Greater Boston Suburbs
Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard
Together, Cape Code, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard make up the combined vacation spot known as THE CAPE AND ISLANDS.
Cape Cod and the Islands are both vacation spots for residents and tourist destinations for millions of visitors every year, primarily in the summer. The following is an overview of each:
Cape Cod, widely known by locals as "The Cape", is shaped like a flexed arm. The Cape is reached from Boston by Route 3, a divided two lane highway beginning at I-93 in the suburb of Braintree (locally, this intersection is known as the "Braintree split") which gets massively clogged at rush hour, as well as Friday and Sunday nights in the summer months. From Rhode Island, CT and NY, The Cape is reached by I-195 from Providence. From some suburbs, The Cape is best reached by Route 25 which connects Route 24 and I-495 to the Cape.
No matter how you come, you will enter The Cape at the shoulder of the flexed arm, crossing either the Bourne Bridge (southern) or Sagamore Bridge (northern), over the Cape Cod Canal. Three year old's delight in calling the Sagamore, the "Saggy Bridge" however you do not need to be concerned about the bridge's stability. Yet a phone number of the Samaritans at the bridge entrance does bring light to the popularity of the bridge as a spot to jump from if you have given up on the world. You will see bumper stickers which claim to permit the owner to cross via a third option, the Cape Cod Tunnel. However, this is just a joke among locals, not to mention a subtle protest against Cape traffic since no such tunnel has ever existed.
If you enter The Cape on the Sagamore Bridge, you will be on Route 6 which is also known as the Mid Cape Highway. This follows the entire arm to the fist at Provincetown. If you enter at the Bourne Bridge, you will continue on Route 28 (which begins shortly after Route 25 ends and just before the canal) and will head due South on The Cape towards Falmouth.
The Cape is roughly divided into the Lower, Mid and Upper Cape. The lower cape has less beach and more land. The upper cape has long stretches of beach, smaller towns, and more expensive real estate.
Major towns on the Cape include Falmouth on the southern lower cape which has many ferries to the islands, Hyannis on the mid cape which is the Capes largest town and most developed area, and Provincetown at the end of the fist, a unique and ecclectic town of art galleries and restaurants. P-town as it is also known, has a substantial gay population (off season it is MOSTLY this) and thus is quite liberal and artsy. Many traditional families visit each year though and as long as one is comfortable with the fact that most churches have been converted to galleries, all are welcome and live in harmony.
The Cape has a substantial population of hotels, many of which consider themselves to be resorts with golf or private beaches. Many are upscale but most are moderate in class and almost nothing on The Cape is really glitzy. In a way The Cape mimics the Jersey Shore, with perhaps colder and less accessible beaches and no boardwalks. There are so many vacation and second homes on The Cape as well, that its visitor population is hardly limited to those staying in hotels (which is a vast contrast to places like Maine). A typical Cape Cod home has grey salt box siding with white trim, a screened in porch, and pine needles for a yard.
Nantucket is quite a small island, with a permanent population of only 10,000 people. Nantucket is expensive and exclusive, with very little day traffic coming through. The ferry ride is several hours from Hyannis and it is hard to really enjoy Nantucket if you are just coming for the day.
There are upscale restaurants and hotels, but most of the visitors are staying in expensive private homes (their own or rented). Nantucket is classy and family oriented and relatively homogeneous and the majority of visitors either own vacation property there or come for an overnight stay in a nice hotel or in a rented home.
The Vineyard is everything that Nantucket is not and so much more. It is three times the size, less than an hour from Woods Hole by ferry, diverse and colorful. Martha's Vineyard is simultaneously casual and upscale. With famous residents like James Taylor and Carly Simon, and visits from President's Clinton as well as Obama, The Vineyard is often a siting place for celebrities. Yet sandals and khaki shorts are the absolute norm on The Vineyard, and many kids grow up spending their summers jumping off bridges and hitchhiking around the island. Unlike Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard has several towns and they are all different.
Edgartown is the largest settlement and has the greatest concentration of fine restaurants and shops. It feels like an island downtown and is upscale and fashionable, even if fashion on the Vineyard is understated. Oak Bluffs has colorful gingerbread houses, a noteworthy African American history (for an island retreat) and the oldest continuously running carousel in the nation. Vineyard Haven is a boaters delight and a traditional "Christian" family town (if Massachusetts can have such a thing!), dictating its continuing status as a 'dry town'. Chappaquiddick, most famous of course for its role in the late Senator Ted Kennedy events, is expensive and preppy, and South Beach is alive with cold water surfing and sunbathing. Being 'local' which means that you have been coming there for years (and probably own a home there) makes you a VINEYARDER and this status so substantially separates you from the other tourists, that you virtually operate with the right to tell others what to do. Symbolic of Martha's Vineyard is the BLACK DOG, a bakery and souvenir shop recognized by its emblematic black dog silhouette. (The dog is actually the lab-boxer mix from Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island). T-shirts, sweatshirts, coffee mugs and pet bowls of every possible color and permutation with the famous dog permeate the homes of locals and tourists alike.
Whether on Nantucket or The Vineyard, you will be surrounded by beaches. The water is cold particularly on the south facing beaches (which tend to the best of the lot) but the beaches can be quiet and enjoyable, and the fresh air and laid back pace make for a great vacation. Getting around either island is best by bicycle and parking on The Vineyard (especially in Edgartown) is very difficult. Getting cars to either island requires ferry reservations and is expensive, though renting a car on each island is possible and having a car particularly on The Vineyard gives you better access to the islands diversity.
A car on Cape Cod is simply mandatory, but expect traffic everywhere.
The traditional ferries to the Islands are run by the Steamship Authority. These large vessels carry automobiles as well. Newer and faster (and more expensive) vessels are operated by Hyline. All ferries carry bicycles. There is also a fast ferry directly to Provincetown from Boston operated by Bay State Cruise Company. Both Islands have airports with direct service from Boston and some charter service from NY and some coastal towns such as New Bedford. Generally, the ferries are the most common way to go. Also bear in mind that in the summer, parking for the ferries is difficult and somewhat expensive. Most importantly though it is TIME CONSUMING. In high season, you will have to park for the ferries 15 miles up the highway and take a shuttle bus. So, the key is to leave lots and lots of extra time, unless you are bringing your car with you. If you do have a ferry reservation, you drive right up to the boat, queuing prior to its arrival. The earlier you arrive, the easier it is and the faster you are likely to get off at the other end. Both islands have small commercial airports but flights are generally limited, coming from Boston, New Bedford or Westerly, RI.
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