Everyone loves Cape Cod. And the packed roads and high prices reflect that.
For New Englanders, going “down the cape” is shorthand for visiting Cape Cod, that storied peninsula jutting 65 miles into the Atlantic Ocean and curving upward through the sea like Massachusetts’s flexing arm. The onetime home of the Kennedys has nearly 560 miles of coastline and even boasts a namesake cocktail.
Summer on Cape Cod is a magnet for tourists who pack its soft-sanded beaches and Instagram-pretty towns such as Provincetown (at the tip of the cape and known for its art colony and legendary LGBT culture), Falmouth (with its historic districts, beaches and theater community) and Chatham (the Cape Cod fishing village of your dreams).
The region’s jewel is the Cape Cod National Seashore, a 43,000-plus-acre expanse of unspoiled woodland, marshes, dunes and beaches, including Race Point Beach in Provincetown, which is regularly ranked among the best beaches in the world and offers glimpses of whales offshore.
Regularly running ferries connect the cape to two other renowned vacation spots, the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, which are as popular with folks who use “summer” as a verb as with the rest of us.
For all Cape Cod’s charms, though, New Englanders also know that going “down the cape” means booking exorbitantly priced overnight accommodations while you’re still doing your holiday shopping and enduring its notorious traffic. The peninsula is separated from the rest of Massachusetts by the narrow Cape Cod Canal, and miles-long logjams of vehicles trying to cross its two aging traffic bridges, the Bourne and the Sagamore, are well-known sights over the summer.
Location: Southeast coastal Massachusetts, 60 miles south of Boston
On Cape Ann, you can find affordable lodging and a variety of towns and beaches
For sandy beaches, historic art colonies and postcard-worthy landscapes without the mind-numbing traffic, try Massachusetts’s “other cape,” Cape Ann, where it’s relatively easy to find budget-friendly summer lodging.
Each of Cape Ann’s four towns has a distinctive flavor. In marshy Essex, poke around the antique-store-lined Main Street and weigh in on the friendly clam-shack rivalry between J.T. Farnhams and Woodman’s of Essex. Visit tony Manchester-by-the-Sea to check out the natural phenomenon of Singing Beach, where the sand squeaks underfoot.
In Gloucester, known as America’s oldest seaport, a busy working waterfront exists alongside luxury oceanfront homes, the Rocky Neck Art Colony and the Cape Ann Museum, while pretty Rockport, perched at the granite tip of Cape Ann, is home to an art-infused downtown, Rockport Music’s magnificent, seaside Shalin Liu Performance Center and Motif No. 1, the celebrated red fishing shack known as the most painted building in the country.
Beaches abound. Good Harbor and Wingaersheek beaches in Gloucester and Front Beach in Rockport are standouts. And there’s a bonus: Crane Beach in Ipswich, at the northern edge of Cape Ann proper. The powdery soft sand and gentle waves along this four-mile stretch of pristine barrier beach — not to mention its lifeguards, eco-friendly facilities and services for the disabled — make Crane perfect for relaxing and playing, especially for families.
The beach is just part of the 2,100-acre Crane Estate, which includes the Crane Wildlife Refuge and the spectacular historic mansion and manicured gardens of Castle Hill, the early-20th-century summer home of plumbing magnate Richard T. Crane. Today, the mansion and gardens are open for tours and special events, such as the annual Roaring Twenties Lawn Party (held this year Aug. 3-4).
Location: On the Massachusetts coast, 30 miles north of Boston.
Pecci is a writer based in New Hampshire. Her website is alexandrapecci.contently.com.
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