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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Summer Vacation: Cape Cod

You can read about our Summer Vacation Kick-Off in Boston here.

After a perfect 24 hours in Boston, we were Cape-bound. I'm not really sure why I love the Cape so much - living in New York, we have access to quite a few states that are water-side - we've been to Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut, all of which are beautiful. But nothing, for me, compares to the Cape. It just holds on to a piece of my heart and fulfills my soul in ways I can't explain. It could be the childhood attachments and memories, or the fact that I love New England, and to me, the Cape is perfectly New England in all aspects. It could be the restaurants and the options to island hop to Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. It also could be its proximity to Boston, making vacation a great mix of both urban and ocean. It could be the beaches, which make me feel like I'm miles away from my every day life. I love that the Cape is a true, relaxing vacation - we know so much about it now that it requires almost no planning. We roam through the different towns, shop at the boutiques, take long walks on the beach, or just stay at the ocean all day. We take a book with us to get lost in during down time. Fresh seafood for dinner (well, for me), and some of the best ice cream every night. It's perfection. It's all I need in a vacation. It's pure summer for one week.





Anyhoo, let's do a little recap, shall we?

We started a tradition two years ago to have dinner our first night at a restaurant in Yarmouth called The Skipper. It's not especially amazing (although, it's very good), but they have quite a few veggie options for Josh (including nachos - his favorite) and one of my favorite cups of clam chowdah on the Cape. They even offer fried clam chowder cakes, which I always have every intention of trying, but always end up ordering traditional chowder. Across the street is the ocean, and walking along its shore is the perfect way to digest our dinner and celebrate our first night.

A "cheers to vacation" at The Skipper.
Clam chowdah at The Skipper. It's so thick and creamy.

Interior of The Skipper.

Fish and chips at The Skipper.

We usually do our first ice cream cone of the week at the Cape Cod Creamery in Yarmouth, which is definitely top four on my list (yes, I have a top four - stay tuned). You can always spot it by the colorful adirondack chairs lining its front yard. Their ice cream flavors are named after Cape Cod things, and I usually go with Sandy Neck Snickers, but all the flavors are ridiculously enticing. 

Front porch at the Cape Cod Creamery in Yarmouth.



Because we haven't eaten enough yet, and because we're in the area anyway, I love stopping at this outdoor salt water taffy stand to get a few pieces for the week. This stand has a really creative name - Cape Cod Salt Water Taffy - but it's a really cool open-air stand with tons of flavors and it's a fun little stop to make during your travels. 

Cape Cod Salt Water Taffy stand in Yarmouth. 

We also have a tradition of ending our first night by watching the sun go down at Bass Hole Boardwalk since we're in Yarmouth for dinner. Although, it's not too much of a tradition because it's not something we've been able to do since our first visit together four years ago. Every night we'd try to visit in the past three years, it was too cloudy and overcast the night we were there, and there was no sunset to be seen. But this year, it was perfect with only a few whispy clouds in sight. It's one of my favorite sunset-watching spots on the Cape and definitely worth the trip. The marshes surrounding it are so serene and the whole experience is rather picturesque. 

Bass Hole Boardwalk in Yarmouth.

The marshes at Bass Hole Boardwalk in Yarmouth.





On our second day, we usually spend the afternoon in Chatham. We plan it this way because Chatham is home to Marion's Pie Shop, and we pick up a cherry pie to enjoy throughout the week. Chatham has the best of both worlds - an amazing little shopping district with a mix of high-end, lovely boutiques and tourist necessities, but it also has beaches and plenty of seaside things to do. We usually grab lunch at The Squire because it's right on the main street there (I really enjoy their lobster roll, and they have a veggie burger for Josh), and then just meander through the shops the rest of the afternoon before heading out to Marion's to get our pie for the week and go back to the cottage before dinner. We have to pass through Harwich Port on our way back, so if we have time, we'll swing by there to explore the shops. 



We don't make many plans for the rest of our trip, and take it day by day. Mostly, we're just lazy turds (#truestory). We usually budget a day to visit Nantucket (last year we did both Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, but I'm planning a whole separate post on the two islands because I have a lot to say). We like to try and stop at a bookstore and buy a book to read on the beach during the week (a new tradition we started last year on Block Island), and there are great bookstores scattered all over the Cape, so they're pretty easy to come across.




For the rest of this post, I'll break down our favorite beaches, restaurants and sites to see, and our tips for enjoying your Cape vacation. 


Beaches
As far as beaches go, I have a few favorites on the Cape: Bank Street Beach in Harwich Port, Nauset Beach in Orleans and a new tied-for-second, Coast Guard Beach in Eastham. I have two honorable mentions that I'll touch on below.

Bank Street Beach is pretty small in comparison to most of the well-known beaches, but that's kind of the reason I love it. It's not as overwhelming because it's more of a locally-populated beach, and because it's on Nantucket Sound, as opposed to the Atlantic, the water is warmer. While a lot of Nantucket Sound beaches are rocky and seaweed-y, Bank Street Beach is very sandy and not too seaweed-infected. It's surrounded by private beach access on both side, so it also makes for a great non-crowded walking beach since the private access makes the coastline less populated in most areas. It's also where Josh and I had our photos taken a while back, so it holds a special place in my heart. Bank Street Beach requires a parking sticker to park your car in the lot, but if you pack lightly enough that you can carry everything with you, there's free municipal parking in town, and from there, it's only a little less than a half mile walk to the beach. That's what we usually do because it's just the two of us, and the walk isn't bad at all. If you have kids, I'd recommend just biting the bullet and getting the parking sticker for the week. 

Bank Street Beach in Harwich.




I love Nauset Beach for the waves. My very first year back at the Cape as an adult, we visited Nauset on a very wavy day, and I was literally thrown everywhere while I was in the water, and was cut open on my stomach, legs and knees by rocks, and I didn't even care. I had so much fun swimming in the gigantic waves, and I was nothing but smiles that day. I have a picture of it somewhere, but I can't seem to find it at the moment. Anyway

I will say, though, as much as I love Nauset, we visited Coast Guard Beach this year for the first time, and I loved it just as much as Nauset. The waves are about the same, and it was less crowded than our trips to Nauset, which made for more relaxing walks on the shore. We also had some seal sightings while at Coast Guard, and they came up pretty close to us humans swimming in the water! At one point while in the water, I heard someone on shore screaming, "Look! Look!" and I turned around to face Josh, and there was a seal with his head above water about 8 ft. or so behind Josh, and Josh totally missed it. It was also the one day I forgot to charge my GoPro and totally missed the best photobomb ever.

Coast Guard Beach.

Coast Guard Beach.

The only downside with Coast Guard is that you have to park in a lot a few miles away, and take a beach shuttle to and from the the parking lot. Not a huge deal, but it's a bit more time consuming. Overall, though, the views at Coast Guard and the seal sightings make it a must-visit.

A close third for me, is Mayflower Beach in Dennis. It's a really lovely family-friendly beach with calm, warm waters and a tide that can end up about a quarter mile from where you landed your beach blanket by the time you leave. It's a really cool experience for a more tame beach visit. It's great for walks because of the low tide in the afternoon, but if you're looking to ride the waves or do any swimming, it's not the most exciting. I'd recommend it for the kiddos and evening walks once the tide is out. 

Mayflower Beach during low tide. All this sand was covered in water earlier that day!

This year, we explored Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet. We had to kill some time in Wellfleet while we waited for our sunset sail charter to start, and we decided to drive over to this beach for a walk. And I'm so happy we did. It was gorgeous. Perfectly scenic and almost abandoned, we walked a little ways out, and there was no one near us. The sunset was beautiful (although, it sets behind you on the cliffs, not over the water, but still, the air was flooded with yummy amber light), but we felt like the only two people on the planet during our walk. It's hard to say this is a favorite because we only spent about 30 minutes here, but next year we plan to go back and bring a picnic dinner as the sun goes down, and maybe see if we can snag a fire permit to do a seaside firepit once it's dark. 

Newcomb Hollow Beach.
Newcomb Hollow Beach
Newcomb Hollow Beach



I've also heard great things about West Dennis Beach, but in our travels, we've never made it there, sadly. We've been to a few other beaches on the Cape, but that's a round-up of my stand-outs. It's kind of hard to find a disappointing beach, though. 

Beach tips: Many town beaches and National Seashore beaches will charge about $20 to park. Some beaches, like Bank Street in Harwich Port, require a town sticker on your car to park. If you're going to pay to park, make the most of your beach day, and get there early. We've had to wait in a car line before because lots were full, and you literally just sit there waiting for someone to leave to get a parking spot. We're usually at the beaches by 10 a.m., and we always get a spot. This isn't an issue if you walk to beaches, though, which is one of the great perks about Bank Street. 

One caveat, though, is that most beaches stop charging for parking, or stop checking car stickers, after 4-ish p.m. For Mayflower I think it's 4:30 p.m. I'm not sure what the exact times are for each beach, but chances are if you go to a beach after 4:30-5 p.m., you can park in the lots for free, and without a sticker. We do this a lot to spend as much time at the beaches as possible. Even if we spend the whole day at the beach to swim, read and eat lunch, we'll go back after dinner to watch the sun go down, or just go for a sunset walk on the shore. And because you can park for free, you can pick whatever beach you want! 

Exploring The Towns
I, personally, have two favorite towns on the Cape: Harwich Port and Chatham. Chatham is known for being a bit more of a shopping destination, and that's one of the reasons I love it. It's picturesque, charming and historical. You can visit an old windmill that was build in the late 1700's, go shopping at some lovely boutiques, grab lunch at your choice of several lovely restaurants and hit up the oceanside fish market and beach on your way home. The fish market at the pier is definitely worth a stop. It's easy to spot seals there, and it's also really fun to watch the fishing boats come in with their catches of the day. There's a restaurant right there as well that serves fresh and amazing seafood dishes. 

Harwich Port is home of the aforementioned Bank Street Beach, which is walkable from the main street in town. It's a small little town, but has some really cute little shops and eateries. I really love Ember, which is a coal-fire pizza place with a really fun fire pit on their dine-in patio. They have this really great grilled peach salad that we can't ever resists getting, and all different kinds of pizzas. And, AND, my favorite place for ice cream, Sundae School, is right next store (ice cream will be its own topic for obvious reasons). 

Sandwich is also a fun town to walk around. They have an old Grist Mill that's very lovely, and the oldest surviving house on the Cape, called Hoxie House, which is a fun little walk in town. They also have some great eateries, a few cute shops, a great antique store and a boardwalk that connects you to Town Neck Beach.

Bridge to Town Neck Beach in Sandwich.
Town Neck Beach in Sandwich.
Boardwalk in Sandwich.

Boardwalk in Sandwich.
Provincetown is kind of a must if you've never been. It has everything: the feel of a sleepy coastal town that's still lively with nightlife, busting with a unique energy all day every day, and great shops and restaurants. You can walk down to the marina and look at the docked fishing boats, walk down Commercial Street, the center of Ptown, and meander the side streets for some local flavor. My favorite restaurant in Ptown is Ross' Grill (they have a shrimp po' boy to  literally die for), and it's indoor seating overlooking the ocean.

Ice Cream
ICE CREAM. Ohmigod, the ice cream on the Cape is so good. I have four favorites: Cape Cod Creamy (Yarmouth - mentioned above), Sundae School (Harwichport, Dennisport & Orleans), Schoolhouse (Harwich) and Buffy's (Chatham). Most of them are ridiculously over-priced, but also, ridiculously worth it. We spend a small fortune on ice cream on vacation. Josh's favorite is Shark's Tooth at Sundae School, which is black raspberry and white chocolate chips. Sundae School usually has some kind of candy bar ice cream, and I always cross my fingers for Milky Way (not sure why). Buffy's has the most amazing Mint Chocolate Chip with huge chocolate chunks that give me all the heart eyes. Schoolhouse portions are huge and a small cone will make you feel like you just ate Nantucket island (in a good way). If I had to pick just one, I'd go with Sundae School. One, it has a cute name (the back of their t-shirts say Don't Skip Sundae School). Two, the ice cream is consistently reliable and amazing quality. Three, the variety of flavors is amazing. They'll always have at least three flavors you can't decide between. 

Mint Chip from Buffy's in Chatham.
The picnic tables outside of Buffy's in Chatham.
When you're double-fistin' it at Sundae School.
Milky Way at Sundae School.

Tip: More of a head's up. Sundae School can get pretty busy in the evenings. So busy that they actually have people directing cars in the parking lot. If you can find a place to stay that's walkable to Sundae School, then you've hit the jackpot. Unless you don't get as excited about ice cream as me. Then you don't need to worry about that.

Restaurants
For this seafood-loving girl, the Cape is heaven. For people like Josh who have too much love for our sea-dwelling creatures, and choose not to eat them, it can be tough. We usually dub Cape Cod week "Onion Ring Week" because being a vegetarian, Josh pretty much can only eat onion rings and the side salad on all the seafood shack places I like to go. We try to diversify when possible, but the seafoods shacks are a must, you know? Give me a big paper plate of fried clams and scallops and fries and 'slaw and then take me to the nearest ice cream place!

I've found that it's really hard to get bad seafood on the Cape. We've even Yelped and Trip-Advisored restaurants that were a 3.0 or 3.5, risked going anyway out of convenience, and found them to be really good. Some places are obviously better than others, but it's really hard to get a total dud. My personal favorite low-key seafood places are Summer Shanty in Dennisport (right on a marina with a great view of the sunset, adirondack chairs outside to wait for your table and very basic fried seafood fare), Original Seafood in Dennis (an order at the counter, take to your table kind of place) and The Dog House, also in Dennis (also an order at a counter and find your picnic table place).

The Marina at Summer Shanty in Dennis.

For pizza, we love the aforementioned Ember in Harwich Port.

Grilled peach salad at Ember in Harwich.
Pizza at Ember in Harwich.

For a special occasion, the Ocean House in Dennis is hands down my favorite. The restaurant is a bit more upscale, so you can totally use it as an excuse to dress up, and it's literally right on the ocean. Most tables have a perfect view of the ocean, but the seats further back unfortunately have pretty blocked views. We always go here on my birthday, and have sat in all different areas. One year, we were seated all the way back, and being kind of short, I couldn't even see the ocean over the guy's head in front of me at the next table. I was kind of bummed. But then the following year, we were seated next to a window overlooking the shore, and it was perfect. This year, we were somewhere in the middle, and had a great side-view of the ocean. They have a diverse menu offering and everything we've gotten has been absolutely delicious. They also have a very casual beach bar outside next door so you can grab a drink if you arrive early for your reservation (and you'll definitely need a reservation!). 

Ocean House in Dennis.
Ocean House in Dennis.
The seafood bruschetta at Ocean House in Dennis.

For the absolute best lobster roll on the Cape, visiting Sesuit Harbor Cafe in Dennis is necessary. The wait is always long at peak hours, but for $19.99, you'll get a life-changing lobster roll, fries and 'slaw overlooking the water. And, it's BYOB, so you can bring a bottle of wine and make a night (or lunch) of it. This place is also a seat yourself at a picnic table situation, and because it's always hoppin', you may end up sharing a table with strangers. But, everyone's always happy here, so it's a good thing. Last year, we waited in line for about a half hour before getting to the counter to order, and we got there right around 6 p.m. This year, we got there super early (around 4:45 p.m.) and we got right up to the counter, just in time before people started to line up behind us around 5 p.m. When we left around quarter to six, the line was out the door again.

Sesuit Harbor Cafe.
The lobster roll at Sesuit Harbor Cafe in Dennis.


A new-to-us restaurant we discovered this year is Nauset Grill. Highly, highly recommend this place. They have indoor seating, as well as picnic tables outside, and it's very casual. The food is so good here. They have a vegetarian menu (why we went), but the seafood offerings are incredible. I got a cup of clam chowder, and fried cod tacos with the special Nauset sauce, and they were rather memorable in the best way possible. We also got the onion rings and fried pickles to share, and both were just so, so good. 

Tip: Most restaurants can get pretty crowded during peak season, so we usually try to make reservations ahead of time if we can (we always make reservations for the Ocean House weeks ahead of time). Or, if you want to wing dinner every night, you can do what we do, and go for early dinners. It sounds crazy, but on vacation we usually eat around 5 p.m. to beat the crowds. We're piggies while on the Cape, so we have an early dinner, head out for ice cream, walk on the beach, and go home for pie. No shame, my friends. No shame. And no regrets. 

Where To Stay
Recommending where to stay is almost impossible because it depends entirely on your personal preferences, what you want out of your vacation, how long you're going, and of course, your budget. But I'll try to break it down as much as I can.



Peak Season (July-Labor Day)
If I had to make a recommendation, it would be to do a week-long rental in a house, cottage or condo. Most house-type rentals in the Cape are weekly (Saturday-Saturday) during peak season, so if you plan to go for the whole week (and I'd recommend that if you can), a rental is the best way to go, and here's why: I've compared pricing between week-long rentals and motels/hotels/inns and I've found rentals to be much more cost-effective. Hotels and such will charge you on average $200 per night in peak season, and you can rent a whole house, with a bedroom, kitchen and fridge for groceries, etc., for equal to or less than the nightly rate of a hotel for a week. And at these hotels that average $200 or so per night, you get a pretty basic room that doesn't feel super homey or special. 

If you only go for a long weekend, a hotel is probably more cost-effective, but do your research and the math. You never know what kind of rental you can find. 

Tip: If you're trying to decide between rentals that are nicer-looking or closer to beaches and restaurants, go with proximity. Our first year back as adults four years ago, we rented a big house that was really nicely decorated and very "Cape Cod." It was fun, but we were never in the house. We were always out exploring the beaches and towns. Every year since, we've made proximity to beaches (less than a half mile to the closest ocean beach and walking distance to at least 1-2 good restaurants) our biggest priority. The cottages we usually rent now are very small, basic (but homey) and we can walk to an ice cream place and restaurants, and to an ocean beach every night. 

Tip: All rentals have different policies when it comes to cleaning, bedding and towels. Some rentals don't provide sheets and towels, and some will charge you a cleaning fee. Be sure you understand all the policies of your rental beforehand, and pack accordingly. 

Tip: If you go with a rental, and you have a kitchen, this is a great way to save some extra money if you want. We usually bring things to have breakfast at the cottage, rather than going out, because we're not huge breakfast people (and would rather put our food budget toward seafood and nice dinners). There are also grocery stores all over, and you can buy things to pack beach lunches. But, remember to bring things like sandwich bags, plastic cups, etc. because these things can add up at the stores. But, if you forget them, not a big deal since you'll be able to find the necessities anywhere. 

Off Peak
We've never vacationed on the Cape during off-peak season, but I've seen rates dramatically decrease outside of peak season, and many rentals won't require a minimum night stay. 

Location
Again, it's really hard to say. When I was younger, my mom took my sister and I to Truro, and we loved it there because we wanted to live on the beach, and our motel was ocean-front (as in, walk outside of our patio door, and we were on sand). Many people like the Truro/Wellfleet areas because they're quieter and less populated (but also have fewer restaurant and shop offerings). 

As I'm sure you've guessed, we really like staying in Harwich Port and Dennis Port. These two towns have a lot to offer as far as restaurants (both have a Sundae School, so yay!), and both have beaches we can walk to if we plan our rental location strategically. They also both have nice little shopping districts, and are easily accessible to Chatham. Ptown is a bit of a hike (about an hour), but we make a day of it if we decide to go up there, so that doesn't bother us. 

Tip: When looking for a rental, it can feel totally overwhelming. I like to tell people to decide what you want out of your vacation the most, and then pick an area that will offer that. If you want more of a city scene that's still very beachy, and be able to walk anywhere and everywhere, stay in Ptown or Hyannis. If you're looking for total tranquility and an escape, stay in the Truro, Wellfleet areas. If you're looking for a good mix of things to do and beachside fun, Eastham, Orleans, Dennis, Harwich or Yarmouth. There are other areas to stay, too, so just read up and decide on your priorities. Also, I don't believe there's a bad spot on the Cape to stay. Wherever you land, you'll have an amazing. time.


Sunset Sail
One thing that's been on my bucket list for years is a sunset charter on a sailboat. This year, Josh got me a private charter for my birthday. It was amazing. We went with Captain Curley, who docks out of Wellfleet. He has a smaller boat that really only seats about 6, so it was perfect and cozy for just Josh, myself and the captain. We actually chartered right as the sun was setting, and also had some time to sail as the moon rose over the water. It's something I'll never forget. We loved sailing with Captain Curley - he had so much knowledge to share with us about the Cape and sailing, and even let us steer the boat for a bit! We brought aboard some champagne, chatted with him, and enjoyed the scenery. 

Josh helped to get the boat out during low tide.

Josh got to steer the boat!

Stay tuned for my Nantucket recap!

2 comments:

  1. Loved this! It was SO helpful and I will definitely be referring back to it if we ever vacation in the Cape.

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  2. I spent summers in Brewster as a kid, this post brought back so many great memories! If you ever make it to Brewster I would recommend Nickerson State Park for hiking/biking, the Brewster Bookstore and the Bramble Inn for a nice dinner.

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