Mary Ellen Curran, who works in the gift shop at the Aptucxet Trading Post Museum, likes to watch the sunset from Monument Beach in Bourne. Andrea York, director of the Cataumet Arts Center, favors Chapoquoit Beach in West Falmouth. And at dusk residents and vacationers alike make the half-mile trek through the woods to watch the sun drop into the ocean from “the Knob,” which juts into Buzzards Bay at Quissett Harbor.
Sunsets are just one of the draws of Cape Cod’s west coast. The 20-mile stretch from just over the Bourne Bridge to Woods Hole follows the old railroad line, which established a series of whistle stops that York likens to “a string of pearls.” Tiny train depots sprang up, she said, followed by post offices, and eventually village centers. These villages, now parts of Bourne and Falmouth, retain their autonomy and character.
Whether you drive, hike, kayak, or bike, the west coast presents a quieter, less-traveled version of Cape Cod.
The Aptucxet Trading Post Museum (24 Aptucxet Road, Bourne Village, 508-759-9487, www.bournehistoricalsociety.org) marks the beginning of a west coast tour, both geographically and historically. Set in a protected area between the Manomet River and the Cape Cod Canal, the museum is the site of the first commercial enterprise in English-speaking North America. It was established in 1627 by eight pilgrims in concert with Wampanoag natives and Dutch traders. Displays show the goods traded — sugar and salt, animal skins and furs, and Dutch linen — and the shiny quahog shells used as wampum, or money.
From the trading post, follow Shore Road into the village of Pocasset. The Bourne Conservation Trust (www.bourneconservationtrust.org, 508-563-2884) manages several nature preserves and walking trails, including Little Bay on Shore Road and Monk’s Park on Valley Bars Road. Take Wing’s Neck Road to the end, across the salt marshes. Though the Wing’s Neck Lighthouse is now a private home, you can see the lighthouse and its ocean view from a small turnaround.
The protected waters of Buzzards Bay make for great kayaking, says Kimberly Fernandes, owner and founder of Cape Cod Kayak (2 Williams Ave., Pocasset, 508-563-9377, www.capecodkayak.com). “Kayakers can get into so many estuaries, coves, ponds, tidal basins, and salt marshes that aren’t accessible to motor boats” because of railroad trestles and low bridges, she said, and thanks to the warmer waters, the season runs to Thanksgiving. Her company offers tours of area waterways as well as kayak instruction and rentals.
Hungry? The Lobster Trap (290 Shore Road, 508-759-7600, www.lobstertrap.net), a restaurant and fish market, has a new outdoor patio, overlooking Back River and Buzzards Bay. Specialties include lobster rolls, lobster egg rolls, and lobster Reubens.
Shore Road joins County Road in Cataumet. At Red Brook Pond Conservation Area on Thaxter Road, you can take a 1.2-mile trail through pitch pine woods and along cranberry bogs. The Cataumet Arts Center (1 Post Office Lane, 508-296-0960, www.cataumet-arts.org), a working studio and gallery, features jewelry, glass, note cards, weaving, duck decoys, photography, and sculpture; some 40 local artists are represented. The old Cataumet train depot is still standing, and there’s a cute playground at Washington Park across the street. Each year on the first Sunday in August, the center sponsors the Cataumet Artists’ Fair, with indoor and outdoor art exhibits, open studios, storytelling, live music, and food concessions.
The Chart Room at Kingman Yacht Center (1 Shipyard Lane, 508-563-5350, www.chartroomcataumet.com) is a bustling place on a summer evening. A large outdoor patio overlooks Red Brook Harbor and a dazzling assortment of boats. The restaurant is known for its lobster salad sandwiches served on Portuguese bread; ask for the bread toasted to better hold the chunky lobster, lightly dressed with mayo and a little celery. There’s also a gallery and gift shop at the marina.
Follow County Road to its intersection with Route 28A. The sound of rushing water pervades Cataumet Crossing (1370 Route 28A, 508-326-8160, www.cataumetcrossing.com), a family entertainment center with miniature golf, a batting cage, and bumper boats where boaters try to bump their competitors into two waterfalls. At Lazy Sundaes on site, try Cape Cod cranberry ice cream studded with chocolate chunks, cranberries, and walnuts.
Route 28A continues into North Falmouth, the northern terminus of the Shining Sea Bikeway (www.falmouthmass.us/bike ), a 10.7-mile paved pathway that traverses four of Falmouth’s villages, ending in Woods Hole. The trail, used for walking, jogging, and skating as well as cycling, provides views across salt marshes, barrier beaches, and open water. Its name honors Katharine Lee Bates, born in Falmouth in 1859, who wrote “America the Beautiful.” Rent a bike at Art’s Bike Shop (91 County Road, 508-563-7379, www.artsbikeshop.com), less than a mile from the bikeway.
West Falmouth is a picture-postcard village with attractive historical homes and a general store. Chapoquoit Beach (Chapoquoit Road, 508-548-8623) is a popular spot for wind surfing and sunset viewing (resident stickers are required until 4 p.m.). After the beach, stop for ice cream at Eulinda’s (634 Route 28A, 508-548-2486); even the relatively healthy Heath Bar frozen yogurt is delicious. Chapoquoit Grill (410 Route 28A, 508-540-7794, www.chapoquoitgrill.com) is an unassuming spot specializing in Mediterranean cuisine and brick-oven pizza that’s popular with locals.
Add a side of luxury to your car or bike trip at the Beach Rose Inn (17 Chase Road, 508-540-5706, www.thebeachroseinn.com). The 1863 inn, a block from the bikeway, offers queen canopied beds, fireplaces, and full gourmet breakfasts. The attractive property features waterfall gardens, a hot tub, and sculptures by Douglas Reichwein, who owns the inn with his wife, Sheryll.
Route 28A rejoins 28 in West Falmouth, winds through Falmouth Village, and loops back along the Cape’s south coast to Hyannis. To stay closer to the shore, just before 28A rejoins 28, duck down Palmer Ave to Sippewissett Road. Sippewissett Campground (836 Palmer Ave., 508-548-2542, www.sippewissett.com) feels like a time capsule, with its tents, cabins, and Sioux tepees. The Tessier family has owned the campground for 53 years, Joyce Tessier said, and the focus remains “back to basics, families spending time together.”
Follow Sippewissett Road (which turns into Quissett Avenue) into the village of Woods Hole at the southwestern tip of Cape Cod. Here you can check out the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Exhibit Center (15 School St., 508- 289-2663, www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=9135), or catch a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard (508-477-8600, www.steamshipauthority.com) — preferably one that leaves at sunset.