BARNSTABLE — What is the largest town on Cape Cod? If you said Hyannis, you’re close. Hyannis is one of seven villages of Barnstable, a town that encompasses 76 square miles between Nantucket Sound and Cape Cod Bay. While Hyannis is the town’s business and commercial heart, all the villages of Barnstable have much to offer a visitor. Here’s a look at what makes each of them distinctive.
COTUIT offers a surprising number of cultural resources for a small, residential village. The Cahoon Museum of American Art (4676 Falmouth Road, 508-428-7581, www.cahoonmuseum.org) houses the whimsical mermaid paintings of Ralph Cahoon (1910-82), along with a small but fine collection of 19th- and early-20th-century American art. Behind the neon pink exterior of Isaiah Thomas Books & Prints (4632 Falmouth Road, 508-428-2752, www.isaiahthomasbooks.com) are more than 70,000 volumes, according to owner Jim Visbeck, mostly used and including many rare editions. It may be one of the few bookstores where you can find an entire section labeled simply “Kennedy.” The Cotuit Center for the Arts (4404 Falmouth Road, 508-428-0669, www.cotuitcenterforthearts.org) has a robust, year-round schedule of art exhibitions, concerts, and theatrical productions. Monty Python’s “Spamalot” runs through June. Scenic Elizabeth Lowell Park is the home field of the Cotuit Kettleers of the Cape Cod Baseball League.
Moving east from Cotuit on the south shore you come to OSTERVILLE, the home of some of the Cape’s most exclusive country clubs, such as Wianno and Oyster Harbors, and oceanfront estates of Gatsby-esque proportions. A thriving village center has restaurants and shops with wares ranging from boutique clothing to folk art. Established in 1938, Wimpy’s Seafood Cafe (752 Main St., 508-428-3474, wimpysseafoodcafe.com) is a Cape Cod tradition. The homey restaurant serves all manner of seafood at reasonable prices; the lobster and crab chowder is a specialty. Zagat-rated Five Bays Bistro (825 Main St., 508-420-5559, www.fivebaysbistro.com), focusing on contemporary American cuisine, is a good choice for a special dinner. The Islander at Crosby Boat Yard (72 Crosby Circle, 508-419-6631, www.summerstockrestaurant.com) serves seafood with an island flair — think jerk cod and pineapple salsa. At Kindreds Antiques and Folk Art (845 Main St., 508-420-7390, www.kindredsantiquesandfolkart.com) owner Ann Rascati loves to share stories about the varied US artists she carries. Just outside the village center, Oak & Ivory (1112 Main St., 508-428-9425, www.oakandivory.com) sells Nantucket lightship baskets handmade by owner Bob Marks, and sailor’s valentines, seashore-inspired home decor, and jewelry.
CENTERVILLE’S biggest attraction is beautiful Craigville Beach (997 Craigville Beach Road, 508-790-9888, www.town.barnstable.ma.us), a long, wide strand on Nantucket Sound equipped with bathrooms and showers. A favorite post-beach stop is Four Seas Ice Cream (360 South Main St., 508-775-1394, www.fourseasicecream.com), which has been serving homemade ice cream since 1934. Today’s menu includes such exotic flavors as vanilla chai, penuche pecan, and ginger. Take a drive through the narrow streets of the Craigville Retreat Center (39 Prospect Ave., 508-775-1265, www.craigvilleretreats.org), a ministry of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ. Early-20th-century bungalows with gingerbread trim and a tabernacle built in 1871 earned it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
HYANNIS is known for its Kennedy connection, Main Street shops, and ferry service to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The Kennedy Legacy Trail (www.kennedylegacytrail.com) begins at the JFK Museum (397 Main St., 508-790-3077, www.jfkhyannismuseum.org) and guides visitors to 10 Kennedy family sites in downtown Hyannis. Along with trips to the islands, Hy-Line Cruises (138 Ocean St. 800-492-8082, www.hylinecruises.com) offers a narrated tour of Hyannis Harbor that takes visitors past the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port. From Main Street, follow the wave-patterned brick Walkway to the Sea to the harbor, where local artists and craftsmen display their wares in bright-colored shanties. Harborside restaurants include Spanky’s Clam Shack (138 Ocean St., 508-771-2770, www.spankysclamshack.com), specializing in fried local seafood, and Black Cat Tavern (165 Ocean St., 508-778-1233, www.blackcattavern.com), known for its lobster rolls. Lodgings run the gamut from the well-appointed, waterfront Anchor In (1 South St., 508-775-0357, www.anchorin.com) to family-friendly Captain Gosnold Village (230 Gosnold St., 508-775-9111, www.captaingosnold.com), with motel rooms, efficiencies, and cottages.
The village of BARNSTABLE on Route 6A on the north shore is in the town of Barnstable and the county of Barnstable. Not surprisingly, it has always been the seat of government on Cape Cod. The village is a mix of historic buildings and shops. The imposing Greek Revival county courthouse (3195 Main St.), built of Cape Cod granite, is one of the most striking historical structures on the Cape, while the Sturgis Library (3090 Main St., 508-362-6636, www.sturgislibrary.org) is in a building that dates from 1644. You can watch potter Kevin Nolan at work at Barnstable Pottery (3267 Main St., 508-362-1113, www
.capecodpotters.com/barnstable_pottery.htm), which will be celebrating its 10th anniversary on June 22 with an open house. At the bustling harbor you can board a Hyannis Whale Watcher cruise (269 Millway Road, 800-287-0374, www.whales.net) or enjoy waterfront dining at Mattakeese Wharf (273 Millway Road, 508-362-4511, www.mattakeese.com). You’ll find charming bed-and-breakfasts here, such as Ashley Manor (3660 Main St., 508-362-8044, 888-535-2246, www.ashleymanor.net), where luxury suites include fireplaces and Jacuzzis, and the “pet and people friendly” Lamb and Lion Inn (2504 Main St., 508-362-6823, 800-909-6923, www.lambandlion.com ).
WEST BARNSTABLE is home to another gorgeous beach, Sandy Neck (590 Sandy Neck Road, 508-362-8300, www.town.barnstable.ma.us), a long, wide peninsula of sand on the outer side of Barnstable Harbor. The High Pointe Inn (70 High St., 508-362-4441, thehighpointeinn.com), a luxurious bed-and-breakfast set high on a hill overlooking the dunes, appears frequently on lists of New England’s most romantic inns. The village center is a small plot of land between Route 6A and Route 6 along Route 149. The West Barnstable Train Station and Museum (2469 Meetinghouse Way, Route 149, 508-362-9287, www.capecodnrhs.org) is the headquarters of the Cape Cod Chapter, National Railway Historical Society. The Cape Cod Central Railroad picks up passengers here at 11:55 a.m. and 2:55 p.m. on Saturdays for a one-hour narrated scenic train ride through sand dunes, cranberry bogs, and salt marshes to the Cape Cod Canal and back.
Continuing south on Route 149 you come to MARSTONS MILLS, the site of a fulling mill (which cleaned wool) in the late 1600s and later a grist mill that operated into the early 1900s. Today the rural village produces many of the Cape’s cranberries. The striking purple building in the center of town is well worth a visit. The Plum Porch (181 Route 149, 508-420-7118, plumporchonline.com) has a large and whimsical collection of jewelry, seashore-themed home decor, and baby and shower gifts. You can get home-cooked breakfast and lunch at the Mills Restaurant (149 Route 149, 508-428-9824, themillsrestaurant.com) — known for its corned beef hash — and Morning Glory Cafe (211 Route 149, 508-428-1115, www.ccmorningglory
.com), which lists fish chowder and watermelon gazpacho as specialties. Get a bird’s-eye view of the Cape with a vintage biplane ride from the Cape Cod Airfield (1000 Race Lane, 508-428-8732, www.capecodairfield.com); the Waco YMF-5 is a replica of a late 1930s design.