Featured Stories & Articles from Cape Cod Travel Magazine: Free Pass
Wouldn’t it be great if every time you went to do something while on vacation, you got in for free: free seats to a baseball game, free admission to concerts, museums, movies and tours? Well, you’re in luck. Cape Cod has a secret stash of free events and activities, many happening in the summer, but there is also plenty of off-season free fun to be had.
Typical of what happens when someone is raised in a vacation destination, as I was, it’s so easy to forget about all of the great activities your hometown offers. So for two weeks, I made it my mission to sample some of these things I often overlook, none of which cost any money. With exactly zero dollars and zero cents in my pocket (ok, I had a debit card, but it was only for fuel-related expenses), I set out on my no-cost journey.
At 7 o’clock on a Monday night I found myself parking at Mattacheese Middle School (400 Higgins Crowell Rd.) in West Yarmouth and following the smell of buttered popcorn to the sweet sound of music. The music is free; the popcorn just a dollar. More than 100 people were set up in lawn chairs or sitting on blankets ready for the weekly town band concert. I spotted one group of sly seniors who had even set up a small spread of beverages and chips and dip on a portable folding table. I lingered like a fly next to their table for most of the night, listening to Dan Clark, a.k.a. “The Singing Trooper,” and his Kimono-clad assistant work the crowd singing old favorites such as “America the Beautiful,” telling stories and eliciting a few laughs from the crowd along the way.
Between July and August many towns host free outdoor concerts with varying musical acts taking the stage, everything from jazz and rock to folk and pop. On Mondays you can catch the popular “Concerts at the Gazebo” at Nauset Beach in Orleans from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Tuesdays the Harwich Town Band plays at Brooks Park at 7 p.m.; Thursdays the Sandwich Town Band plays at 7:30 at Henry T. Wing School bandstand; on Fridays the Chatham Town Band plays to a massive crowd at Kate Gould Park at 8 p.m.; and on Sundays it’s the Brewster Band at Drummer Boy Park at 6 p.m.
On a bright Tuesday afternoon I decided to go on a second outing, this time up to the Woods Hole Science Aquarium (166 Water St.; 508-495-2001). One of the oldest continuously operating research aquariums in the nation, it first opened its doors to the public in the 1870s. I signed my name to the registry and meandered into the first room, the main gallery and found a variety of informative exhibits on marine life--lobsters and sea turtles both had age-size comparison exhibits; there was a lit display case holding a large, prickly slab of baleen, the rough-textured strands that extend from a whale’s jawbone allowing it to eat, along with a vertebrae and a rib from a right whale originally found off Wellfleet. The main event was the 16 tanks of living sea creatures housing everything from huge black drum fish and funny looking burrfish with flashy yellow spikes, to slithering American eels and delicately hanging “mermaid purses,” a.k.a dogfish egg cases. The upper level of the aquarium gives visitors a behind-the-scenes look at how volunteers take care of the animals and outside I found two seals doing laps around their pool.
If marine life isn’t what you had in mind for the day, there are loads of no-fee museums of historical interest. The town of Eastham is home to the Captain Penniman House (off Route 6, in Fort Hill), an 1868 sea captain’s home--the first in town to have indoor plumbing. The Cape Cod National Seashore gives guided tours from June through late October on Mondays and Saturdays at 11 a.m. (Contact the Salt Pond Visitor Center to set up reservations: 508-255-3421). But visitors can stop by for the unguided open house from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
Also along Route 6 is the Swift-Daley House (next to Eastham Post Office), which was built in 1741 and later owned by Nathaniel Swift who, with his brother, started a meat-packing empire in Chicago. Inside there are colonial-era antiques and interesting artifacts. (Museum hours are Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in July and August.) On the same property, you can also check out the Ranlett Tool Museum and Dill Beach Camp. And a great find for parents and kids alike is the Chatham Railroad Museum (153 Depot Rd.), housed at an actual railroad depot and displaying a caboose from New York Central Railroad System. Inside are antique model trains and a diorama of the Chatham railroad yards, circa 1915.
While in Woods Hole, I decided to swing by Waquoit Bay Sanctuary Estuarine Research Reserve (149 Waquoit Highway; 508-457-0495) in Falmouth, which is so large it stretches into Mashpee, encompassing 2,700 acres of water, barrier beaches, rivers and woodlands. At the visitor center you can pick up a trail map and check out exhibits on coastal ecology, including an interactive outside exhibit on watersheds and the journey of one drop of water. Families are invited to spend Tuesday “Evenings on the Bluff” in July to enjoy a night of entertainment. Last summer, shows started at 6:30 and included drum music, live birds of prey presentations, stories, songs and more.
The Cape Cod National Seashore, with visitor centers in Eastham (Salt Pond Visitor Center, 50 Nauset Rd.; 508-255-3421, ext. 18) and Provincetown (Province Lands Visitor Center, Race Point Rd.; 508-487-1256), also offer not only scenic trails but free family programs July through October. Reservations are necessary to join in on the ranger-led field trips.
While the Cape may be known for its natural beauty, I knew I would be remiss if I didn’t check out some of the manmade kind; Cape Cod’s happening art scene. Every Friday night in the summer Provincetown hosts gallery walks along Commercial Street, where visitors can pop into galleries, meet the artist or attend art openings. Wellfleet, frequently referred to as the “Gallery Town,” has its own gallery crawl across Commercial Street, down Bank Street and over to Main Street, which takes place on Saturdays in July and August.
For my last free adventure, I decided to check out Hyannis’ version of gallery night. Artscape Thursdays happen all year round and are the first Thursday of every month along Main Street, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. I loved all the bustling activity, bouncing in and out of the galleries and comparing the works of the multitude of different artists.
Next summer I am going to make sure to finally catch a Cape Cod Baseball League game. Arguably the Cape’s most popular free event and considered by those in the know to be the finest summer league in the country, the Cape League has been entertaining audiences since 1885. To have spent my entire life here and never actually seen a game is akin to a native New Yorker never having been to the top of the Empire State Building; it’s that big a deal. Some of the players, such as Nomar Garciaparra, Kevin Youkilis and Mo Vaughn, have gone on to become Major League players. It is said that 1 in 7 Major League Baseball players cut their teeth in this local summer league. Until then, I know I’ll continue hunting down the Cape’s remarkable variety of no-charge fun things to do.
If you like the TV show How It’s Made on the Discovery channel, consider putting these free tours on your must-see list:
Cape Cod Winery: 681 Sandwich Rd., East Falmouth; 508-457-5592. Open Saturdays for tours at 2 p.m. in July and August.
Truro Vineyards: 11 Shore Rd., North Truro; 508-487-6200. Free tours are at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. from Memorial Day to Columbus Day.
Cape Cod Brewery: 1336 Phinney’s Lane, Hyannis; 508-790-4200. Year-round tours given Tuesdays at 11 a.m. and Saturdays at 1 p.m.
Pairpoint Glass Company: 851 Sandwich Rd., Sagamore; 508-888-2344. Glass-blowing demonstrations are May through December, weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Demonstrations are also given January through May, but hours are limited and may vary.
Cape Cod Potato Chip Factory: 100 Breeds Hill Rd., Hyannis; 1-800-881-CHIP. Their self-guided tours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. year round.