Planning Your Time
- Where to Go
- The Best of Vermont
- Rumblings of Revolution
- New, New England Dining
- Boston’s Artistic Expression
- Vermont Leaf Peeping
- Into the Wild
- Vermont Skiing at Its Best
- Visit Vermont’s Maple Sugar Shacks
- Connecticut for Kids
- Vermont’s Covered Bridges
- A Shore Thing
- Vermont with Kids
- Portland Maine Art Galleries
- Small-Town Flavor
- Connecticut’s Wine Trails
- New Hampshire’s Farmers Markets
- A Weekend of Vermont Art
- Family Matters
- Maine Wilderness Camps
- Vermont Cheddar Houses
- Connecticut Spas
Summertime is, of course, when Cape Cod comes into its glory, but it can also mean roads clogged with traffic, and beaches, especially in the Mid-Cape, insufferably crowded. It makes sense to base yourself in one area, since traffic can make driving difficult and quickly spoil a good vacation.
The Upper Cape is the easiest to get to and least crowded. It’s also home to several popular family attractions, including the eclectic Heritage Museums & Gardens and the educational Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. The Mid-Cape is home to historic attractions and the best restaurants and nightlife. One can’t-miss attraction in this area is Yarmouthport’s Edward Gorey House, dedicated to the late great creepy kids’ book author. The Lower Cape, meanwhile, is your destination for beaches and the natural beauty of Cape Cod National Seashore.
You can easily spend a week based in any one of these areas, relaxing at the beach and taking a few day trips to other attractions on the Cape. No Cape vacation is complete, however, without at least a day trip to one of the islands of Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard. In fact, either one of these islands has plenty to offer for a longer visit of a few days to a week. (Though don’t expect to beat the crowds by taking the ferry; half of Boston goes to the islands every summer weekend.)
Choosing which island to visit is largely a matter of temperament: Nantucket is old New England, buttoned-down and traditional, with plenty of historical sites that pay homage to its one-time whaling industry (starting with the excellent and recently renovated Nantucket Whaling Museum). The Vineyard, meanwhile, is where the jet-set comes to play; the larger of the two islands, it also has more varied scenery and more secret hideaways to reward a longer visit.
Cape Cod has a year-round population of about 230,000, but every year between Memorial and Labor Days it groans under the weight of thousands upon thousands of tourists. Though summer is undoubtedly the warmest time of year to visit, its crowds can make true relaxation a challenge, which is why many opt instead to go during shoulder season (mid- to late spring and again in early to mid-fall). Hotel prices are lower, stores are still open, and the weather, while not sunbathing-friendly, is warm enough for beach visits and outdoor activities ranging from hiking to biking.
In the winter, many tourist-driven businesses close for the season, though a handful of hotels and shops in every town often do stay open. Restaurants tend to greatly reduce their hours of operation, and some even close completely. So be sure to call ahead. And these days, holiday events and festivities often attract enough visitors in December to keep them open as well. January through March is extremely chilly in Cape Cod—usually too cold for most outdoor activities or extended strolls—but early spring, while brisk, can also be surprisingly pleasant.
Residents often speak of Cape geography as resembling an arm, held up at 90 degrees and curved towards the face. The Cape’s de facto capital, Hyannis, is just about tricep level, Chatham is at the elbow, and Provincetown at the furthest tip of the fingers.
The area is further divided into three different regions—the Upper Cape, which runs from the canal to the Barnstable line; the Mid-Cape, which takes in Barnstable and Hyannis through to Brewster and Harwich; and the Lower Cape, which encompasses the Cape Cod National Seashore from Monomoy Island to the Province Lands.
To confuse matters more, locals sometimes refer to the area from Chatham to Orleans as the Lower Cape, while calling the area from Eastham to Provincetown the Outer Cape. A more practical division is between the bayshore, which is typified by tidal flats and warmer water, and the oceanside, home to the colder and wilder beaches.
© Michael Blanding and Alexandra Hall from Moon New England, 2nd Edition