If you're a Boston-area family sticking around this week for school vacation, and you're looking for some "staycation" ideas, consider three great places to go that all can let you leave the car at home.
Concord, Lowell and Newburyport are three examples of communities on the MBTA commuter rail system with lots to do, see, and eat walking or stroller-pushing distance from the train station. All three are on the North Station system of rail lines.
Concord, for example, has a sweet downtown full of shops and boutiques and restaurants steps away from the train station, the legendary Colonial Inn, a year shy of 300, the Louisa May Alcott home, and this week at the Concord Museum, a brand-new exhibit called "The Art of Baseball." It was guest-co-curated by author and baseball nut Doris Kearns Goodwin, and features classic old baseball paintings, sculptures, memorabilia, and special Red Sox items on loan from the Baseball Hall of Fame, including Carl Yazstremski's cap, Carlton Fisk's glove, Ted Williams' glove and the very bat Jim Rice used to hit his 301st home run.
It's one more reason to come visit a unique and special town where, as museum curator David F. Wood says, "You'd never know you're just 20 minutes from Boston when you're out here."
If you're looking for history more urban and industrial, take the train up to Lowell, where along the mill canals you'll find all kinds of museums celebrating industry, textile history, quilts, streetcars, steam locomotives and much more.
History's on offer, big time, in Newburyport as well, about 60 to 64 minutes by train from North Station. From the terminal, it's about a 15 or 20 minute walk by rail trail to downtown or down lovely and historic State Street, and the waterfront city’s downtown is rich with history. Newburyport is proud to be the birthplace of the U.S. Coast Guard, celebrated at a maritime museum, onetime home to abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, and home to rum runners and privateers and shipbuilders and more.
It's all history you can follow through sidewalk markers on the "Clipper Heritage Trail," as well as online.
Mayor Donna Holaday said her advice to visitors is to "be sure to bring your smartphone, and you can download the Clipper Heritage Trail app, which is Newburyport's answer to the Freedom Trail in Boston."
Newburyport also features a 1,100-foot-long boardwalk overlooking the mouth of the mighty Merrimack River, where bald eagles can be seen flying overhead, and brick sidewalks meander through all kinds of venerable 19th century mill and wharf buildings full of new life as shops, restaurants and more.
"We're an example of urban renewal done right - we have beautiful architecture," said Ann Ormond, president of the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
One more thing to think about: If you choose Friday as a day for your staycation visit, your ride on the MBTA will be completely free, thanks to the system-wide free fare day approved by MBTA overseers earlier this spring to atone to riders for weeks of terrible and cancelled service during the winter blizzards.
With videographer Mike Bellwin and video editor Bob Leone. Necn assistant chief photographer John J. Hammann, special projects producer Pamela Bechtold, and necn reporter Jack Thurston contributed to this report.