Cape Cod Without the Crowds
In spring, fall, and winter, America's original vacationland can be enjoyed on a mere shoestring--and without the crowds that mar it in summer
Who says Massachusetts' renowned Cape Cod is worth visiting only in summer? When it can be overpriced, and traffic along the area's two-lane roads unbearable? When motels and B&Bs are often sold out months in advance, and the crowds basking on the Cape's expansive and usually pristine beaches can be maddening? When the very flavor that has made this region such a tourist draw is often lost in the shuffle? From Labor Day through Memorial Day weekend, things calm down and return to normal. Prices decline (room rates are 30-60 percent less than they are in peak season). Reservations are easier to come by. And - contrary to popular belief - once fall and winter set in, the Cape doesn't just shut down.
As the summer throngs slow to barely a trickle, and traffic becomes a non-issue, many discerning visitors believe the area's at its best. Because the Cape is surrounded by the Atlantic, temperatures tend to be milder and snow less of a concern - even in the dead of winter - than in other parts of New England (average high temperatures don't fall below 37[degrees]F in Hyannis). The only thing you give up, really, is baking on a hot beach (for which your dermatologist will thank you).
Provincetown & the Outer Cape
Imagine walking along a deserted beach, just you and someone special - and maybe a few terns and seagulls. You're bundled up against the crisp, fresh salt air, and the only human footprints on the beach are yours. As the sun sets in the Atlantic, the sky a palette of mauves, pinks, oranges, and violets, you contemplate a hearty dinner in a cozy dining spot next to a blazing fireplace, followed by some tavern hopping where you can rub shoulders with local fishermen, artists, and other townsfolk from all walks of life.
Sounds appealing? Then make Provincetown your off-season Cape base of operations. Although it's at the northern tip of the Cape, it can serve as a good focal point for your wanderings and day trips. And if you decide to stay put, there's plenty to keep you occupied in the area, especially if you love nature, great seafood, and peace and quiet.
Much of what's special about this artists' colony and fishing port is free of charge. The sunsets, for example: thanks to the curve of the Cape, this is one of the few places on the East Coast where you can watch the sun dissolve into the ocean. A good vantage point is Herring Cove Beach, where locals gather even in winter to watch the sky turn the most amazing colors.
Many motels and B&Bs in town stay open for all or part of the off-season. Year-round options include the six-room, two-apartment Windamar House (568 Commercial St., 508/487-0599; from $60), a well-kept B&B 15 minutes' walk from the town center; the five-room Three Peaks (210 Bradford St., 800/286-1715, from $60); the traditionally furnished, 13-room Captain Lysander Inn (96 Commercial St., 508/487-2253, from $65), in a former sea captain's house; or the admirable Inn at Cook Street (7 Cook St., 888/266-5655, from $65). For something slightly farther down-Cape, the recently renovated 65-room South Wellfleet Motel & Lodge in the also-charming town of Wellfleet (170 Route 6, 508/349-3535, from $60) offers modern conveniences and a coffee shop with cooked-to-order breakfasts. Provincetown Reservations Systems (800/648-0364) can suggest other possibilities.
Unfortunately, Provincetown's most visible landmark, the Pilgrim Monument, is closed from December to March. But its most impressive natural feature, the Cape Cod National Seashore, is open year-round and you'll probably have it all to yourself in the off-season. The terrain is truly stirring, perhaps unlike anything you've seen - picture towering sand dunes and twisted scrub pines with Atlantic whitecaps as backdrop. The seashore's 40 miles of bicycle trails can be explored by bike, foot, or in-line skates (the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce at 508/862-0700 or 888/33-332-2732 can provide a biking map and more information). Bird-watchers will enjoy the town's Beech Forest reservation (the entrance is located off Race Point Road, not far from Route 6). The many unique local shops and galleries offer rainy-day entertainment and - if you hit it right-some off-season bargains.
All that walking and salt air is sure to stir your appetite. Many of the more economical dining options close off-season, but an excellent bet remains the plain and homey Lobster Pot (321 Commercial St., 508/487-0842, entrees from $5.95), right on the waterfront. A good deal but a bit more of a splurge, Napi's (Freeman & Standish Streets, 508/487-1145), is a large and rustic eatery done in an arts-and-crafts style, with a huge, eclectic menu, a fireplace aglow in the cooler months, and early-bird specials such as asparagus ravioli for $10.95. Both serve lunch and dinner.
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