Back in May half term we took our ‘big trip’ for the year. We try and alternate between exploring more of Europe and venturing a bit further afield because I’m determined to show our girls just what an awesomely diverse and beautiful world we live in. Last year (2018) we visited stunning Lake Maggiore in Italy and so 2019 saw us journeying west to the USA to spend six days on our first ever family city-break in friendly Boston, Massachusetts, followed by four days of wild and windswept adventures on Cape Cod.
Why did we choose Cape Cod?
Our time in Boston was brilliant and we experienced so much together as a family. You can read all about what we got up to here and here and watch a video of our travels here. It was the first time the girls have ever been to a proper city (we’ve not actually even taken them to London yet!), so we knew it would be fairly intense for them and that there would be a lot of walking involved.
We really wanted to end our trip with some downtime and the chance to do not very much at all before we headed back home to the UK to the realities of school and work. After a bit* (*hours and hours) of research I decided that a few days of beach adventures on Cape Cod would be just what we all needed. Unspoilt sandy beaches, picturesque little towns, the opportunity to see some incredible sunrises and sunsets… I didn’t need much convincing.
Adventures on Cape Cod
Despite knowing full well that the girls and the husband were pretty intent on relaxing as much as possible, I couldn’t help planning some cool adventures on Cape Cod whilst we were there. As always, the ideas were a little bit too ambitious and we ended up only doing a few of them but that just means we get to go back again for another visit to do all the stuff we didn’t manage to do this time, right? There really is SO much to see there – you could easily spend two weeks exploring and still not cover everything. Four days was nowhere near enough time to see it all.
Cape Cod, a peninsula that curves out from the eastern-most point of the state of Massachusetts, is loosely divided into four main sections: Upper Cape, Mid Cape, Lower Cape and Outer Cape, with each area containing three or four main towns. There are also the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard to the south of the Cape too. I was desperate to visit at least one of them but sadly we couldn’t quite make it work. Next time maybe.
We based ourselves in a vibrant little town called Sandwich in the Upper Cape, the first town you come to after crossing the Sagamore Bridge from the ‘mainland’ onto the Cape Cod peninsula. I figured it would be easy enough to travel to other areas on the Cape if we wanted to, whilst being not too far from Boston Logan International Airport for our ridiculously early flight home at the end of our adventures on Cape Cod. Plus I liked the name!
Our Travel Diary
DAY ONE: TUESDAY
Travel day. We checked out of our Airbnb in Boston mid-morning after a mad scramble to make sure we’d packed everything (just us or does everyone else do this too?) and headed for the airport in an Uber to pick up our hire car. We’d not needed a car whilst in Boston itself as it’s so accessible through walking and using the T-line metro, but we needed a way to get to our much anticipated adventures on Cape Cod and as far as I knew the public transport system on the Cape is quite limited in comparison to the big city. We wanted the freedom to be able to explore as and when we wanted to, so a hire car was necessary for this second half of our trip.
It didn’t take long at all: the Pilgrim’s Highway (Route 3) was easy to navigate and I think the journey door-to-door took maybe an hour and a half in total. We had planned to stop off at a place called Plymouth on our way to the Cape as I wanted to see Plymouth Rock, but the weather had other ideas and it rained so we gave it a miss and headed straight for Cape Cod instead.
We arrived at about midday and, as luck would have it, our Airbnb was ready early. I’d spent ages researching places to stay during our adventures on Cape Cod and I’m really pleased with where we ended up – built in 1840 it used to be the old General Store for the town. It was a bit creaky, it had a faint musty aroma to it (even though it was spotlessly clean) and some of the furniture was definitely what I would describe as ‘vintage’ but it all added to the authentic feel. The husband isn’t so keen on Airbnbs as places to stay but I have to say I quite like them – they’re quirky and different and almost always end up giving us a story to tell about our travels.
We dumped our stuff, settled arguments about who was sleeping in which bedroom, had a quick lunch made with the bits and pieces we’d brought with us from Boston (I do love a road trip that makes doing things like this possible, it’s so much easier on the budget than eating out all the time) and headed out for the first of our adventures on Cape Cod to explore the town of Sandwich in the rain.
The first thing we wanted to see was the famous Sandwich Boardwalk. It was only a 15 minute stroll from where we were staying and whilst it was a rather soggy and somewhat chilly walk I enjoyed wandering through the residential streets of Sandwich. We were all delighted to discover that the pedestrian crossings (‘crosswalks’), which merely beep incessantly in the UK, sound like cuckoos on Cape Cod! Of course we had to try them out several times just for a giggle. The wide avenues were lined on either side with traditional, quaint, Colonial-style houses, many with actual white picket fences and all with beautiful gardens positively overflowing with colourful flowers. Does anyone else surreptitiously pick out their dream home in every place they visit? Or is it just me? I’m gradually building up a fairly extensive mental collection of dream homes around the world.
Sandwich Boardwalk itself stretched out over grasslands and sand dunes towards Town Neck Beach. It was low tide when we were there, leaving huge clams in the mudflats exposed to the sky and causing excited seagulls to wheel in wide circles, laughing with glee. Each plank of wood in the boardwalk had names imprinted on them, some single ones, some families, some couples, all permanently etched in the wood in dedication to someone loved or someone lost. There were hundreds of them and it was really quite moving reading them all as we made our way towards the beach.
Town Neck Beach
Eventually a small incline over the sand dunes brought us to sweeping views of Town Neck Beach, stretching out as far as the eye could see in either direction. To our left, leading back round towards the mainland, and to the right, a curving bay that ultimately leads to Provincetown on the very tip of the Cape.
The overcast skies and angry waves meant we couldn’t see quite that far but the dramatic vistas couldn’t be spoilt even by the weather. We didn’t venture down onto the sand, choosing to simply admire the wildness of the shoreline from our vantage point above the beach. I knew we’d be back on a dry day – it was too beautiful not to.
DAY TWO: WEDNESDAY
We had a fairly slow, cosy morning with everyone waking up in stages after a good night’s sleep. It was just what the girls all needed I think. It was still drizzly and grey outside so we planned to stay fairly close to home in the morning and then explore more of Sandwich in the afternoon when the sun was due to put in an appearance.
I’d heard excellent things about Beth’s Bakery, which was literally a two minute walk right around the corner from where we were staying. We ventured out mid-morning for a snack and I can confirm that the rumours were true. Giant cinnamon buns, muffins of every flavour, rich chocolate brownies… And that was just the beginning! There were so many cakes and sweet treats to choose from, plus all the usual delicious breakfast and lunchtime offerings such as sandwiches, paninis, soup and salads. We made a promise to ourselves to visit every day whilst we were on Cape Cod (and we did!)
It was such a friendly place too. I must have had conversations with at least five different people, all curious about where we were from and how long we were staying on the Cape and whereabouts we were planning on exploring. I love how genuinely interested people seem to be.
Our bellies satisfyingly filled, we mooched around a couple of shops too, hunting for souvenirs. I always pick up a magnet to go on the fridge at home from wherever we stay in the world and I’m quite proud of our collection which is slowly and steadily growing. My favourite shop by far was one called ‘Modern Vintage‘. It was beautiful inside, a bohemian treasure trove of pretty, homey things. I wanted to buy it all. The girls were more thrilled to discover that the owner had her newborn baby tucked in a tiny moses basket next to her at the desk – it took me ages to coax them away!
We walked a quick loop around the main hub of the town, taking in First Church (which featured on the front cover of one of Elvis Presley’s albums!); Dexter’s Grist Mill; the library; Shawme Pond; and even more picturesque little houses that lined the streets. I love walking around a new-to-me town – getting lost and taking wrong turns is all part of the fun and there’s always something interested to discover.
After lunch at our Airbnb and some time playing in the garden we headed back out again, this time in the car and in the opposite direction to our morning explorations. I’ve mentioned before how much I love planning places to visit and things to see and do wherever we’re staying – it’s all just as much part of the fun as the actual travelling side of things for me.
During my research for our adventures on Cape Cod I discovered Sandwich Marina and figured it would be an interesting place to have a stroll for the afternoon. Plus it was fairly near a supermarket and we needed some supplies for the last few days of our stay.
Shipwreck Ice Cream
We parked our car and headed for the path that would ultimately lead us to Sandwich Marina, promptly getting distracted by a little shack with a couple of picnic tables scattered on the grass outside. A sign told us that this was ‘The Shipwreck Ice Cream Parlour’ and, never being able to resist following our family tradition of having an ice cream every day whilst we’re on holiday, we stopped to test them out. There were over 50 flavours to choose from (!) plus a plethora of various toppings, sauces and extra treats like fudge sticks and marshmallows.
In the end the girls opted for Chocolate Madness, Cotton Candy and Cookie Dough, all with rainbow sprinkles because why not? The ice creams in the photos we ‘small single-scoop cones’ – I dread to think what the 4-scoop cones were like! I think the girls’ smiles show just how good they tasted though.
Ice creams devoured, we continued onwards to Sandwich Marina and the section of the Cape Cod Canal that runs alongside it. We sat on a bench and admired the boats bobbing happily in the harbour, picking out which ones we would each most like to own, and watched the clouds scudding across the sky. It was a really quite pleasant way to spend an hour or so in the sunshine. You can walk around the whole marina from end to end – there were interesting artefacts like old anchors, ship’s bells and wooden lifeboats dotted around the perimeter too, with information plaques giving details of their historical meaning and importance.
The first half of our mini-break on Cape Cod went so quickly and looking back I wish we’d made a little bit more of our time there. Part Two in this series of our adventures on Cape Cod will follow hopefully soon, detailing what we got up to during the last couple of days of our USA trip.
In the meantime you can see what we got up to on Cape Cod in my vlog below. I know I say it every single time but I really do absolutely love making these little videos so much, even though they still take me days to create. Watching them back brings me an incredible amount of joy and the girls love watching them too – it always amazes me how much they remember from our holidays and what things we did that they enjoyed the most.