Summer road trip itinerary: Seabrook to Portsmouth
Discover why New Hampshire’s 18-mile coastline is the place to be in the summer
Sand, sun, and everything else you need for the perfect summertime outing with the kids. Work your way up scenic Route 1A with our town-by-town guide to the New Hampshire seashore.
Route 1A hugs New Hampshire’s tiny sliver of coastline beginning from its southern starting point in Seabrook, a town mostly known for its two-mile stretch of beaches and for the Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant, New Hampshire's sole nuclear energy facility. Seabrook Station is a surprisingly fun (and free!) place to visit with kids. Stop by the Science & Nature Center for a variety of educational displays about energy and the environment, including a simulated elevator ride 260 feet below sea level to Seabrook Station's cooling tunnels. The center is also home to a marine touch tank and nature trail, featuring a mile-long boardwalk that winds throughout the plant’s woods and marshland area.
To hit the beach in Seabrook, access to the sandy stretch of Seabrook Dunes and Beach is just off Route 1A on Atlantic Avenue (look for the public access points). Time to eat? Get ready to answer one of New Hampshire's most enduring questions: Brown's or Markey's? Located directly across the street from each other off Route 1A on Route 286, both of these rival seafood restaurants have beautiful views, both claim to have the best lobster rolls and fried clams, and both are always bustling in summer. It doesn’t matter which one you pick — either one is a dining mainstay in these parts.
Another Seabrook institution found off Route 1A is Eastman's Deep Sea Fishing. Have your family grab their reels and hop on board a deep sea vessel for a morning or all-day run to one of the Gulf of Maine’s most productive fishing grounds, Jeffreys Ledge. Eastman’s also offers salt marsh kayaking rentals and whale watching tours for all ages. Discounted ticket prices are available for children 12 and under.
Crossing over the Hampton River heading north, Route 1A/Ocean Boulevard leads you straight into New Hampshire’s hottest summer hot spot: Hampton Beach. On your left, the Hampton Beach boardwalk area is wall-to-wall restaurants, souvenir shops, arcades, ice cream shops and hotels. Also located here is the famous Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, one of the area’s most popular live music venues, as well as the Casino Waterslide and a miniature golf course.
Look to your right and you’ll find sand, surf and more. Hampton Beach knows how to show beach-goers a good time with free evening concerts at the Seashell Stage almost every night of the week and free fireworks on select weekdays and weekends. For a listing of this summer’s headliner events, go to www.hamptonbeach.org.
One of Hampton Beach’s best freebies for families is the oversized public playground located right on the beach. (Look for it as Route 1A crosses G Street). It’s fenced in for safety, has a sandy bottom for soft landings and has plenty of fun equipment to keep kids busy. More free fun for families can be found at the Hampton Beach Children’s Festival, held this year from August 14 to 18. It’s a week filled with games and activities, and don’t miss the children’s parade on Friday, August 18. Everyone has fun – and all kids win a prize — at this giant costume parade.
As you move up the coast along Route 1A, the crowds thin out, revealing Hampton’s North Beach with its more low-key atmosphere. With fewer people flocking to the beach here, the open water has become a magnet for surfers. Don’t own a board? No problem. Right across the street from the beach entrance is Cinnamon Rainbows surf shop offering board rentals and surf boarding lessons all summer to kids as young as 11 years old.
North Hampton & Rye
As Route 1A sweeps into North Hampton and then Rye, stops include more beach time at North Hampton State Park, Jenness State Beach and Wallis Sands Beach, a family favorite with grassy picnic area, park store, lifeguards, deluxe bathhouse with hot and cold showers and a parking lot that can accommodate up to 500 cars.
Hungry? In North Hampton, stop by The Beach Plum, a favorite seafood shack and ice cream stand that’s a popular spot for local families and visitors alike. Look for it on the left just before reaching North Hampton State Park.
Is your beach day a washout? Head to Odiorne State Park on Route 1A in Rye to visit the Seacoast Science Center, a learning center filled with live aquatic exhibits, hands-on learning about the Gulf of Maine environment and a marine touch tank that will keep kids occupied for hours. On a sunny day, Odiorne is still a worthy visit to explore its rocky shoreline and walking trails that take you to old military bunkers that once served as a line of defense for potential submarine attacks during World War II.
Turning inland, Route 1A ends its seacoast sprint in Portsmouth. Situated along the shores of the Piscataqua River just before it meets the Atlantic, the Port City is a busy place in summer and for good reason. From festivals to outdoor theater to fun shopping and lots of restaurants to choose from, the pedestrian-friendly Market Square and South End areas provide plenty to do. Summertime highlights in Portsmouth include the Strawbery Banke’s Annual 4th of July Festival, live concerts and an outdoor theatrical production of Disney’s Little Mermaid at Prescott Park, shopping for toys and other treasures at Treehouse Toys and G. Willikers on Market Street, and finally, having a pancake or two or 10 at the Friendly Toast on Congress Street.