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The Best of Cape Cod

Tara Donne The Wellfleet Marketplace.

Photo: Tara Donne

Where to Shop

The Tastemakers

The Cape has its fair share of gift shops peddling potpourri, T-shirts, and other useless bric-a-brac. But a handful of women are transforming the shopping scene. Former set designer Mari Porcari has curated the most fashionable boutique on the Cape: Weekend, in Orleans, in an 1835 general store with birch display tables and lime-green walls. The eclectic merchandise includes summer dresses by New York designer Tibi, eco-friendly bamboo bowls, and floral-printed organic quilts. Missy Smith and Sarah Rhinesmith Buckley, the owners of Chatham’s Midsummer Nights, have a great sense of style. One of the front rooms in their ship captain’s house is devoted to sea-inspired clothes from Tory Burch, Trina Turk, and Calypso. Scattered throughout the shop are porcelain sea urchins, steel lanterns, and other gifts that will create the look of the Cape back home. Sisters Ann Hill and Margaret Hill combined their backgrounds in design and fashion to create Yarmouthport’s Design Works, which sources from abroad (Scandinavian furniture, Turkish earrings) and close to home (totes made in Maine from old sails).

For The Home

To find shabby-chic cottage décor, check out Joan Peters of Osterville. The owner’s signature Cape Cod toile design appears on fabrics, tiles, and even sinks. The go-to place for brightly colored plates, napkins, glassware, and rugs is Periwinkle, in a two-story house in downtown Wellfleet. Always wondered where your grandmother got that rag rug in her kitchen?Check out Harwichport’s Cape Cod Braided Rug Company. Like many resort towns, the Cape has tons of pottery shops. At the pondside Scargo Pottery & Art Gallery in Dennis, you can visit even when the shop isn’t open to wander through a peaceful sculpture garden. The Cape doesn’t lack for antiques shops, either. One of the most comprehensive is the sprawling Sandwich Antiques Center, whether you want furniture painted by Peter Hunt or vintage firearms. In the center of Sandwich, the Weather Store carries barometers, thermometers, and everything else weather-related, both old and new. Run by actor Tony Curtis’s ex-wife, Leslie Curtis Antiques & Design, in Dennis, specializes in wicker.

And Don’t Miss

The Brewster Store was converted from a church into a general store in 1866 and still has the requisite porch, coal stove, penny-candy display, and ice cream parlor. You can buy just about anything here—donuts, puzzles, pitchers, and even lighting supplies. In an open-air stand on the side of the highway, Wellfleet’s Briar Lane Jams & Jellies is your stop for beach plum jelly, rosehip jam, and cranberry marmalade. A beaded mermaid curtain sets the tone at the kitschy Shell Shop, in Provincetown, opened in 1978 to supply beach houses up and down the Cape with shell-encrusted mirrors and starfish for propping in windows. A symphony of chirping welcomes you to the Bird Watcher’s General Store, in Orleans. The staff has tons of personality—if you tell them a joke, they’ll give you a free pencil.

Outdoor Life

Best Beaches

The protected Cape Cod National Seashore stretches 40 miles, from Chatham all the way north to Provincetown. It was set aside in 1961 by John F. Kennedy. Top strands include North Beach (on a sandbar in Chatham and reachable only by boat) and Provincetown’s Race Point (where you can sometimes see whales offshore). Also within the park, in East Orleans, Nauset Beach is beloved for Liam’s (see Seafood Shacks). The six-mile-long, dune-capped Sandy Neck Beach, in West Barnstable and Sandwich, is populated by more piping plovers than people. In North Falmouth, the crescent-shaped Old Silver Beach has calm waters that attract families. Craigville Beach, the place to see and be seen in Hyannis, is sometimes called Muscle Beach for its concentration of buff beachgoers.

Biking

Built on an old railway bed, the 26-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail starts at Route 134 in Dennis and winds through Chatham, continuing north to Wellfleet. There are cyclist-friendly cafés along the way.

For Nature Lovers

One of the hidden gems of Cape Cod is Falmouth’s Spohr Gardens, laid out in the 1950’s by Margaret and Charles D. Spohr and now owned by a charitable trust. An ideal place for quiet contemplation, the six acres of daffodils, rhododendrons, and daylilies edge placid Oyster Pond. Spread across three islands near Chatham, the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge is a protected area for migratory birds and a popular place to walk. If you’re planning to beachcomb, check the tide charts so that you don’t get stuck; at high tide in some sections, the sand disappears.

Top Tours

The Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary runs birding tours, seal-watching expeditions, and canoe trips throughout its 1,200 acres of pine forest and salt marshes. Art’s Dune Tours, in Provincetown, take travelers off road through the lunar landscape of the dunes outside town; in the distance you can see the shacks that have been inhabited over the years by Tennessee Williams, Jackson Pollock, and other legends, and are still rented to artists.

On The Water

The bright-yellow vessel operated by Beachcomber Boat Tours offers seal-watching tours or drop-offs of passengers at North Beach (and pickups later). For guided kayak trips with naturalists or sport fishing charters, turn to Goose Hummock, the area’s aquatic experts.

Best Seats For The Sunset

Rock Harbor in Orleans has planted trees in the surf to mark the channel for boats, and they make for a striking silhouette against the colorful sky. Onlookers at Provincetown’s Race Point Beach erupt in applause the moment the sun disappears. To watch with a glass of wine in hand, head to the Chart Room Restaurant, a simple seafood haunt in a marina in Cataumet, where crowds gather on the lawn to toast the spectacle. Add dinner to the experience: at the Red Inn in P-town, the view of the sun setting over the bay is so spectacular that you almost don’t even notice how good the food is. (But try the pan-roasted cod with a lemon-garlic confit, served on a bed of rosemary potatoes and applewood bacon.)

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