Explore This Treasured Icon With Its Historic, Maritime Beach Offerings
I awaken to a pair of swans paddling towards shore and a blue heron diving for fish in the pond beneath my window. A lone skiff bobs in the distance. Golden seagrass sways in the breeze. The sky is swirling, a mix of baby blue and steel grey, while clouds float by so perfectly in sync they look as if they have been suspended by wire. There is no denying I am on Cape Cod.
The Cape’s iconic geography looks like an arm thrust into the Atlantic Ocean from mainland Massachusetts. It is beloved for its unpretentious beauty. Most of is 408-square-miles–from its wind-tossed beaches to the forests, marshes and even many of its towns– are protected by the National Park Service and that has resulted in a pristine place, largely unchanged by time.
Crossing the Sagamore Bridge onto the Cape is like discovering a wrinkle in time. Thanks to strong preservation and strict zoning codes, the landscape looks the same as it did a half-century ago when John F. Kennedy frolicked here and not that much different than it did when it first welcomed the Pilgrims when they landed the Mayflower here. Route 6 remains the only main road to traverse the 70-miles length of the peninsula and it does so via two lanes for much of the ride.
My bolthole for my trip is The Wequassett Resort, a 120-room property that is infused with Yankee elegance. Rooms are tucked within shake shingles cottages that meander along the water. These are serene spaces with luxurious marble baths and balconies overlooking Pleasant Bay and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
My first night on the Cape I dine at Twenty-Eight Atlantic. Because of the chilly evening, I am seated beside the fireplace beneath hand-blown glass chandeliers. In fine weather, al fresco dining on the sweeping terrace is enhanced by air perfumed with native honeysuckle. The summer menu taps all of what is good and fresh and oh-so-temporary on the Cape, like oysters plucked from the bay, steps from the kitchen, and roasted cod topped with tender steamed clams, hauled by local fishermen.
There’s no getting around the fact that summers on the Cape are crowded. This is where New Englanders flock as a reward to themselves for their patience through harsh winters. And, the rewards are singularly spectacular. There are pristine beaches studded with iconic lighthouses, tufted dunes that yield to the ocean, where seals, whales and sharks make their playground, hiking and biking trails that slice through a reverie of flitting June bugs, scurrying horse shoes crabs, plump blackberries and beach plums, and dense cranberry bogs.
One of the most treasured pastimes on the Cape for visitors and locals is the hunt for the perfect lobster (“lobstah”) roll. Debates rage as to which shack or dive serves the best. For me, the greatest fun was in the search. A few favorites? The no frills Young Fish Market in Orleans, where you can devour your roll on the seawall overlooking the ocean. At Spanky’s, a clam bar on the harbor in Hyannis, you can make your own overstuffed sandwiches by piling on their homemade lobster salad. At the Friendly Fisherman in Eastham, lobster rolls are classic and simply made with lobster, mayo and a hot dog bun, and not a thing more.
The Cape is fun to explore because of its many charming historic towns. Hyannis, home to the JFK Museum and the famed Kennedy Compound, remains a working fishing port. Wellfleet, a tiny town with fine art galleries, is also home to Marconi Station, where the first transatlantic telegraph was sent. Chatham’s preppy population and smart clothing, toy and furnishing shops define its downtown. In nearby Yarmouth, gothic illustrator Edward Gorey’s home is now a museum, and Sandwich, the oldest town on the Cape, has seven museums, including one dedicated to the region’s legacy of glassblowing.
And, finally, there’s Provincetown, the funky outpost nestled at the very tip of the Cape. Its artistic vibe owes much to talent like Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Norman Mailer, and filmmaker John Waters, who have called the town home. A dozen performing arts venues host summer festivals almost without pause. There are galleries, oyster bars and old-fashioned candy shops. One of my favorite things to do in P-Town (as it’s known by locals) is to climb the 252 steps to the top of Pilgrim’s Monument, an early 20th century granite tower that affords a smashing view both of the Atlantic and the bay.
Cape Cod has inspired so many songs, poems and books, because, in a world of increased uniformity, it offers a distinctive experience unique to its place in the world. And besides, there are few places more fun to kick off your shoes, scamper into the brisk ocean and turn your face to the sun.