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Road Trip! Destination: Portsmouth, N.H.

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By Rex Rutkowski

Published: Saturday, May 5, 2012, 5:58 p.m.

It would be a mistake not to include a visit to Portsmouth, N.H., when planning a road trip to Boston or Maine.

An hour's drive north of Boston and a quick 60 minutes south of Portland on the New Hampshire-Maine Atlantic seacoast border, Portsmouth is a jewel of a small city along Interstate 95 that invites discovery year-round.

Many, including Boston area-residents who make it a weekend destination for its scenic beauty, theater, restaurants, festivals, music, architecture and tax-free shopping, and its history (400 years worth), already have accepted that invitation. Surprises await for those yet to experience its many charms.

Glowing reviews abound: Money magazine calls the historic working seaport one of "Top 10 Best Places to Live," Outside magazine touts it as one of the "Top 20 Towns in America," and ForbesTraveler.com named it one of "America's prettiest towns."

Portsmouth, honored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a "Distinctive Destination," also was named to the National Geographic Traveler's list of the globe's "Historic Places" -- 26th in the world and sixth in the United States.

The folks at the chamber of commerce point out that, long before the Boston Tea Party, Portsmouth citizens provided the gunpowder and stores that fueled the American Revolution and stoked the fires of liberty.

Much of Portsmouth, which Prevention Magazine lauded as "New Hampshire's No. 1 Walking City," can be taken in on foot.

Strawbery Banke Museum

Strolling the lanes where George Washington and Paul Revere walked, visitors to the Strawbery Banke, in the heart of Portsmouth, soon discover it is a museum like no other. Acclaimed as one of the nation's pre-eminent outdoor history museums, its 10 acres are home to one of the country's oldest, continuously occupied communities.

Through restored furnished houses, exhibits, historic landscapes and gardens, costumed role players, working craftspeople and interpreters, Strawbery Banke presents the living history of generations who settled in the city from the late-17th century to the mid-20th century.

Details: 603-433-1100; www.strawberybanke.org

Music Hall

Hailed by Yankee Magazine as "the crown jewel of Portsmouth's cultural scene," this restored, landmark Victorian theater is the oldest in New Hampshire. Since 1878, the 900-seat auditorium has presented names ranging from Mark Twain to Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, and continues offering a diversity of year-round entertainment, which includes concerts, plays and movies.

The venue's well-received Writers on a New England Stage series features readings by new and world-famous authors (Joan Didion will be there June 19). Dan Brown, who lives in the Portsmouth suburbs, is no stranger to the stage, and Stephen King and the late John Updike are among series alumni.

The Music Hall is home to the annual Telluride by the Sea Film Festival during Labor Day weekend.

Details: www.themusichall.org ; 603-436-2400

Prescott Park Arts Festival

This summer-long celebration of the arts for all ages is nearing its 40th birthday, drawing an estimated 180,000 each year. Free concerts by regional and national entertainers, theater, festivals, dance and children's events are staged in this public park, which stretches along the Piscataqua River, presenting a stunning show with 10 acres of flower gardens, walkways, seating, docking and grassy areas. "It's an ideal setting with great views of the harbor," director Ben Prescott says.

Details: www.prescottpark.org ; 603-436-2848

Harbor and island cruises

Portsmouth and the New Hampshire seacoast also are fascinating off-shore. Two companies offer a variety of excursions to the historic islands six miles off the coast, and harbor and lighthouse cruises.

Visible on a clear day from shore, nestled among a grouping of other islands with the collective, lyrical moniker of the Isles of Shoals, is Star Island. It has been visited by more than its fair share of luminaries, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

Details: Isles of Shoals Steamship Co., 315 Market St, www.islesofshoals.com , 1-800-441-4620; Portsmouth Harbor Cruises, 64 Ceres St.; www.portsmouthharbor.com , 1-800-776-0915

Portsmouth Harbour Trail

The waterfront and downtown unfold as visitors learn about early settlers and their homes.

George Washington described the Governor John Langdon House, a mansion along Pleasant Street, as "the finest house in Portsmouth." It was built in 1784 by Langdon, three-time governor of the state, a signer of the Constitution and first president of the senate. (603-436-3205).

A National Historic Landmark, the elegant three-story Moffatt-Ladd House and Gardens on Market Street once was the residence of William Whipple, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. (603-436-8221)

Details: 603-436-3988, ext. 5510; www.portsmouthchamber.org

Hampton Beach

Portsmouth's neighbor awakens each summer for fun revolving around sun, sand and surf.

Stroll the boardwalk and the beach, brave the brisk water of the North Atlantic, share expressions of amazement at the international artistry exhibited at the annual sand-sculpting festival (June 21-23, with creations on view through July 8) and satisfy your hunger at the Hampton Beach Seafood Festival (Sept. 7-9).

National and international musicians from a variety of genres also come here to play -- at the historic Hampton Beach Casino ballroom, opened in 1899. Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington performed there, as did Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin and U2. For the current schedule, www.casinoballroom.com

Details: 603-926-8718; www.hamptonchamber.com

Seacoast Science Center

The year-round discovery center on the Atlantic Ocean is in neighboring Rye, a community that is a good place from which to take a whale-watching excursion boat. The Science Center in historic Odiorne Point State Park has local marine and history exhibits, tide-pool touch tank, a 330-acre park, walking tours, workshops and aquarium displays.

The informal, bring-your-own-blanket, Music-by-the-Sea concert series for all ages is Thursday nights in July.

Details: 603-436-8043; www.seacoastsciencecenter.org

Wentworth by the Sea Hotel & Spa

Constructed in 1874, the renovated Wentworth, next door to Portsmouth in New Castle, is the only grand seaside resort left standing on the New Hampshire coast. The Wentworth was the focal point in 2005 for the 100th anniversary of the Portsmouth Peace Treaty and the negotiations that ended the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.

During its history, the hotel has hosted Annie Oakley, Gloria Swanson, Harry Truman and Prince Charles and was the backdrop for the film thriller, "In Dreams," starring Robert Downey Jr.

Details: 603-422-7322; www.wentworth.com

 

 
 


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