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New England's best-known, most popular oceanfront resort area is Cape Cod, an expansive sandbar that stretches out like an arm with a clenched fist into the Atlantic. Cape Cod is multi-faceted, holding attractions for visitors with varying interests. The old King's Highway scenic Route 6A along the North Shore is designated one of the most beautiful roads in America. It winds beneath a canopy of trees through some of the Cape's most historic and charming towns. Other verdant pockets amid the prevailing dunes and development are Chatham, Orleans and Wellfleet.
Scenic Route 6A begins in Sandwich, the Cape's first town. Established in 1638 by settlers from the Plymouth colony, Cape Cod's oldest town remains much as it was, scarcely untouched by the creeping development prevalent across much of the Cape. Swans and ducks glide around Shawme Pond, which sparkles in the village center beside the Thornton W. Burgess Museum and, beyond, one of Cape Cod's oldest houses. Dozens more houses, part of a National Register historic district, catch the eye. So do the Town Hall, the library, the Christopher Wren-inspired spire of the First Church of Christ, three museums, gardens and a working gristmill.
Sandwich Glass Museum, 129 Main St., Sandwich.
The transformation of Cape Cod's oldest town from small farming community into one of the world's leading manufacturers of glass objects is traced chronologically in this colorful museum operated by the Sandwich Historical Society. The Boston & Sandwich Glass Co. thrived here starting in 1825, its more than 500 employees refining the art of pressing glass in molds and creating exquisite blown pieces. Competition and lower prices took their toll, however, and a prolonged strike closed the factory permanently in 1888. More than 5,000 pieces of Sandwich glass are on permanent display in fourteen galleries, with occasional video areas for explanation. The pieces, from 800 cup plates to rare banquet lanterns and iridescent Trevaise art glass, are of particular interest to collectors. The Historical Society adds some idiosyncratic finds, including an old rocking cradle on wheels and a Quaker marriage certificate above a display of glass remnants. The remarkable map-like rendition of Cape Cod, made of Sandwich glass fragments, fascinates on the way out from the gift shop.
(508) 888-0251. www.sandwichglassmuseum.org. Open daily 9:30 to 5, April-December; Wednesday-Sunday 9:30 to 4, rest of year. Closed in January. Adults $3.50, children $1.
Heritage Plantation of Sandwich, Grove and Pine Streets, Sandwich.
The incredible display of rhododendrons is the primary attraction at the former estate of Charles O. Dexter, but there's much more at this museum of Americana founded by the Lilly pharmaceutical family. Dexter's renowned rhodies more than 125 varieties are at their best in late May and early June. We were surprised to find some late-bloomers still a brilliant red in mid-October. The remains of the day lily, heather, herb and hosta gardens and the holly dell appealed around the 76 tranquil acres as well. Also impressive were the Lilly collections of firearms and hand-painted miniature soldiers, a working 1912 carousel (well visited by school groups) and wonderful folk art exhibits at the Art Museum. The collections of duck decoys and shore birds, the scrimshaw and Nantucket lightship baskets, the children's chocolate mug collection are stunning. So is the American flag fashioned from plastic objects found on local beaches. Some people spend hours ogling the 37 shiny antique and classic cars in the Shaker Round Barn, a perfect display space with two circular floors showing Gary Cooper's 1930 Duesenberg and William Howard Taft's White Steamer, the first official White House auto. A free shuttle bus makes stops every twenty minutes around the far-flung property. The Carousel Café offers light breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks. The Old Barn Garden Shop sells plants and garden supplies, and there are all kinds of nifty things in the main gift shop by the parking area.
(508) 888-3300. www.heritageplantation.org. Open daily 9 to 6, Thursday-Friday to 8, mid-May through October; daily 10 to 4, rest of year. Adults $12, children $6.
Thornton W. Burgess Museum, 4 Water St., Sandwich.
The works and spirit of the renowned children's author and naturalist, the best-known Sandwich native in this century, are preserved in this restored 1776 Cape Cod house on the shore of Shawme Pond. His animal characters are in evidence in the pint-size museum with nature exhibits on one side of the house and a shop on the other. A couple of herb gardens are out back.
Two miles east off Route 6A in East Sandwich is the Green Briar Nature Center and Jam Kitchen, operated by the Thornton W. Burgess Society. It features the 57-acre Briar Patch conservation area, nature trails and a fascinating, turn-of-the-century jam kitchen producing and selling jams, chutneys and relishes in the style of a century ago.
(508) 888-6870. www.thorntonburgess.org. Open Monday-Saturday 10 to 4, Sunday 1 to 4, April-October. Winter hours vary. Donation.
Yesteryears Doll and Miniature Museum, River and Main Streets, Sandwich.
Dolls of every age, description and size as well as rare early dolls from Germany, France and Japan are on display in this quirky maze of a museum showing the personal collections of founders Eloise and Ronald Thomas on two floors of an old church, the 1638 First Parish Meetinghouse. The 50 dollhouses (including a four-story Victorian) are highlights for some. Others are charmed by the miniature grocery stores, toy shops and candy stores. All the ingredients for one grocery store were made of real candy, including marzipan sausages strung above the meat counter. The doll collection ranges from a 17th-century Queen Anne to a selection of Barbies. The family-run museum is considered one of the best of its type in the country.
(508) 888-1711. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 to 4, June to mid-September. Adults $3.50, children $1.
Hoxie House, 18 Water St., Sandwich.
One of the oldest houses in Cape Cod's oldest town, a restored 1675 saltbox overlooking Shawme Pond, looks its age. One hardly knows what to make of its fortress-like front façade or its curving room in back. Inside is a two-story wonder of primitive antiquity all the more so when you learn that people lived here until 1953 without the benefit of running water, plumbing or electricity. Our guide called it "the best, most inexpensive tour on the Cape." A combination ticket gives admission to Dexter's Gristmill, built in 1640 and still in operation at the foot of Shawme Pond in Sandwich Center. Corn is ground daily here, and you can usually see ducks and swans on the adjacent pond.
(508) 888-1711. Open Monday-Saturday 10 to 5, Sunday 1 to 5, mid-June to mid-October. Adults, $1.50 each property. Combination ticket, $2.50.
>> Sandwich Lodging and Dining Suggestions
The Dan'l Webster Inn, 149 Main St., Sandwich. (508) 888-3622 or (800) 444-3566.
The Belfry Inne & Bistro, 8 Jarves St., Sandwich. (508) 888-8550 or (800) 844-4542.
>> Sandwich Lodging Suggestions
Bay Beach, 3 Bay Beach Lane, Box 151, Sandwich. (508) 888-8813 or (800) 475-6398.
Isaiah Jones Homestead, 165 Main St., Sandwich. (508) 888-9115 or (800) 526-1625.
Seth Pope House, 110 Tupper Road, Sandwich. (508) 888-5916 or (888) 996-7384.
Capt. Ezra Nye House, 152 Main St., Sandwich. (508) 888-6142 or (800) 388-2278.
>> Sandwich Dining Suggestions
Aqua Grille, 14 Gallo Road, Sandwich. (508) 888-8889.
>> Barnstable Lodging Suggestions
Cobb's Cove, Powder Hill Road, Barnstable Village. (508) 362-9356 or (877) 378-5172.
Ashley Manor, 3660 Olde Kings Highway (Route 6A), Box 856, Barnstable. (508) 362-8044 or (888) 535-2246.
>> Yarmouth Port Lodging Suggestions
Wedgewood Inn, 83 Main St. (Route 6A), Yarmouth Port. (508) 362-5157. Fax (508) 362-5851.
>> Yarmouth Port Dining Suggestions
Abbicci, 43 Main St. (Route 6A), Yarmouth Port. (508) 362-3501.
Inaho Japanese Restaurant, 157 Route 6A, Yarmouth Port. (508) 362-5522.
>> Dennis Dining Suggestions
The Red Pheasant Inn, 905 Main St. (Route 6A), Dennis. (508) 385-2133 or (800) 480-2133.
>> Brewster Lodging and Dining Suggestions
The Bramble Inn & Restaurant, 2019 Main St. (Route 6A), Brewster. (508) 896-7644.
>> Brewster Lodging Suggestions
The Candleberry Inn, 1882 Main St., Brewster. (508) 896-3300 or (800) 573-4769.
The Captain Freeman Inn, 15 Breakwater Road, Brewster. (508) 896-7481 or (800) 843-4664.
>> Brewster Dining Suggestions
Chillingsworth, 2449 Main St. (Route 6A), Brewster. (508) 896-3640 or (800) 430-3640.
The Brewster Fish House Restaurant, 2208 Main St., Brewster. (508) 896-7867.
>> Orleans Lodging Suggestions
The Nauset House Inn, 143 Beach Road, Box 774, East Orleans. (508) 255-2195.
>> Orleans Dining Suggestions
Nauset Beach Club, 222 Main St. East Orleans. (508) 255-8547.
Cape Cod National Seashore, Route 6, Eastham.
The Salt Pond Visitor Center provides a good orientation for the Cape's most expansive national treasure. The seashore was established in 1961 under the administration of President John F. Kennedy, for whom Cape Cod was his summer home. The 44,000-acre preserve protects 40 miles of ocean beaches, dunes, marshes, pine barrens, forests, wildlife and historic structures from Chatham to the tip of the Cape at Provincetown. Self-guiding nature trails, as well as biking and horseback riding trails, wind through the diverse landscapes. Park rangers offer guided walks and evening lectures. Movies, exhibits and dioramas at the visitor center shed insights on the area. Another orientation point is the Province Lands Visitor Center in Provincetown.
(508) 255-3421. Open daily, 9 to 4:30, extended hour in summer, Free. Beach parking fee in summer, $7.
>> Eastham Lodging Suggestions
The Whalewalk Inn, 220 Bridge Road, Eastham. (508) 255-0617 or (800) 440-1281.
>> Wellfleet Dining Suggestions
Aesop's Tables, 316 Main St., Wellfleet. (508) 349-6450.
>> Truro Dining Suggestions
Adrian's, 535 Route 6A, North Truro. (508) 487-4360.
Cape Cod's last town is also in a sense its first town the Pilgrims on the Mayflower landed here in 1620 and stayed five weeks before sailing across Cape Cod Bay to find shelter and fresh water at Plymouth. The town eventually was settled in the mid-1700s by Portuguese fishermen and their families. In the 20th century, artists were drawn by the "Cape light" that is strongest in Provincetown. They found it "a place hard to get to and hard to get out of," as Eugene O'Neill famously described it. Free-living and free-thinking, they cast a spell over Provincetown that pulsates to this day. The population (3,400) increases ten-fold in summer. The populated part of P-town, as it's called, three miles long and generally two blocks wide, curves cheek-by-jowl around the harbor facing sheltered Cape Cod Bay. On the north side are the towering dunes and beaches of the Cape Cod National Seashore and the open Atlantic.
From the busy wharves come and go commercial fishing boats, plus excursion boats and an express catamaran to and from Boston. The whale-watching phenomenon on the East Coast originated here in 1975, taking advantage of the fertile feeding grounds of the Stellwagen Bank sanctuary offshore. At least four excursion lines offer whale-watch trips of three to four hours, leaving from MacMillan Wharf three times a day in season.
Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, off Route 6 on High Pole Hill, Provincetown.
The tallest granite structure in the country offers a panoramic view of Cape Cod from its 252-foot-high observation deck. Its top is reached by walking up an inclined ramp and stairs as in an Italian tower. The monument was built in 1910 to honor the first landing of the Mayflower. At its base is a museum with a collection of artifacts tracing the history of the Outer Cape. Displays include dioramas, ship models, scrimshaw, a map of the Mayflower's route, whaling equipment, items salvaged from nearby shipwrecks and even preserved polar bears, part of an unusual North Pole collection in honor of native son Donald MacMillan, who explored the Arctic with Commodore Robert Peary. The Pilgrim Room contains Mayflower memorabilia as well as Colonial and Victorian china, silver and pewter.
(508) 487-1310. www.pilgrim-monument.org Open daily, 9 to 7 in summer, 9 to 5 in spring and fall. Closed December-March. Adults $6, children $3.
Provincetown Art Association and Museum, 460 Commercial St., Provincetown.
The nation's oldest continuous arts colony dates to 1899, when Charles Hawthorne began teaching painting to hundreds of artists who flocked here to take advantage of the open air and changing light (visiting artists still occupy some of the historic dune shanties each summer). The association was established in 1914, and by 1916 the Boston Globe headlined a front-page article "Biggest Art Colony in the World in Provincetown." Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell were among those who worked in town. The museum has a permanent collection of more than 1,500 works, shown throughout the year in four galleries. It also stages exhibitions of works by established and emerging artists.
(508) 487-1750. www.paam.org. Open daily, noon to 5, Memorial Day to October, also 8 to 10 p.m. in summer; rest of year, weekends noon to 4. Adults $5, children $2.
>> Provincetown Lodging Suggestions
The Brass Key Guesthouse, 67 Bradford St., Provincetown. (508) 487-9005 or (800) 842-9858.
Crowne Pointe Historic Inn, 82 Bradford St., Provincetown. (508) 487-6767 or (877) 276-9631.
Anchor Inn Beach House, 175 Commercial St., Provincetown. (508) 487-0432 or (800) 858-2657.
Lands End Inn, 22 Commercial St., Provincetown. (508) 487-0706 or (800) 276-7088.
Watermark Inn, 603 Commercial St., Provincetown. (508) 487-0165.
Best Western Tides Beachfront, 837 Commercial St., Provincetown. (508) 487-1045.
>> Provincetown Dining Suggestions
Chester, 404 Commercial St., Provincetown. (508) 487-8200.
Front Street Restaurant, 230 Commercial St., Provincetown. (508) 487-9715.
The Mews, 429 Commercial St., Provincetown. (508) 487-1500.
Dancing Lobster Café/Trattoria, 371 Commercial St., Provincetown. (508) 487-0900.
The Martin House, 157 Commercial St., Provincetown. (508) 487-1327.
Of all Cape Cod's towns, the most alluring is Chatham, a sophisticated and sedate enclave beside the sea. This is the elbow of the Cape, where the hubbub of much of the Cape's south shore yields to treed tranquility before the land veers north to face the open Atlantic and form the dunes of the National Seashore. Chatham has more beach area and shoreline than any other Cape Cod town much of it privately owned. Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, a wilderness island, is accessible by a short boat trip. It is a haven for bird-watching.
The Old Atwood House (1752) at 347 Stage Harbor Road, one of the town's oldest houses, contains upwards of 2,000 antiques in fourteen display rooms. The Chatham Railroad Museum, the former town depot, is now filled with more than 8,000 models, relics and photos, plus a 1910 caboose. Other historic sites are the Mayo House on Main Street, the old Chatham Grist Mill, and the Chatham Light.
>> Chatham Lodging and Dining Suggestions
Wequassett Inn, Pleasant Bay, Chatham. (508) 432-5400 or (800) 225-7125.
Chatham Bars Inn, Shore Road, Chatham. (508) 945-0096 or (800) 527-4884.
Chatham Wayside Inn, 512 Main St., Box 685, Chatham. (508) 945-5550 or (800) 391-5734.
>> Chatham Lodging Suggestions
The Captain's House Inn of Chatham, 369-377 Old Harbor Road, Chatham. (508) 945-0127 or (800) 315-0728.
The Bradford of Chatham, 26 Cross St., Chatham. (508) 945-1030 or (800) 562-4667.
The Cranberry Inn at Chatham, 359 Main St., Chatham. (508) 945-9232 or (800) 332-4667.
Moses Nickerson House, 364 Old Harbor Road, Chatham. (508) 945-5859 or (800) 628-6972.
>> Chatham Dining Suggestions
The Impudent Oyster, 15 Chatham Bars Ave., Chatham. (508) 945-3545.
Vining's Bistro, 595 Main St., Chatham. (508) 945-5033.
Sosumi, 14 Chatham Bars Ave., Chatham. (508) 945-0300.
>> Harwich Point Dining Suggestions
The Cape Sea Grille, 31 Sea St., Harwich Port. (508) 432-4745.
Hyannis is Cape Cod's city population 10,000, but seeming bigger. It is the Cape's shopping and transportation hub, the site of the regional mall across from the airport and the place where the ocean-going ferries depart for Nantucket. The Cape Cod Melody Tent, a summer stage for musicals and name entertainers, is here. So is the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum at 397 Main St., a local tribute in the old Town Hall to the 35th president.
Beyond Cape Cod's confines, Hyannis Port is better known, thanks to its enduring fame as the home of the Kennedy family summer compound.
>> Hyannis Lodging Suggestions
The Simmons Homestead Inn, 288 Scudder Ave., Hyannis Port. (508) 778-4999 or (800) 637-1649.
>> Hyannis Dining Suggestions
Penguins Sea Grill, 331 Main St., Hyannis. (508) 775-2386.
The Roo Bar, 586 Main St., Hyannis. (508) 778-6515.
>> Cotuit Dining Suggestions
The Regatta of Cotuit, 4631 Falmouth Road (Route 28), Cotuit. (508) 428-5715.
FALMOUTH / WOODS HOLE
Settled by Quakers in 1661, the Cape's second largest town is a year-round community. The heart of the far-flung town is Falmouth Center, spreading outward from the historic village green. Tony Falmouth Heights has grand Victorian summer homes along the ocean beach. North Falmouth and West Falmouth, both historic and charming, face Buzzards Bay to the west. East Falmouth is residential and commercial, and its harbors face south toward Vineyard Sound. It is the home of the Ashumet Holly & Wildlife Sanctuary, best known for its collection of more than 1,000 holly trees.
The Shining Sea Bicycle Trail, one of the best of its genre, extends four miles along the ocean from Falmouth to Woods Hole. The name honors the memory of Katharine Lee Bates, who was born in Falmouth and wrote "America the Beautiful."
Woods Hole, the principal ferry departure point for Martha's Vineyard, is a busy marine research center that is home to four major scientific institutions, including the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Marine Biological Laboratory. Their facilities and personnel give it the look and feel of a government installation. Much of Woods Hole is surrounded by water and in its center is Eel Pond, a saltwater harbor filled with boats big and small. They sail in and out of Vineyard Sound, stopping traffic on the main street as a hand-operated drawbridge is raised to let them through.
Museums on the Green, 55-65 Palmer St., Falmouth.
The Falmouth Historical Society opens two restored houses on the village green for guided tours. The Julia Wood House was built in 1790 by Falmouth's famous early physician, Dr. Francis Wicks, known for his work with smallpox inoculations. The Georgian-style house has one of the town's few remaining widow's walks. Among its displays are the original 18th-century scenic wallpaper brought from Paris, period furniture, antique hooked rugs, a handmade quilt collection, clothing and toys, and a restored kitchen with fireplace and early utensils. The Hallett Barn out back displays early tools and farm implements and houses the society's gift shop. Next door, the 1724 Conant House contains memorabilia of whaling days, a military exhibit, a shell collection and a large collection of china, silver and glass. The Katharine Lee Bates Room houses the society's collection of books and pictures pertaining to her song, "America the Beautiful." A placard identifies the private home at 16 Main St. in which the composer was born in 1859.
(508) 548-4857. Open Tuesday-Sunday 2 to 5, early June to mid-September; also weekends 1 to 4 in spring and fall. Adults $3, children 50 cents.
Spohr Gardens, 45 Fells Road, Falmouth.
Hidden among the homes and wooded properties in the Oyster Pond neighborhood is this little-known treasure shared by the family of Charles and Margaret Spohr. The six-acre garden surrounding their residence slopes down to Oyster Pond, where you're apt to be greeted by swans as graceful as the gardens are tranquil. The gardens are at their best in spring, when 700,000 daffodils launch a showy procession of magnolias, azaleas, rhododendrons, hydrangeas and lilies. Wide grassy paths wind through the gardens, with nautical artifacts, sculptures and benches here and there. Signs point out rock gardens, hillside walks and more. A huge boulder bears the carving, "Spohr Gardens, 1950." A sign notes that contributions for the gardens' continuing maintenance are gratefully accepted.
(508) 548-0623. Gardens open daily, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Free.
>> Falmouth/Woods Hole Lodging Suggestions
The Palmer House Inn, 81 Palmer Ave., Falmouth. (508) 548-1230 or (800) 472-2632.
Inn on the Sound, 313 Grand Ave., Falmouth Heights. (508) 457-9666 or (800) 564-9668.
Grafton Inn, 261 Grand Ave. South, Falmouth Heights. (508) 540-8688 or (800) 642-4069.
Woods Hole Passage, 186 Woods Hole Road, Falmouth. (508) 548-9575 or (800) 790-8976.
Sands of Time, 549 Woods Hole Road, Box 106, Woods Hole. (508) 548-6300 or (800) 841-0114.
>> Falmouth/Woods Hole Dining Suggestions
The Regatta of Falmouth By-the-Sea, 217 Clinton Ave., Falmouth. (508) 548-5400.
Chapaquoit Grill, 410 West Falmouth Hwy. (Route 28A), West Falmouth. (508) 540-7794.
This content is excerpted from New England's Best, by Nancy and Richard Woodworth, copyright 2002, published by Wood Pond Press.