Summer in Gloucester’s Harbortown Cultural District

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Summertime is Gloucester’s high season.

The city comes alive with nightly live music, bustling shops and galleries, while fabulous restaurants present an embarrassment of riches for diners.

On specially designated nights, Main Street is closed to traffic and the entire town becomes one giant block party. Restaurants open onto the street, merchant booths appear, shops have special offerings, and there are street performers and family-friendly activities at every corner.

In August, the tall ships arrive from around the world to participate in Gloucester’s Schooner Festival. To welcome them, “Le Beauport,” Gloucester’s beautiful working harbor, becomes the backdrop for the races and parades of these magnificent traditional fishing vessels designed during the age of sail.

Schooner and Tall Ships

Photo: Schooner Fame and Tall Ships in Gloucester

The afternoon lobster bake, nighttime nautical Parade of Lights, and fireworks that brilliantly illuminate the harbor are just a few of the fun family-friendly activities that take place during the three-day long Schooner Festival.

During the festivities, don’t miss the opportunity to take a sunset tour of Gloucester Harbor aboard one of the exquisite schooners built by the living legendary ship builder and National Heritage fellow Harold Burnham; you can travel the harbor on either the 65-foot Thomas E. Lannon with Captain Tom Ellis or the Pinky Schooner, which is operated out of Maritime Gloucester.

Gloucester Harbor

Photo: Gloucester Harbor by Kindra Clineff

Although the Schooner Festival is always a good time, my personal favorite event of the summer is the annual St. Peter’s Fiesta, because of its deeply religious aspect of honoring St. Peter, the patron saint of fishermen, and the jubilant festivities that take place throughout the city during the five-day celebration.

The Italian-American section of town is decorated with colored lights, streamers, flags, and buntings in traditional red, white, and green. Brightly illuminated archways adorn the streets, a large bandstand and stunning altar are erected, and a life-size statue of St. Peter is festooned with thousands of flowers.

St Peter's Fiesta Statue

Photo: St. Peter’s Fiesta Statue

Sporting events take place daily, the most famous of all being the Greasy Pole, where adventurous young men try to run the length of a greased pole with high hopes of capturing the flag. Each afternoon, only one will achieve the honor, with Sunday’s Greasy Pole walk the most competitive of all. Did I mention that the pole lives on a platform in the harbor’s midst and that the only way off is a deep dive into frigid waters?

On Sunday, the final day of the Fiesta, an open-air Mass is held on St. Peter’s Square, and after the Mass, the statue of St. Peter is processed though the streets on the shoulders of eight fishermen.

St. Peter's celebrations

Photo: St. Peter’s Fiesta celebrations in Gloucester

No matter what time of year you are planning to visit Gloucester, her untold beauty, thriving cultural arts community, and warm-hearted people will welcome you upon your arrival and leave you with a suitcase full of memories to cherish.

This is Part II of Kim Smith’s two-part series on the Gloucester Harbortown Cultural District. To read Part I, just click here.

Kim Smith is a designer, lecturer, author, photo/journalist, documentary filmmaker. Visit her website for more information about design projects and current films: kimsmithdesigns.com. Kim is also a daily contributor to the stellar community blog Good Morning Gloucester and is the author/illustrator of “Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester Garden” (David R. Godine, Publisher). You can follow her on Twitter at @kimsmithdesigns