Massachusetts' summer playground

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Escape to the sandy beaches and clapboard villages of Cape Cod, says Kate Simon

"I didn't eat any lobster yesterday, I'll have to make up for that." My travelling companion, Rachel, is determined that a day will not pass on our tour of Cape Cod without lobster featuring in one of her meals. It's not a big ask: lobster is as common as chips here. They load it into buns and heap it on to salads with such generosity that it's hard to resist gorging on the sweet pink meat.

Eating locally caught lobster – along with clams, oysters and crab – is just one of the joys of Cape Cod, the flexed arm of land that juts off Massachusetts' southernmost point into the Atlantic. The 340 square mile area is portioned into the Upper Cape, the western end taking in Bourne, Sandwich, Falmouth and Mashpee, the Mid Cape, from Barnstable to Dennis, and the Lower Cape, between Harwich and Provincetown at the north-east tip.

Once a peninsula, the Cape was transformed into an island by the construction of a canal in 1914 between Cape Cod Bay in the east and Buzzards Bay in the west. The Bourne and Sagamore bridges, which span the man-made waterway, heave with traffic between Memorial Day (the last Monday in May) and Labor Day (the first Monday in September), when holidaymakers and second-home owners flee Boston and New York to wiggle their toes in white sands and breathe in the fresh salty air on the Cape's 560 miles of coastline.

This landscape of dune-backed beaches, lighthouses and clapboard and shingle dwellings seduces visitors to pull on their linen shirts and loafers and bunk down in B&Bs and holiday homes, swelling the resident population of about 200,000 to half a million. They come to sit on the sands (there are about 60 beaches), mess about on boats, go in search of whales, hunt for big-game fish, play golf and ramble or cycle amid the dunes, marshes, pine woods and cranberry bogs.

Tourism took off on Cape Cod in the late 1800s and was boosted in the mid-20th century when John F Kennedy made Hyannis Port his summer retreat – holidays at the family compound are recorded in photos at the rather provincial John F Kennedy Hyannis Museum (001 508 790 3077; jfkhyannismuseum.org; 397 Main Street; $8/£5). Since the 1970s, Provincetown has been a favourite holiday hangout for the gay and lesbian community. The Cape picks up passing visitors, too, heading to the nearby islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.

But Cape Cod offers more than wide skies. Provincetown is where the Pilgrim Fathers first made landfall in the Mayflower in 1620 (they later settled at Plymouth), commemorated by the Pilgrim Monument (001 508 487 1310; pilgrim-monument.org; $12/£8), a 252ft-high turreted tower built in 1910 which dominates the town.

Many of the names of Cape Cod's communities are reminders of the world the Pilgrims left behind – Truro, Chatham, Sandwich, Falmouth, Harwich, Yarmouth and Barnstable. Mashpee and Sagamore recall the original inhabitants, the Wampanoag Native Americans, who lost their land to the English colonists they had helped. Their ancestors still live here and their story is told at the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum (001 508 477 9339; mashpeewampanoagtribe.com, donations).

Creatures from the deep

The waters around Cape Cod are so popular with whales that many of the boats are prepared to guarantee a sighting.

You don't have to go far from Provincetown, pictured, to see these leviathans emerge from the deep. At the edge of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (stellwagen.noaa.gov), humpbacks, minkes, the endangered right and the second largest whale on Earth, the fin, are frequently seen. Porpoises, dolphins and seals provide a delightful supporting cast. The Dolphin Fleet (001 508 240 3636; whalewatch.com; from $42/£28) offers tours of between three and four hours, led by a naturalist, from the MacMillan Pier at Provincetown. From Hyannis, try Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises (whales.net; tickets $49/£33).

Eating and drinking

Seafood lovers will be spoilt for choice. For restaurant service in Provincetown try the Lobster Pot (001 508 487 0842; ptownlobsterpot.com) for treats such as cajun bouillabaisse ($28/£19). Turn a blind eye to the tired decor at the Dan'l Webster Inn (001 508 888 3622; danlwebsterinn.com) in Sandwich, because the food is superb (starters from $9/£6, mains from $18/£12). Head for Chatham Pier Fish Market (001 508 945 3474; chathampierfishmarket.com) to snack on the daily catch while watching the seals. At Truro Vineyards (001 508 487 6200; trurovineyardsofcapecod.com) you can taste the wine produced on this estate and, from this summer, the vineyard will team with BlackFish restaurant (001 508 349 3399) to serve lunches from its mobile eatery.

Time to brake away

Get on your bike on the Province Lands Trail, a pleasant six-mile ride through beech forests and grass-fringed dunes. The trail is within the Cape Cod National Seashore (nps.gov/caco). PTown Bikes (001 508 487 8735; ptownbikes.com) in Provincetown, near the trailhead, offers hire from $18 (£12) a day. Or try the Cape Cod Rail Trail (bit.ly/RailT), a 22-mile greenway from which you can explore Wellfleet, Dennis, Harwich, Brewster and Orleans.

King of the road

Instead of speeding along US Route 6, the main thoroughfare that bisects Cape Cod, take in the scenery on 6A, the Old King's Highway. This road connects the main streets of several communities, revealing as it goes the area's artistic heritage through roadside galleries, studios and showrooms. You'll find more than 50 antique shops and other highlights, including the Sandwich Glass Museum (001 508 888 0251; sandwichglassmuseum.org; admission $6/£4), the Cape Cod Art Association at Barnstable (001 508 362 2909; capecodartassoc.org; free) and Scargo Pottery & Art Gallery, pictured (001 508 385 3894; scargopottery.com) in Dennis. For more art-themed venues and trails, consult Arts & Artisans Trails, available to download as an app at: capeandislandsartsguide.com.

Where to stay

There's something to suit all budgets in Cape Cod. In Provincetown, pictured, the Harbor Hotel (001 855 447 8696; harborhotelptown.com) has 129 clean, comfy rooms with kitchenettes, a restaurant, bar and fire pit. Book a room with a sea view – from $179 (£119) per double per night.

Just outside Chatham, the 120-room Wequassett Resort (001 508 432 5400; wequassett.com) is a smart collection of cottages on the bay's edge. It has two beaches and four restaurants, including the revered Twenty-Eight Atlantic – from $420 (£280) per room per night.

The quaint town of Sandwich, near Sagamore Bridge, is a good tour base. Its quirky collection of guesthouses includes the Belfry Inne & Bistro (001 508 888 8550; belfryinn.com), a six-bed guesthouse in a former church with a well-regarded restaurant. For holiday homes, try Cape Cod Rental (001 888 661 4921; capecodrentals.com).

Travel Essentials

Kate Simon travelled to Cape Cod courtesy of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism (020-8464 8483; massholiday.co.uk), and British Airways (0844 493 0758; ba.com), which offers a week's fly-drive from Heathrow through Boston from £549pp. You can also fly non-stop from Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 2770; virgin-atlantic.com) and Delta (0871 22 11 222; delta.com).

From Boston's Logan airport, Cape Air (001 508 771 6944; capeair.com) has return flights to Hyannis or Provincetown from $185 (£123). Or go by train, taking the free Silverline bus from the airport to Boston's South Station. The CapeFLYER (001 508 775 8504; capeflyer.com) runs from 24 May to 2 September for $35 (£23) return.

From Boston's Long Wharf, you can sail on the Boston to Provincetown Fast Ferry (001 877 783 3779; provincetownfastferry.com) to MacMillan Wharf (16 May to 14 October), return fare $85 (£57). For more information on public transport go to bit.ly/Codways or the Cape Cod Travel Guide (smartguide.org).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Furyon London Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
News
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam