Cape Cod, MA Kosher Vacation
Cape Cod is a wonderful peninsula off the end of southern Massachusetts, only a few hours from the New York – New Jersey area and about one hour south of Boston. You can take one of two bridges from the “mainland” to the peninsula, starting off in a forested area, which continues almost to the end of the peninsula, with beaches directly abutting the deciduous flora. While there are no regular kosher restaurants or minyanim on the island itself, there is a shul in Onset, Massachusetts, just outside of the Cape.
(Side note: we spent a week on the peninsula and didn’t see one cod. Apparently there is a great fish market all the way at the end of the Cape – we just didn’t make it there.)
Some people stay in Onset near the synagogue. From our searches, Airbnb’s were hard to come by. However, the hotels were plentiful. The downside to staying in Onset is that’s not actually on the very long cape with slow roads towards the end – it’s a two+ hour drive to the east side of the Cape with no traffic. Given that we went during the pandemic, and there probably would not be minyanim during our stay, we opted for a hotel right in the center of the Cape.
Even on the Cape itself house rentals are hard to come by; we chose to stay at the wonderful Marriott Courtyard hotel in the commercial district of the town of Hyannis. This turned out to be fortuitous for its central location, as well as being directly adjacent to a huge Target (with a connection via a staircase), amongst many other retailers. Furthermore, the hotel has a large patio and lawn, providing ample space to utilize our portable grill and cook our meat and fish. (The meat was brought from home in a cooler, whereas the fish was purchased from the local grocers.) The hotel is only two floors high and spread out, making it convenient to get in and out of your room, with parking located near each room.
There is a great debate about whether the beaches on the North side or the South side are better. The answer is: the North side. End of debate.
You can try both during the same day, as it is only about a half hour drive between the two. On the South side, the beaches are very narrow, and swimming tends to be in small sections. On the North side, we loved Dennis beach, where there was enough room not only to have your own family area far from any less than tznius other occupants of the beach – there is enough room for every family to receive their own homestead. The beach is just huge…. If you don’t run from one side to the other, you won’t make it to the water before sunset. However, the water comes to you through small channels and rivers, sometimes opening out into larger pools. Given how flat the land is, there is a very large change in the water level between high tide and low tide.
While the beaches are wonderful, the parking situation is obnoxious. Technically the beaches are free. However, to park, it is somewhere between $25 – $40 per town. This means that moving between beaches across a town border results in the requirement to pay a new parking fee. The towns do not look very different and bear few distinguishing markings, thus making it difficult to avoid this charge. On some of these beaches, the parking lot is absurdly small. I let my kids go out to the beach while waiting seemingly forever for everyone in front of me to get a spot in the lot. (They had a good time while I then sprinted across Dennis beach to find them before they aged into adults and had to deal with parking issues themselves.) A final point of information – at 4pm, parking at beaches is free.
Go to Dune Shacks Trail and don’t read this section. Just go.
Since you didn’t listen, you will be amazingly surprised. Pull over to the side of a road in a non descript place, head through a narrow trail between some trees, and you find yourself trekking uphill on beach sand. Once on top, everything is sand. It is just one big, hilly beach, with no ocean in sight. You walk over the first crest, and then see a nice long path through the sand to the next crest. At that next crest you think, oh, that must be where I will see the beach. Then you realize this was the inspiration for “the bear climbed over the mountain” song and also realize how much harder it is to hike through sand than through your average path in the forest.
Then you reach the next crest and realize … this is going to be a while. Maybe you take off your shoes off to try something different. Maybe you think about scraping the sand with a big comb looking for Dot Matrix. You go on like this crest after crest … and realize, hey, this is actually pretty cool. It’s a different hike than you’ve ever seen before. It’s tiring moving your feet up and down in the sand. It’s also rewarded as each crest of a hill brings new and different scenery.
Eventually, after feeling like you just trekked through the desert (it’s Massachusetts, don’t worry), up and down dune after dune, you reach the ocean! It’s wonderful to reach the end. It’s a beach on the south side though – quite narrow and quite steep.
All the way at the far end of the island is the town of Provincetown. Along the way are rural farms with some fruit stands. I asked a local how long his family had been there and he said since before the revolutionary war. I asked him what side his family was on … he said the North. I said, no no, that the Civil War, the Revolutionary War. He looked at me like … duh… the British! (Rural areas were overwhelming for the British and in fact, only ⅓ of Amreicanas weren’t for the British.) This was not unsimilar to what it was like on eastern long island … farms with some families there for hundreds of years.
When you get to Provicentown, after a slow go along a one lane “highway” you are greeted with … a tourist town. A side point – I tried out my new car’s adaptive cruise control along the way. Very nice – automatic speed control and distance control from the car in front of you. It’s a great road for it.
Provincetown has a pier, expensive parking with hard to find narrow spaces, and … parasailing. Apparently there’s also jet-skiing some summers. Parasailing was a favorite of the kids. Just a word about it – not cheap and they try to upsell you on things. “Want to go higher? That will be $x. Want to buy your pictures? Some more dollars, please!” Aside from that it was a great experience.
There’s dune buggy rentals, a beach apparently with seals which take over in the late afternoon if you’re lucky to spot them, and some quaint towns. We went on a tandem kayak ride from a state park through one of the inlets leading from the ocean. Very fun.
Bike rentals and bike trails are also available.
We loved this trip. The beaches, the hikes, the kayaking … all excellent. There’s no kosher restaurants on the peninsula. When you drive it’s very easy to bring a cooler full of food and a small grill and cook on the beach or behind the hotel.