How to do Cape Cod like a local
Yes you can enjoy less crowded beaches, your own bonfire, free concerts, lobster roll deals, off the beaten path views, and much more.
It’s a perfect summer afternoon on Cape Cod and you’re lounging on the beach, towel to towel with thousands of other summer visitors.
Where am I? At the movies, seeing the latest summer blockbuster.
Timing is everything for those of us who live on Cape Cod. In July and August, it’s one of the rules for maintaining sanity: Don’t go to the movies on a rainy day. The others include: Don’t attempt left-hand turns on routes 6 and 28, don’t go to the supermarket on Friday night, and, for heaven’s sake, don’t eat out on Saturday.
That doesn’t mean the locals don’t enjoy Cape Cod in the summer. Sure, we like to sit on our decks and scowl at cars turning in our driveways, but, like you, we love the water, the weather, and the seasonal buzz. We spend staycation days at the beach, eat lobster with visiting friends and family, and even squeeze in a round or two of mini golf.
We do have a few ways to dodge (some) traffic and avoid (some) crowds. We pinch pennies by picking up coupon books or borrowing discount museum passes from the library (available to Cape library card holders). I can’t tell you all of our tricks or my Cape Cod Canal tunnel pass would be revoked. But here’s the inside track on enjoying Cape Cod like a local in the high season.
Sand and surf
Go early. Go late. Never go in between. To get into the Cape’s best beaches for the day, be on the road by 9 a.m. At the end of the day, they’re free and less crowded, and you can eat dinner there. If you must go midday, wait until 1 p.m. or so (naptime for the preschool crowd) and try a south-side beach with a big parking lot, like Craigville Beach, Craigville Beach Road, Centerville (508-790-9888; town.barnstable.ma.us/recreation/barnstable-beaches.asp).
For a real Cape experience, apply for a bonfire permit at the gatehouse to Sandy Neck Beach, on Cape Cod Bay at the Sandwich-West Barnstable line (508-362-8300; town.barnstable.ma.us/sandyneckpark/default.aspx), or at the Cape Cod National Seashore (508-255-3421; nps.gov/caco/index.htm) visitor center in Eastham or Provincetown. Reservations made in person at the National Seashore get priority over phone calls. Firewood is available at roadside stands and garden stores. Tip: Pizza places deliver to beach parking lots.
Note that many Cape towns and the National Seashore ban smoking and forbid open containers of alcohol on beaches. Unless you’re making a racket, it’s unlikely that anyone will check what’s in your cup, but be mindful of the law.
And download two apps: Sharktivity (www.atlanticwhiteshark.org/sharktivity-map/), created by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy to track great white sightings on the Cape, and a tide tracker like Hi Tide (itunes.apple.com/us/app/hi-tide/id465367975?mt=8) that gives you the latest on area beaches. The shark app will ping you with beach alerts, and a tide app is helpful on bay-side beaches where high tide comes in quickly over the flats, flooding your stuff and condensing beach space.
If you fantasize about letting your pooch run free on the beach, you need to rein — or leash — it in. Dogs are not allowed on town-owned beaches from at least Memorial Day to Labor Day, and sometimes longer. The National Seashore (nps.gov/caco/planyourvisit/pets.htm) allows dogs on unguarded beaches, but they must be on leash. Pets are not allowed on many National Seashore walking trails.
The best bets for dogs (and kids and kayakers) are town conservation areas, which have trails and often allow access to the water. Maps are available on town and conservation trust websites and at town halls. One local favorite is Bell’s Neck Conservation Lands, off Bell’s Neck Road, Harwich (508-432-3997; harwichconservationtrust.org), around the upper reservoirs of the Herring River. You can also get there off the Cape Cod Rail Trail bike path (508-896-3491; mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks/region-south/cape-cod-rail-trail.html), which crosses Bell’s Neck Road. As with all Cape woodland areas, take tick precautions.
Short hikes, great views
The Knob in Woods Hole (508-548-8484; saltpondsanctuaries.org/the-knob/): This finger into Buzzards Bay has one of the most spectacular views on Cape Cod and a couple of secluded beaches. There are fewer than two dozen parking places, so go early.
Bass Hole Boardwalk at Gray’s Beach in Yarmouth Port (yarmouth.ma.us/678/Bass-Hole-Grays-Beach): The boardwalk is a favorite sunset-watching spot, and the beach has a playground, a picnic area, walking trails, and a boat launch. The beach does not require a sticker, but beware the current — and the greenhead flies.
Marconi Wireless Station Site (508-255-3421; nps.gov/caco/learn/historyculture/marconi.htm): This National Seashore site overlooking the Atlantic showcases the sweep and changing nature of the outer beach. The 1.2-mile Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail just behind it is a shaded boardwalk that’s nice for young (or old) walkers.
It’s touristy, but . . .
■ Whydah Pirate Museum, Route 28, West Yarmouth (508-534-9571; discoverpirates.com): National Geographic-sponsored fun (and slightly grisly) history of real pirate treasure — but go on a sunny day or you’ll be swearing like a sailor at Route 28 traffic.
■ Harbor Lights Mini Golf, Underpass Road, Brewster (508-896-2691; harborlightsminigolf.com): putt-putt golf and ice cream off the main roads.
■ Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum (508-487-1310; pilgrim-monument.org): Worth the climb for bragging rights, the view, and a reminder that the Pilgrims landed here first.
■ Whale Watch: Take the late afternoon Dolphin Fleet (800-826-9300; whalewatch.com) boat out of Provincetown, and on the trip back, sip a cocktail and enjoy sunset over the harbor.
On summer evenings, the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod (508-362-0066; artsfoundation.org) and TD Bank sponsor concerts featuring Cape bands in Falmouth, Mashpee, Hyannis, Dennis Port, South Yarmouth, Harwich, Chatham, and Orleans. Take your beach chair and bug spray and enjoy your music the way locals like it: free. Schedules are on the arts foundation website.
Locals are more likely to take out than eat out in the summer; if you want a sit-down experience, stick to midweek. A restaurateur friend advises against dining on the first day in a restaurant’s week, when pent-up demand may make it busy.
A few current local favorites
■ Tuna belly and eggplant miso at Inaho, 157 Route 6A, Yarmouth Port (508-362-5522; inahocapecod.com).
■ Pisco sours and ceviche at Tumi Ceviche Bar and Ristorante, 592 Main Street, Hyannis (508-534-9289; tumiceviche.com).
■ Wine on tap and crisp rosemary chips at The Bog Pub, 618 MacArthur Boulevard, Pocasset (508-392-9620; thebogpubcc.com).
■ Bacon with deviled eggs followed by pan-seared halibut at The Pointe Restaurant, 82 Bradford Street, Provincetown (508-487-2365; provincetown-restaurant.com).
Breakfast spots often seat just a couple of dozen and have a line on weekends. The Pancake Man in South Yarmouth (508-398-9532; pancakeman.com) is a longtime locally owned spot and huge, so there may be less of a wait for your apple cinnamon pancakes. It’s on Route 28, but you can sneak in the back way via Long Pond Drive. (Warning: The theme song will stick with you forever.)
The Federated Church of Hyannis, 320 Main Street (508-775-0298; federatedchurch.org), has a lobster roll lunch on Fridays starting June 30. For $15, you get the sandwich, chips, a drink, a homemade dessert, and piano music. If lobster doesn’t float your boat, a butter-grilled hot dog with the same sides is $5. It’s popular with visitors and local workers, and a great place to pick up Cape intel.
If you want an adult beverage with your meal, seek out the patio at the Wequassett Resort and Golf Club, on Pleasant Bay in Harwich (508-432-5400; wequassett.com). Lobster rolls are pricey ($25) but hefty enough to split. The view is magnificent, and you’ll feel like a swell.
Even we locals don’t always cook lobster ourselves. Fish markets and grocery stores — including BJ’s Wholesale Club in Hyannis (508-568-4035; bjs.com) — will steam lobsters at no extra charge. Pick up some sides and head back to your cottage or to the beach.
Desserts that are worth the trip include almond-fig gelato from Caffe Gelato Bertini, 20R Pearl Street, Hyannis (508-778-0244; capecodgelato.com); sea-salt chocolates from Ghelfi’s, 228 Main Street, Falmouth (800-645-1475; shipchocolates.net); and tiramisu whoopie pies from the Chatham Corner Store, 1403 Old Queen Anne Road (508-432-1077; chathamcornerstore.com).
Dine and dash
OpenTable, Uber, and Lyft all cover the Cape, but they aren’t as dominant as in the Boston area. To make a restaurant reservation, call ahead. If you need a ride home, the bartender or staff at most restaurants can call you a cab.