Cape Cod

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Martha’s Vineyard
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Introduction to Cape Cod
Famous for its rolling sand dunes, pristine beaches, quaint New England villages, and historic lighthouses (not to mention fresh lobsters, clams, and oysters), Cape Cod is a hook-shaped peninsula that juts approximately 70 miles into the Atlantic Ocean from the New England state of Massachusetts. The pilgrims first landed on the tip of Cape Cod in 1620 before deciding to settle across the bay in Plymouth. Its oldest town, Sandwich, was incorporated in 1639. Linked to the mainland by the Bourne and Sagamore bridges, “The Cape” technically became an island when the Cape Cod Canal separated the Peninsula from the mainland. Made up of fifteen towns, it is roughly divided into the three sections: Upper Cape (closest to main land), Mid Cape, and Lower (or Outer) Cape. Much of the Lower Cape is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, which protects the natural beauty of the miles of beaches, dunes, marshes, and ponds.

When to Go to Cape Cod
Although many plan to visit in the summer months, Cape Cod is much more than a summer vacation destination. For those searching for relaxing days of swimming, sunbathing, sand castles, and ice cream cones, summer is indeed a wonderful (and the most popular) time visit. Many, however, prefer the slower pace and cooler weather of spring and fall to explore the Cape’s plentiful hiking and bike trails, art galleries, shops, and museums, and to take long walks on un-crowded beaches. Some even prefer to visit in the winter when the stark beauty of the wind swept beaches makes a nice compliment to the cozy fire back at the inn or bed and breakfast (not to mention the off-season bargains that can be found for lodging and meals).

How to Get Around Cape Cod
There are many ways of traveling to and around Cape Cod (without being caught up in the Cape’s notorious summer traffic and daunting traffic rotaries). The closest airports serviced by major airlines are Boston’s Logan Airport and T.F. Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island. Both are approximately 75 miles from the Cape. Connecting flights on the regional airline Cape Air can take you from Boston or Providence directly to the Cape Cod towns of Barnstable (HYA Hyannis) or Provincetown (PVD) as well as the nearby islands of Martha's Vineyard (MVY) and Nantucket (ACK). Ferry service to the Cape is also available from Boston and some smaller cities in the area. Once on the Cape, you can either rent a car to get around, or preferably, take advantage of the many local bus lines, or rent a bicycle to cruise around the many bike trails to popular beaches and in-town destinations.

Where to Stay on Cape Cod
Whether you are looking for a family friendly beach resort, a romantic bed and breakfast, a spa, an economy motel, or a vacation cottage rental near a beach, there is no shortage of choices for accommodations in Cape Cod. Generally, cheap lodging can be found closer to the mainland in the towns of the Upper Cape (Bourne, Falmouth, Mashpee, Sandwich). The Mid-Cape (Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis) is a hub of activity, particularly the village of Hyannis in Barnstable, which is serviced by a small airport, ferries to nearby Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, and where restaurants, shopping, and accommodations abound, from high-end resorts and inns to budget motels. As much of the Lower Cape (Brewster, Chatham, Harwich, Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, Provincetown) is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, this section of the peninsula is the least developed section of the Cape (the Lower Cape towns of Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown are also referred to as the Outer Cape as they are located on the most outer section of the peninsula). As such, the prices for accommodations in this area tend to be higher, but you’ll be closer to the kind of scenery that the Cape is known for, not to mention the most stunning beaches.

Things to Do on Cape Cod
If looking for things to do beyond the beaches, the Cape has charms and activities for every season. An historic arts colony, the Cape boasts a thriving arts scene complete with galleries, museums, concerts, opera, and live theater. Those who like to get close to nature will enjoy whale watching tours, cycling on the many dedicated bike trails, or hiking through picturesque salt marshes and wildlife sanctuaries. If you are looking for a more sophisticated vacation, try wine tasting at local vineyards and wineries, shopping at the local boutiques, or relaxing at one of the Cape’s many spas. For sportsmen, try fresh water, pier fishing, and deep-sea fishing, or enjoy a round at one of the many golf courses. For those who prefer to get on the water instead of in it, there are site-seeing cruises, ferry rides to neighboring islands, kayak, canoe, and boat rentals, and sailing classes as well as parasailing, windsurfing and sail boarding. If you want to get a true taste of the local culture, be sure to keep an eye out for the many local fairs and festivals that take place in the spring, summer, and fall. And there’s no reason for kids to be bored if they try the water parks, miniature golf, horseback riding, and a drive-in movie theater.

About Cape Cod Restaurants
As the Cape is surrounded on most sides by water, and as most of the towns and villages have their local fishing boats bringing their fresh catch in each day, seafood is the main event at restaurants on Cape Cod. Whether you fancy steamed clams (steamers), a fried clam roll, or lobster salad roll at the many seasonal seafood shacks, or an evening of champagne, oysters, and lobster at one of the Cape’s upscale restaurants, you won’t be disappointed. Catering to an international clientele, you can find eating establishments that will impress hard-to-please foodies, or family friendly beach restaurants serving fries on frisbies. If you don’t care for seafood, not to worry. You can easily find restaurants serving cuisine from Italy, France, Japan, China, Thailand, and, of course, burgers and steaks. No matter what you are looking for, you’ll find it at one of the many restaurants on the Cape…but be prepared for a wait in the summer as many don’t take reservations.

Towns of the “Outer” Lower Cape
The outer reaches of the Lower Cape, also known as the Outer Cape is comprised of the towns of Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown. Provincetown, at the very tip of the cape, is not only known as an historic arts colony, but also boasts a lively nightlife during the summer months, largely due to its being a popular gay vacation destination. If you are looking for more low-key accommodations in the Outer Cape, you might try Truro, the least populated and smallest town on the Cape, or neighboring Wellfleet, known for its quaint village, harbor, and, of course, the famous Wellfleet oysters. Eastham, a small resort community with an agricultural past, also has many charms. Large portions of preserved land and miles of pristine beaches in each of these towns are part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, giving this region its stunning natural beauty.

Other Towns of the Lower Cape
The other towns of the Lower Cape (in addition to Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown) are Brewster, Chatham, Harwich, Orleans. Brewster has taken steps to preserve its historic buildings and natural resources, making it a charming place to stay and play. Chatham has its roots in fishing and shipbuilding, but also is home to a large resort and retirement community, and is a popular tourist destination. The tranquil town of Harwich is home to cranberry bogs (check out the annual Harwich Cranberry Festival in September) and many year-round residents. Orleans, the center of commerce for the area, is home to popular Nauset Beach.

Towns of the Mid Cape
The Mid Cape is comprised of the towns of Barnstable, Dennis, and Yarmouth. Barnstable is has seven villages within its borders, the most prominent of which is the busy port of Hyannis. Made up of three villages, the quiet town of Dennis is home to the Cape Cod Museum of Art and the Cape Playhouse. Also comprised of many villages, Yarmouth is home to a large year-round community, and is also home to the village of Woods Hole, where you can catch the ferries to Martha’s Vineyard. All three towns boast pristine beaches and conserved lands.

Towns of the Upper Cape
The towns of the Cape that are closet to the mainland are Bourne, Falmouth, Mashpee, and Sandwich. Located where the Cape and the mainland are divided by the Cape Cod Canal, Bourne is the entryway to the peninsula, and home to the Sagamore and Bourne bridges. The large town of Falmouth is comprised of eight villages, including the village of Woods Hole, where you can take ferries to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The town of Mashpee is home to the Native American tribe of the Wampanoag, the tribe that the Pilgrims first encountered, and has a strong interest in preservation of its natural resources. Sandwich is the Cape’s oldest town. Its historic village is a popular tourist destination, as are the Sandwich glass museum and the Heritage Plantation.

Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard
The nearby islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard are very popular vacation destinations, and are easily reached from the Cape by ferry from Woods Hole, Hyannis, and Harwich (check schedules as some ferries run only seasonally—the Woods Hole ferry is the only ferry on which you can take your car with you to the islands—both islands can also be reached by plane). Each Island has its own unique character. Once at the center of the whaling industry in the 18th and 19th centuries, Nantucket has since been designated a national historic landmark, thus preserving the historic architecture and natural beauty of the island. The larger and more populated of the two islands, Martha’s Vineyard (known locally as “The Vineyard”), is known for its quaint villages, resorts, and beaches. Although it gets a lot of attention from its celebrity visitors and residents, the Vineyard, like Nantucket, is tranquil and low-key. Both islands can be easily incorporated as a side-trip from your Cape Cod vacation.