Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams, arguably one of the best-known photographers of the 20th century, used the zone system (co-developed with Fred Archer) for his snow shots. While photography has changed as dramatically as his stark landscape photographs, the principles can transfer to today's more widely used digital photography.

"Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire inside's delightful. We've simply no place to go, so let it snow let it snow let it snow…" -Let It Snow by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, 1945

From fluffy flurries to "thunder snow," no one in New England can deny that our winters tend to pack a punch. But there is an upside to all that precipitation in the form of small white ice crystals formed directly from the water vapor of the air at a temperature of less than 32°F—the white blankets that cover hills, dales, and the shoreline can make for some stunningly picturesque photographs.

This winter, when you've had enough of sitting by the fire, or run out of chestnuts to roast, here are some coastal activities to consider. (Please use common sense and err on the side of caution when visiting the coast in the winter. Roads and pathways can be slippery and storm waves can be dangerous and unpredictable. Never venture too close to the shoreline, seawalls, or other areas with crashing waves—large waves can hit without warning.)

Places to Go - Photos, Fresh Air, Sightseeing

The seashore has a very different look when snow drifts replace sand pails. Check out these resources to find places to go to see the winter sights:

Fort Sewall
Fort Sewall, Marblehead

  • Coast Guide - For a Google Earth online mapping tool that covers the entire Massachusetts coastline and maps and descriptions of beaches and other public access points from Salisbury to Hull, see this Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) web page.
  • Mass Great Outdoors Blog - The Commonwealth of Massachusetts regularly posts blogs that include winter outdoor activities like oceanside campfires and winter birding.
  • Walk to the Sea - For a non-beach walk in Boston that still ends up along the Atlantic, see this aptly named website that guides you on a historic walking tour that lands you on Long Wharf.
  • Places to Go: DCR Parks in Massachusetts - This Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) web page has a complete list of public parks with coastal views, as well as suggestions for coastal and non-coastal outdoor activities.
  • The Trustees of Reservations - From Norton Point Beach on Martha's Vineyard, with its winter bird residents (Snowy Owls, mergansers, and bufflehead ducks), to the stately coastal views as seen from atop the hill of the Crane Estate on the North Shore, there are many Trustees reservations to visit. (For date-specific winter events, see the "things to do" section of their website.)

Bird Watching

Winter Snow Bunting
Winter Snow Bunting sighting and a dramatic view—double score!

As avid avian enthusiasts already know, there are bird species such as the Snowy Owl and the Snow Bunting that can typically only be seen in Massachusetts during the colder months. Bird watching beginners, and those who want to get an idea of the seasonal varieties and what they can hope to see bird-wise during the winter, can learn a lot from the daily bird, a blog focused on New England that features a bird of the day, along with tips on where to spot them.

Coastal-Related Indoor Activities

And after your outdoor adventures (or when it is just too cold to go outside), there are many coastal-themed indoor places to visit in Massachusetts.

  • Lowell's Boat Shop Museum - This working museum in Amesbury showcases handmade dories and gives a history of boat making in the Merrimack valley. Open in the winter by appointment, or check their event's calendar.
  • Museum of Science - Among the many ocean-related exhibits offered at this Boston museum, check out salty beaches and ocean cliffs in the climate-controlled comfort of their New England Habitats classic dioramas.
  • New Bedford Whaling Park and Museum - This south coastal destination offers indoor and outdoor opportunities to explore the history of whaling.
  • New England Aquarium - See seals, little (sometimes kissing) blue penguins, sand tigers, a 550-pound green sea turtle, and their water-bound friends and foes!
  • Phillips House - Originally built by Captain Nathaniel West, who made his living navigating the sea, this 5th-generation family home in Salem showcases items he brought back from sea travels.
  • Titanic Museum - Everything you ever wanted to know about the Titanic and then some can be found at this museum in Indian Orchard.

Photos: Ansel Adams - Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 79-AAE-4, all others - Betsy Rickards