By Jean Grant – My sons love treasure hunting. Well, they love digging up the yard and looking for unusual rocks, “diamonds and gold,” quartz, fossils and shells of all kinds. Dirt, sand and water are hypnotic lures to my young geologists and engineers so when the opportunity arose to travel to the Sea Crest Beach Hotel on Old Silver Beach in North Falmouth on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, the kids grabbed their shovels and buckets and we headed off on a seaside adventure.
Cape Cod Signatures
We packed up the cah, stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts (a New England favorite) and made the 2-hour drive south up the Cape. Yes, south is up. In Massachusetts there are two capes (Ann being the lesser known), but there is only one “Cape.” Golden beaches, clam chowda’, lobster rolls on Frankfurt buns, Nor’easters, lighthouses and long weekend escapes await you on Cape Cod. Not far from metro Boston (and Worcester, Portland and Providence) sit the historic seaside towns of Cape Cod, an arm and fist-shaped headland that juts out into the cooler North Atlantic Ocean ending with the fingertip protrusion of Provincetown. It’s a magnificent image via satellite. Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and other small islands are just a short flight or ferry ride away, too.
Once famed for whaling and trading, Cape Cod is rich in history, conservationism, tourism and New England culture. Be prepared to learn new words and how to say them! Henry David Thoreau, American essayist of Walden fame, wrote fondly about Cape Cod: “When we have returned from the seaside, we sometimes ask ourselves why we did not spend more time in gazing at the sea…” Fine sand, tidal pools, breaking surf, dunes, marsh and forests abound on the Cape. Formed by glaciers, erosion and redisposition of sand, Cape Cod’s distinctive shape is hard to miss, resulting in it being seen or visited by early nautical explorers and travelers, including the Norse (supposedly), Champlain and the Pilgrims. The sea and landscape’s natural beauty bring people to the Cape. And whether you visit for a day or come back yearly, you’ll experience the dynamic evolution of the seascape.
Surveying the Sea Crest Beach Hotel
As our family crossed the Bourne Bridge (one of two ways to get to Cape Cod), our landscape transitioned from the pine and lake-speckled forest and farmland of central Massachusetts to the briny, windy, flatter Cape. Seaside towns of New England bustle with beachgoers, mariners, sailboats and fishing wharfs, sight-seers, families and honeymooners. Old Silver Beach is no exception to that trope.
The Sea Crest Beach Hotel dates back to 1927 as a summer playhouse and stomping ground for Henry Fonda, Barbara O’Neill and James Stewart. And like the resilient and battered New England coast, it’s seen its share of hurricanes, fires and winter storms. The hotel is a year-long venue for weddings (there was one on Sunday night during our stay), conferences, business meetings and special events like New Year’s Eve.
Depending on your level of need or preference (and budget), the hotel offers a variety of room choice from over 260 standard to premier beachfront, ocean view and cottage/kitchen style. Rooms have optional amenities such as fireplaces, balconies and patios. There are eight different buildings, each with unique attributes. The décor is modern and stylishly nautical, with manicured gardens, open grassy areas and classic dining rooms. I was particularly drawn to the maritime art and photography throughout the buildings. Our kids made a mad dash to reach the private deck and sandy area beside our room. A skip and a jump and we were on the beach.
The hotel offers a sandy beach, sandwiched between the public Old Silver Beach and private residences. The kids eagerly explored the beachfront courtyard, indoor and outdoor pools, Jacuzzi, poolside eatery and fitness center. With their spending money in hand, they visited the quaint, but stocked gift shop and added to their bounty of shark teeth, amethyst crystals, rocks and sea glass. A poolside ice cream with jimmies completed our tour.On our first evening we ate at a local in-town favorite, Sam’s Seafood, enjoying fast-food style fish and chips. We dined upon the mouthwatering cuisine at Red’s on our second night. Reservations are recommended for this oceanfront restaurant named after famed Boston Celtics coach and president, Red Auerbach. The hotel also has an extensive, high-end breakfast buffet (if you have picky eaters who don’t have big morning appetites, instead visit the small coffee shop with continental-type fare). As with all beach-faring vacations, bringing your own snacks, drinks and light meals is a money-saving option since many of the hotel rooms have refrigerators. Beach service of drinks and meals is also available. Our crew couldn’t say no to pizza on the beach.
Unlike its southern beach neighbors, the Cape has a cooler climate, averaging in the 70s in the summer, affording us with comfortable, breezy sunny days during our August visit. Although there are no shortage of beach chairs and large orange umbrellas lining the 700-foot beach, we learned quickly that you need to request a hotel associate to set aside chairs and an umbrella for you. There is plenty of staff between the beach, pool and front desk, but you need to be sure to direct your questions accordingly. Our kids enjoyed swimming and endless castle building with the beach toys we brought along.
Excursions and Diversions
If you tire of the beach, never fear, there’s plenty of non-sandy fun to be had as well! The hotel offers a complimentary range of activities for adults and children during the summer season, and we took advantage of a few – yoga, sandcastle building, beach Olympics, movie night and bubbles. A new highlight of the hotel is the bike rental package. Given my children’s interest levels, it was a wise choice to bring a few of their personal toys (e.g. LEGO bricks and stuffed animals) for some down time in the room.
Situated right between the hotel and the public beach is Old Silver Beach Watersports which has nautical rentals including jet skis, wind surfboards (with lessons), Maui Mats, paddle boards, kayaks, pedal boats, bike rentals and catamaran rides. The hospitable owner greeted us and our sons took a penchant to the Maui Mat (a monstrous-sized thick foam mat!) so we rented that and spent half of the day floating and swimming.Not ones to spend an entire day at the beach or pool, we ventured out to nearby science hub Woods Hole, a short 20-minute drive away. With two oceanography-loving kids in tow, we drove to the picturesque seaside town and visited the free Woods Hole Aquarium, which has an outdoor seal tank and a touch-tank. The free (donations suggested) Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) Visitor Center is a small gem off the beaten path and worth the visit. Here oceanographers of all ages can step inside a full-size model of the Alvin, the submersible used to explore the depths of the ocean and famed for its Titanic expeditions (for children who love buttons and lights this is a must!). Visitors also learn about WHOI’s research through videos, educational exhibits and informative staff. Woods Hole is a family-friendly walkable town and you can’t miss the working old-fashioned drawbridge. Be warned – parking in Woods Hole is extremely limited and it’s recommended that visitors take a WHOOSH trolley from Falmouth or use other public transportation.
Rainy Day Options
Nearby Nobska Point Light makes for a nice stop, its classic whitewashed 40-foot tower nestled on the entrance to Woods Hole Harbor. Massachusetts is home to over 60 lighthouses (some nonfunctioning), with 14 residing on the Cape. I have a soft spot for lighthouses, so I was happy to visit yet another iconic beacon standing guard on a harbor’s ingress. The shops and Cape Cod Children’s Museum in Mashpee make fun additional rainy day options.Whether you are seasoned or new to the Cape, I highly recommend a visit. You never know what you might dig up! The high season is from Memorial Day through Labor Day, so travelers should expect to reserve hotels early and not be surprised by higher weekend rates. To avoid the weekend rush and the parking lot that is the Pike and Interstate 495, we stayed from Sunday to Tuesday.
A Must-See List for Cape Cod
- Partake in seafood: clams, chowder or lobster rolls
- Ride the Shining Sea Bikeway or explore the sea with kayaks, jet skis, sailboats or floats
- Visit Woods Hole, Mashpee, or downtown North Falmouth for some science and history, marine wildlife or shopping
- Take in the sights: lighthouses, harbors, beaches, seaside towns
- Dig your toes into the sand and breathe in the salty air that is the Cape
Disclosure: Lodging and activities (excluding meals) were provided for this story.
Jean Grant is a scientist by training, writer, part-time education director, and a mom to two active, nature-loving sons. She currently resides in Massachusetts. Her website can be found at: jeanmgrant.com