18 Best Sights in The Seacoast, New Hampshire

Bedrock Gardens

Fodor's choice

It's easy to lose yourself for a couple of hours, or longer if you pack a picnic lunch, as you wander along the peaceful trails and through the astoundingly gorgeous flower beds of this 30-acre former farm that's now a thriving public garden dotted with hundreds of sculptures and art installations. Features range from formal parterre and spiral gardens to more whimsical and impressionistic plantings. 

Fuller Gardens

Fodor's choice

Arthur Shurtleff, a noted landscape architect from Boston, designed this late-1920s estate garden in the Colonial Revival style. In a gracious seaside residential neighborhood a couple of miles south of Jenness Beach, this peaceful little botanical gem encompasses 1,700 rosebushes, hosta and Japanese gardens, and a tropical conservatory.

Moffatt-Ladd House and Garden

Fodor's choice

The period interior of this striking 1763 mansion tells the story of Portsmouth's merchant class through portraits, letters, and furnishings. The Colonial Revival garden includes a horse chestnut tree planted by General William Whipple when he returned home after signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Recommended Fodor's Video

Odiorne Point State Park

Fodor's choice

These 135 acres of protected seaside land are where David Thompson established New Hampshire's first permanent English settlement. Several signed nature trails provide vistas of the nearby Isles of Shoals and interpret the park's military history. The rocky shore's tidal pools shelter crabs, periwinkles, and sea anemones. The park's Seacoast Science Center hosts exhibits on the area's natural history. Its tidal-pool touch tank and 1,000-gallon Gulf of Maine deepwater aquarium are popular with kids.

Strawbery Banke Museum

Fodor's choice

The first English settlers named what's now Portsmouth for the wild strawberries along the shores of the Piscataqua River. The name survives in this 10-acre outdoor history museum, which comprises 37 homes and other structures dating from 1695 to 1954, some restored and furnished to a particular period, others with historical exhibits. Half of the interior of the Shapley-Drisco House depicts its use as a Colonial dry-goods store, but its living room and kitchen are decorated as they were in the 1950s, showing how buildings were adapted over time. The Shapiro House has been restored to reflect the life of the Russian-Jewish immigrant family who lived there in the early 1900s. Done in decadent Victorian style, the 1860 Goodwin Mansion is one of the more opulent buildings. Although the houses are closed in winter, the grounds are open year-round, and an outdoor skating rink operates December–early March.

Wallis Sands State Beach

Fodor's choice

This family-friendly swimmers' beach has bright white sand, a picnic area, a store, and beautiful views of the Isles of Shoals. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (fee); showers; toilets. Best for: swimming; walking.

Woodman Museum

Fodor's choice

This campus of four impressive, historic museums consists of the 1675 Damm Garrison House, the 1813 Hale House (home to abolitionist Senator John P. Hale from 1840 to 1873), the 1818 Woodman House, and the 1825 Keefe House, which contains the excellent Thom Hindle Gallery. Exhibits focus on Early American cooking utensils, clothing, furniture, and Native American artifacts, as well as natural history and New Hampshire's involvement in the Civil War.

Albacore Park

Built in Portsmouth in 1953, the USS Albacore is the centerpiece of Albacore Park. You can board this prototype submarine, which served as a floating laboratory to test an innovative hull design, dive brakes, and sonar systems for the Navy. The visitor center exhibits Albacore artifacts, and the nearby Memorial Garden is dedicated to those who have lost their lives in submarine service.

American Independence Museum

Guided tours of this museum that celebrates the nation's birth focus on the family who lived here during the Revolutionary War. Among 3,000 artifacts, see drafts of the U.S. Constitution and the first Purple Heart, as well as letters and documents written by George Washington and the household furnishings of John Taylor Gilman, one of New Hampshire's early governors. In July, the museum hosts the two-week American Independence Festival, and occasional architectural tours are offered, too.

Children's Museum of New Hampshire

The state’s best and largest museum for kiddos is set inside a LEED-certified 1920s armory with big windows overlooking downtown Dover's Cocheco River. In this bright and colorful space, well-designed interactive exhibits on submarines, river ecosystems, dinosaurs, and music are geared to kids up to around age 12, and storytelling sessions are offered regularly.

Great Bay Estuarine National Research Reserve

Just inland from Portsmouth is one of southeastern New Hampshire's most precious assets. In this 10,235 acres of open and tidal waters, you can spot blue herons, ospreys, and snowy egrets, particularly during the spring and fall migrations. The Great Bay Discovery Center has indoor and outdoor exhibits, a library and bookshop, and a 1,700-foot boardwalk, as well as other trails, which wind through mudflats and upland forest.

Isles of Shoals

Four of the nine small, rocky Isles of Shoals belong to New Hampshire (the other five belong to Maine), many of them still known by the earthy names—Hog and Smuttynose, to cite but two—17th-century fishermen bestowed on them. A history of piracy, murder, and ghosts suffuses the archipelago, long populated by an independent lot who, according to one writer, hadn't the sense to winter on the mainland. Celia Thaxter, a native islander, romanticized these islands with her poetry in Among the Isles of Shoals (1873). In the late 19th century, Appledore Island became an offshore retreat for Thaxter's coterie of writers, musicians, and artists. Star Island contains a small museum, the Rutledge Marine Lab, with interactive family exhibits. From May to early October you can take a narrated history cruise of the Isles of Shoals and walking tours of Star Island with Isles of Shoals Steamship Company.

315 Market St., Portsmouth, NH, 03801, USA
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Cruises from $41, No cruises mid-Oct.–Apr.

Jenness State Beach

Good for swimming and sunbathing, this long, sandy beach is a favorite among locals who enjoy its light crowds and nice waves for bodysurfing. Wide and shallow, Jenness Beach is a great place for kids to run and build sand castles. Amenities: lifeguards; parking (fee); showers; toilets. Best for: surfing; swimming; walking.

2280 Ocean Blvd., Rye, NH, 03870, USA
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Parking $2/hr Apr.–Sept., $1/hr Oct.

John Paul Jones House

Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones lived at this boardinghouse while he supervised construction of the USS America for the Continental Navy. The 1758 hip-roof building displays furniture, costumes, glass, guns, portraits, and documents from the late 18th century. The collection's specialty is textiles, among them some extraordinary early-19th-century embroidery samplers.

Museum of New Art (MONA)

Set in the same handsomely restored 1905 YMCA building in downtown Portsmouth that also houses acclaimed Jimmy's Jazz & Blues Club, this 6,800-square-foot contemporary art museum opened in 2021. A non-collecting institution, MONA hosts three exhibits each year, with the focus on emerging artists and often large-scale, site-specific works. 

135 Congress St., Portsmouth, NH, 03801, USA
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $10 suggested donation, Closed Mon.

Phillips Exeter Academy

The grounds of this elite 1,100-student prep school, open to the public, resemble an Ivy League university campus. The school's library is one of the masterworks of modernist architect Louis I. Kahn. The Lamont Gallery, in the Frederick R. Mayer Art Center, mounts free contemporary art exhibitions.

Prescott Park

Picnicking is popular at this 3½-acre waterfront park near Strawbery Banke, whose spectacular garden with fountains is perfect for whiling away an afternoon. The park contains Point of Graves, Portsmouth's oldest burial ground, and two 17th-century warehouses. The summerlong Prescott Park Arts Festival features concerts, outdoor movies, and food-related events.

Warner House

The highlight of this circa-1716 gem is the curious folk-art murals lining the hall staircase, which may be the oldest-known murals in the United States still gracing their original structure. The house, a notable example of brick Georgian architecture, contains original art, furnishings, and extraordinary examples of area craftsmanship. The west-wall lightning rod is believed to have been installed in 1762 under the supervision of Benjamin Franklin.

150 Daniel St., Portsmouth, NH, 03802, USA
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $10, Closed mid-Oct.–late May and Mon.–Wed.