As President, John F. Kennedy didn’t only create the Peace Corps and stare down Fidel Castro. He also signed a sweeping law in 1961 that protected 27,000 acres of some of the most beautiful beachfront in America. The Cape Cod National Seashore  is one of the conservation jewels not only of Massachusetts , but of the entire region, drawing generations of beachgoers to the miles of sandy beach fronting the Atlantic.
Perhaps because it lacks the development of, say, the Jersey Shore, the Cape has always had an old-time feel, with ice cream parlors and clam shacks dotted among the distinctive shingled cottages that gave their name to a style of house architecture. Then there is the conservation land itself, an expanse of dunes, grasslands, and scrub-pine forests, cut through with biking trails and anchorages.
It’s fitting that Kennedy should have signed the bill that preserved all of this beauty. After all, he and his family summered in Hyannisport in the compound that still bears the family name. Outside the summer capital of Hyannis , the Cape has a striking diversity of landscapes, from the acclaimed oceanographic institute of Woods Hole  to the Ye Olde Yankee ambience of the bayshore towns, and from the pristine beauty of the Outer Cape beaches to the flamboyant gay mecca of Provincetown . Along the way, of course, are all the mini-golf courses and tacky souvenir shops you can ask for.
Cape Cod, as might be imagined, is named for the rich fisheries that lay just off the coast in an oceanic rise known as Georges Bank. The rich ecosystem there has supported generations of fishing fleets, which still leave from the towns of the Outer Cape. Though over-fished almost to the point of extinction 50 years ago, the fishery has made a comeback through delicate environmental management, and cod is once again a staple of New England restaurant menus.
The Cape itself, with its sideways-L topography, was formed by the moraine of the last continental ice sheet, which stopped here some 20,000 years ago. The same ice sheet had previously retreated from its last gasp to the south, where it formed Massachusetts ’ two major islands—resort communities with characters as different as old and new money. On buttoned-up Nantucket , whale belts and lightship baskets are always in fashion, while trousers-rolled Martha’s Vineyard  is where the rich and famous come to kick back by the surf.