If there is one perfect place for a cool summer, in every sense, it has to be Cape Cod. On the Cape, there is a very long cold, almost dormant season and then, suddenly, summer comes running and everything springs to life again.
In fact, I consider it my number one destination in the US. It has everything you could want: miles and miles of ocean with wild beaches and the smell of the sea ever present, with most of it only steps from the bustling villages that festoon its coastline, as fingers of land curve in and out, reaching far toward islands as beautiful as any, anywhere on the globe.
Massachusetts is pure Yankee territory. A large state with miles of rolling farmland, gorgeous natural arboretums that leaf out into a burst of autumn palettes that take your breath away, it is also home to towns and villages lifted straight out of Norman Rockwell’s America.
Red barns, fields thrusting up crops of every description, deep fertile soil amid rows of green and red and gold, it is the bread basket of the North East.
And yet, it is also famous for Boston Harbor with all its colonial history, that beautiful patrician city that many solid, beer-hall natives call home as well. There is nothing truer or more honest than a Massachusetts homey and you will get the unvarnished opinion of just about anyone who was born and raised there, from one end to the other. Ask them!
For my summer destination, I chose the Cape because of its windswept clean beaches, its charming eateries, stores brimming with locally made souvenirs, elegant hotels and golf courses, and its proximity to ferry-ride day places where you can haunt little known nooks either to relax and feel the ever-present sea breezes or just stroll and dip into shops for shade and picking up gifts to take back home.
It is also known for its easy swimming and fishing, golfing, sailing, and shell collecting, if those appeal to you.
Whenever we go to Cape Cod, we just want to relax, make no plans, meander around, stumble on restaurants and stores, eat out or order in. We city slickers like to slow down during the summer. Here, it is effortless.
While there are too many parts of this peninsula for me to cover here, I do think you can get the entire experience, absorb the ambiance of the earliest attractions of this country to the pilgrims who landed in Provincetown and Plymouth, by staying in one little corner: Falmouth-Woods Hole.
From this small spot with Falmouth on one end and Woods Hole on the other, you can also take a short, 40 minute ferry ride to famous Martha’s Vineyard, the playground of old family Yankees and Knickerbockers.
It is prohibitive to stay on the Vineyard, but you can afford an Air BnB or VRBO in Falmouth and take the shuttle or walk to almost every attraction this end of the Cape has to offer. It may not be cheap, but it will be memorable.
First things first: getting to Falmouth/Woods Hole. Even though the logical choice would be Boston’s Logan Airport, my experience with the area has led me to choose Bradley International in Hartford, Connecticut. A lesser known, less traveled hub, it is also known for being safer, less crowded and newer as well as easier to navigate.
Upon landing at either Bradley or Logan, you can hop a bus, rent a car or call on Uber to get you out to the Cape. We always drive because it is such an enjoyable journey through some of the most beautiful countryside in the US, but you can make the choice that suits you best.
If you can, stay for a couple of weeks. It will be more cost-effective to rent a home for that, than to stay in a hotel. However, if you prefer a hotel environment, I would suggest Inn on the Square. Visiting the website will make it clear why: it gives you the environment of the old seafaring Cape of the 19th and 20th centuries for a relatively reasonable price.
I would not advise looking for a hotel in Woods Hole itself. You can easily hop the shuttle from Falmouth and stay there instead. It is a mere ten minutes from Woods Hole. However, the world famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute is in WH and they have dorms as well as cottages for students and faculty.
If it were I and I wanted to stay right in Woods Hole and couldn’t find a house to rent, I would contact WHOI and ask them for availability of their housing. It is worth a shot.
There is so much to do in both Falmouth and Woods Hole, that I almost hesitate to suggest a hotel in Martha’s Vineyard. But, I will throw one in, for good measure.
Personally, I would prefer to stay in Falmouth or Woods Hole and just take the 40 minute ferry for the day to the Vineyard. Nonetheless, Mansion House is a lovely place to stay — you will just be paying more for it in the summer season.
As for eating, I don’t know where to begin except Falmouth. Merely walk up and down Main Street and you have plenty of excellent choices, but get there early as they all have long lines at breakfast, lunch and dinner. We enjoy Quarterdeck for brunch at 164 Main and The Glass Onion for dinner at 37 N. Main. Both are standard American fare, but very well done and in comfortable, easy surroundings. I have to admit, we made a daily pilgrimage to Ben&Bill’s for ice cream. Try the hand-made Birthday Cake and Chocolate Peanut Butter flavors. Grab some chocolates too, again, made by this family run business.
In Woods Hole, we love Pie in the Sky, a bakery and light meal stop for the best burgers and sandwiches, cookies and pies anywhere. We have also gotten burgers at Quiks Hole Tavern and Landfall Restaurant and frequent Captain Kidd for seafood.
I am always in an ice cream mood when I am in Cape Cod, so I have to admit to more than one indulgence at my absolute all time favorite ice cream shoppe, Candy Go Nuts on Luscombe. There, I always have the Cotton Candy cone.
We never stay on Martha’s Vineyard, so our one meal there is always lunch, half way between ferry rides. Hands down, we have two places we absolutely must visit every single time. For lunch, it’s Among the Flowers Cafe at 17 Mayhew Lane in Edgartown. Simply extraordinary salads and sandwiches and soups.
Definitely get a basket of fries and pie. Then, we never leave the Vineyard without a stop to stock up on fudge at Murdick’s. And, of course, Murdick’s has home made ice cream too.
Shopping, well, there are far too many incredible stores to list them all here. A walk up and down Main Street in Falmouth, or on any street in downtown Woods Hole or Edgartown will fill you with eye candy of every description. Some of it unbelievably affordable, others, well, you can dream.
In Woods Hole, I always make a beeline to Under the Sun. Their clothes, bags and pottery are all locally made but their jewelry is the real draw. No matter what you get, people will think you have paid ten times what you did. Love that place. For gifts, I go to Handworks. In Falmouth, I love Treasure Chest on Main Street for clothes and for gifts, Celebrations nearby. Twiggs Home and Garden has the most amazing collection of soaps and glassware and jewelry and other decorative items for home and garden, you must stop there. But there are many others up and down the street. Just explore.
But, the most important thing to relish when you are on the Cape, is the natural beauty and the felicity of the people. Tourists don’t come here to see celebrities, they come to be immersed in the people and the culture of the Massachusetts coast: wild, uninhibited, fresh, raw and unforgettable.
This is my absolute ideal summer haunt with perfect sunny, breezy, cool but never chilly weather. A good relief from the heat that seems to be creeping over all of us increasingly at all times of year. I would be remiss if I didn’t share what my good friend Robin said in a comment on my other Summer sticky post, Summer Like it Hot: “I always remind people of Rockport or Gloucester on Cape Ann being a beautiful getaway and not so ‘glitzy’ nor expensive as Cape Cod.” Good suggestions, Robin! There is so much to see in Massachusetts, I could devote an entire blog to singing its praises.
No matter where you go in the state, you will find it a haven with that earthy atmosphere of real and reel.
Images: Chez BeBe assets and the establishments featured, except for the Alamy shot of Under the Sun — they simply have no pictures and I overlooked taking any on my trips there, so I hope Alamy will forgive me.