Word of Mouth: Cape Cod

A beachside vacation destination where charm, tradition and whimsy meet

by Kate McLeod

Cape Cod—Massachusetts’ hook-shaped peninsula—was home to the Wampanoag Native American people for centuries before becoming a popular vacation destination in the 1940s. The peninsula’s natural beauty was formed by glaciers about 25,000 years ago, and its stunning landscape—including dunes, kettle ponds, salt marshes, cranberry bogs and more—has long been explored by bike or on foot. New restaurants and revamped hotels have been opening recently, with new takes on Cape classics like fried clams and salt water taffy. It’s a place where tradition, charm and whimsy meet—but it’s never old-fashioned or stereotypical. That said, you won’t be hard-pressed to find a classic Adirondack chair to relax in while taking in the view of those iconic Cape Cod cottages.

Woods Hole Inn Quickshole Taqueria and Tavern

Dating back to 1887, the 14-room Woods Hole Inn once functioned as a boarding house, but has been thoroughly revamped for the current day. The venue’s taqueria has a fresh approach to tacos, sangria, and agua fresca, which guarantees a worth-the-wait visit during summer months. The hotel’s history is evident though, with old photos and registration cards found in the attic having been turned into wallpaper, and one stairwell wall sculpted with old mechanical marine parts. Within walking distance of beaches and the Martha’s Vineyard ferry, the hotel also offers rental bikes so visitors can explore the area easily.

Wellfleet Drive-In

At the super-nostalgic Wellfleet Drive-In, old speakers dangle on poles that have been defeated by modern technology. However, there’s still nothing quite like watching a movie underneath a starry sky. The drive-in has kept up with the times by expanding to include an indoor theatre and mini golf, while on the weekends there’s a flea market in the parking lot for visitors to rifle through stalls for a little slice of Cape history.

Art’s Dune Tours

The breathtaking Cape Cod dunes’ delicate ecosystem makes access on wheels restricted, but the best way to experience them happens to be Art’s Dune Tours. Founded in 1946, and currently helmed by Robert Costa, it’s one of the oldest family businesses operating in the area. Costa collaborates with local organizations to combine his tours with everything from fishing to watercolor classes, dinners on the beach, bonfires and even weddings. We suggest the Land-n-Sea tour, for which customers not only go fishing, but have their catch cooked up for dinner at Mac’s Seafood. The landscape is dotted with rustic dune shacks, and there’s plenty of beach grass, pine trees and blue skies to complete anybody’s postcard vision of the Cape.

The BeachComber

In the 1970s, two partners took over an old pre-Coast Guard lifesaving station at the end of Cahoon Hollow Road in Wellfleet and turned it into the now-legendary Beachcomber—aptly named for its location right on the beach. The restaurant’s menu is casual; with chowder, lobster, mussels, clams and burgers making up the bulk. Beer and local wines are in abundance, but the real superstar is the jumbo cocktail: the Goombay Smash. The drink originated in the Bahamas, and the Beachcomber version lists just “rum and juices” as its mysterious ingredients.

Chatham Bars Inn

The Chatham Bars Inn is the Cape at its most elegant. The resort faces the Chatham sandbars directly, meaning a gorgeous view of the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors can lounge in cabanas on the beach or by the pool, play at tennis, go sailing—the list goes on. Its formal spaces recall the gilded age, but casual dress is the norm for a lunch or dinner on the veranda—our favorite spot to chill out in roomy wicker chairs just made for reading a book, or gazing out to sea.

Woods Hole Inn image by Christian Gianelli, Beachcomber image by Luke Simpson, all others courtesy of respective venues