Sponsored by Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce and the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism
The best-kept secret on Cape Cod isn’t that not-so-secret beach in August. When the heat and the crowds dissipate and sticker shock abates, the water’s still warm, seaside festivals abound, the fall colors are brilliant, and you can find great values everywhere. In many ways, Cape Cod offers the best of autumn in New England.
1. Farmers’ Markets
Fall’s lingering warmth means Cape Cod farmers’ markets remain enticing for restaurant chefs and home cooks searching for summer’s last corn and tomatoes along with apples, squash, and the locally-prized Eastham Turnip. Many farmers’ markets also sell fresh-baked pies and pastries, grass-fed beef and pork, eggs, seafood, handcrafted ales, ciders, and specialty foods, and textiles and crafts by Cape artisans. The Cape Abilities Farm in Dennis sells local organic produce raised by hardworking adults with developmental disabilities who build more meaningful lives through Cape Abilities’ programs. The Dennis location stays open through Christmas, so be sure to stop in for a taste of their award-winning tomatoes. On Chatham’s Main Street, the Chatham Farmers’ Market is open Tuesday afternoons through Oct. 20. Other markets that stay open through October include the Sandwich Farmers’ Market (Tuesdays) and the Falmouth Farmers’ Market (Thursdays)—a market worth the trip as much for the veggies as the view of Falmouth Harbor. The Provincetown Farmers’ Market stays open through Thanksgiving with an impressive variety of fall produce and Cape-centric delicacies including olive oil, beach plum jam, and sea salt.
2. Bike Trails
Cape Cod boasts some of New England’s most breathtaking and well-maintained bike paths encompassing more than 100 miles of wide, mostly flat, paved trails that make pedaling a breeze—especially in fall when they’re far less congested. Cycle past tranquil salt ponds and marshes, dense thickets of fragrant Rosa rugosa, and long strands of beaches where seabirds outnumber people.
On the Upper Cape, the seven-mile trail along the Cape Cod Canal offers a self-guided educational tour of landmarks. From North Falmouth to Woods Hole, the 10-mile Shining Sea Bikeway, a former railroad, winds past stunning marsh and ocean views, the quaint village of West Falmouth, the Salt Pond Bird Sanctuary, and cranberry bogs. The 22-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail from Dennis to Wellfleet is equally scenic and gentle. Fall is the best time to ride the more challenging Province Lands Trail, an eight-mile loop through windswept dunes. Immerse yourself in peak foliage on the Cape’s challenging single-track mountain bike trails in protected forest areas like Nickerson State Park in Brewster or the Trail of Tears in West Barnstable.
3. Pumpkins Galore!
More than any other vegetable (ahem, fruit) pumpkins epitomize fall. Whether it’s seeing their brilliant orange in a doorway, lifting their pleasant heft out of a field, or smelling their delicious aroma in the kitchen—pumpkins represent all we love about fall.
Find your perfect pumpkin at Coonamessett Farm in East Falmouth, a 20-acre farm dedicated to farming research and technology improvements. Tobey Farm in Dennis has pumpkins plus hayrides, local produce and plants, and jams, jellies, and crafts. Tony Andrews Farm is open seven days a week with PYO pumpkins and, weekends through October, a corn maze, tractor rides to the pumpkin patch, and the popular Jack-O’-Lantern Obstacle Course for kids.
At Bourne Farm’s annual Pumpkin Day at the Salt Pond Bird Sanctuary in Falmouth (Oct. 6) kids can race through row after row of pumpkins, take a pony ride, or get their faces painted—preferably like a jack-o’-lantern.
Also Oct. 6 (rain date Oct. 7), the Taylor-Bray Farm Fall Fest in Yarmouth Port has a giant pumpkin raffle for kids and a winner-takes-all contest where kids guess the number of candy corns in a jar. Parents, beware.
Chatham has been ranked one of America’s best towns for Halloween and doesn’t disappoint with its annual Merchants’ Association Pumpkin People in the Park (Oct. 12-24), where businesses and individuals exhibit fascinating and often very funny pumpkin scenes.
The pumpkins at the Sandwich Glass Museum’s annual PumpkinFest (Oct. 20) aren’t meant to be smashed after Halloween. This refined exhibit of fall’s favorite fruit invites visitors to explore a pumpkin patch filled with one-of-a-kind hand-blown glass pumpkins of all colors and sizes by prominent local and national glass artists.
Golfers love giving advice, and many will tell you the Cape’s world-famous mix of traditional holes and modern elements are best enjoyed in fall when the greens once again have clear views of the magnificent landscape. Cape Cod has nearly 30 public courses, many offering steep midweek discounts in the fall and enticing weekend stay-and-play package deals. Choose from the playable public course at the recently renovated Cape Club Resort in Falmouth or the championship 18-hole par 72 course at the Falmouth Country Club. Fall is ideal for outings to Highland Links in Truro, a century-old course on non-irrigated open fairways that’s as close to genuine links as you’ll find on this side of the Atlantic.
5. Fall Fests
Summer may be synonymous with festivals but steamy days are hardly conducive to standing in line for beer and oysters. The seventh Annual Cape Cod Brew Fest at the Cape Cod Fairgrounds in East Falmouth (Oct. 13) is the lollapalooza of regional craft beer attractions with 250-plus beers from more than 75 craft brewers nationwide. The same weekend, the Wellfleet Oyster Fest (Oct. 13-14) is an extravaganza of this world-famous raw bar delicacy hosted by the non-profit Wellfleet Shellfish Promotion and Tasting Inc. (SPAT). Second to sampling oysters is the Oyster Shuck-Off with cash prizes for speed shucking pros and opportunities for amateurs to imitate them.
There’s no need to even get up in the morning to participate in the Yarmouth Seaside Fest Bed Race on Oct. 6, where teams of five compete for the most outrageous theme. A giant arts and crafts show, pie-eating contests and fireworks promise to make this hometown festival’s 40th year one to remember. If you need another excuse to raise a glass to fall, visit the Chatham Oktoberfest (Oct. 20) for bratwurst and beer.
Provincetown’s “anything goes” spirit becomes even more spirited Oct. 26-31 when the town hosts haunted houses, a masquerade ball, and numerous parties, all of which segues into a Day(s) of the Dead Festival Nov. 1-2.
Jump on the turnip truck Nov. 17 at the Eastham Public Library’s Annual Turnip Festival, where far from feeling like a country bumpkin you’ll be schooled in the many ways the Cape’s humble hero translates to sublime fall fare.
A little solemnity may feel right after all the frivolity. Find some at Gardens Aglow at Heritage Museums & Garden in Sandwich, an annual display of lights that starts on Nov. 23 and continues through the holiday season.
6. The Arts Are Alive
There’s something in the air each autumn on Cape Cod, and it’s not just colorful leaves. The Cape Cod Symphony shakes out its bell bottoms and gets funky when the Boogie Wonder Band appears with the symphony in rare disco-meets-classical performances Oct. 13-14. The 2018-2019 Falmouth Theatre Guild’s fall season includes the Tony Award-winning “Fun Home” in November and “Once Upon a December” through the holidays. There’s always something on stage at the Cape Cod Theatre Company, which never flinches from challenging material like “Bill W. and Dr. Bob,” the story of the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous Oct. 11-Nov. 11. The visual arts are equally provocative at the Cape Cod Museum of Art, where “Go Figure: Exploring the Human Form,” is on view into 2019.
7. Beach and Nature Walks
Ample free parking, warm days, and spectacular scenery beckon from Cape Cod’s 100-plus miles of hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulties. Treasure the serenity of fall and keep an eye out for migrating birds at salt marshes, kettle ponds, cranberry bogs, and barrier beaches.
The Cape Cod National Seashore, a National Parks site, has 12 hiking trials including boardwalks through two unique swamp habitats and the lengthier Great Island Trail with elevated beach views. Organized educational tours start from The Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham. Bring your binoculars and search for whales and seals headed to warmer waters from Race Point in Provincetown.
Dog lovers will welcome the opportunity to bring their four-legged family members for a romp in the sand since many beaches permit dogs after Columbus Day. For a complete list of hiking and walking trails, visit the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.
This post is funded by the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism