Sometimes we find the most delightful retreats in places we never expect them. I was invited to a wedding on Cape Cod in late June. I immediately thought, "Ugh, traffic, T-shirt shops, and miniature golf;" this was the predicament of every summer vacation of my childhood years. My mother spent the whole year preparing for our summer vacations to the Cape. Bit by bit, she would stock up on soda, snacks, and beach toys. Then, in the last week before our departure, the linens would start amassing themselves like little soldiers in a formation of trash bags by the laundry room—bath towels, beach towels, dish towels, sheets, blankets, pillows, sleeping bags, and so on. Such were the preparations for a week at a rustic cottage on the beach. Then, early on a hot morning in July, we would load up the station wagon, and years later, the minivan, with all the food, pots and pans, linens, beach chairs, kites, bikes, kids, and one summer, a litter of kittens too young to be left home alone. Eventually, we hit the road, proceeded shortly thereafter by a cacophony of "are we there yets" and gaseous emissions from momma cat in a state of vehicular anxiety. Every year it was the same routine; only once we reached our destination would we take note of all the new T-shirt shops or beach novelty outlets or pirate-themed miniature golf courses we could spend our allowances in.
Patti Page sang about the "quaint little villages here and there" in her song "Old Cape Cod." But, today, the little villages are few and far between. So I was greatly, momentously, stupendously surprised with the adorable town of Falmouth and her neighbor Woods Hole. Just 15 minutes east of mainland Massachusetts, Falmouth is the home to "America the Beautiful" author Katherine Lee Bates, miles of warm-water beaches, and countless activities with distinctive New England charm.
After circling the rotary at the Bourne Bridge, I headed eastbound on Route 28. For a little while, I navigated the piney woodland environment of the cape, but soon enough, I came upon the outskirts of Falmouth. Hidden beneath the canopy were old colonial homes, cozy bed-and-breakfasts, and rustic pottery studios. Route 28 then makes a sharp bend left thorough the town’s historic Village Green. It was here that revolutionary soldiers gathered to train for battle against the Redcoats. The green is encircled by hard-wearing old homes constructed by sea captains and shipbuilders in the 1800s. For a fun rainy-day activity, or just for a change of pace, visit Falmouth Museums on the Green to tour three historic houses, colonial and herb gardens, and lots of hands-on activities.
Following 28, also called Main Street or Teaticket Highway, just beyond the Village Green you’ll come upon Falmouth Center. Here you will find shops owned and operated local merchants and their unique taste. There isn’t a Gap or Bath and Body Works as far as the eye can see. If a one-of-a-kind chandelier or hand-painted chair are on the top of your shopping list, check out one of Falmouth Center’s artful furniture shops for original, chic, and shabby house wares. Looking for some light beach reading? How about a book club or a reading with a best-selling author? The Inkwell Bookstore is a bookshop with everything from classic literature to local publications. If you’re looking for a unique Cape Cod-themed gift that doesn’t scream "Cape Cod" all over it, check out The Black Dog General Store. The Black Dog is an icon of the Cape and the islands. Originally, The Black Dog Tavern served up sandwiches and fresh seafood to Martha’s Vineyarders. Their retail shops became more and more popular, offering clothing and accessories for grown-ups, kids, and dogs, all adorned with their ubiquitous black lab logo. After you’ve lunched at Main Street’s quaint cafés and pubs, be sure to visit Ben and Bill’s Chocolate Emporium to sample their enormous selection of chocolates, fudge, and ice cream. And the best thing about shopping on Main Street is that there are no parking meters, no parking garages where you pay by the hour, and no valets to tip. It’s all free.
The Falmouth shoreline is undulating and scenic. The town boasts a slew of public beaches that are clean and not overcrowded. The water is a deep turquoise, and the surf is modest. The water stays at about 70°F, which isn’t bathwater by any means, but it is quite warm for the north Atlantic. Parking passes are available by the day, week, or month, and rates are available by calling the Falmouth Town Hall at 508/548-7611.
After toasting yourself to a lovely shade of lobster, you might be ready for an excursion off the sand. The drive down Nobska Road through Woods Hole is breathtaking. This seaside route offers postcard views of the beaches and dunes. You’ll also come upon Nobska Lighthouse high upon a bluff. From this vantage point, you can see ferries shuttling back and forth from the Vineyard and Nantucket, research vessels departing from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), fishing boats out to bring in tomorrow’s fresh seafood, and various recreational watercraft. Traverse down Nobska Road through leafy, green forests lined by stonewalls and wooden fences. WHOI offers museum exhibits, scientific and scenic cruises, a science aquarium, and a boat museum on their campuses.
In the evening, Cape Cod Baseball League (www.capecodbaseball.org) is a summer favorite. Since the Civil War, the best ballplayers in the country come out to show the fans what they’re made of before they hit the big leagues. Bring a lawn chair and your autograph book, because these games are not to be missed.
There are so many oodles of things to do in this seaside community. For a fabulous fish sandwich just plucked from the Atlantic, check out The Clam Shack on Falmouth Harbor. Take a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket via passenger ferry. Snoop through one of the dozens of art galleries along Main Street. Take in a free concert at one of Falmouth’s many parks. Go biking or hiking along the miles of stunning trails. Or go fishing, golfing, whale-watching, or canoeing. It’s all here for you in Falmouth. And, of course, feel free to do nothing at all and just enjoy the view. After all, vacations are for unwinding, and in Falmouth, "you’re sure to fall in love with Old Cape Cod" all over again.
More information is available at www.falmouthchamber.com and www.falmouthvisitor.com.