Kathy Flanagan of Pittsburgh learned the hard way that New England weather can be a summer bummer. On her first visit to Cape Cod, Flanagan had one #vacationgoal: to go on a whalewatch cruise. Mom Nature didn’t comply. “So we did the only sensible thing — we went shopping in Provincetown,” Flanagan says, with a fair amount of eating and drinking (and lobster-dismantling) along the way. The only whales she saw were on T-shirts, but she had a good time.
Cape Cod is all about the outdoors. Nobody wants a rained-soaked vacay. Not guests, nor hosts, who feel personally responsible when the weather stinks and the beaches and bike trails are a no-go. As one local beach-house owner put it, “We know you didn’t sit in hours of traffic to come down and do jigsaw puzzles and eat Cape Cod chips and Four Seas Ice Cream.” Or maybe you did. We don’t judge. (Note: They sell Cape Cod-themed jigsaw puzzles at the Brewster General Store.)
Since the weather gods are a fickle bunch, we sleuthed out a few things to do over the bridge when the weather is foul — with an emphasis on activities that are truly (or sort-of) Cape Cod. And when all else fails, there’s Cape Cod Beer in Hyannis, open on Saturdays for brewery tours and tastings.
The Whydah Pirate Museum
“Won’t it be kind of cheesy?” said our New York guest when we suggested an outing to the Whydah Pirate Museum. Nope. This pirate museum is the real deal, home to artifacts discovered by divers at a shipwreck site off the coast of Wellfleet. The Whydah was wrecked in a nor’easter in 1717, with a cargo of treasure from 50 plundered ships, commanded by pirate Sam Bellamy.
Underwater explorer Barry Clifford discovered the shipwreck in 1984. Here’s your chance to take a look at “the world’s only authenticated pirate treasure,” they say, including a chest of coins. There’s a replica of the ship, and personal effects of the 146 pirates who were aboard the Whydah when it sank (only two men made it to the beach alive.) We watched an on-site archeologist scrape away at an encrusted object, and marveled at a calcified human skeleton that will undergo DNA testing. Recovery efforts are ongoing; divers will go out to the site again this summer.
Even skeptics will come away with a better understanding of how and why men (and boys, including a 9-year-old on the Whydah) got into this line of work, and what a pirate’s life was really like. (Hint: Not as fun as Johnny Depp made it look.)
$18.95; 5-17 $14.95; 674 Route 28, West Yarmouth; 508-534-9571; www.discoverpirates.com.
Have a jam session
As the saying goes, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Ergo, when life gives you a rainy Saturday on the Cape, make jam. You might know the Thornton Burgess Society’s Green Briar Nature Center for its nature programs. And, there’s this: They offer jam-making classes for families and adults in a c.1903 kitchen. Held on Saturdays and some weekdays, the two-hour classes feature traditional methods, using fresh ripe fruit. They provide all the materials. You’ll take home four to six jars of jam you made yourself, perhaps strawberry rhubarb, blueberry lime, or strawberry mango. Who knows? Perhaps jam-making will be your new jam.
Rainy Friday? Bring the little ones to Green Briar’s Critter Capers, a story hour featuring some of the animals-in-residence at the property. $55 per adult; for family class, $55 includes one adult and one child age 6 or older; Critter Capers, $4; 6 Discovery Hill Road, East Sandwich; 508-888-6870; www.thorntonburgess.org.
A nod to the Cape’s favorite family
A rainy day is the perfect excuse to time-trip to Camelot at the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum. The museum offers an intimate look at JFK the man and the statesman, his family, and their connection to Hyannis Port. Opening in June, “Cape Cod Remembers JFK Jr.” explores the life of “John-John,” born two weeks after his father was elected president and forever in the spotlight. Featuring seldom-seen images of John Jr. and his family, the exhibit covers idyllic summers in Hyannis Port from 1961 to 1964 and life at the White House, and follows him into adulthood with his wedding, the launch of George magazine, and his death at age 38. $13; 6-17 $7; free for Massachusetts teachers. 397 Main St., Hyannis; 508-790-3077; www.jfkhyannismuseum.org.
Still raining? Duck into some of the shops and galleries along Main Street (including treat emporium extraordinaire Kandy Korner, at 474 Main St.) and settle in for some cooked-to-order Thai food (featuring dishes from the Isan region) at a new place that’s winning raves, Taste of Siam (www.tasteofsiamthailand.com) at 304 Main.
Riddle me this, Batman
Among its virtues, Mashpee Commons has a movie theater, an L.L. Bean store, and Bobby Byrne’s pub. This outdoor shopping area also has the perfect rainy-day escape, the Riddle Escape Room. Yep, it’s one of those places where you are locked in a room and have an hour to complete a mission by solving a series of puzzles, riddles, and connecting clues. So what’s the Cape connection, you ask? Among the five options is the Game of Pirates featuring the Whydah shipwreck off the coast of Wellfleet. (Add a trip to the Whydah Pirate Museum and you have the makings of a pirate-themed weekend.) But really, who can resist the ’80s-themed game, Like Totally ’80s to the Max, in which you must escape from Heather’s bedroom and get back to the future. (See what we did there?) Other themes include Mission Homeland (with smoke, sirens, and other special effects), Secret of Dragon’s Spire (sounds GoT-ish to us), and 1920s Paris: A Moveable Mystery. $30; ages 10 and up; age 16 and under must be accompanied by an adult; players under age 18 must have an adult sign their waiver. 61 Market St., Mashpee Commons, Mashpee; 508-648-7664; www.riddlecapecod.com.
You’ll want to stick around
If you’ve spent any time in Falmouth, you might know Beebe Woods, the gardens and woodland walking trails of Highfield Hall & Gardens. Guess what: You can also peek inside that stick-style Queen Anne mansion, built in 1878 for Pierson Beebe, son of mercantile millionaire James Beebe of Boston. Surrounded by 400 acres of conservation land, the mansion had fallen to ruin. Saved from the wrecking ball in 1994, the house opened as a museum and historic site in 2006.
Focusing on art and music, Highfield Hall is the scene of art shows, culinary events, and concerts. This summer, two exhibitions showcase the work of top fiber artists: a group show titled Unbound: Contemporary Rope Art featuring 50 works by 30 artists, and a solo show, Time to Break Free: A Steampunk Journey, by art quilter Dominique Ehrmann. Both are on view June 30 through Oct. 31. If the weather clears, head outside and make some noise on the five super-sized musical instruments in the music garden (including nine-foot-tall chimes) created by Grammy Award winner Richard Cooke. From June 3 to 21, artist Patrick Dougherty will be in residence, constructing a one-of-a-kind Stickwork sculpture on Highfield’s lawn. Dougherty weaves tree saplings into fabulous, fanciful art installations; his work has appeared around the world. This piece will debut on June 30th. $8; under 12 free; 56 Highfield Drive, Falmouth; 508-495-1878; www.highfieldhallandgardens.org.
All booked up
You may have read it in this very newspaper: independent bookstores are booming, in spite of Amazon. The Cape has a slew of terrific bookstores, each with its own personality, along the Cape and Islands Bookstore Trail (www.capeandislandsbookstoretrail.com). This bookish route features 21 independent booksellers, including three on the islands. They include East End Books in Provincetown (their staff picks are unbeatable), Isaiah Thomas Books & Prints in Cotuit (a general used and rare bookshop with a strong collection of art, architecture, and photography books), Eight Cousins Books in Falmouth (their selection of children’s books is wonderful), 50-year-old Titcomb’s Bookshop in East Sandwich (a hotspot for author readings and events), and the bookstore with the best name ever, I Cannot Live Without Books, in West Dennis. Caution: You’ll end up with so many good books that you’ll have to extend your vacation.
Glassy-eyed in Sandwich
It isn’t a secret, but who doesn’t love the Sandwich Glass Museum? (Other than parents toting rambunctious toddlers.) With glassblowing demonstrations every hour, and gorgeous glasswork to eyeball — including over 6,000 pieces of glass made in Sandwich — this is a dandy place to add some color and sparkle to a drizzly afternoon. Open since 1907, the museum explores the history of glassmaking on the Cape in the early 19th century, when the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company was the top manufacturer of glass in the world. Glassblowing demonstrations last about 20 minutes, and someone in each audience is selected to press a piece of glass. $10; $2 ages 6-14; 126 Main St., Sandwich; 508-888-0251; www.sandwichglassmuseum.org.