One of my favorite things to do is lay on a beach in August with my eyes closed and listen to the sound of the surf, to kids building sand castles, to the seagulls. I love that drowsy, half-awake state that only happens to me on a sunny beach, lulled into a semi-conscious stupor by the smell of suntan lotion and the drone of lighthearted conversations nearby. It brings back a flood of childhood memories-simpler times, when lunches of sandy hotdogs and Hi-C were gourmet vacation reprieves from our usually healthy fare, and hours of playing in the surf brought blue lips and deep sleep before the summer sky had begun to darken.
Nowhere is more evocative of family summer vacation memories than Cape Cod and the Islands. For landlubbers, the geography of the Cape requires piling into a car for the ride around the bent arm of the peninsula. From Bourne, at the armpit of the Cape, to Provincetown at the curled fist, the whole appendage is comprised of 15 towns (and many more villages) as well as 600 miles of coastline. The drive out the Cape can be bumper-tobumper in the summer, but the road is lined with seafood shops, seafood restaurants, motels, and souvenir stores that have a certain beach-vacation nostalgic charm.
Arrive by boat and you bypass these more honky-tonk aspects of the Cape and come ashore much like the pilgrims did back in 1620 in Provincetown. That's right, even the Pilgrims vacationed here. They spent five weeks on Cape Cod's tip before they moved on to their final destination, Plymouth.
Bourne, Falmouth, Mashpee, and Sandwich are considered the Upper Cape. Woods Hole, with its world-famous Oceanographic Institute and ferry service to beautiful Martha's Vineyard is here. The Mid-Cape includes Barnstable, Yarmouth, and Dennis. The commercial center of the Cape is here, but it's also an area of beautiful beaches. Hyannis Port, summer home of the Kennedys, is a village that's part of Barnstable. Ferry service to Nantucket runs from Hyannis and, even if you're not going out to the historic whaling island, you might want to stop at the dock for fantastic belly clams from Baxter's.
The Lower Cape is where you'll find the gorgeous, Atlantic- facing beaches that make up the Cape Cod National Seashore. Sure, they're amongst America's most popular for the age-old joy of sunbathing and body-surfing. But in the summer, there are also ranger-guided activities that will teach you how to shellfish, paddle a canoe, or surfcast. There are also programs for yoga on the beach, campfire nights, lighthouse tours, and stargazing.