Summer on the Cape

We asked those who know the shore best to share their secret haunts.

Boston Magazine |
cape cod travel guide

Photo by Joel Meyerowitz

My Traditions

I grew up in Connecticut, and my family would spend a week or two each summer on the Outer Cape. We’d rent a cottage in Kalmar Village, take shivery swims in the ocean, build sandcastles, and drive our SUV out to Race Point, in Provincetown, to watch my mother surf-cast for bluefish. I remember sampling fudge and staring open-mouthed at the drag queens on Commercial Street, trying my first raw Wellfleet oyster, and falling asleep to the sound of the waves. For me, the beach is and always will be Cape Cod.

I wanted my daughters to grow up enjoying the same low-tech adventures I had—long bike rides along the Rail Trail that runs from Dennis to Wellfleet; braving the icy waters at Longnook Beach; building campfires and watching the fireworks burst over Provincetown every Fourth of July.

Cape Cod cuisine has come a long way. There are the places I remember—lobster rolls and onion rings at Arnold’s, in Eastham, and Wellfleet’s Bookstore & Restaurant, which still serves clam chowder and steamed littlenecks in a white-wine-garlic-butter broth. One of my new favorites is Wellfleet’s Mac’s Shack, and its amazing, inventive sushi—some of the best I’ve eaten anywhere. Their curried scallops and fish tacos are not to be missed.

The perfect way to end a summer meal is with a cone. Savory & the Sweet Escape, in Truro, offers delicious flavors like Pomegranate Chip and Celebration Cake.

At least once a summer I’ll recruit a friend or sibling and make the epic kayak trip all the way across from Truro to Provincetown—depending on the wind and tides, it can take anywhere from three to six hours. We’ll pass lobster pots and fishing boats, wave at the whale-watching expeditions, and, right around the halfway mark, where it’s too far to do anything but keep going, swear to each other that we saw a shark.

Jennifer Weiner, pictured above as a child, released her new paperback, The Next Best Thing, in April. 

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The Wellfleet Drive-In

The warm tickle of sand underfoot, the sweet sting of an ice cream headache, the flickering glow of a drive-in movie against an inky sky: For 35 years, these have been the sensory touchstones of my Cape Cod summers. Nothing and no one stays entirely the same for so long, of course—and indeed, nowadays my body is less forgiving of noonday sun and ice cream binges.

But the movies? Since 1957—when its hot, hulking RCA Dyn-Arc projectors first came whirring to life for a showing of the Hepburn and Tracy classic Desk Set—the Wellfleet Drive-In has bucked the momentum of the modern world and remained nearly unchanged.

The golden age of the American drive-in had long since come and gone by the late 1970s, when I first arrived as a pajama-clad stowaway sprawled in my mother’s lap. At the time the Wellfleet was one of eight drive-ins on the Cape selling tickets by the carload. Today it stands as the lone survivor.

To lure larger crowds, management has added a motley assortment of amusements to the 25-acre parcel over the years, including a sprawling flea market (great deals to be had on bikes!). Families can now get in a round of putt-putt or let the kids burn off steam on the swing set before settling into their SUV for the film. Die-hards can unroll their windows and hang the same monaural speakers that have piped in thousands of tinny soundtracks over six decades—or simply tune their FM dial to 89.3 to catch a stereo broadcast. The nightly showings may still kick off with a faded welcome reel, but the double features that follow are first run. Nestled in your familiar seat, clutching a bucket of popcorn, as gulls caw and clatter in the distance, past and present dissolve. And there is just the drive-in.

That’s why this June, I’ll return as I always have, though admittedly the circumstances have changed: At age seven I dragged a sleeping bag onto the roof of my father’s Jeep for a better view of Bill Murray’s showdown with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. At 17 I preferred to enter the gates via a trunk, smuggled alongside a case of Bud Light. This year, I’ll return with my own pajama-clad stowaway heavy in my lap, and I will half-watch whatever spectacle is on the screen. And I will be happy knowing for an hour or two that even though everything else in life has changed, summer hasn’t.

Sarah Karnasiewicz, pictured above at age two on Cahoon Hollow Beach, is a Brooklyn-based food and travel writer.

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  • jake481

    I saw The 2 lead singers from Squeeze (Difford and Tillbrook) play the Chicken Box. They were playing with Elvis Costello’s backing band the Attractions. Absolutely incredible band, one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen and the Chicken Box is a really cool building but it’s filled with HORRIBLE people. Steve Nieve, the incredible keyboard player from the Attractions opened the show with a set of solo piano and the audience never shut up for one second. Rich people who were so lazy and entitled they couldn’t be bothered to put their empty beer bottles anywhere. They literally just dropped their empties on the floor.