Cape Cod, the Massachusetts peninsula an hour or so from Boston, juts into the Atlantic like a flexing arm. It offers quaint villages, seafood, shacks, lighthouses, gardens, filling with hydrangeas, ponds and bays, sandy Atlantic beaches and loads of fun things to do. Here’s my take on some favorites:
Falmouth, the quaint seaside village closest to the mainland, is the Cape’s primary gateway to the island of Martha’s Vineyard, seven miles off shore. Woods Hole’s Oceanic Institution there studies the ocean and all that it provides the world. Nobska lighthouse dates back to 1829. Shining Sea bikeway cuts through Falmouth, about 11 miles right by the Atlantic. Cape Cod was originally part of the mainland; in 1914, the canal cut through from Cape Cod Bay to Buzzards Bay.
Sandwich, the oldest town on Cape Cod, was settled in 1637. The town motto translates to: “After so many shipwrecks, a haven.” The Heritage Museum and Gardens are a must-stop and the town is famous for its pressed glassware, produced here in the 1800s.
In 1825, the Boston Sandwich Glass Company relocated to Cape Cod because the sand lends itself nicely to glass blowing. Especially interesting are live glassblowing sessions.
Hyannis is the economic hub of Cape Cod, made famous by the Kennedys who still have a compound there. Main Street includes restaurants, cafes, bars, and the JFK Museum.
The Pirate Museum houses the largest collection of pirate artifacts recovered from a single shipwreck anywhere in the world. That shipwreck happened in 1717, outside of Wellfleet. You can walk through a life-size replica.
The Hyannis area has pirate festivals and at Skull Island and Pirates Cove putt-putt, you can learn more about some of these famous pirates who navigated from the Caribbean up to New England while you play mini-golf.
The Cape has two sides: on the bay side, you’ll see most of the whales, including humpbacks. You can hop on Whale Watch tour in Hyannis, in the Barnstable area.
You’re out there for about 2 or more hours, with concessions on the boat, enjoying the sunshine and watching these massive, majestic animals swimming along the bay.
Ferries go out from Hyannis to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
In Dennis, right by the bay, The Harbor hotel, has a cafe outside a marina, a great place to get fresh oysters and lobster rolls. One of the best beaches on Cape Cod is Mayflower Beach, and when the tide goes out, you can sometimes walk out for two miles.
The Cape Cod Museum of Art has rotating exhibits that pay homage to, for example, the Wampanoag tribe, the original inhabitants of the peninsula, alongside contemporary art and sculpture. The Cape Playhouse, started in the 1920s, is a famous summer theater there.
Chatham is known for the Chatham House strolls over the holidays, and for its main street. One of the major restaurants is Chatham Squire, with license plates on the walls and live music; lots of fun.
Showings of the movie, Jaws, on the water, are also fun. You can visit the Chatham Lighthouse, roam Main Street, and take an excursion to Monomoy Island, on this ocean side of the peninsula.
The Cape Cod National Seashore starts in Chatham and stretches to the Cape’s northern end in Provincetown, with six swimming beaches, 40 miles of coastline, and lots of dunes. I remember taking a dune buggy ride around beach plums and beach grass and visiting little shacks on the dunes.
Provincetown has a party vibe: Commercial Street is lined with people, restaurants, cafes, bars, art galleries. It’s gay friendly and open-minded.
The Pilgrims originally landed right here, but it was too harsh for them, so they got back into their boats and crossed the bay over to Plymouth. At the top of the Pilgrim Monument here you can see all of Cape Cod, the ocean and the surrounding bay.
As for recreation, college baseball players come to the Cape before heading out to the majors and minors.. The games are free, and you grab a lunch, or a blanket and a picnic basket, and just go out and support the team.
Wellfleet, Chatham, Orleans, Brewster — most towns that you may be staying in will have their own baseball team — it’s part of a Cape Cod summer.
There’s also biking, kayaking, world-class golf with some excellent public courses. There’s even croquet, a lawn game reminiscent of the Gilded Age.
As for Cape Cod culinary delights, I think of fried clams, Wellfleet oysters, and lobster in all forms, including lobster ice cream at the Chocolate Emporium. It has a butter flavor with bits of lobster in it; really different.
Cape Cod potato chips are made in Hyannis; you can smell the potato chips in the air; and nearby is Cape Cod Brewing. You can go over to the Nauset light in Eastham, featured on the bag, and enjoy potato chips overlooking the lighthouse.
And wash the local food down with a local beer, Cape Codder cocktail, or a Cape Cod Mojito. The Cape is known for cranberry bogs, and fresh cranberries contribute to a delicious drink. As refreshing as the Cape itself.
(For more info on Cape Cod, as well as Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket islands, listen to Episode #62 of my award-winning travel podcast, Places I Remember with Lea Lane. Leon Bolivar, director of marketing for Ocean Edge Resort and Golf Club in Brewster, Cape Cod, shares his love of the area.)