Cape Cod is a peninsula shaped like a person’s arm extending from the coast of Massachusetts out into the Atlantic Ocean. Popularly called “the Cape”, it has been and continues to be a vacation destination.
The Cape consists of fourteen towns: Sandwich, Falmouth, Mashpee, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster, Harwich, Chatham, Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown. Each has it’s own distinctive character and is worth the effort of exploring.
Highways and By-Ways
Cape Cod is separated from Massachusetts proper by the Cape Cod Canal, a man-made waterway which allows ships a more direct route to and from Boston and points north. Two bridges, the Sagamore and the Bourne, provide access onto the Cape. Once across either bridge, the main roadway running the length of the Cape from West to East is the Mid-Cape Highway (Route 6). This is a 55 mph four lane road until it reaches Orleans where traffic slows until the road ends in Provincetown.
But the best way to enjoy Cape Cod is to leisurely explore its many side roads beginning with the Old King’s Highway (Route 6A). This is a two lane thoroughfare running parallel to the Mid-Cape Highway on the north side of the Cape. Route 6A winds through the villages of Sandwich, Barnstable, Dennis, Brewster, and Orleans before merging with Route 6.
Meandering Along the Old King’s Highway
The Old King’s Highway is meant to be savored at a slow pace, stopping to explore village centers as well as numerous antique shops, restaurants, and cafes along the way. Many side roads will lead to picturesque beaches and glorious vistas of Cape Cod Bay.
Route 6A itself is full of twists and turns, shaded by old trees growing alongside, and often frequented by bicyclists (sharing the pavement is a must!). In Sandwich there are cranberry bogs beside it which turn bright red in the autumn before harvesting. At several points Route 6A passes through salt marshes, and there are beautiful views of Sandy Neck in West Barnstable.
Other special stops include Barnstable Village where the imposing granite Superior Court House stands guard with cannons on the lawn, the Village of Dennis with its art galleries and ice cream shops, a side trip to historic East Dennis, and then on to Brewster and it’s Old Country Store. These are merely highlights of a fantastic time awaiting the Route 6A traveler.
Heading East Toward Provincetown
The character of the Cape changes as one passes through each town. Chatham is a fishing village influenced by the ever-changing ocean. The famed Chatham Light is a popular tourist spot. Orleans is the home of Nauset Beach. Moving further east, the Cape Cod National Seashore is a protected area which has preserved a large part of Cape Cod’s natural beauty. Eastham, Wellfleet, and Truro all boast excellent beaches, and Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod is known among artists for the quality of its natural light as affected by the ocean on either side of the narrow town.
Falmouth and Mashpee
Falmouth has both beautiful beaches, abundant marinas, and spectacular shoreline. The world famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is located nearby, and a visit to this town is well worth the side trip.
The Town of Mashpee is the home of the Wampanoag Indians. Every year there is a gathering of Native Americans where Indian culture, crafts, and dance are featured. As with each Cape town, Mashpee has its share of outstanding beaches.
All types of accomodations are readily available on the Cape from luxury hotels to modest bed-and- breakfasts. Many real estate agencies handle summer rentals for off-Cape homeowners, a perfect solution for families who wish to be able to cook. There are cottage colonies, many situated close to the beach, and for those who prefer fresh water, the Cape has 365 ponds and lakes. Parks are available for recreational vehicles, and camping facilities can be found at Nickerson State Park in Brewster.
No matter where you travel on Cape Cod, you’re never far from the ocean. Beaches on the north side of the Cape have cooler water temperatures than those on the south side. Old Silver Beach in Falmouth, South Beach in Mashpee, Craigville Beach in Centerville, Veterans’ Beach and Kalmus Beach in Hyannis, Smuggler’s Beach in South Yarmouth, and West Dennis Beach are all favorites.
Moving farther out on the Cape in the direction of Provincetown, many of the beaches within the Cape Cod National Seashore front on the open Atlantic Ocean. There can be large waves at these places, and surfers frequent such spots.
All Cape beaches require permits or daily use fees during the season which extends from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Each town issues its own beach sticker – there is no universal permit recognized by all the towns. Contact the recreation department of any particular town for more information.
Cape Cod has something for everyone, from the very young to the young at heart. It truly is a special place not to be missed.