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In Woods Hole, a well-kept secret destination

Quicks Hole Tavern

As a destination, Woods Hole somehow slips under the radar. An utterly majestic locale, the tiny haven lies at the extreme Southwest corner of Cape Cod and encompasses just over 2 square miles.

One of Falmouth’s eight villages, Woods Hole, the terminus for the Steamship Authority’s ferry service to Martha’s Vineyard, is typically viewed as a stopover. In the summer, the tiny village swells with travelers loaded up with gear en route to the island. While they might grab a quick lunch or an ice cream cone before they head to the ferry staging area, few take the time to pause and absorb the authenticity of the enclave.


Woods Hole was a whaling port in the early 1800s. In 1859, the village became home to the Pacific Guano Company, which produced fertilizer from guano imported from the islands of the Pacific Ocean. After the firm went bankrupt on the verge of the 20th century, the peninsula on which the factory was located was transformed into Penzance Point, where sprawling summer estates were developed for wealthy Bostonians and New Yorkers.

It can be said that Woods Hole is shrouded in time. Today, Water Street, the main drag, is lined with 19th- and early-20th-century weathered shingle-clad structures that peer out at the small enclosed harbor, Eel Pond, where the array of vessels is dominated by time-worn skiffs and cherished sailboats. The gateway to the open water is via a drawbridge that causes pedestrians and cars to halt when it goes up every 30 minutes, which forces the pace to be constantly slow. You simply cannot be in a hurry in this place, and that’s part of its charm.

The pristine nature of the setting evokes serenity. The scent of the ocean is ever present, the sounds of sea birds mingle with the melodies of guitarists who often strum on the steps of Community Hall.


A sandwich at the Quick Holes Tavern.

Locals have worked hard to protect Woods Hole’s bucolic appeal. In the 1990s, when a McDonald’s nearly opened across from the Steamship Authority, villagers were incensed and a strong movement rallied to block the fast-food chain. “Keep Woods Hole Franchise Free” was the theme of the annual Fourth of July parade that year. Needless to say, McDonald’s never made it to Woods Hole.

In the 1990s, I spent summers in my teens and early 20s in Woods Hole. I held every job imaginable, slowly moving up the ranks from “salad girl” to the coveted positions of a Saturday night waitress at the venerable Landfall (9 Luscombe Ave.,,
a waterfront restaurant that’s been in the same family since opening in 1946. Crafted of wood salvaged from ship wrecks and windows rescued before local buildings were razed, with buoys and other nautical treasures strung from the ceiling, both the dining room and the classic seafood menu have been relatively unchanged for decades, which has earned the place a loyal clientele. After dinner, the restaurant has a laid-back bar scene where patrons gather around the fire-pit on the back patio; there’s also a small deck in the front of the restaurant where you can dangle your feet in the ocean while sipping a cocktail.

Beth Colt

Woods Hole is a prime spot for oceanic research and is home to several famous marine science institutions including the Marine Biological Laboratory, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution — the largest such research institution in the country. Collectively, these institutions occupy about 170 buildings in town. WHOI (15 School St., has an exhibit center open to the public where visitors may learn about the Institution’s research, vessels, and tools. Most compelling is the story behind the discovery of the wreck of the famed Titanic, by WHOI scientists in the 1980s. During the summer, volunteers guide visitors on walking tours through the institution’s dock area and other restricted facilities.


With a population of less than 1,000 residents, for decades, Woods Hole was largely the domain of commercial fishermen and scientists. But in recent years, it’s also morphed into a burgeoning locale that offers travelers much to enjoy.

The dining scene, in particular, has considerably evolved. Most notable is Quicks Hole Tavern (29 Railroad Ave., www.quicksholewicked
), located in the ample shingle-clad structure directly across from the ferry that once housed the notorious Leeside — a 50-year-old watering hole that had seen better days. When it opened two years ago, the tavern brought a much needed infusion of contemporary fare to the area. With emphasis on fresh ingredients, small plates are complemented by entrees featuring innovative twists: corn nut crusted sea scallops with summer vegetable succotash; filet mignon and tempura fried lobster. To start, the pig candy: crispy pork belly with peach habanero glaze is a must and all meals should end with a bag of the restaurant’s signature doughnuts.


A few doors down, Quicks Hole Taqueria (6 Luscombe Ave., www.quicksholewicked
is more casual with counter service. The menu is a blend of Southern California and New England (think lobster tacos). Sweet baja shrimp or slow-roasted pork burritos are wise selections. The sangria is superb and there’s an outdoor patio where you can sit back and listen to live music on Thursday and Friday nights.

A newcomer to the dining scene this season, Water Street Kitchen (56 Water St., www
specializes in dishes with unusual ingredient pairings: monkfish with carrot-ginger puree paired with aloo saag and green bean slaw and hanger steak with togarashi frites and baby bok choy. After dinner, head across the street for a drink at The Captain Kidd (77 Water St., www.the
a pub with a nautical decor that suits an establishment named for a legendary 17th-century Scottish pirate.

Pie in the Sky (10 Water St., www.pieintheskywoodshole.
is a local bakery with so much more. Open daily from 5 a.m. until at least 10 p.m., it serves and endless assortment of delectable baked goods. The bounty includes croissants, blueberry scones, chocolate chip cookies the size of a large hand, world-class popovers, and pies, all made on the premises of the small establishment. At lunchtime, a slew of sandwiches round out the offerings. New this summer: On weekend evenings, the bakery hosts Sugs BBQ, the best smoked barbecue you’ll encounter on Cape Cod.

Pie in the Sky also showcases and sells the wares of local artisan Joan Lederman (, a ceramic artist who creates glazes from sediments collected from the ocean floor. Another of Woods Hole’s native artisans is Tessa Morgan, whose studio, Flying Pig Pottery (410 Woods Hole Road, showcases her platters, bowls, and vessels adorned with whimsical mermaids, whales, fish, and turtles.


If you have kids in tow, no trip is complete without a stop at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium (166 Water St., Seals live in a pool out front and visitors are welcome to stop by daily at 11 a.m. for feeding time. A tour won’t take long and it’s free. The main level of the nation’s oldest marine aquarium has exhibits about sea creatures, marine environments, and endangered species; upstairs there are touch tanks with lobsters, various crabs, sea stars, and quahogs.

If you’re planning to spend a night or two in the village, the Woods Hole Inn (28 Water St., offers 14 guest rooms and suites in a renovated 19th-century building. Rooms are luxuriously modern and bathrooms are fitted with marble and glass rain showers. Antique architectural details include thick moldings and wide plank wood floors. A private chef comes in daily to prepare breakfast; offerings might include quiche, fresh baked croissants, and savory bread pudding.

You can still plan your trip in time for the annual Woods Hole Film Festival (woods, which runs July 30-Aug. 6. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the event, which showcases independent films by emerging filmmakers from all over the world with screenings, workshops, panel discussions, and staged readings.

Jaci Conry can be reached at