Cape Cod Feature
Special-Interest Cape Cod Itineraries
Regardless of your interests, Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket offer such a wide variety of activities that you can easily plan your trip around the things you like to do best. The following short itineraries are suggestions for how to plan your time to the best effect based on your individual interests. And as you plan your vacation, consider basing yourself in a town that will give you the best access to your favorite pastimes.
Well-developed trails and relatively flat terrain make the Cape a magnet for avid and occasional cyclists alike. The Cape Cod Rail Trail (about 25 miles) from South Dennis to South Wellfleet is the definitive route. Break off the trail in Brewster for more challenging (hilly) trails in beautiful Nickerson State Park, and cool off in one of several ponds. The Cape Cod National Seashore also maintains impressive trails in Eastham and Provincetown.
The best way to tour Nantucket is by bicycle. Over 30 miles of gently rolling bike paths crisscross colorful marshes and lead to all the best beaches. Bring your own bike or rent one right near the ferry dock for a great day of biking.
Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, near Chatham, is a major nesting and stopover spot for migrating shorebirds; there are also plenty of gray and harbor seals if your interests extend to marine mammals. Scenic trails and a broad selection of naturalist-led programs make the Massachusetts Audubon's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary an ideal spot for nature enthusiasts. The 1,100-acre haven is on the North Atlantic flyway, and more than 250 different species of birds have been identified within its borders.
Without question, the Cape Cod National Seashore is extraordinary. The 27,000-acre park, extending from Chatham to Provincetown, protects the wilder and most sublime of the Cape's land and seascapes. Get the lay of the land at the Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham; you can also sign up for any number of mostly free ranger-guided activities—everything from paddling trips to campfires on the beach. There is also a seasonal visitor center, the Province Lands Visitor Center, in Provincetown.
One of the great joys of Cape Cod is spotting whales just off the tip of Provincetown. Several species of whales frequent the area from April to late October. Several companies leave the wharf in Provincetown for these 3- to 4-hour magical trips.
If your time on Martha's Vineyard is limited (say you have just a day to visit the island), focus your efforts on Chappaquiddick Island (off Edgartown). Overseen by the Trustees of Reservations, areas to see include Mytoi, a serene 14-acre Japanese inspired garden; and Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, with its rich and varied habitat and the flora and fauna that live within it. You'll need a few hours on Chappaquiddick to make the visit worthwhile; sign up for any number of tours with the Trustees of Reservations there.
History and Architecture
To see the real Cape Cod, opt for a more leisurely ride along scenic and historic Route 6A (Old King's Highway), which passes through charming, slow-paced villages from Sandwich to Orleans. Along the way are hundreds of both grand and modest antique homes (many of them former sea captain dwellings), beaches and salt marshes, museums, antiques shops and galleries, and old graveyards.
The entirety of Nantucket Town is an official National Historic District encompassing more than 800 pre-1840 structures within 1 square mile. Focus on the properties that are part of the outstanding Nantucket Historical Association, with its excellent Whaling Museum. There's also much to see in the attractions that comprise the Maria Mitchell Association, including the aquarium, natural science museum, and two observatories. You could easily spend two days on the island gawking at the historic sights.
Martha's Vineyard has an extraordinary number of beautifully preserved antique homes. In Oak Bluffs, the Oak Bluffs Campground cottages—there are over 300 of these pastel-painted Victorian-style cottages—are works of art and whimsy. Edgartown's grand sea captain's homes reflect the sensibilities of the 19th-century whaling era. Those lucky enough can rent them by the week for a relaxing Martha's Vineyard vacation. Several museums trace the town's heritage, including the superb Martha's Vineyard Historical Society.
Art and Culture
In Sandwich, spend half a day meandering about the 100-acre paradise of Heritage Museums and Gardens. There are several galleries devoted to American art, an impressive antique car collection, concerts, and many other events presented on the beautifully landscaped grounds.
Wellfleet's town center has nearly two dozen art galleries representing local and national artists. Saturday evenings in July and August are for exhibit openings; a great way to see new works while noshing on cheese, fruit and wine.
Artists began coming here in the late 1890s to take advantage of the unusual Cape Cod Light—Provincetown is the nation's oldest continuous art colony. Poets, writers, and actors have also been part of the art scene. Since 1914, the Provincetown Art Association and Museum has been showing the works of artists with Provincetown connections; Charles Hawthorne, John Singer Sargent, Andy Warhol, and Robert Motherwell among them. Gallery openings are held on Friday nights in summer.
Both Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket have their own wealth of art galleries that showcase local and nationally renowned artists.