Coastal Cape Cod–and Beyond
The inside story on what makes the villages along coastal Cape Cod and beyond so special
Like a whimsical wave curling off the coast of Massachusetts, Cape Cod dots the coastline with quaint New England towns and harbors. The unspoiled beaches there, bordered with dunes, beaconing lighthouses and weathered, shingled colonials call. Cape Cod is a playground for celebrities, captains of industry, politicians and presidents alike. While chilly winters offer cozy getaways, the spring, summer and early fall months are idyllic times for sun and fun. Miles of bike paths, clambakes and fine dining, chic shopping, sailing and sunset cruises, vineyards and whale watching await.
Many in-the-know Cape Cod visitors rent houses in towns like Chatham, Harwich, Hyannis and Provincetown. Likewise, some travelers stay at B and Bs, historic inns or one of the resorts or boutique hotels sprinkled across the beaches and towns. Then there are the slightly more remote islands (a ferry ride away from the mainland or also accessible by plane). Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket both evoke Cape Cod with even more determinable personalities of their own.
The beaches here are fabulous, as Chatham is set on the elbow of Cape Cod. Its lines extend out into the ocean as the easterly most point of Massachusetts. Other ways to keep busy? Trips to the lighthouse, wildlife watching as well as a crisscross bike paths. Catch stunning ocean views along the harbor or peeking through the quaint streets in town. These streets are worth strolling along. They’re lined with tiny historic museums, old majestic captain homes and shopping and dining galore.
A little off the beaten path is Harwich. Nantucket Sound borders it on one side, creating idyllic and beautiful beaches. On all other sides, Harwich nestles itself between other Cape Cod towns, making exploring the area a breeze. Like the rest of the Cape, bikes along the well-paved paths are the epitome of summer transportation. So fill your picnic basket and set out for the day. Enjoy the beach, the dunes or a friendly nearby town.
An ostensibly bustling village and considered the capital of Cape Cod, Hyannis mixes old quaint New England town and new, bustling commercial scene. About a mile and a half up the road from the Kennedy compound in nearby Hyannis Port, Hyannis boasts a large, natural harbor with an active recreational boating and commercial fishing scene. That port is also the main outlet for ferry trips to Nantucket—both people and car ferries (book in advance!) via The Steamship Authority, which is based there.
Lovingly referred to as P-town, this popular tourist spot sees its population swell from 3,000 year-round to about 60,000 during summer months. And it’s no wonder: The food is everything, the beaches sublime and the multitude of talented artists displayed in galleries and at outdoor shows is unreal. P-town is a true beach community with less of the buttoned-up, preppy feel other coastal communities are known for and is also a favorite destination for the LGBTQ community.
Nantucket is recognizable by its grey, shingled homes that are inevitably surrounded by white picket fences trimmed in colorful hydrangea bushes. The cobblestoned downtown is a series of quaint streets just off the harbor, filled with ice cream shops and bookstores, delicious eateries, historic museums, t-shirt and jewelry shops and more. Since it’s an island, there are beaches galore—from downtown to far flung across the island, some hidden behind dunes and others down long and windy dirt roads. This island is more of a quiet vacation spot, with sailing preferred to motorized water sports in the harbor.
The larger of the famed islands off Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard is packed with stuff to do. There’s beach-going and jet skiing to horseback riding and chartered boat excursions. And it’s got six villages, each with its own history and personality. From the scenic coastal village of Chilmark, which includes the lowkey fishing village of Menemsha to upscale Edgartown harbor. There is historic Oaks Bluff with its long beaches, carousel and walk around town. Some people prefer the quiet Aquinnah village famed for its gorgeous Gays Head Cliffs (oh my, the sunsets there!) or Vineyard Haven (also known as Tisbury) for its scenic harbor and shopping village. Then there’s a fun bike ride to the Chappaquiddick ferry and its quiet scenic beaches.
For more on where to stay, where to eat and what to do,