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Cape Cod offers so much to see and do that you could literally spend weeks exploring its beautiful beaches, great nature trails, and kayaking the numerous creeks and tidal marshes. Museums are plentiful too, as is live theatre, and music at the Melody Tent and other venues. Not to mention sampling all the fine restaurants, clam shacks, farmer’s markets, and ice cream shops that feature the freshest of local fare. And dare we leave out fun adventures like whale watching, seal cruises, and deep sea fishing.
But what if you are on a limited budget, as many of our guests are? What can Cape Cod offer the frugal traveler or those interested in an authentic experience on their vacation. Plenty. So much that boston.com just released their top “25 Free Things to do on Cape Cod” list online this week.
It got me thinking about our favorite things to do on Cape Cod. As innkeepers we get very little free time, especially during the summer months. But having survived 11 years of running an inn, Rich and I have become fairly adept at carving out time for ourselves and exploring all the nooks and crannies that make up this amazing peninsula we live and work on. We quite often jump in the car and see where it takes us. These little adventures have uncovered some great places to while away an afternoon. And many of them offer no cost or low cost entertainment. Here for your enjoyment and consideration, is our “Top Ten List of Free Ways to Spend a Cape Cod Day“.
We are experiencing the “dog days” on Cape Cod. These are the hottest, most sultry days of the year that usually occur sometime between early July and early September. The moniker comes from the ancient belief that Sirius, also known as the Dog Star, was somehow responsible for the hot weather. Be that as it may, on Cape Cod hot and sultry is what we live for…the long and lazy days of summer that are best spent at the beach. Something that the Cape has no shortage of, to be sure.
Having an unplanned afternoon with no check-ins to wait around for at the Inn, Rich and I declared a “dog holiday” and packed up the Subaru with a cooler full of sandwiches and cold drinks, some folding chairs, and Casey, our almost 11 year old yellow lab and resident inn dog. We headed east, destination uncertain, but definitely within the bounds of the National Seashore as dogs are permitted on the beach as long as they are on a leash, something unheard of at most other public beaches on Cape Cod, with few exceptions. It is one of the rare complaints that we have, actually, about living on Cape Cod, as living here for the most part is idyllic. But if you are a dog, or a dog lover, the nearly universal restriction of dogs on the beaches from April or May through September or October is the bane of our existence.
We ended up at Marconi Beach in Wellfleet after an unsuccessful try to secure a parking spot at Coast Guard and Nauset Light beaches in Eastham. Marconi took its name from the famous Italian inventor, Marconi, who successfully completed the first transatlantic wireless communication between the U.S. and England in 1903 at a site nearby.
Known for the steep sand cliffs that back the beach, Marconi is one of the most beautiful beaches on all of Cape Cod. There is a sense of solitude that beach goers can experience at Marconi, for the wide expanse of nearly pristine sand stretches endlessly east and west. Once beyond the fray of the sun worshippers, ball players, and boogie boarders that seem to congregate between the lifeguards keeping a watchful eye on the action, you can claim an area an acre wide for yourself on the remaining swath of beach and be undisturbed for the remainder of the day if you like.
Casey, of course, was in doggie heaven. A jaunt on the beach on one of the most sultry of summer days is a rare event indeed for her, and she took full advantage of the freedom to roam from tide pool to tide pool testing the water temperature and doing her version of the dog paddle. In her youth she was an avid swimmer, but as the advancing years have settled in on her joints, she now simply likes to lie down in the water, attempt to roll over and scoot her snout beneath the surface of the water, something akin to doggie snorkeling, I presume. Whatever floats your boat.
It was a wonderful afternoon for all three of us. Walking the beach we shed our “hospitality fatigue” and returned home renewed and refreshed and ready to tackle the responsibilities of being innkeepers on Cape Cod once again.
My father loved a good church supper. Whenever we traveled, especially among the New England states, he and my mother would canvass the area for a family-style supper offering at a local church. Perhaps their motivation was that it was an economical way to feed a family of four, but I think the real incentive was the wholesome goodness of real food cooked honestly and served with pride in a humble setting. Ham and beans were often the traditional fare found at these events, but once in a while if I was really lucky, the featured entrée would be my favorite, chicken pot pie. Served at long tables in the church’s basement or fellowship hall, the usual accompaniment was homemade bread and butter, and dessert was always a fresh berry pie a la mode. Yum.
It’s hard to find a ham and bean church supper on Cape Cod in the summer, but if you’re looking for the quintessential lobster roll experience, you don’t have to look very far to find a lobster roll luncheon at a number of churches and fellowship halls up and down this watery peninsula. Offered at a reasonable prices, and often including side dishes and a beverage, these events attract tourists, locals, and a loyal roster of regulars, too. So here, in no particular order, are a few worth considering:
The first ever list of 1000 Great Places in Massachusetts was released yesterday, July 12, 2010. Selected from over 12,000 nominations, the range of Great Places shines on every part of the state, but none so much as Cape Cod. Intended to celebrate what is truly special about Massachusetts, the list of 1000 Great Places gives visitors the opportunity to see the variety and richness the state has to offer. For those of us who live and work on Cape Cod, it was a point of much civic pride to realize that nearly 10% of the identified 1000 Great Places are right here on the lovely peninsular we call home.
So here in alphabetical order, are the places known and loved by many that make Cape Cod special, not only to the residents, but to those who come to visit us year round. You can view the whole list of Great Places in Massachusetts online, or visit the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism website.
In our never-ending quest to find new places for our guests to explore, we meandered down to Wellfleet a couple of weeks ago to scope out the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Having recently joined Mass Audubon, we are on a mission to visit as many of their properties as is humanly possible for innkeepers on Cape Cod during the spring, summer, and fall.
What we found at Wellfleet Bay is 1,100 acres of conservation land consisting of salt marsh, a sandy beach, pine woods, freshwater pond, and a wide array of wildlife, including song and shorebirds. The Nature Center is a tribute to green technology, featuring passive solar heating, composting toilets, and graywater planter beds. The building hosts a variety of local plant and animal displays, plus two 700-gallon aquariums that captured Rich’s attention. I, of course, was drawn to the gift shop and was pleasantly surprised to see a healthy collection of natural history books for both adults and children, plus the usual selection of note cards, posters, jewelry, toys, and tools for exploring nature.
We chose the Goose Pond Trail for our first expedition of the sanctuary. We were told that it is the most popular trail and the best introduction to what lies within. The trail took us through pine and oak woods, along Goose Pond, and out to the edge of a salt marsh. It was quiet and peaceful, and easy to navigate…a gentle walk for a summer day. Along the way we spied an unusual bird wading in the pond. It is not something we have seen before, and we are hoping to have one of our birdwatcher friends identify it for us.
At the end of that trail we followed the Boardwalk Trail across the salt marsh to a sandy beach and the tidal flats of Cape Cod Bay. Everywhere we looked we saw fiddler crabs and periwinkles scavenging among the mud flats. The tide was incoming, so getting out to the beach itself was not possible due to the large channels that cut through the marsh and the swiftly running current. It was nearly deserted, though and I could envision a wonderfully private picnic someday when we were more prepared.
All-in-all our afternoon at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary was well-spent. We ended the day at Wellfleet Harbor, watching the pleasure boats returning from an afternoon at sea, and enjoying a soft-serve ice cream from Mac’s on the waterfront.