Something happens to you when you cross one of those two bridges. Since 1935, eager vacationers have crossed the 616 foot main spans of the Bourne and the Sagamore Bridges 135 feet above the Cape Cod Canal. For so many, the eastward passage across this tiny man made waterway signifies the end of the daily grind and the beginning of rest, relaxation and recreation. With arm out the window and radio up, the tension leaves the body as the smell of the salt filled air foreshadows the abundance of seafood that is to follow.
It had been 14 years since I had last been to Cape Cod. As a kid, I spent many summer vacations on the beaches of the flexed arm of Massachusetts, but this was the first time I had made the trip from Raleigh. The first thing you notice coming from the south in August is that you don’t feel like you are in the middle of Dante’s Inferno here. With daytime high temperatures barely scraping 80 degrees, life here in the summer is comfortable and in fact cool enough to reach for your sweat shirt after the sun goes down or gather around a fire pit.
Known as a summer playground for the Northeast, its semi-rare to see southerners on the Cape, but it won’t matter as Cape Coders are a welcoming, humble, and hard working people with just as thick an accent. They value the tourists that for two months out of the year, pump enough money into the local economy to sustain their unique lifestyle through the remainder of the year.
While there are a plethera of things to see and do in Cape Cod, there isn’t a traditional focus point for where to go and what to see. There are many small towns strung together, each charming and inviting in their own way. It probably could best be compared to the Outer Banks where, despite a ton of natural beauty, a lack of commercial development in some locations can sometimes lead to a lot of time trying to figure out where to go and what to do and less time actually doing. Here we will look at some of the best ways to see and experience Cape Cod and how to get there from Raleigh.
Recommended Flight: Jet Blue non-stop from RDU to BOS for around $245.
Getting to Cape Cod from Raleigh can be a little tricky but I would suggest two ways. The first is to road trip it. This is the best option for budget travelers. About a 12 hour drive from Raleigh, this number can be daunting to the novice road tripper but splitting it up can be a great way to see the east coast and knock a couple of places off your bucket list. If you want to make one stop about halfway then Philadelphia could be a good option for you. If you break it up into three days then Washington D.C. and New York City allow you to get some hustle and bustle in before relaxing on the Cape. Two stops does require a longer trip however.
No time for the roadtrip? Then RDU to Boston Logan Airport or Providence Rhode Island are the best two options. Flights directly to the Cape usually go to Martha’s Vineyard and can run a good $600 round trip with a 3 hour layover in Boston which defeats the purpose, so avoid that. It will take about an hour to get to the Cape from either of these airports plus the additional time to get to wherever you are going on the Cape. Out of the two larger airports, flying to Boston from RDU is the clear winner. Jet Blue and Delta both offer non-stop flights from Raleigh for around $245. Out of the two airlines the service on Jet Blue is so much better so we recommend that.[tp_direct_flights_route_shortcodes origin=RDU destination=BOS title=”Direct Flights from RDU to BOS” paginate=false subid=”RDUBOSdir” currency=”USD”] Where to Stay
You can take your pick of quintessential New England small towns on the Cape, colonial flair and fishing boats included. For first timers, Chatham, Provincetown and Brewster are all good bets, but I recommend staying in the town of Orleans. For a truly relaxed experience Orleans can’t be beat. It isn’t as crowded or densely packed as some of the other towns but there is still plenty to do and see. The location is prime as sitting in the elbow of the Cape, it is central to virtually everywhere and has quick access to route 6, also known as the mid-Cape highway. Once you are there the only way to do it is to rent a house. Cape Cod is king of the vacation rental and almost everyone uses this method. Using Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) .com is our recommended method of finding a rental. A pro tip though is to get there very early on Saturday as most rental periods begin on that day and everyone is flooding the Cape at the same time. With only two roads in this is very problematic for traffic. If you are flying into Boston, fly in Friday and spend the day in town, then get up early and head for the Cape and park it at the beach until your rental becomes available. Want that oceanside sophisticated Inn feeling? Then we recommend staying in Chatham, if you have the extra bucks to spend.
What to Do
The great thing about the Cape is you can keep coming back year after year and not run out of things to do. Number one on our list of course is the beach. Cape Cod has a number of great beaches, but beware, this isn’t North Carolina. You have to pay for beach access, and it isn’t cheap. 20 bucks for the day to be exact. If you are staying in Orleans you can drive to Nauset Beach and get a discounted parking pass for the week that will cost you $75 but this is only good for the two beaches in town, Nauset on the ocean side, and Skaket on the bay.
Skaket is an amazing beach for kids to play. Low tide is magical as one can walk out for several hundred yards before being even knee deep. Crabs and other small sea life are abundant here and easy for the kids to explore. A small beach, getting there early is key to a premium spot. Hungry for lunch. A small clam shack dishes up Cape Cod favorites right on the premises. Since the beach faces west, this is a phenomenal location to view the sunset and take some amazing pictures.
Nauset Beach is larger and on the ocean side so definitely better for playing in the waves. Food is available here as well and there is certainly more room to spread out. The water is significantly colder on the Ocean side and can be a deterrent to getting in the water as well as the potential for Great White Sharks, if that sort of thing scares you.
Skaket and Nauset beaches are both great but the real gem nearby is Nauset Light Beach. Further north and unfortunately not covered by the Orleans beach parking pass, Nauset Light Beach is part of the National Seashore. For those of us living in North Carolina we should automatically associate National Seashore with phenomenal scenery (OBX anyone?) and Nauset Light Beach does not disappoint. To get to the beach you must descent the oceanside cliffs about three stories worth of stairs to get to the sand. In reality the beach looks more west coast than east with the elevation and all. The key here though is that most people go down the stairs and don’t want to stray too far from the stair access which opens up a massive opportunity if you are willing to walk a little bit either way. I recommend going north, or left looking at the ocean. Within a couple minutes you will find that you are the ONLY one on the beach and the serenity makes you start questioning whether or not heaven could be any better. Did I mention you were alone? Well that is except for the seals frolicking in the waves just offshore. This is the place to get in touch with nature and your inner self. Oh yeah, and no cell service here to distract you, so stop everything and just be.
Okay, enough of the beaches already. Ready for a night on the town, try hitting up a Cape Cod League baseball game. One of the countries premier summer development leagues, the Cape Cod League runs for a couple months during the summer and hosts some of the finest college baseball talent in the land. The league is what our national pastime is all about as games are free to the public as players come around with a hat and ask for donations or you can buy tickets for a 50/50 drawing to support the league. These games are hugely popular with the locals who show up at the venues early in the morning to place their lawn chairs on their favorite patch of grass and return to them in the evening before the game.
There is something for everyone in the family on the Cape. Winery and brewery tours are available, shopping is abundant, particularly in the town of Chatham, and the kids can try their hand at candle pin bowling, which is duck pin bowling’s smaller and much more difficult little brother. A rainy day could yield a trip to Barnstable to the Cape Cod potato chip factory which offers self guided tours with a free sample at the end. Nearby is the heavily visited Cape Cod Mall which has all the chain stores and restaurants that you would expect.
What to Eat
With the sea all around you there is nothing better than to indulge in some of the great seafood that Cape Cod has to offer. If you are renting a house, then the best way to do that is to go to a local fish market and buy some of the freshest seafood available. Clams tend to be cheaper than some of the other favorites so if you are looking to save some money, that is the way to go. If you are staying in Orleans, I highly recommend Nauset Fish Market for your seafood needs.
Maybe cooking isn’t your thing and you want to have someone else do the work. Look no further than Arnold’s Lobster and Clam Bar. Now full disclosure, this is as touristy of an establishment as it gets, full on with a mini-golf course around back, but the food is good and the portions are enormous. Most of the food is served calabash style, or fried, but an on site raw bar is a nice addition to the offerings. The line to get in can be like Disney World if you go too late so I recommend getting there during the 4 pm hour at the latest if you want to avoid the wait.
For a more refined experience be sure to visit the Wild Goose Tavern while shopping in Chatham. With a much more sophisticated atmosphere, it is a step above the general tourist restaurant, but yet is not stuffy and kids are definitely welcome. The scallop roll is a local favorite that is highly recommended.
With so much to see and do, Cape Cod makes a great vacation spot for the Raleighite, and especially for those with kids or large families. Many that go, find themselves coming back again and again to enjoy what is certainly one of the jewels of the east coast.
For more information on Cape Cod please visit the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce at http://www.capecodchamber.org/
Disclaimer: All of the airfares quoted were researched at the time of writing and are subject to change.