When asked how she enjoys winters on the Cape, Alexandra Decker, a bartender at the Chatham Orpheum Theater, exclaims, “I’ve been waiting for someone to write this story,” taking me by surprise. Cape Codders tend to be a protective lot, and my credentials are questioned by more than one longtime local as I make my way around the 65-mile-long Massachusetts peninsula. As I do, it dawns on me that the Cape in the winter is a secret some want to share and others want to keep. It’s little wonder why: During these months the flip-flop-wearing crowds disperse, leaving beaches strewn with only lighthouses and seagulls, twice-daily nutrient-rich tides that sweep in a bounty of oysters, and celebrations that light up the night sky, already bright with stars.
After crossing over the Cape Cod Canal on the Sagamore Bridge, it’s just 10 minutes to Sandwich, the peninsula’s oldest town and an early Quaker settlement. The Thornton Burgess Society Green Briar Jam Kitchen hosts two-hour jam-making classes for up to 15 people in a historic 1903 kitchen with robin’s egg blue cabinets. Each participant gets four to six jars to take home. Make a reservation in advance, or simply swing by the gift shop to pick up jars of pumpkin-apricot-ginger jam, apple pie jam or cranberry-apple jam (the Cape is home to more than 14,000 working acres of cranberry bogs).
Winter is the time for eating, and the Cape does not disappoint. November marks the height of oyster-harvesting season, and the bounty lasts well into the New Year. Hyannis is the hub of the entire peninsula, and practically across from Main Street’s John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum (consider checking out the organization’s annual Spectacle of Trees, from December 2 through December 10) you’ll find The Naked Oyster. The wood-and-brick restaurant serves all sorts of seafood, but French chef Florence Lowell keeps her own oyster beds in Barnstable Harbor, so opt for the creamy bivalves. The briny suckers come raw or dressed, and the bistro’s take on classic Oysters Rockefeller (baked with spinach, Parmesan, Pernod and bacon) is a hit. Most ice cream shops shutter for the winter, but the nearby Cape Cod Creamery scoops locally inspired flavors, such as Hyannis Heath Bar and Pleasant Bay Peanut Butter, all year.
In the village of Yarmouth Port, you can find the Old Yarmouth Inn, established in 1696 at the halfway point of the journey from Plymouth to Provincetown. Today it offers steaming lobster bisque, fried scallops and fish and chips in a creaky wood-paneled tavern with a large fireplace; the scent of wood smoke lingers in the air. Aptly named, the family-owned Red Cottage Restaurant, in South Dennis, serves Belgian waffles from a homemade mix to residents perched on red swivel stools; one described it as the “best breakfast on the Cape.” Over in Harwich Port, you’ll find red-checkered tablecloths and walls hung with local signage at the laid-back Land Ho!, which offers flounder and crab cakes alongside burgers and salads.
Farther east, Chatham is nearly surrounded by water and has a lovely downtown, a vibrant food scene and a lively year-round vibe. Don’t miss dinner at the dimly lit Impudent Oyster, a cozy tavern with stained glass that’s just as well suited for families as for couples looking for a romantic night out. Expect a sociable staff, a roomy bar and heaping portions. One standout dish is the Ravioli Raimondo (Cape sea scallops and shrimp sautéed with tomato concassé, served with lobster ravioli). At the Chatham Bars Inn’s preppy Sacred Cod tavern, you can feast under a vaulted ceiling on clam chowder, lobster rolls bursting at the seams or whichever fish was hauled in that day. Before or after your meal, wander out to the Inn’s ample back porch for a view of Pleasant Bay.
In a historic building that dates back to 1861, The Bramble Inn & Restaurant, in Brewster, is utterly charming, with details such as ornate wallpaper and mirrored sconces. Owners Ruth and Cliff Manchester travel to Europe each year, and it pays off in dishes such as braised-short-rib poutine with root-vegetable confit. Even if you haven’t time for a meal, it’s worth stepping in from the cold for a glass of wine at the quaint seven-seat bar with its homey lamps and tall wood chairs.
If it’s a drink you’re after, you might also sidle up to the sleek red-and-black bar at Hyannis’s Pain d’Avignon, a bakery and French restaurant that pours French wines and mixes a mean Northern Lights cocktail with Bastille whiskey served on the rocks. And at the recently opened Devil’s Purse Brewing Company, in South Dennis, owners Matt Belson and Mike Segerson cheerfully mill about while you sample a flight of three beers. Brews such as the Darkened Ship stout—with aromas of cocoa, toffee and anise—are already on the menu at restaurants in Boston.
In the Bag
Many of the Cape’s shops cater to summer vacationers, but a collection keep their doors open into the winter. One such holdout is Hyannis’s Cellar Leather, where the real draw is the belt buckles adorned with oysters, anchors or Cape maps. They’re cast or welded in brass, white bronze silver or red bronze by local artisans, including Bernard Kelly, Andrew Bourbon and Richard Kaisch. In a yellow house in Yarmouth Port, sisters Ann and Margaret Hill fill Design Works with antique Scandinavian furniture and blankets woven on shuttle looms. While you’re there, stop by the Happy Fish Bakery, just a few doors down, where Emily Burbank bakes sourdough bread and coconut cookies while her parents, Dan and Ros, welcome customers.
For one-of-a-kind pottery and sculpture, you can follow a short dirt road to the Scargo Pottery & Art Gallery, in Dennis. The studio, shop and outdoor sculpture garden were founded in 1952 by Harry Holl, and today his daughters, Kim and Tina, are two of three resident potters, along with Meden Parker. The garden doesn’t showcase sculpture during winter, but the shop brims with glazed mugs, platters and sets of nesting bowls, in deep blues, purples and yellows. For more art, head to Dennis Port; if you’re lucky, you might catch Fritz himself glassblowing at Fritz Glass.
Set in a gray-shingled house, The Chatham Home carries credenzas, couches and more, as well as portable accents like Lafco candles and whale-shaped cutting boards. Before stopping in at nearby Yankee Ingenuity—stocked with silver nautical jewelry and soaps made by hand on Cape Cod—consider popping into the pink-hued Chatham Candy Manor, where manager Susan Carroll whips up seasonal treats, such as homemade candy canes. Converted from a church to a general store in 1866, The Brewster Store is another great stop for sweets and knickknacks, offering everything from puzzles to an old-fashioned penny-candy display.
The Cape has lots of activities for the whole gang. The Hyannis Youth & Community Center’s 80-by-250-foot Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Memorial Skating Rink is open year-round and offers two-hour ice-skating sessions (plus free weekly yoga classes and a game room). Another great option is the South Dennis Tony Kent Arena, a local favorite, where you can hit the ice or take private one-hour ice-skating lessons.
Ryan’s Family Amusements, in South Yarmouth, has 10 candlepin lanes and as many tenpin lanes. Kids can face off while snacking on pizza and wings. For a quieter night out, the charming Chatham Orpheum Theater shows big-budget and independent films in two viewing rooms, one that seats 147 people and another that seats 34. It originally opened in 1916, and members of the town raised funds to bring it back in 2013. Today it also houses a small, sleek café that locals drop into even on afternoons when they’re not planning to catch a movie.
The Cape in winter is a striking gray-and-blue beauty. At shell-strewn Kalmus Beach, off Ocean Street in Hyannis, you can watch windsurfers play in the waves if the wind is up. Or visit the 800-foot Gray’s Beach boardwalk, in Yarmouth. There’s seating at the end where you can sip a hot cup of tea while looking out at the surrounding snow-packed salt marshes.
Over at the Chatham Fish Pier you can observe gray seals floating in the icy waters as cod and flounder are off-loaded below (typically between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.) before being shipped off to restaurants in Boston and beyond.
To see even more of the Cape’s landscape, consider renting a bike from Orleans Cycle, which caters to adults and children, and then pick up the Cape Cod Rail Trail at Orleans Center (one of eight trailheads). The well-paved route follows a former railroad for 22 miles through Dennis, Harwich, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham and Wellfleet, passing by still ponds and through forests. There are lots of opportunities to pedal on and off the trail to design your own adventure.
Festivities abound during the winter months. Throughout December you’ll find caroling, village strolls and harbor-lighting ceremonies in the towns of Brewster, Falmouth, Yarmouth and more (click here for dates and details). New Year’s Eve is fêted in Chatham in a major way; think bluegrass performances, face painting and midnight fireworks that kick off not with the dropping of a ball but of a metal sculpture of a codfish. Meanwhile, the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra stages concerts throughout the season (on January 21 and 22, you can catch the “Fantastic Voyage,” featuring violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn). Stepping out into the twinkling night afterward, you might find yourself wondering just how soon you can return.
Spotlight: Quebec City
Look no farther than Quebec City, about a seven-hour drive from Cape Cod, for a delightful winter wonderland. As part of the Festi Lumière (Dec. 2016–Mar. 2017), the Aquarium of Quebec is strung with more than 500,000 colorful lights, and revelers gather around outdoor fireplaces while live music plays. The city throws a New Year’s Eve party (Dec. 27–31) complete with a Ferris wheel and major fireworks show. And the 63rd edition of the Quebec Winter Carnival (Jan. 27–Feb. 12, 2017) puts on a canoe race on the chilly waters of the St. Lawrence River, a snow-sculpture competition, a night parade with floats and dance troupes and more.
The Bramble Inn & Restaurant
2019 Main St., Brewster; 508-896-7644; brambleinn.com; dinner for two, $80*
Cape Cod Creamery
645 Iyannough Rd., Hyannis; 508-568-3600; capecodcreamery.com; small cup or cone, $4.50
Happy Fish Bakery
173 Rte. 6A, Yarmouth Port; 774-994-8272
15 Chatham Bars Ave., Chatham; 508-945-3545; dinner for two, $100
429 Main St., Harwich Port; 508-430-0404; land-ho.com; dinner for two, $40
The Naked Oyster
410 Main St., Hyannis; 508-778-6500; nakedoyster.com; dinner for two, $80
Old Yarmouth Inn
223 Rte. 6A, Yarmouth Port; 508-362-9962; oldyarmouthinn.com; lunch for two, $50
Red Cottage Restaurant
36 Old Bass River Rd., South Dennis; 508-394-2923; redcottagerestaurant.com; breakfast for two, $25
297 Shore Rd., Chatham; 508-945-0096; chathambarsinn.com; dinner for two, $120
Devil’s Purse Brewing Company
120 Great Western Rd., South Dennis; 508-694-7171; devilspurse.com; tastings, from $2 a person
15 Hinckley Rd., Hyannis; 508-778-8588; paindavignon.com
The Brewster Store
1935 Main St., Brewster; 508-896-3744; brewsterstore.com
578 Main St., Hyannis; 508-771-5458; cellarleather.com
Chatham Candy Manor
484 Main St., Chatham; 508-945-0825; candymanor.com
The Chatham Home
443 Main St., Chatham; 508-945-5562; thechathamhome.com
159 Main St., Yarmouth Port; 508-362-9698; designworkscapecod.com
36 Upper County Rd., Dennis Port; 508-394-0441; fritzglass.com
Scargo Pottery & Art Gallery
30 Dr. Lord’s Rd. S., Dennis; 508-385-3894; scargopottery.com
525 Main St., Chatham; 508-945-1288; yankee-ingenuity.com
Cape Cod Rail Trail
Rte. 137, Brewster; mass.gov
Chatham Fish Pier
Corner of Shore Rd. and Barcliff Ave., Chatham; chathampierfishmarket.com
Gray’s Beach boardwalk
Off Center St., Yarmouth; yarmouth.ma.us
670 Ocean St., Hyannis; 508-790-9884; capecodonline.com
26 Main St., Orleans; 508-255-9115; two-hour rentals and up, from $15 for adults and $13 for children
Thornton Burgess Society Green Briar Jam Kitchen
6 Discovery Hill Rd., East Sandwich; 508-888-6870; thorntonburgess.org; $45 a class (reservations are mandatory)
Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra Barnstable Performing Arts Center
744 W. Main St., Hyannis; 508-362-1111; capecodcreamery.com; ticket prices vary
Chatham Orpheum Theater
637 Main St., Chatham; 508-945-0874; chathamorpheum.org; adults, $11; children, $8; seniors, $7
John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum/Spectacle of Trees
397 Main St., Hyannis; 508-790-3077; jfkhyannismuseum.org; Dec. 2–10, 2016; donations accepted
Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Memorial Skating Rink
141 Bassett Ln., Hyannis; 508-790-6345; townofbarnstable.us; adults, $7; children, $5; seniors,$2;
skate rental, $5 a pair
Ryan’s Family Amusements
1067 Rte. 28, South Yarmouth; 508-394-5644; ryanfamily.com; one lane for an hour (up to six people), $30; shoe rental, $3 a pair
Tony Kent Arena
8 S. Gages Way, South Dennis; 508-760-2415; tonykentarena.com; ages 12 and up, $6; children, $5; seniors, $2; skate rental, $4 a pair
RCI® affiliated resorts on Cape Cod include:
Spacious two- and three-bedroom condos are equipped with a deck and barbecue grill.
203 Lund Farm Way, Brewster
Member Review: “We loved the expansive bike path and nearby golf course.”
Guests can easily travel to nearby towns when not enjoying West Yarmouth’s 15 fresh- and saltwater beaches.
183 Main St., West Yarmouth
Member Review: “Pristine accommodations.”
A great home base for activities such as kayaking, golfing and even whale-watching.
37 Neptune Ln., South Yarmouth
Member Review: “Friendly staff and great views.”
The kids can play at the on-site arcade or in the wading pool.
412 Main St., West Yarmouth
Member Review: “We can’t wait to come back.”
For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
Non-RCI affiliated resorts
Three buildings house 42 pastel-hued rooms. Ask for one with a view of Hyannis Harbor.
1 South St., Hyannis; 508-775-0357; anchorin.com; doubles from $100 a night, including complimentary continental breakfast
By the Sea Guests
Family-run B&B with five one- or two-bedroom suites with full kitchens and gas fireplaces on a private beach on Nantucket Sound. 57 Chase Ave., Dennis Port; 508-398-8685; bytheseaguests.com; one-bedroom suites from $159 a night, including breakfast
Chatham Bars Inn
A sprawling complex of chic rooms, suites and cottages fronting Pleasant Bay. 297 Shore Rd., Chatham; 800-527-4884; chathambarsinn.com; doubles from $280 a night
Ocean Edge Resort
Historic 1890 mansion with three restaurants and two indoor pools. 2907 Main St., Brewster; 888-509-4600; oceanedge.com; doubles from $175 a night
- *Many establishments have reduced hours during the winter, so it is advisable to call ahead. Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: Winter 2016