In total contrast to the high-speed US-6 freeway or the traffic-clogged, overdeveloped, and frequently ugly Route 28 along the south shore, Route 6A along Cape Cod Bay shows off the Cape as it should be seen. Route 6A’s winding back roads pass through small historic town after small historic town, and they are lined by seafood shacks, ice cream stands, high-style restaurants, colonial-era homes, village greens, and stately churches—backed all the way by miles of bay-front beaches.
From Sandwich in the west to Brewster in the east, Route 6A offers a taste of what the Cape is all about. Barnstable (pop. 44,460), for example, is the second-oldest community on Cape Cod (founded in 1639) and has managed to retain its historic core through the years. A series of quaint villages line the bay between here and Brewster (pop. 9,806), which has 85 acres of coastal marshlands outside the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History (869 Main St., 508/896-3867, daily summer, Wed.-Sat. Winter, $15) and the old-fashioned Brewster Store (1935 Main St., 508/896-3744), in a building originally built as a church in 1852.
Midway along, Dennis is home to the nation’s oldest professional summer-stock theater, the Cape Playhouse (box office 508/385-3911). If you prefer film over stage, the Cape Cinema (508/385-2503), on the grounds behind the playhouse, specializes in movies you won’t find at the multiplex; if you arrive late, stick around until the lights go up after the credits or you’ll miss one of the Cape’s best public artworks, Rockwell Kent’s brightly colored Zodiac-themed mural of Prometheus on the cinema’s ceiling.
Dennis also offers the chance to take in excellent Cape Cod views from atop Scargo Tower, built of local stone atop Cape Cod’s highest point.
Cape Cod National Seashore
The outermost stretch of Cape Cod, from Orleans to Provincetown, is protected from commercial development within the Cape Cod National Seashore, a 40-mile-long National Park Service property encompassing the whole of the coast ($25 per day per vehicle).
The park’s highlights include miles of gorgeous beaches, harbor seals, and some of the Cape’s best waves, which occur here because the south-facing beaches are blocked by the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, and the bayside is sheltered by the Cape itself. Pick up information detailing the various nature trails and interpretive programs at the Salt Pond Visitor Center (508/255-3421, daily, free) in Eastham or Province Lands Visitor Center (508/487-1256) in Provincetown.