Cape Cod Without the Crowds
Summer on the Cape is justifiably famous, but the traffic can be a drag. In autumn, the tourists vanish, but the small-town charms and natural beauty remain.
Jessica and I are unabashed New England-philes. We love the classic villages and often fantasize about giving theThis Old Housetreatment to some weathered Victorian home in Vermont or Maine. Until that happens, we shop for home furnishings any time we're in New England. (Friends still make fun of us for driving--when Jessica was eight months pregnant--to Massachusetts to buy a couch.) We spend more than an hour atSnow's Home & Garden. I almost convince myself to pick up a couple of whiskey-barrel planters for the yard, before coming back to the reality that we'd have to leave behind our luggage or William's car seat to fit them in the car. A huge electric train display gets a big thumbs-up from Will.
We find a few mementos that don't take up too much space atBird Watcher's General Store. I waver between a bird feeder that looks like a New England chapel and one that resembles a general store, before choosing the latter as a gift for my dad.
Once we're back on the road, the sun is so bright that Jessica pulls over to dig shades out of her bag. Will falls asleep moments later; rather than wake him, we skip theWellfleet Flea Market, Cape Cod's biggest, in the parking lot of a drive-in theater.
In Provincetown, we have some time to kill before our ride withArt's Dune Tours, so I duck into theLobster Potto sample the clam chowder, which is super creamy. I'm a little disappointed that our tour isn't in the funky old Suburban from the brochure--it's in a modern SUV instead--but the scenery on the hour-long loop, through the forest, along the beach, and over remote, bumpy dunes, is gorgeous.
I carry Will, who fell asleep three-quarters of the way through the tour, to a bench in the middle of P'town. His eyes stay closed even when bikers rev their engines a few feet away. When he eventually wakes, we walk down Commercial Street, the wild main drag, peeking in the windows of S&M boutiques and shops dominated by two kinds of T-shirts: anti-New York Yankees and progressive ones like I (HEART) MY MOMS. I've never felt so utterly conventional.
After hearing that my first two choices for tonight are full, I desperately book one of the Dewey Avenue Apartments sight unseen from theBreakwater Motel. The unit has two bedrooms and a long hallway that Will enjoys running down, but the ripped couches and stained carpets reveal a place that's been well partied in. As I'm looking at the rusted fixtures in the bathroom, Jessica asks, "You're not thinking about giving Will a bath in there, are you?" Only it's more of a command than a question.
The apartment's location is its salvation. We walk out the door and through dune grass to a coarse beach. It's low tide, and clusters of people hunt for shells and play with their dogs hundreds of feet out from the usual shoreline. Will's not happy when the sun dips behind clouds and I tell him it's time for bed. Rather than wrestle with him the whole way back to the apartment, I make a game of it, touching my toes like a sprinter and counting to three before running a few strides. He's into it, sticking out both index fingers and counting with his unique method: "Two, two, two, goat!" For the record, I let him win.
- Breakwater Motel716 Commercial St., Provincetown, 800/487-1134, breakwatermotel.com, apartments from $140
- Lobster Pot321 Commercial St., Provincetown, 508/487-0842, ptownlobsterpot.com, chowder $5
- Art's Dune Tours4 Standish St., Provincetown, 800/894-1951, artsdunetours.com, $21
- Snow's Home & Garden22 Main St., Orleans, 508/255-0158, snowshomeandgarden.com
- Bird Watcher's General Store36 Rte. 6A, Orleans, 508/255-6974, birdwatchersgeneralstore.com
- Wellfleet Flea Market508/349-0541, wellfleetdrivein.com, car $1-$3
Mostly flat and less than a mile long, the pond loop of the Beech Forest Trail, off Race Point Road, is a refreshing way to start the day. The air is full of the sound of crickets, and around the first bend a frog jumps on a lily pad as if on cue.
Back in Orleans for an early lunch, we drop by theOld Jailhouse Tavern, a jail turned upscale restaurant where the chicken pie is in a bread bowl the size of a softball.
As an alternative to takeout, we like going to restaurants during slow times. I'm glad theMarshside Restaurantis mostly empty when we sit down at 5 P.M., because Will won't stay still even when we try to bribe him with French fries. The porch where we're seated, which has a picturesque marshland view, soon fills up, and though I have half a burger still on my plate I'm antsy to leave.