It’s been a few years—partly because I’ve tended to be doing a lot of October travel of late—but the stars aligned again for a Cape Cod trip this fall. We’ve pretty much settled on early October for this trip when we do it. The summer mobs are gone but the Cape is still mostly open for business and the weather is typically still nice.
We tend to stay in Eastham or Wellfleet on the lower Cape (i.e. further out on the Cape). This gets you out to where the interesting beaches and other outdoor attractions are, is easily accessible to Provincetown, but is removed from the general craziness and higher prices of P’town. Of course, if you’d rather ditch your car and hang out, P’town would be the better choice. We’ve stayed at various motels near the bike path (Cape Cod Rail Trail), though I didn’t get onto my inline skates this time. The Even'tide in Wellfleet has proven to be a good choice. I’ve also stayed at the Town Crier in Eastham (next to Arnold’s, a well-known “clam shack” in the area). There are a fair number of choices along the main drag (Route 6).
Upscale casual, but reasonably priced, is the Wicked Oyster in Wellfleet, near but not on the harbor. This is the second time I’ve eaten there and it’s probably been the best meal I had on both trips. This year I had a lovely pan seared cod over a light cream broth with littlenecks, sunchokes, leeks and bacon. My dinner companion had seared scallops over a sweet pea, artichoke and goat cheese risotto, topped with pea tendrils. Both were delicious—fresh and perfectly cooked. My clam chowder starter was also excellent; I’d have been tempted by raw Wellfleet oysters but, alas, the beds were temporarily closed due to a norovirus outbreak. The one comment I would add is that, current oyster issues aside, the Wicked Oyster is light on oyster dishes given its name and location. So don’t go in with your heart set on a bunch of oyster eating options.
The Bookstore and Restaurant is on the harbor—although the early October weather was such that it was a bit chilly to sit outside and fully absorb the view. I decided to have a couple of generously sized appetizers: a dozen raw littlenecks followed by an Oyster stew. My friend started with the Oysters Rockefeller followed by the Cranberry-walnut crusted baked cod. It was all good—even if Antoine’s in New Orleans has forever spoiled me for anyone else’s Oysters Rockefeller. A couple of their seafood stews looked very inviting as well. I just didn’t have the appetite that night for what looked like very generous portions.
Finally, on our P’town day, we ate at Ross’ Grill, which was fine. The views of the harbor were great and the food was above average. The calamari appetizer had a nice light batter that didn’t get in the way of enjoying the thick calamari slices. The soy-ginger sauce was sort of thin but an improvement over the marinara/cocktail sauce one often gets. And I enjoyed the roast duck special with a nice berry sauce. My dinner companion enjoyed her seafood stew less though, by her own admission, it just wasn’t really what she expected. (She had in mind one of the creamier stews at the Bookstore rather than a fairly traditional Portuguese Fish Stew with lots of tomato and a thin broth.) It probably didn’t help that our waiter was a bit perfunctory and didn’t volunteer a whole lot of information in response to questions.
As an aside, I’ll note that we ran into something this time that was unfamiliar from pervious visits. The tide was high around mid-day and these were astronomically higher tides. As a result, for one of hikes, we had to shift our timeline and the other was just challenging. Water shoes might have helped in one case but these are big tides on often very gently-sloping sands.
The following are a few favorite places, both from this trip and prior ones.
Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary - Mass Audubon. This is one of Mass Audubon’s better sanctuaries. (I also recommend Ipswich and Wachusett Meadows.) It’s 937 acres with 5 miles of trails. A boardwalk brings you out to the ocean. It even has one or two prickly pear cactus plants, believe it or not!
Great Island in Wellfleet is one of the longer hikes on the Cape. It’s eight miles or so depending upon the route you take and how far you go (and how far the tide lets you go). There are a couple of monuments on the island, an old tavern site (though in typical New England manner there’s not much left to see other than a cellar hole), shore birds, and (mostly) beach walking. Don’t get stuck out at Jeremy Point by the high tide but it’s also difficult to even get out to the tavern site at least an hour or so either side of high tide.
Wood End and (optionally) Long Point Lighthouses from Pilgrims First Landing Park in Provincetown. There’s some limited free and unmetered parking at the small rotary. Otherwise you’ll need to head toward the town and find a parking lot. A long breakwater composed of granite blocks connects the small park to the spit of land with the lighthouses. Walking over the breakwater is mostly straightforward but a few sections get covered at high tide and others get a bit rough (i.e. I wouldn’t personally try it in sandals). The breakwater takes you to near Wood End Light. You can extend the hike by walking over to Long Point Light.
Another hike, which I didn’t do this year, is Race Point Beach and Race Point Light. (Now privately owned. Tours are sometimes offered and the keeper’s house is available for rent.) I don’t really remember the details of hiking it—though I do remember the lighthouse and beach, but this says it’s about 8 miles.
The Marconi Wireless Station Site is in Wellfleet. Not many original artifacts remain but it’s worth a visit even if some of the interpretive displays were removed a few years ago and the main shelter removed because it was going to eventually fall off the cliff. Also nearby are Marconi Beach and the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail, a particularly nice excursion for a rainy day or if you just want a short walk before you drive home.
Coast Guard Beach in Eastham also comes recommended. A shuttle runs there through Labor Day. However, be aware that after the shuttle stops running, there is a very limited parking area next to the old Coast Guard Station and no other options remotely close. So, in the somewhat off-season, it can be difficult to park there.
Also nearby are Nauset Light and the Three Sisters, older lighthouses from the area that have been reunited away from the ocean.