Eastham has come full circle since the time in 1620, when a Pilgrim troupe led by Myles Standish was attacked by Nauset Indians at First Encounter Beach . These days it's one of the most inviting towns on the Cape. Once you drive around the Orleans rotary, passing the Cape's elbow and heading north up the forearm, congestion and commercialism subsides, replaced by the long stretch of sand, dunes, and moors that make up the Cape Cod National Seashore . A mere 3 miles wide from ocean to bay side and 6 miles long to the tip of North Eastham, this patch of land is replete with 11 beaches, one of the finest walks on the Cape, two bike trails, including the Cape Cod Rail Trail, two lighthouses, and arguably the best seafood shack this side of the Cape Cod Canal.
PlayIn "The Outermost House" naturalist Henry Beston describes his experience of living for a year on the dunes of Coast Guard Beach in 1926-27. Beston lived alone, 2 miles from his nearest neighbor, so he could "observe carefully, brood long, and write slowly." The house no longer stands, but one can still get a feeling of the isolation these men felt amid the towering dunes. Head from the small parking lot down the steps to the pearly white sand. This is no flat beach, but one that slopes up to the dunes, sand piled high, soft and warm to the touch. If you veer left and stroll past the sunbathers, you'll have a seemingly endless sandbox to play in.
Coast Guard and neighboring Nauset Light beaches often have large waves and a strong undertow. If you have young children or simply prefer a gentler immersion in water, venture to First Encounter, Campground, or Sunken Meadow Beach on the bay side. For a taste of fresh water, head down Herring Brook Road to Great Pond, where you'll find another town beach. Permits are $50 per week from the Highway Department on Old Orchard Road in North Eastham (508-240-5900 ).
RestThe Fort Hill Bed & Breakfast (75 Fort Hill Road, 508-240-2870, forthillbedandbreakfast.com) is a mid-19th-century farmhouse converted into a three-suite inn. It's hard to top the location, overlooking Nauset Marsh, and adjacent to the Fort Hill Trail. Wake up with the bunnies on an early-morning walk to Skiff Hill, then return to the inn for a gourmet breakfast of say, Grand Marnier and cinnamon-topped French toast or a chive and cheese egg souffle. Rooms start at $225 a night in early June, including breakfast.
Even more sybaritic is the Whalewalk Inn (220 Bridge Road, 800-440-1281, 508-255-0617, whalewalkinn.com ), located next to the Cape Cod Rail Trail and within a 10-minute walk to the bay beaches. Sixteen rooms, some with whirlpool and private kitchenette, are spread amid three acres of manicured lawns and gardens. There's also a full-service spa and fitness center offering the rare opportunity to swim against a current in an indoor resistance pool. Afterward, treat yourself to an aromatherapy or hot rocks massage. Rooms start at $220 a night in summer and include breakfast.
On Route 6 and bordering the Cape Cod Rail Trail is the Ocean Park Inn (3900 Route 6, 508-255-1132, capecodopi.com ), a favorite for families. There is an outdoor pool on the premises , and you can use the tennis courts next door at the Sheraton. Rooms start at $99 in June.
SpendScenery wins over shopping in Eastham. Indeed, that's the appeal of the place. But on rainy days, you can head to Collectors World (4100 Route 6, 800-421-4270, collectorsworldcapecod.com ) and scour the shelves for antique decoys, scrimshaw, jewelry, toys, and marine accessories.
Farther afield, Cove Gallery in Wellfleet (Commercial Street, 508-349-2530, covegallery.com ) bursts with color, from the emerald green fields and azure blue skies painted by Carla Golembe 's passionate brush stroke, to the explosion of yellows and reds created by renowned Expressionist painter John Grillo . There are also illustrations by children's book author Tomie dePaola.
Retro Truro (3 Depot Road, Truro, 508-349-2303, retrotruro.com ) is re-creating many of the Jobi pottery designs that gained acclaim on the Cape in the 1950s and '60s. Fish, lighthouses, beach plums, and other popular Cape motifs are whimsically glazed onto dishes, vases, pitchers, and butter trays.
FuelConsidered a Cape Cod classic, Arnold's Lobster and Clam Bar (3580 Route 6, 508-255-2575, arnoldsrestaurant.com ) is entering its 30th season. Stand in line and order your platter of fried clams, steamers, scallops, and lobster rolls, then grab a picnic table outside.
If you prefer to dine on lobster in cozier confines, head north on Route 6 to the Eastham Lobster Pool (4380 Route 6, 508-255-9706). Also in operation for more than 30 years, choose the lobster clambake or grilled bluefish.
Roll-ups made with tuna, turkey, and other cold cuts can be found at the Box Lunch (4205 Route 6, 508-255-0799 ). The sandwiches are ideally suited for the beach.
PartyCheck with the Salt Pond Visitors Center to see if there are naturalist talks or concerts in the evening.
For acoustic blues, folk, and bluegrass music, see who's playing on Saturday nights at the First Encounter Coffee House (220 Samoset Road, 508-255-5438, firstencounter.org ). Patty Larkin is one of the names who have stopped by this small 1899 church to strum the guitar.
DoDuring his presidency, John F. Kennedy fought hard to designate as a National Seashore the 40-mile stretch of fine white beach that lines the outer Cape. Learn about the history and ecology at the Salt Pond Visitors Center (Salt Pond Road, off Route 6, 508-255-3421, nps.gov./caco ).
Afterward, rent a bike down the road at Little Capistrano Bike Shop (30 Salt Pond Road, 508-255-6515, capecodbike.com ) and ride a 3.2 mile (round-trip) National Seashore Bike Trail through woods and marsh to Coast Guard Beach and Nauset Light. Built in the 1870s, the large red-and-white steel lighthouse was moved to its current home in 1996.
For more biking, head either north or south on the 25-mile (one-way) Cape Cod Rail Trail. One of the country's best known bike trails, it just underwent a $6.2 million refurbishment, so it should be easy riding this summer.