If you could survey the generations of Cape Cod visitors and draw a composite picture from their most lasting impressions, the result would almost certainly be a sketch of Route 6A, Old King’s Highway (named after the cart path that early settlers used to travel to and from Plymouth Colony).
This section of the Cape is iconic and timeless, a single 40-mile canvas of demure white clapboards and weathered cedar shingles. You can probably see it in your mind’s eye: the saltbox homes and sharp-steepled churches, the beaches lapped by placid surf, the vintage motel cottages, the ice-cream and fried seafood stands now run by the adult children of the original owners.
A good place to begin is the Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich. The unsurpassed collections of Americana housed here on 100 landscaped acres appropriately set the tone for the journey ahead. Continuing east, you pass so many signs for antiques and art galleries that you may suspect every resident sells things out of his or her garage. Around the halfway point, in Yarmouth Port, stop at the Edward Gorey House to browse the original artwork and personal effects of its famous and prolific namesake, whose darkly humorous illustrations are an antidote to everything sentimental.
Cape Cod Bay is largely invisible from the road except in glimpses across the occasional salt marsh, but if you take nearly any left-hand turn, you’ll find a beach. The best beaches are in the town of Dennis. For excellent panoramic views of the bay’s ever-changing light, visit Dennis’s Scargo Hill Observatory, a small stone observation platform built in 1902 on the area’s highest point of land (106 feet).
The penultimate town, Brewster, tempts weary travelers with numerous attractive bed-and-breakfasts, many of which were 19th-century sea captains’ homes. Before you know it, the arching boughs over the winding blacktop yield to bustling Orleans, where Old King’s Highway ends.