About ten miles north of downtown Boston, Saugus is a town famous for being the site of the first integrated ironworks in North America.
Dating back to 1646, the Saugus Iron Works produced more than a ton of iron a day at its height, and after being rediscovered in the 1940s is a compelling National Historic Site.
The Saugus River meanders through the town, from the hilly northern end at the 600-acre Breakheart Reservation to its estuary in the Rumney Marsh, an important salt marsh ecosystem.
You don’t have to travel far for a day by the ocean, with Revere Beach and Lynn Beach a few minutes away, and the Northern Strand Community Trail is an easy way for pedestrians and bicyclists to get to the shore.
1. Saugus Iron Works
A National Historic Site, this riverside plot in Saugus is seen as the birthplace of the American iron and steel industry.
The Saugus Iron Works were established by one John Winthrop the Younger (1606-1676), and operated from the mid-1640s until the 1670s.
Weapons, tools, nails, horseshoes and cookware were all manufactured here, and after being lost to time, the site was rediscovered by an archeological dig in 1948, unearthing the foundations of several buildings, and discovering more than 5,000 artifacts.
The National Historic Site now consists of a series of reconstructed buildings, powered by seven giant waterwheels and visitable on an enlightening self-guided tour. An original building here is the grand Appleton-Taylor-Mansfield House, raised around the late 1680s.
2. Breakheart Reservation
On the Saugus River in the north of the town there’s 600 acres of rugged hardwood forest around two large lakes, all maintained by the Department Conservation and Recreation.
The riverside in the Breakheart Reservation is the site of a rival ironworks, established in the 1660s but closing soon after, replaced by a long succession of mills up to 1902.
The reservation has long inner and outer loops through the woods, and you can climb the hills for majestic vistas of Boston and north into New Hampshire.
A map is available from the visitor center by the entrance. Pearce Lake (Lower Pond) has a beach and supervised swimming area, with lifeguards on duty up to Labor Day.
3. Northern Strand Community Trail (Bike to the Sea Trail)
Saugus caters to pedestrians and cyclists with this 11.5-mile trail, bending through the town, around the lower reaches of the Saugus River.
Running all the way from Everett to Nahant, the Northern Strand Community Trail is mostly on the railbed of the former Saugus Branch Railroad (1853) of the Boston & Maine Railroad.
There are local parking lots for the trail at Essex St, Central St and Chestnut St, and you can take in some scenic views of the river marshes.
The trail is especially convenient if you want a day by the shore, with Lynn Beach and Nahant Beach just a few minutes away.
4. Boardman House
Aside from running repairs, this historic house in Saugus is unchanged since the beginning of the 18th century. The Boardman House was built in 1692, and remained in the same family until as late as 1911.
There’s an astonishing amount of original wooden elements and fittings, in the imposing chamfered timber framing, the oak clapboards, roofboards, skirt boards and more, so it’s easy to imagine what domestic life might have been like here more than 300 years ago.
The house has belonged to Historic New England since 1911, and opens to the public on second Saturdays and third Thursdays, June through October.
5. Revere Beach
Saugus is moments from a three-mile stretch of sandy shoreline, which in 1896 became the first public beach in the United States.
Revere Beach has been a summer day out for more than 170 years, and was reachable by public transport as early as 1875.
Now it’s especially convenient with two T-Stops on the Blue Line. Revere Beach is known for the New England Sand Sculpting Festival, a free event taking place every July, bringing an estimated one million people to the shore.
For three days, master sand sculptors from all over the world turn the beach into a one-of-a-kind gallery, but there’s also live entertainment, great food and fireworks.
6. Kane’s Donuts
This award-winning mini-chain has only three locations, two of which can be found in Saugus. The original location for Kane’s Donuts is 120 Lincoln Ave, a mom-and-pop bakery founded in 1955 that soon became a local staple.
The store was taken over by a restaurant-owning couple, Peter and Kay Delios in the 1980s, and the three locations are now owned by their children.
The branch on Lincoln Ave is the kitchen for Kane’s long line of gluten-free donuts (more than 10), and these are available alongside more than 40 traditional donut varieties, from cookies & cream to crème brûlée.
7. Lynn Woods Reservation
On the shore of Walden Pond, a small patch of this 2,200-acre forest park spills over into the northeastern part of Saugus.
The Lynn Woods Reservation is the second-largest municipal park in the country, taking up almost one fifth of the neighboring city of Lynn.
Founded in 1881, the reservation encompasses three active reservoirs in rolling wooded hills, threaded with more than 30 miles of scenic trails for hiking, horseback riding, running, mountain biking and cross-country skiing.
Take a moment to explore Dungeon Rock, a subterranean tunnel used by 17th-century pirates, as well as more formal spaces like the Houghton Horticultural Garden and The Rose Garden.
8. Rumney Marsh Reservation
On the estuary of the Saugus River there’s a vital salt marsh, serving as a nursery for numerous fish and shellfish species, and a resting place for migratory birds.
Around 600 acres of the estuary is protected as the Rumney Marsh Reservation, and you can discover this delicate environment on a trail that runs north to south from the parking lot on Ballard St.
This is roughly 2.5 miles, out and back, and gives you plenty of opportunities for birdwatching, paired with clear lines of sight to the Boston skyline.
9. Iron Town Diner
For decades this neighborhood joint at the Village Park Shopping Center has been a beloved port of call for hearty breakfasts and satisfying lunches.
Iron Town Diner has an enormous menu, covering pancakes, waffles, French toast, hash, benedicts, omelettes, breakfast sandwiches, and then a big choice of salads, sandwiches and wraps at lunch.
An indulgent specialty early in the day is the Cinnabon French Toast, topped with a frosting glaze, powdered sugar and cinnamon. Something that sets this place apart, is how many of the items are homemade, including the English muffins, sourdough and home fries.
10. Prankers Pond
Now a remote place for walks and fishing, this pond on the Saugus River has a long industrial history.
Prankers Pond was first impounded around 1770, and was the site of several different mills until the namesake textile manufacturer, Edward Pranker (1772-1865) took over in 1838.
His flannel and bedsheet manufacturing business was a big success, to the point where he needed to build a second mill here by 1846. The business collapsed after the Panic of 1907, and now Prankers Pond is a little oasis between Route 1 and Central St.
A trail curls past the shore from Lake Cir to Cliff Rd, and there are benches and picnic tables by the water. In terms of fishing, yellow perch, bluegill and largemouth bass are a few of the species regularly caught in these waters.
11. MarketStreet Lynnfield
Next door in Lynnfield along I-95 there’s a mixed-use development that opened in 2013 and has become an upscale shopping hub for the North Shore.
Laid out on walkable streets, with trees, flowerbeds, lawns, a summer splash pad and a winter ice rink, Market Street Lynnfield has more than 80 shops and services.
A few of the retailers are Apple, Pottery Barn, Sephora, Nike, Banana Republic, LOFT, Gap, J. Crew, American Eagle and Levi’s.
There’s a branch of Whole Foods here, as well as a big helping of restaurant chains, from Sweetgreen to Wahlburgers, Panera Bread, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse.
12. Cedar Glen Golf Course
Set within the Breakheart Reservation, this 9-hole course is on the north side along Water St. Cedar Glen Golf Course was founded as long ago as 1928, and stands out as the closest 9-holer to Boston on the North Shore.
This track has a reputation for its devilish third hole, billed as the toughest par 3 in New England.
The course is a par 33, with a single par 5, six par 4s and two par 3s, all embedded in deep woods on gently undulating terrain. Post-round you can unwind on the awning-shaded patio, which has a perfect view of the first fairway.
13. Square One Mall
Saugus has a convenient shopping hotspot of its own, at this enclosed mall that opened in 1994.
Owned by the Simon Property Group, Square One Mall offers a mix of local shops and services, along with a long list of national and international retailers.
A few of the many familiar brands are Foot Locker, Hollister, Lids, Macy’s, Forever 21, T.J. Maxx, Victoria’s Secret, Torrid, GameStop, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Aeropostale.
The food court is on the upper level, and has a Dunkin’, a Taco Bell and a few other spots for pizza, Thai, Japanese, fried chicken and Cuban food.
14. Town Line Luxury Lanes
True to its name, this up-to-date bowling alley near Square One Mall is at a nexus between several communities, including Saugus.
Town Line Lanes is a gigantic facility with 48 bowling lanes equipped with plush seating, state-of-the-art scoring, a new sound system and an innovative bumper system that allows beginners and experts to play together.
On weekends Atomic Bowling adds a new dimension of fun, with blacklight, neon and music. There’s a number of other attractions here, including a billiards room with 15 pool tables, a game room with 50 machines, a sports bar, and a nightclub.
15. Mount Hood Municipal Golf Course
On the town line with Melrose there’s an 18-hole golf course hiding in 300 acres of hilly parkland. The course dates back to 1936 and features big elevation changes, wide fairways and relatively small greens.
Thanks to the lush hardwood forest all around it’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of a large metropolitan area.
Almost half of the tees are elevated, and endowed with dramatic views from the Boston skyline to New Hampshire. There are two practice greens if you want to brush up on your short game, while the course has beverage service and a fully-stocked pro shop.