Garden as its centerpiece. For some living history, visit Strawberry Banke just across the street.

On the opposite side of the Piscataqua River you'll see the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (established in 1800) which specializes in the overhaul and repair of Los Angeles- and Virginia-class submarines.

Portsmouth's signature landmark is the beautiful North Church. Its steeple is visible from much of downtown and also from the river. Photographers, you'll have fun with this. It screams New England. Walk around town to find interesting vantage points and creative ways to capture it.

When it's time to put your feet up there are a variety of food and drink options: dozens in the downtown area alone which might surprise you given the size of the city (only about 22,000).

Hop back in the car, cross one of the three bridges spanning the Piscataqua, and you're in Maine. Wasn't that Massachusetts just a few miles ago? 

New Hampshire's ocean coastline is short but oh so sweet. Great things are tucked inside this small package. 

By the SeashoreBy the SeashorePainted pre-sunrise sky complements one of the stunning sand sculptures created for the annual sand sculpting competition. (Hampton Beach, New Hampshire)

A past entry in the Hampton Beach Sand Sculpting Classic


You'll find scenes like this (outside Ray's Seafood) along the ocean in Rye


Marshland in Rye


Prescott Park Portsmouth New HampshireSummer at the GardenPrescott Park's Formal Garden is awash with vibrant color at the height of its summer display. (Portsmouth, New Hampshire)

The formal garden at Prescott Park in Portsmouth


Approaching StormApproaching StormThe North Church's steeple is visible beyond the commercial fishing pier in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The commercial fishing pier in Portsmouth with historic North Church beyond 


One of the Moran tugs heading back to its pier


PyrotechnicsPyrotechnicsFireworks and the North Church steeple: it's the annual Independence Day celebration in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The North Church on Independence Day


And finally...if you're a regular reader you know I have a thing for this tidal pool in Rye. 


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