As a pre-baby gift, our friend’s mother offered us the chance to stay at her cottage in Cape Cod! We packed our bags, loaded our bikes into the car, and headed north to Chatham, Massachusetts!
We had been fortunate to stay there a few times prior with our friends, but only for extended weekends. This time we would be staying nearly a week—and we couldn’t wait to explore more of the Cape (as well as return to some favorite haunts).
We started our first morning, as we did every other morning, with French breakfast muffins from Chatham Cookware. I thought Aron might want to try something different one day—he’s usually the one who scoffs at any of my attempts at routine—but alas, no! I think the coffee cake-like muffins, loaded with nutmeg, are his idea of heaven. We joked, however, that the only thing French about them is that they have loads of butter. In fact, the French would likely just eat a quarter of these (and they certainly wouldn’t indulge every day).
Weather forecasts suggested that Thursday would be the best day for the beach, so we spent our first day—Wednesday—getting a lay of the land. Driving up the elbow, we decided to stop in Wellfleet for lunch at Moby Dick’s. A quintessential crab shack on the roadside, Moby Dick’s had our favorite fish-n-chips. I had the fish tacos, which were also delicious, but found that the fillets could easily stand on their own and didn’t need any adornment.
From there, we passed through Truro (where Edward Hopper used to live), before reaching the tip of the Cape in Provincetown. While we found most of the towns to be fairly empty on this pre-season weekday, Provincetown was filled. Colorful flags announced a film festival and locals were out in their gardens maintaining picture-perfect front yards along the water.
We were more interested in biking than competing with crowds, however, and after a quick look around, we drove to the ranger station at the Province Lands Visitor Center, where we picked up a map and started along the short but hilly Province Lands Trail (a 5 1/2-mile loop with outlets to Race Point and Herring Cove beaches). My little bike is pretty heavy and the gear-shifting options are minimal, so that combined with my own extra 25-30 pounds meant that Aron would literally push me up hills, riding alongside. It was ridiculous!
We were tempted to return that evening to the drive-in theater for a movie–how often do you see those anymore?–but I’d seen both shows and we felt like relaxing at the cottage was a higher priority. But wouldn’t it be a fun stop? I have foggy but happy memories of pulling up to a drive-in speaker with my parents in their two-toned Land Cruiser, usually dressed in fuzzy, footed pjs.
We made dinner after picking up food at a roadside farm stand and a little adjacent seafood spot where we picked up scallops that Aron cooked in browned butter. (My martini was coconut water with a lemon twist, by the way!) We had brought some pre-made angel food cake and whipped cream along with us and topped slices with strawberries or blueberries depending on what was at the market. Heaven.
Early the next morning, with the sun shining brightly and a clear forecast for the day, we packed up some chairs and an umbrella and headed out to the beach. One of the great things about Chatham is that it has so many great beaches–each with different exposures. So when we tried to go to the local beach–Hardings–and were met with strong wind gusts and choppy seas, we were able to instead detour to Lighthouse beach where the offshore breeze was slight and the seas were calm. The water was much colder than at Hardings, however–the only downside: it felt wonderful just to relax on the beach and look for the seals coming up for air between sand bars.
In the afternoon we stopped off at Chatham Fish Market for a quick sandwich before heading back to the house for some R&R. We had picked up supplies at a store near the beach called Cape Abilities, which opened just days earlier. The store sold local products which we, of course, loved sampling. The strawberries were tiny and sweet and the little buttons of cheese were lovely–just pungent enough to be interesting. We couldn’t resist buying an apple pie made by Centerville Pie Company but found ourselves more immediately interested in cookies by Salty Oat Cookies. The chocolate was the best!
We had packed more than enough reading material, but focused on baby books that we had been collecting and meaning to read. Aron read the Happiest Baby on the Block one day at the beach while I skimmed a borrowed Mayo Clinic guide, both trading tidbits.
I think we both felt constantly torn between our desire to just put up our feet and relax (especially as we felt a giant “should” looming: you “should” sleep and relax as much as you can before the baby arrives) and our desire to see as much as we could of the region. We probably did a bit more driving than many would advise or enjoy, but even just driving through the various towns and taking in their distinctive shingle homes felt like a unique opportunity.
That night we decided to return to the town of Wellfleet for the promise of waterside dining–which although one might think would be plentiful on Cape Cod (with close to 600 miles of shoreline), is harder to find than we expected–the main exceptions being five-star dining establishments. We were in search of crab shacks and crab-shack prices and were thrilled when we discovered Mac’s at the Wellfleet pier. Popular with families, the place is on the sand and BYO (perfect for Aron who had me as the ever-ready designated driver).
On a side-note, we thought Wellfleet had the highest concentration of intriguing restaurants. In addition to Mac’s and Moby Dick’s, we’d like return to try The Wicked Oyster, Pearl (also at the Harbour), PB Boulangerie, and especially Sol–and maybe to harvest some wild oysters.
But the best bit was perhaps watching the oyster and clam farmers work at low tide down the beach. Wellfleet oysters are justifiably famous and Aron ordered them every time we ate in the town. We went off to get closer and Aron was off at a quick pace for the farmers. I had worn the wrong shoes and got marooned about half way out–left to admire the mud flats that were teeming with snails–but Aron made it all the way out to the plot or “grant” being worked. He reported back to me; the man he talked to was happy to chit-chat while he continued to rack for clams (oysters were up in bins so they would grow faster). Apparently, the man had a strong accent, different than any Aron had heard before. The man had been farming all his life (seemingly back-breaking work) and talked about supporting restaurants that buy from local farmers. He said that only the really “good” restaurants use local oysters and clams for both their raw dishes (e.g. oysters on the half shell) and their cooked (e.g. rolls or fried). He reported that Mac’s was one such spot!
It seemed like we were so close to finding a spectacular vantage point for sunset. Using our GPS, we were able to wind around some nearby roads and find a little parking lot from where we could walk over some sand dunes to a beach–and see the sun nearly meet the water.
The following day was gray and a little bit rainy. We went into Chatham to pick up our usual breakfast and spent a little time in the town library before going on a short sightseeing drive. We pulled up to the fish pier to see the boats coming in, drove past Chatham Bars Inn, and played the fantasy real estate game before going off in search of Young’s Fish Market in Orleans, rumored to have one of the best lobster rolls on the Cape. The amount of fresh lobster for the price was unbeatable, but I did find it lacking the toasted roll and a little butter or mayo.
On the way back, we picked up some pre-cooked lobsters (that we had pre-ordered that day) from Chatham Fish Company, and some beer from Shop Ahoy.
The sun was back out the next morning, so even though a bike ride was on the agenda, we couldn’t help but spend the morning back at the beach. A few people were in the water this time, but we still only made it ankle-deep, sticking instead to paddle ball.
Following lunch at a roadside clam shack, we drove up to the Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham with the intention of biking north along the Cape Cod Rail Trail. The center has beautiful views and a host of exhibits; the ranger there suggested that–as we would just be doing a small portion of the 25-mile trail–we instead head back to Nickerson State Park and ride toward Harwich.
The rail trail was once a bed of the Penn Central Railroad and the route we took was flat and wooded, with minimal road crossings. Our favorite part took us past ponds–Sheep Pond, Long Pond, Seymour Pond, and Hinckleys Pond–around the Brewster/Harwich line. The water looked calm for swimming and the beaches were appealing, with water warmer than that in the ocean. It would be great to return with a picnic.
That evening, we returned to Mac’s (where the tide was high and there was no clear sign of all the farming activity just below the surface). This time we stuck to smaller roads for the ride back to Chatham. It’s not a short drive, but it was a scenic one.
We spent the following morning–Father’s Day!–enjoying some final sunny hours back at the beach.
And with that we grabbed our things and hit the road, assuaging our disappointment at having to leave with a final seafood stop at Abbott’s, near Mystic, Connecticut. The crowds were big–perhaps to celebrate Father’s Day–and the lines for the parking lot (and in the hot sun) were long, but it sure is a lovely spot. If you go, be sure to bring your own beer or wine and do it up right!