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Exploring the Upper Cape

Josie Cataldo | 11/8/2022 (updated 7/26/2023)

Each region of Cape Cod is praised for its own unique attributes. Like siblings, these areas are connected in many ways, but there’s one overarching commonality: they’re all located on the picturesque peninsula of Cape Cod. You’ve heard us rave about the Outer Cape and its towering sand dunes, ferocious ocean waves, and abundance of enchanting walking trails. You've also heard us talk about the eccentric individuals who live there and their immense amount of pride for the place they live. But what about the Upper Cape? What is this region known for? Are their locals just as proud and fiercely appreciative of the place they live? Today I'm going to explore the Upper Cape from my perspective as an Outer Cape expert. For those of you who don't know, the Upper Cape consists of the towns of Bourne, Falmouth, Sandwich, and Mashpee, but for today, my primary focus will be on Falmouth and Sandwich. Come along with me as I'm introduced to the wondrous beauty of the Upper Cape, a place I was unfortunately all too unfamiliar with before this excursion.

Living on the Outer Cape, I often find that I've unintentionally locked myself within the confines of an invisible fence I’ve created, a fence that begins in the Provincelands and stretches only as far as Orleans, my big city. My “Boston,” if you will. I’m not sure why I’ve set these boundaries for myself, maybe because everything I need is within this 26.7-mile stretch, but it's time to say goodbye to this restrictive lifestyle.

The first destination on my Upper Cape escapade was “The Knob,” a place I had been pining after since it first appeared on my Instagram feed. The aerial shots of this landmark were so mesmerizing that I had to experience it for myself. Upon arriving at The Knob, I was greeted by the scenic view of boats moored in Buzzards Bay. There was a rocky beach tucked away to the right just beyond the entrance of the pathway. While I skeptically approached the sign that warned “long walk ahead,” I knew that trudging along the rocky terrain in my less than comfortable rain boots would be well worth the view waiting for me at the end. Along the walkway that led me to my destination, I was tempted off the beaten path by obscure trails that dared me to explore what lies outside the lines. I eagerly walked down every path, and each time, I was led to a breathtaking overlook that offered a different perspective of the view. After about twenty minutes of navigating my way through the greenery, I was brought to what I had been waiting for all along, the rocky hill that offers the most magnificent view of Buzzards Bay. The stone steps leading to the top of this natural overlook wind through lush trees and output me onto a sandy clearing with a stone bench. Having made it to the peak, I stood and admired the expansive view of the sea and soaked in the soothing sight of sailboats breezing by effortlessly in the wind. The Knob definitely lived up to the high expectations I had set for it.

Following my trip to The Knob, I decided to venture to downtown Falmouth to do some exploring. Until visiting The Knob, I had never spent enough time in Falmouth to really get a feel for the area. I was extremely shocked when I entered downtown and was greeted by a sidewalk filled with enthusiastic shoppers, boutiques showcasing eye-catching window displays, and restaurants with lines of people waiting outside. The energy was infectious, and all I wanted to do was sit down at one of the wrought iron tables on the sidewalk, sip a warm cup of coffee, and soak in the sights. However, I knew there was so much more of the Upper Cape I had to see, and I only had an afternoon. I reluctantly said goodbye to Falmouth's charming downtown and headed to my next destination.

A town with the same name as one of our favorite lunch foods, Sandwich is much more than everyone's stomach rumbling first impression of it. Admittedly, I had driven by this town countless times and never thought to get off at the exit, but that’s because I never knew what I was missing. As I pulled off the exit, I was immediately in awe of the alluring small-town feel in the air. The leaves decorating the trees were vibrant shades of sunshine, and the white picket fences guarding the quaint cottages were still draped with pale pink roses. Before heading to the primary stop on my trip, I decided to walk around downtown. I strolled past clothing boutiques, coffee shops with patrons sitting on the front porches sipping their iced lattes, and book stores with bikes parked outside. I took my time walking around in the crisp fall air before heading to my main destination, Dexter's Grist Mill, a fully operating, corn meal producing mill in the center of Sandwich. This historical haven offers seasonal tours 7 days a week and is the perfect place to visit if you're looking to soak in the beautiful sites while educating yourself on Sandwich's rich history.

After taking the time to appreciate every aspect of the Grist Mill and discovering the undeniable draw of Sandwich, I thought I'd see what the Upper Cape beaches were like in comparison to those on the Outer Cape. I really had no idea what to expect as I was used to the intimidating waves of Wellfleet and cramping calves from walking up excessive sand dunes. As I approached Sandy Neck Beach, I was greeted by gentle dunes of soft sand, beach grass blooming with vibrant yellow flowers, hiking paths along the hills, and a long pathway that led to the beach. Once I stepped out onto the main stretch of beach, I noticed large patches of colorful rocks and shells, various tide pools scattered along the beach, and plenty of surface area for beach-goers to spread out on a busy summer day. It was clear to me right off the bat that this beach was a favorite of locals and visitors alike. There were families having picnics, couples walking hand in hand looking for shells, and the occasional bookworm sitting alongside the dunes to seek shelter from the wind. It was absolutely beautiful, and a nice change of scenery from what I was used to.

From what I gathered during the short amount of time I was there, the Upper Cape is the perfect combination of excitement and serenity. Just like the Outer Cape, it has an abundance of breathtaking beaches and quaint family owned and operated businesses, but it sets itself apart in that there's still plenty of excitement to enjoy in the off-season. With more restaurants and shops open year round, I'll definitely be making trips Up Cape this winter when looking to spend a night out on the town!