The Northeast―from rugged Maine to cosmopolitan New York―has been the country's densest population center since the Revolution. Yes, it's crowded, but along sections of its coast, there's still breathing room. Whether you seek an island that takes you away from it all or a city in the center of it all, the Northeast has options.
It's a region of contrasts. Maine isles sprout slender pines; the island of Manhattan seems to grow towers of glass and steel. Quiet coastal villages such as Maine's Wiscasset, bisected by one main highway, counter cities such as Boston, encased by a complex matrix of highways and jumbled, if charming, city streets. Salty towns such as Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Portland, Maine, have transformed into artsy hubs.
Islands offer contrasts, too. Long Island has its string of tony Hamptons on the South Fork and cradles quieter towns, such as Greenport and Orient, on the North Fork. Massachusetts has its famous island pair―Nantucket (exuding a regal, yacht-club aura tempered by its hardworking whaling heritage) and Martha's Vineyard (a sprawling island with varied towns to sample). And Maine offers less developed isles such as Little Cranberry Island near Acadia National Park.
Wall Street and the arts lure many to New York City. Culture and a smaller metropolitan setting entice them to Boston. A simpler way of life―with less traffic, open waters, seafood, and cleaner air―takes them to coastal villages. And many appreciate that the best of both worlds is within driving distance. With major airports nearby and commuter railways extending farther outside metro areas, the quaint coastal towns have received more attention.
In Maine, Acadia National Park draws millions of visitors each year, but the entire shoreline offers scenic wonders. From Portland, the coast stretches south toward harbor towns and northeast (or Down East, as locals call it) in a meandering maze. From Midcoast Maine north, a series of charming towns, such as Camden, dot Route 1 on its way to the easternmost town in America―remote Eastport.
At 18 miles, the New Hampshire Seacoast, as it's known, is short and sweet, but its 25 coastal towns have New England character and plenty of beach access.
Boston naturally serves as Massachusetts' population and cultural center. Some make their home in Cape Ann to the north or the larger Cape Cod to the south, flanked by Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.
Because of its size, airport, and cultural offerings, Providence anchors Rhode Island's coastline. Newport, with its naval complex and historic ties, is another city of interest. Block Island, accessible by air and ferry, is a beauty with some 900 year-round residents.
As venerable as they are, the small Connecticut enclaves of Mystic and Stonington seem to have a humble seafaring persona that differs from the swank towns of Greenwich and Westport or the community of Rowayton, part of Norwalk. These three well-heeled, lovely-to-live-in towns have a certain prestige attached and maintain interest in Manhattan happenings. Any of the state's coastal cities pair proximity to metro areas with small-town charm.
In New York, of course, there's "The City," as locals refer to Manhattan. But there's more. Long Island's pastures and open spaces possess character not found on Fifth Avenue. Shelter Island feels like a quiet old farmstead and oozes a Victorian feel, while Fire Island combines coastal beauty with a sometimes raucous social scene. The airport at Long Island's Islip offers an easy alternative to La Guardia and Kennedy.
There's both the buzz and congestion of the cities and the harsh reality of winter. Some oceanfront properties have been developed in haphazard fashion, leaving a mishmash of beach house styles.
Down East Maine is just that―way down east, and residents of those rural towns may feel isolated at times.
New Hampshire has a limited amount of coastal property, and property taxes are high. Massachusetts has that darn traffic around Boston (expected to improve in the wake of the "Big Dig" road project). Rhode Island and Connecticut offer access to big cities, but the commute can get old. In some eyes, a detractor to Mystic, Connecticut, and its environs is the booming casino that opened nearby. Marketing plans often include deals or packages based in Mystic, which might help tourism but bothers some residents.
New York is, well, New York, in all its glory and with all its issues, from terror threats to high-priced restaurants and hard-to-find, expensive housing.
On Nantucket, saltbox houses huddle on dunes in cloaks of signature gray shingles. In Long Island's Southampton, brick and marble edifices hide behind green hedges, while the same island's small town of East Marion features farmhouses that hug the highway. Maine has its share of farmhouses, too, with simple and austere lines.
Throughout New England, Federal-style homes mingle with grand Victorian summer cottages. Designs for new construction often call on such traditions, mimicking elements of old sea captain's houses built in the Federal style or playing with Victorian farmhouse details.
The average condo price in the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, area sold in the last half of 2003 was $236,000, while some waterfront condos ran more than $1 million. In the nearby beach town of Rye, New Hampshire, condos on or near the water range from $600,000 to $1 million. Single-family homes near the water in Rye can run $1 or $2 million. Ditto or even much higher for a house in charming Bellport, New York, out on Long Island. In the actual Hamptons, millions are the norm. Rhode Island's Block Island is also pretty pricey: Average single-family home price? $1.4 million. Maine offers the best property values for your money. There's still some undeveloped land, and property taxes are relatively low. On Little Cranberry Island, Maine, a house away from the ocean, but near enough, goes for $225,000, and a five-bedroom, historic home at the island's center goes for $385,000.
Your Next-door Neighbors:
The region draws people from all over the globe, including professionals, creative types, and fishermen. Smaller towns maintain a core of natives who might size up newcomers, but New Englanders prove warm, friendly, and open, even if they are practical and no-nonsense. Out on Long Island and on Martha's Vineyard, you'll rub elbows with celebrities, but if you become a resident, you'll soon stop staring. From artists and chefs who flock to islands and coastal hamlets to retirees living out their dreams, this region welcomes one and all.
How You'd Spend Your Free Time:
You might walk down to the water to catch a glimpse of the Hudson in New York, or roam a broad beach all by yourself in Rhode Island. Big cities bring big bands such as the Boston Pops or the bright lights of Broadway, but clamming in Rhode Island or New Hampshire asks a smaller ticket price. Highway 6 on the north part of Cape Cod offers endless antiquing, and some make a pastime of attending the yard sales out on Long Island. In Maine, trek over to a lobster dock to grab tonight's dinner. And in Newport, Rhode Island, you might attend a holiday ball at one of the historic mansions in town. In Connecticut, residents join local sailing clubs where members bring their own meat to grill while they cheer kids' sailing races.