Few places this side of heaven engender the image of a classic vacation spot as a summer rental spent at a Cape Cod bed and breakfast. Cape Cod! Just the sound of it makes you want to pack a bag and head for the venerable paradise by the sea.
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Sticking out into the ocean from the Massachusetts mainland like an exaggerated leprechaun boot, the Cape Cod National Seashore was still a couple centuries away from existing as a sanctuary for vacationers after the first pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. In those days people had other more pressing priorities than vacationing – they were trying to eke out a living while forging the foundation of a new nation. Over time, however, descendants of the early settlers recognized the great potential the New England coast possessed in its bountiful seafood, whaling enterprises, and the commercial interests that supported these industries.
Once a measure of stability was realized, culturally and economically, those with the time and financial resources began looking for places to build a new home, a second home, or spend time at the seashore pursuing other activities besides work. It was these early homes, these restaurants, and hotels that set the stage for the leisurely bed and breakfast inn to take hold.
There are endless choices for bed and breakfast inns across this historic region. Many inns are located on the waterfront at the shore or close to an inlet. Thousands more exist blocks or miles inland, each with their unique style, history, menus, and amenities. Some are classic New England and have been around for a century or more. Others have a modern sheen to them with the latest in design and décor. And still others have experienced one or more renovations to keep up with the times.
Working your way out from the mainland, Falmouth is located at the “heel” of the boot, Chatham is midway around the boot, almost peninsular in its isolation, and Provincetown at the very tip of the boot, curling back on itself to produce a rather perfectly-formed bay. Race Point Beach is located at the apex of the curl and faces the Atlantic Ocean.
There are many outstanding points of interest between these three towns and plenty of B&Bs from which to choose. Being almost equidistant from one another, these seafaring beach communities are large enough to provide all the necessities of modern-day life while still small enough to maintain their historic charm.
When the weather goes south and a day at the beach is out of the question, there are many exciting alternatives. At the top of many sightseeing lists are the Cape Cod lighthouses (a ‘Light’ in local parlance). At last count there were 14 of them so you’ll be at it a while if you plan on seeing each of them.
Popular pinnacles to check out are Race Point Light at the tip of Provincetown and the northern-most on the Cape. Initially built in 1816, the current house was constructed in 1846 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There is a bit of effort involved in reaching it, requiring either a 45-minute walk on the beach or renting a 4-wheel drive. Inquire about an overnight stay and enjoy the ultimate payoff for your determination.
Nauset Light is a popular destination in Eastham and is accessible by private tour. Now a fully-automated navigation aid, it was originally built in 1877. This eastern-most lighthouse is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
When you’re up for a good long walk or bike ride, spend a day on the Cape Cod Rail Trail. Stretching just over 25 miles in length, it’s a splendid way to see the Cape from a different vantage point. It’s paved and courses through many of the villages and towns, so there’s ample opportunity to stop for breaks.
The John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum is another destination to be added to your must-see list. Re-discover the life and influence this dynamic statesman brought to our nation before being tragically cut short. The Kennedy clan is on full display through lectures, interpretive exhibits, and historical documentaries.
Want to see where America got its start? Head over to the mainland and up the coast just a bit to Plymouth, as in Rock. Come and see the spot where the pilgrims landed in the New World and began the experiment that would become the greatest nation on earth.
If you’re looking for a place to call home for the summer, Sea Captain’s Row in Hyannis may be the perfect spot. Just minutes from main highway US 6, you’re in the heart of Cape Cod where everything to do and see is a short drive away.
By the mid-18th century and after decades of relentless pursuit, the whaling industry was coming to a close as the behemoth’s numbers began to fade. The towns and villages of Cape Cod’s peninsula that had depended on the cetacean’s perceived endless numbers were struggling to survive and needed a new source of commerce.
In 1848 the first train service began operating between Boston and Sandwich. Piece by piece, the rail line completed its path to Provincetown by 1873. Tourism was here to stay, but much more had to be developed in the way of infrastructure to handle the demands of a fast-growing industry.
By 1930 when three bridges were completed (two for auto traffic, one for rail), the tourist deluge was underway. It grew again in the 1950s with the construction of the Mid Cape Highway (US 6A). With transportation arteries now operating at full capacity, it wasn’t long before the small towns that were formerly somewhat isolated began to explode with new homes, new businesses, and thriving commercial interests.
Wealthy business owners from Boston and New York in the post-war years built vacation homes on the Cape at a feverish pace. Inns, restaurants, and hotels flourished. Even those who didn’t have the resources for a second home by the sea could at least enjoy a break from city life by renting beachside lodging.
Surrounded on three sides by the sea, Cape Cod and its towns and villages are a veritable playground. Swimming, boating, water skiing, para-sailing, and deep-sea fishing are just the beginning of a long list of ways to take in the sand and surf. Laze on the beach and soak in the sun, or hang out on the boardwalk for some people-watching.
For those interested in whale watching, Hyannis is the place to go for a tour that is sure to introduce you to these gentle leviathans. Harwich has three harbors and will provide plenty of photo ops for that classic harbor scene. Both small port towns are located on the south side of the Cape peninsula. Animal lovers will want to check out Yarmouth Port, home of International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), one of the largest animal welfare charities in the world. Yarmouth and its neighbor to the west, Barnstable, are on the north side and a bit more inland.
Museum enthusiasts will want to find their way to Brewster to check out the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History. Located just west of town, it’s an exciting display of marine life that also features the art of beekeeping, a butterfly house, and the Mudflat Mania. Perfect for kids of all ages!
Whether you arrived at Cape Cod by plane, train, or automobile, add the adventure of a ferry ride and head over to the islands of Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket Island for the day. Martha’s Vineyard is just a short hop while the float to Nantucket can take up to two and a half hours. It’s a great way to relax and get to see the sea up close and personal. There’s also an express ferry to Nantucket that will get you there in an hour.
With the exception of Cape Hatteras National Seashore off the coast of North Carolina, there is probably no piece of land on the whole eastern seaboard that is as exposed to the elements of the open ocean while still being influenced by landmass weather.
After the beaches, dunes, and surf of the coastal areas, which are an endless source of fascination all by themselves, perhaps the most well-known feature in the area is Woods Hole. Usually, a geographic “hole” refers to a valley or open terrain surrounded by mountain peaks. The maritime version describes a strait or navigable waterway between two pieces of land. In this case, it is the channel of water that separates the southwestern-most point of Cape Cod (Falmouth) from the Elizabeth Islands.
There is nothing remarkable or unusual about this strait other than the fact that it is home to the world-renown Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Marine scientists the world overcome to this venerable research center to learn, lecture, and further their science of the seas.
A visit to Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary makes for a day of discovery with its walking trails, wildlife viewing, and tidal flats. Arrive early in the day for captivating light that enhances the beauty of the salt marshes—also an excellent spot for sunset watching.
White Cedar Swamp is an easy stroll for all ages where you can experience a different kind of beauty, albeit tree-covered and quiet. During the hot summer months, the shade keeps things cool but bring the insect repellant – it is the swamp!
Because Cape Cod is a peninsula projecting into the middle of the ocean, you can expect the weather to be consistent throughout the year. However, it is susceptible to sudden thunderstorms from the mainland or the rogue system coming in from the sea. Expect breezy and humid with a significant salty composition. Overall though, owing to the proximity to the Gulf Stream, you can expect warm to mild temperatures throughout spring, summer, and fall.
Summer highs are tempered with the cooling sea breezes with July being the hottest month of the year and June being the driest. Winters are typically frigid, wet, and very windy, making it uncomfortable to be outside for any length of time. Annually, temperatures usually range from lows in the mid-20s Fahrenheit to highs in the low 80s. Rarely do the extremes run below 15 degrees F, or higher than 85 degrees F.
It pays to maintain weather vigilance all year round as low-pressure systems and hurricanes that pummel the southeast and Mid-Atlantic states often continue wreaking havoc up the seaboard to the New England coast. And don’t be caught off guard during the spring and autumn shoulder seasons as powerful storms can roll in from the North Atlantic at any time.
Cape Cod’s dining scene has forever centered around seafood such as fried clams, grilled lobster, and a heaping pile of side fixings all washed down with sweet tea or a cold beer. Menus today are much more upscale and diverse. Although the old staples are present on every menu worth its salt on the Cape, high-end plates that represent the best cuisine available are just as prevalent now and can be pricey.
Raw bars offering fresh locally-sourced oysters are always popular. And mid-summer, keep an eye out for grilled fish specials with a side of garlicky steamed mussels. A favorite for the non-New Englander is the “lazy man’s lobster,” that is, lobster prized from the shell, grilled or steamed with spices, and then loosely returned to the shell for presentation.
Another favorite of “in-landers” and locals as well is, of course, New England clam chowder. Enjoyed as an appetizer or as part of the main meal, this creamy white broth served with clams and potatoes is a meal all of its own.
In addition to the customary selection of beers on tap and bottled, try the local Cape Cod Beer Red or IPA offerings. Over a dozen seasonal brews round out the menu and will go with any grilled or steamed dish. From clam shack and a cold beer at lunchtime to a high-end Boston-style bistro and a fine white wine for dinner, you’ll always have the fresh bounty of the sea to make the meal a special one.
For decades the Cape Cod bed and breakfast scene remained somewhat of a cottage industry and bit sleepy, if comfortable in its own skin. Many still offer this downbeat ambiance as a selling point. But new money and a more refined business approach often drive today’s havens of upscale hospitality. Boutique guest rooms are sanctuaries in their own right at high-end B&Bs, while some even offer a carriage house for a unique experience.
The B&B innkeepers go the extra mile to ensure all the modern amenities, and then some, are included in your stay. And for good reason – the bed & breakfast market is a competitive one. Although hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to the area each summer, innkeepers do all they can to make their properties as inviting as possible. Naturally, the guests benefit.
Staples of your B&B stay will run the gamut from comfortable beds and spacious rooms in some of the newer properties to a cozier feel in some of the more historic inns. Many feature private baths and rain-style outdoor showers where the finest linens, towels, robes, bath & body, and spa products are de rigueur. Of course, the prerequisite air conditioning is a must to chase off the ever-present humidity. Some inns will offer a full breakfast menu, while others include a continental breakfast with your stay.
While the Cape’s B&Bs are never far from the shore, for the ultimate romantic getaway, book a seaside inn. You’re sure to capture a lifetime of memories with classic views of the seashore and all it has to offer.
Free wifi, free parking, and other amenities are included at many of the inns. However, it’s always a good idea to confirm before check-in which ones offer free versus paid add-ons so there are no surprises at checkout. Parking is one item to double-check due to space limitations at many seaside properties.
Whether you’ve arrived from Boston and/or the mainland by car, or flown into one of the private airfields, getting around by car is usually the best option. FLEX bus lines and Plymouth and Brockton Street Railway serve various segments of the peninsula from Provincetown (Outer Cape) to Hyannis to Boston and points in between.
Speaking of Provincetown, Commercial Street is the place to be to see all that a vibrant seaside town has to offer. From bars to bistros and art galleries to specialty cafes, there is plenty of action and activities for everyone to enjoy. Your visit to the Cape isn’t complete until you’ve hit P’town!
If you choose to drive, Route 6A runs the length of the peninsula from Provincetown all the way to the mainland as it winds its way through some of the oldest villages in America. This drive can make for a grand day as you frequently catch glimpses of the bays and inlets between tree-shaded sections of The Old King’s Highway.
If your chosen B&B is within walking distance of town, you might decide to rent a scooter, maybe a bike, or walk and save the hassle of finding parking during the crowded summer months. It’s also an excellent way to see the sights often missed when driving. Also, check with the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce for car-free options of getting around.
A vacation at a Cape Cod bed and breakfast on the beach is one of those bucket list items. Classic seaside scenery, salty tang in the humid breeze, and somebody somewhere close is grilling lobster! Does it get any better?
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Depending on your taste and whether you are looking for a pet-friendly bed and breakfast in Cape Cod or something that caters to kids, adults-only, or inns for the disabled, there is an endless number of choices sure to meet your need.
Woods Hole Inn is in the heart of this end-of-isle village and a short walk from the Martha’s Vineyard Ferry. Check out the free aquarium and the submarine that first explored the wreck of the Titanic. Another Falmouth favorite is the romantic Palmer House Inn. The owner built this lovely getaway as a gift for his bride in 1901! Dating even further back to 1699, Ashley Manor is the classic Cape Cod inn but with all the modern comforts.
Brewster is home to the delightfully-named Candleberry Inn, central to Cape Cod and close to everything. Inn on the Beach in Harwich says it all. Arrive, forget about life’s demands, and revel in the beautiful beaches just steps from your room.
Two of the best bed and breakfast Cape Cod has to offer are the Lamb and Lion Inn in Barnstable and Captain’s House Inn in Chatham. Lion Head Inn has operated for 70 years and has the feel of a small, luxury hotel. Captain’s House Inn is the perfect setting to experience quintessential Cape Cod hospitality.
Travelers choose B&B lodgings for many reasons besides host-friendliness and charming interior. Romantic Cape Cod bed and breakfast inns are really quite plentiful. The stunning sunsets, beaches built for long walks, and a hot tub by the fireplace are already here. The scene is set - we invite you to bring the spark!