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Outer Cape Cod: A travel gem hidden in plain sight

Cape Cod off the Massachusetts coast has been a travel destination for as long as America has existed. Way back when, it was the first place the Pilgrims landed, fleeing the oppressive old world, seeking the opportunities of a new one. In recent years, Cape Cod was more famous for its well-heeled inhabitants, including the “Camelot” court of the political Kennedy family in Hyannis. The cape is a peninsula shaped like a half-bent arm, jutting first out and then up into the Atlantic Ocean. Modern day Cape Cod is hardly a hidden gem. The suburbs of Boston now sprawl until the peninsula’s elbow. The elegant and exclusive islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket hover just off shore. 
But then, as the peninsula turns north, everything changes. Civilization stops. Traffic thins. The peninsula, never wide, narrows to accommodate a single road. The mass commercial culture of America falls away, replaced by an authentic local feel, full of character and charm. From Chatham, its most southwest point, all the way north until it ends at Provincetown, Cape Cod is a delight.
It was President John F. Kennedy’s idea to protect this part of the cape as a National Seashore back in the 1960s. Kennedy had the foresight to see that this precious strip of land was in danger of disappearing under the remorseless tide of development. Familiar with the Cape because of his family’s roots here, he was able to protect over 50 miles (80.5 km) of pristine coastline under the national park system. If you track the development of the other seaside treasures of America’s east coast, from Long Island down to the Florida Keys, the wisdom of his act become apparent. 
Now, this delightful shore – less than a kilometer wide at some places – is protected for generations to come. To the east is the Atlantic, a wild rough continental edge, favored by sturdy swimmers and surfers. To the west, the “bay” in local parlance, the peninsula looks back to Plymouth, Boston and the mainland, and the coastline has a quieter feel, calmer waves and an extraordinary tide that leaves acres of land exposed when it is low: a shell-seeker’s delight. In between these two coasts are freshwater lakes (“ponds” to the locals), making it possible to swim in an ocean, a bay and a pond in a single day. 
The outer cape has been transformed into a summer holiday paradise. With just a sprinkling of year-round residents, this part of the Cape comes to life in the summer. All the little towns along the way – Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and finally Provincetown – compete with one another with glorious things to do. Daily there’s a music festival here, a carnival there, a kids' movie on the lawn, outdoor picnics, art and craft fairs. The old railway line, no longer used, has been transformed into a flat bike path. Wellfleet is home to one of the few remaining drive-in movie theaters in the country, where you park your car and watch the movie on an enormous outdoor screen, just like you can imagine happened in the 1950s.
Provincetown, while on the outer edge of the peninsula, feels the least remote. It’s connected by an hour and a half ferry back to Boston. In the summer, it’s one of the centers of America’s thriving gay and lesbian scene. Every week takes on a different theme. We arrived at the beginning of “bear” week, for highly affectionate, huge, burly, bearded and tattooed men. The next week was the ladies’ turn. Provincetown’s edgy vibe, as well as its spectacular coast scenery, combines for a lot of irrepressible fun, and a lot of questioning from children more used to the conservative mores of Cairo.
The food is a delight all along the Cape. Unsurprisingly, seafood is the mainstay. Local specialties include oysters, clams, mussels, lobster and fish variously done. There are plenty of high-end options, but our favorites, as they are in Cairo, are more local, down-to-earth places, where you shuck clams out of a bucket, throw the shells on the floor, and wash it down with cool local beer. Ice cream is also a treasure here. There is an endless supply of local producers, all competing with one another for quality of taste and the diversity of flavor.
Cape Cod is a summer paradise. If you prefer a more congested, urban holiday style, with malls and mass culture close at hand, you may want to head elsewhere. But if it’s wild, rugged beauty you’re after, head out along the cape until it narrows to a single road. There, you’ll find isolated beauty everywhere, and a holiday style not much changed from generations past. 
Getting there: 
Either fly in to Boston or Providence, Rhode Island, and drive, or take the fast ferry from Boston:
Two restaurants, both called “Mac’s”, in Wellfleet, serve up tasty, traditional seafood, as do Moby Dick’s on the Wellfleet/Truro border, and Arnold’s in Eastham.
For a higher end taste, try Blackfish in Truro. When in Provincetown, try the Lobster Pot, and superb homemade ice cream at the New York Store.

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