The center of this historic town, ten miles north of Boston, rests on the shores of a beautiful Great Pond.
Lake Quannapowitt, named for Quonopohit (1636-1712), sachem of the Naumkeag people, is the canvas for community events, from a world-class farmers’ market to outdoor movie shows.
Wakefield has historically had a large Italian-American community, manifested in a wide choice of Italian restaurants and pizza joints in the central Common District.
The town is also well-known for its colorful Fourth of July celebrations, which bring tens of thousands of people out for a century-old parade and a barnstorming fireworks show.
1. Lake Quannapowitt
Drained by the Saugus River, this 254-acre great pond is a defining part of the Wakefield townscape. Lake Quannapowitt is tied to the town center by the Lower Common, which is right on the water’s edge.
This is the site of the wood and granite bandstand, built in 1885 and still an important stage for outdoor performances in the summer.
On the southwestern shore is Veterans Field, which hosts Wakefield’s acclaimed summer farmers’ market. If you’re in the mood for a long walk, the paved perimeter loop around the shore is around 3.6 miles long.
You can also head onto the water for an hour at a time, with Wakefield Community Boating offering canoe and kayak rentals from spring to fall.
2. Common District
The civic heart of Wakefield was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, and has some striking architecture along Common St and Main St.
On the Upper Common check out the Town Hall, which dates back to the early 1870s and was actually a school building before taking on its present role in the 1920s.
To the south is the Lucius Beebe Memorial Library, built in a stately Georgian Revival style in 1923, matching the Post Office, which was a New Deal project in the 1930s.
Arguably the finest landmark in the district is the Italianate Flanley’s Block, built in the 1890s and converted into a branch for the International Order of Odd Fellows in 1918. Main Street stands out for its dining, offering everything from deli food to pub grub, pizza, Thai and BBQ.
Given Wakefield’s cultural makeup, Italian cuisine is dominant, and Massimo’s Ristorante (19 Centre St), Sabatino’s Restaurant (330 Main St) Artichokes (317 Main St), Caffe Italia (21 Water St) and Sonny Noto’s (49 Water St) are all within walking distance of each other.
3. Breakheart Reservation
Along Wakefield’s southeastern boundary is more than 650 acres of public recreation space, managed by the DCR.
On the upper Saugus River, the Breakheart Reservation covers an area of rocky hilltops giving way to Pearce Lake (composed of Lower and Upper Ponds), man-made in the 1890s.
The landscape is easy for families to discover as there’s a wide paved road looping around the reservation, accessible from Hemlock Rd in Wakefield and carrying you up to some of the hilltops for dramatic views of Boston and the wider region.
On the north shore of Pearce Lake there’s a beach and swimming area, open during the summer months.
4. Col. James Hartshorne House
Built as long ago as 1681, the historic Col. James Hartshorne House backs onto Lake Quannapowitt and is thought to be the oldest house in the town.
For a long time this building was known as the Lafayette House, because at the turn of the 19th century it served as an inn named for the famous general.
In 1929 the house was left unscathed by a fire that destroyed the small industrial buildings that were on the property, and was purchased by the town that year.
Wakefield still owns the Col. James Hartshorne House, and uses proceeds from weddings and other private events to fund the building’s ongoing preservation.
5. Wakefield Farmers’ Market
Well into its second decade now, Wakefield’s farmers’ market is the best for miles around, and has a lovely setting at Veterans Field on Lake Quannapowitt.
The market takes place on Saturday mornings, rain or shine, mid-June through October. Most weeks there are as many as 35 vendors, and there’s something new every time.
Of course you can get hold of plenty of seasonal produce from nearby farms, but there’s also fresh baked goods, artisanal candy, meats, seafood, jams, spices, sauces, houseplants, pet treats, and a big lineup of craft vendors, for everything from candles ethically sourced Mexican leather goods.
The prepared food and meal kits here are awesome, whether you’re up for crepes, empanadas, gyozas, Lebanese, authentic fresh pasta or handcrafted stews.
6. MarketStreet Lynnfield
Right on the town line to the east of Wakefield is a high-end outdoor shopping center, packed with a mix of national brands, restaurant chains and locally-owned boutiques.
MarketStreet Lynnfield is neatly laid out, with tree-lined sidewalks, lawns and flowerbeds. Seasonal events bring some extra bustle all year, and there’s a free skating rink here in the winter.
For a taste of the shopping selection, there’s an Apple store, Sephora, Gap, Banana Republic, Pottery Barn, Eddie Bauer, Lush Cosmetics, J. Crew and Francesco’s, to name a handful.
For dining, you can choose from Chipotle, Sweetgreen, Yard House, Wahlburgers, Panera and Legal C Bar, among others.
7. IMAX 3D Theater at Jordan’s Furniture Reading
The Crossing at Walkers Brook shopping center, on the I-95 by Lake Quannapowitt, is home to a branch of Jordan’s Furniture that installed an enormous IMAX theater in 2004.
This has been updated since then with a dual 4K laser projection system, and can seat 500 people. The screen here is a whopping 80 feet by 60 feet, and is complemented by a 12,000 watt sound system, and immersive “butt-kickers” in every one of its “Tempur-Pedic” seats.
So if there’s a Hollywood blockbuster that you want to check out, there’s no better way to experience it than that at this theater.
8. Wakefield History Museum
An enthralling piece of local heritage in Wakefield is the West Ward School, built in the Greek Revival style in 1847.
This two-story building served its original purpose until as recently as 1998, when it was forced to close after the second floor ceiling started to show signs of giving way.
The Wakefield Historical Society took over and restored the building, reopening it as a museum in 2010.
This is a repository for the society’s collection of artifacts, but also has intriguing clues about what came before, with original blackboards, paneling and paint schemes. Consult the society’s website for details of opening times and events.
9. Billy’s Famous Roast Beef
Tender slices of roast beef piled onto toasted onion rolls have been a North Shore specialty since just after WWII. In Wakefield’s southern Greenwood section there’s a star of the scene that has been in business for more than 30 years.
Of course the essential thing to order is the super beef plate, and this comes with a signature sauce and a mountain of fries and onion rings.
Roast beef is just one item on a huge menu, which includes plenty of regional seafood favorites like clam strip, haddock and lobster rolls (in season).
10. North Ave. Diner
Right next to Wakefield Station there’s a cozy little nook for comfort foods. North Ave. Diner may be small, but packs a huge breakfast menu, filled with omelets, egg combos (with toast and hand-cut home fries), french toast, Belgian waffles, pancakes and breakfast burritos.
On weekends there’s an expanded menu of specials, and this applies to the eggs benedicts, which are only available at this time and include Florentine, Irish benedict and crab cake variations.
The menu is equally large for lunch and dinner, running the gamut from steak tips to roast beef sandwiches, lobster rolls, baked haddock, pasta dishes, salads, gyros and subs.
11. BeanStalk Adventure Ropes Course
Another of the attractions at Jordan’s Furniture is this cavernous indoor ropes center, with challenges for both children and grownups.
People over 48” (or 42” with an adult participant) can take on the main BeanStalk Ropes Course, set on two levels and loaded with rope ladders, zig-zag beams, criss-cross walks, spaghetti hand lines and a zip rail.
The course has been designed with multiple routes so you can choose your own path. Smaller children can tackle the BeanSprout Ropes Course, with platforms less than three feet from the ground, and with a variety of obstacles to help children develop their confidence and sense of coordination.
12. Kings Dining & Entertainment
Part of a chain with almost a dozen locations, this spot at Market Street Lynnfield is best described as a family fun center, but for adults.
The centerpiece at Kings Dining & Entertainment is a sleek 12-lane bowling alley, combined with billiards and an arcade with retro games.
Sunday to Thursday there are some great specials, including a fixed price for all-you-can play bowling, arcade and billiards.
For food, there’s a big choice of shareable platters, as well as burgers, salads, wings, tacos, pizzas and sandwiches. You’ve got local craft beer on tap, along with a big choice of fancy cocktails.
13. Fourth of July Parade
Wakefield has earned a reputation for a rich program of festivities to celebrate Independence Day.
The biggest of these is the ceremonious 4th of July Parade, which first took place in 1922, and is seen as a rite of passage for many long-term Wakefield residents, attracting close to 80,000 people each year.
Typically, this kicks off at 5 pm, making its way along Main Street from Lakeside Office Park to Galvin Middle School.
Earlier in the day you’ve got a pet show, fishing derby, a canoe and kayak race, and quirky parades for doll carriages, bicycles, scooters and more. Into the evening there’s live music on the Lower Common, followed by a magical fireworks show.
14. Fridays at the Bandstand
In an annual tradition that goes back more than two decades, the Wakefield Summer Band performs a series of concerts at the bandstand on the Lower Common.
As the name suggests, these shows take place on Friday evenings, in July and August. The band’s repertoire is wide-ranging and includes classical favorites, movie soundtracks, rock & pop hits from the last 60 years, and Sousa marches.
In case of rain, the concert is moved into the First Parish Congregational Church, just next to the common.
15. Movies by the Lake
The bandstand at Lake Quannapowitt is the venue for a season of outdoor movie screenings, taking place after sunset in July and August.
Usually held on Thursday evenings, Movies by the Lake is a family-friendly event sponsored by a number of local businesses and organizations.
In the build-up to the show there are normally activities for children to take part in, often related to the movie that night. Included on the bill are recent animated movies, or classics from parents’ childhoods.