Just a hop and a skip from both Boston and Providence, Cape Cod is one of the favorite weekend spots of New England residents. The Cape, as locals call it, is a 70-mile sand spit stretching out into the Atlantic and shaped, some say, like a flexed arm. Although it is a relatively small region distance-wise, the Cape's size can be confusing to first-time visitors who assume the whole of the region can be covered in a day.
In the off months, travel is a breeze, but during summer and autumn when the local population swells almost to bursting, the pace slows to a crawl. Don't worry, all it takes is a little careful planning and you can see the bulk of the region in a three-day weekend. It should be mentioned, however, that although it is steeped in American history, Cape Cod is also a welcoming place for simply spending a weekend basking at the National Seashore that runs up the Cape's outer "arm." If the dunes are calling, don't be afraid to scrap your itinerary for a quiet place in the sun.
The Mid-Cape, (around the "bicep"), is the most central location for resting your head. The Wequassett Resort and Golf Club, in Chatham, offers arguably the Cape's finest accommodation. (There are several award-winning inns and resorts on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, the two islands considered part of Cape Cod. But on the mainland, family-friendly motels and weekly cottage rentals dominate the hotel scene). The Wequassett offers old-fashioned New England atmosphere combined with oceanfront luxury. Just down the road is the Queen Anne Inn, a slightly less pricy romantic getaway. Families and those who want a little more nightlife should consider the motels in Hyannis, Cape Cod's largest town. Although they lack some of the charm of the B&Bs and historic inns, affordable options like the Sea Coast Inn are in walking distance of some of the Cape's most lively bars and clubs. And if history is your thing, consider the Belfry Inne & Bistro. A little less central than some of your other options, the Belfry is housed in a cluster of refurbished Victorians, including a striking former church.
It is normal to pass through more than one town on a day of sightseeing. (Within a 70-mile stretch, the Cape has more than 20 towns and villages). Route 6, a four-lane roadway that cuts through the center of Cape Cod, eases the congestion on the two-lane beach roads that cover most of the region. However, 28, the Cape's other main roadway, becomes a giant traffic snarl in high season and should be avoided as much as possible.
The Cape has a vibrant dining scene, but nightlife is not this beach community's strongest suit. With the exception of Hyannis, the Cape's largest town, where a brewpub, coffeehouse and an assortment of karaoke bars stay open late, most communities go to bed when the restaurants close for the night. The one exception is Provincetown, where a vibrant gay community parties until dawn. But while Provincetown may call to the young and energetic, most visitors to the Cape find themselves falling into the slower pace of catching rays in the day and z's in the night.
CAPE COD DAY
1: Sandwich, Sandy Neck and Old King's Highway
The best way to get to know Cape Cod is to experience its historic district. Along the route carefully protected by a very strict, local historical society, you will get a feel for the region's history and tradition, which dates back to the time of our earliest settlers. Start your tour in the town of Sandwich. (The Cape is full of giggle-worthy town and street names, most of which are English in history or derived from the language of the native Wampanoag Indians). Sandwich was incorporated in 1639 and was home to one of New England's finest glass factories, the Boston and Sandwich Glass Factory, founded in 1825. It is also home to the nation's oldest continuous congregation of Quakers. If you plan your trip for a Sunday, you are welcome to join a friends meeting at the Quaker Meeting House held at 10 a.m. in the original building.
Start your day at Cafe Chew, a locals' spot for oversized pancake and egg breakfasts, freshly baked breads and a wide selection of desserts and pastries. From here, you can visit the Sandwich Glass Museum, stroll the town pond and check out the 17th-century Dexter Grist Mill. If you're looking for gifts, try Collections Gallery for a wide array of wares hand made by local artisans. For lunch, you can either stop in Marshlands for the stuffed quohog made famous by Food Network star and Sandwich native Duff Goldman, or stop in at the Brown Jug or Lambert's Farm Market for picnic provisions like Pain d'Avignon bread, local fruit and country pâté, then head west on Route 6A toward the dunes at Sandy Neck. Be sure to duck in to Paul White's wood carving studio to learn just how those signature Cape Cod wooden signs are crafted. (With a little time to spare, you can even design and order your very own hand carved sign on the spot).
With almost six miles of dunes and beach, Sandy Neck is one of the most interesting waterfront landscapes on the Cape. The beach is located on Cape Cod's Bay side, where the water is generally too cold for swimming, but it makes an Impressionist painting-worthy picnic spot for watching the sailboats drift by.
Shop your way up historic 6A at the many art and craft shops in Barnstable and Dennis. (You will quickly discover that the Cape has more than its share of artisans and craftsmen). The road, Route 6A, also known as Old King's Highway, was originally built for stage coaches and has changed very little in the centuries since it was built. It has since been replaced by Route 6, but the original road provides one of the best ways of absorbing Cape history. Spend the remainder of your afternoon relaxing at the Wequassett Inn's ocean-side bar.
Be sure to book dinner in advance, particularly during the high season, at Chillingsworth. Considered one of the finest restaurants in New England, Chillingsworth is housed in one of Cape Cod's charming, historic homes. A traditional French set menu is on offer at two nightly seatings. Or, for a less extravagant experience, reserve a table in the Bistro, which boasts a more casual atmosphere and beach-inspired cuisine. If you are strictly seeking native seafoods, you may want to consider the Brewster Fish House, just down the road from Chillingsworth. Be warned, however, that the restaurant does not take reservations and the wait can be lengthy in high season.
to Day 2