I would wait until you have a little more experience and some funds for some upgrades.
FishSticks gave some good locations and I'll add some more:
- Isle of Shoals - at the border between Maine and NH. Would be a good location for some local cruising or stop off on the way north into Maine
- Salem - Great harbor with some cools things to walk around and see. Great restaurants and bars. Easy day sail.
- Cutty Hunk - Go through the canal for the first trip or on the way there. Then around from P-Town, the Vineyard and/or Nantucket
- Block Island - This would again expose you to some good currents and you could go out and around the Cape if you wanted to get some experience with open water
As to the equipment, the EPIRB is a personal choice. You could be in range of the coast guard for that trip and if you had a newer VHF with DSC then I would feel ok with out it. Make sure you file a float plan with a friend or relative.
But the life raft or dingy, this would be a must for me. If money is short, look on craig's list for a roll up inflatable. I have seen a lot of them for cheap that look to have very little use. Usually the person wants to upgrade to a hard bottom. If you had that inflated and strapped down to the bow that would be good.
You might also want to look into joining a local cruising association. CANE
is pretty active and cheap to join (I just joined at the boat show for $20 for the year). You do not have to own a Catalina to join. They plan trips where you can get experience and have someone close by in case you need help. This year they have a shake down to P-Town from the Boston area and then a 10 day around the Cape.
Good luck and I hope to see you out there this summer. What marina/YC do you sail out of?