Cape Cod is one of those places whose very name conjures up imagery of peaceful seascapes contrasted by white lighthouses, cobblestone streets and seafood — lots of glorious seafood. Unlike many places where travel magazines paint an enhanced portrayal of reality, Cape Cod actually looks the way I always imagined.
This was my second summer in a row visiting Cape Cod and I was just as excited to return to the calm beauty of the Cape as I was to discover it. Kyle and I joined the hundreds of thousands of summertime tourists that flock to southeastern Massachusetts, essentially doubling the Cape’s summertime population, anxious to exchange city life for a few days near the sea. While most people head to the Cape’s warm-water beaches, we went in search of seafood.
Nothing compares to fresh seafood and I vowed to eat as much of it as possible.
Seafood has been a way of life in Cape Cod since it was first settled by the Pilgrims in the 1600s. (Contrary to popular belief, the Pilgrims originally landed in Provincetown, Cape Cod, not Plymouth Rock.) The surrounding waters are full of lobster, oysters, scallops, squid, tuna, cod, skate, sea bass, mussels, clams and pretty much every other edible sea creature. It’s no wonder that Cape Cod is synonymous with seafood.
We flew into Boston’s Logan International Airport and hopped on a Plymouth & Brockton bus headed for Barnstable, Cape Cod. The 2-hour bus ($47-67 roundtrip depending on the final destination) is convenient if — like us — you won’t need a car on the Cape, but renting a car is probably the best bet for most people. Everything on Cape Cod is spread out, which can add to its charm, but a car is definitely required to get from place to place.
We stayed at Kyle’s uncle’s house, a picturesque Cape Cod-style house surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens bursting with hydrangeas and vegetables. Barnstable was settled in 1639 and many nearby houses date from that era. But even those that aren’t — like where we stayed — are built to mimic the historic houses, with wooden shutters faded to gray and colorful front doors.
Despite the fact that many buildings aren’t as old as they look, Cape Cod is still a bit of a time capsule. Many restaurants boast impressive histories, like The Barnstable Restaurant and Tavern claims to have hosted Abraham Lincoln, while Provincetown’s Red Inn Restaurant has been serving since 1805 — a surprisingly common attribute in these parts.
I love imagining what life was like then. I imagine not much has changed on Cape Cod — that is, if you remove the throngs of tourists on their cell phones and the seemingly never-ending traffic of cars. And even if there was no such thing as a lobster roll back then (supposedly it wasn’t created until the 1920s), I still like to think that we’re eating the same cuisine people have been enjoying on the Cape for centuries. After all, someone had to figure out that Wellfleet oysters are amazingly delicious.
Our first meal was a lobster roll at the Black Cat Tavern, the first of many that would follow, alternating with fried scallops, local tuna and the most delicious oysters from nearby Wellfleet. I do a lot of pre-trip planning when I travel and tend to get caught up in the best restaurants of an area. But in Cape Cod, all of the restaurants serve local seafood so fresh you can taste it, so there’s less worry about which restaurant is deemed “the best.”
We made the obligatory pilgrimage to Provincetown, the Cape’s tourist hub, to walk the street crowded with people perfect for people-watching and have clam chowder at the famous Lobster Pot only to quickly follow with happy hour oysters, shrimp and scallops at The Red Inn.
And we spent a day in Nantucket admiring the historic town that looks like a movie set with its old buildings and even older trees with trunks as wide as my wingspan. There we ate oysters as we admired the yachts of the rich and famous and visited a brewery/distillery/winery inland that looked surprisingly like the backcountry of Utah (minus the mountains, of course).
But mostly we hung out among the hydrangeas sipping Cape Cod cocktails and getting attacked by mosquitoes, only leaving for lobster rolls, clam chowder and a strangely delicious shrimp pesto pizza. I reveled at how quiet the world can be when you’re not in the midst of a massive city and decided that I could definitely have a house here if I could ever afford it. (Until then, I’ll just dream.)
After a week of sunshine and seafood in Cape Cod, it’s easy to understand why its name has such a peaceful connotation: it’s exactly the feeling you get while you’re there.
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