A week between Cape Cod and NYC (via DC)
April 30, 2013 3:14 AM   Subscribe

What to see during a spare week in August between leaving Hyannis on a Friday (having had a few days there and before that Boston) and need to be in NYC the following Friday for a long weekend of sightseeing?

Wife and I, with two boys 9 and 6 looking to spend a couple of days in Washington during that week too, but what else to do? We don't want to spend whole days driving, will have plenty of city time in Boston, NYC and Washington. Couple of days on the coast would be nice would be nice, but is everything back to normal after Sandy? A national park type place would also be good, but without having to drive a day to get there......

Bonus question - Cape Cod, based in Hyannis for 3 nights - recommendations?
posted by brettski to Travel & Transportation (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
DC is going to be a miserable, sweltering hell-hole in august. High 90s and high humidity. You might want to skip it (especially if you've been there before) and go to the delaware beaches instead, which was largely spared by Sandy.
posted by empath at 3:44 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich, MA
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:07 AM on April 30, 2013

Newport, RI is lovely; be sure to go on a whale watch if you go.
posted by Koko at 4:14 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Cape Cod has some of the best, if not the best whale watching on the east coast--meaning you will see whales. This means visiting the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. It is accessible by boat from Plymouth or Provincetown. I think the kids would love the boat ride, and as I said, you will see whales. You could do this from Plymouth on your way from Boston to Hyannis, or you could do it from Provincetown as an easy day trip from Hyannis. I would suggest you do it on a weekday if at all possible.

Other things to do: You could also take a ferry from Hyannis over to Marthas Vineyard or Nantucket. The beaches along the Cape Cod National Seashore are lovely as well.

So from your question, it sounds like you are planning a slow leisurely drive from Hyannis to NYC? That means hugging the coast of southern New England. The whaling museum in New Bedford MA is excellent. You could stop in Newport RI and do a portion of the cliff walk, or tour one of the turn of the century mansions built by the robber barons during the gilded age. The kids might enjoy touring a battleship at Battleship Cove in Fall River. Further west, you could stop at the Mystic Seaport Aquarium in Mystic CT (which is near New London). I am less familiar with things to do further west on 95 in CT closer to NYC.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 4:19 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you can skip DC, western MA has a lot of attractions: Basketball Hall of Fame, Norman Rockwell Museum, Shaker Village/Historic Deerfield/Sturbridge Village, Tanglewood for music. Google The Berkshires
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:20 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I question the going all the way to DC; but the Jersey Shore may be fun (if crowded).

I am less familiar with things to do further west on 95 in CT closer to NYC.

There's a reason for that....but I can attest to the Barnum museum (in Bridgeport, CT) and really good pizza in New Haven.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:22 AM on April 30, 2013

Are you planning to drive from Hyannis to DC? Because that would be about a day of driving.
Newport RI would be worth as a visit (agree with above).
You could take a ferry to Block Island (or Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard, really), rent bikes and explore.
posted by maryrussell at 4:41 AM on April 30, 2013

95 South sucks. You can avoid it, and Coastal Connecticut by heading to Western MA, then go down 91 toward NY.

Spend some time in the Pioneer Valley. There are lovely shops, restaurants, galleries, and breweries in Northampton. Smith College's Art Museum is quite nice. Even cooler is the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, on the other side of the river.

You can bop down to Springfield if you want to visit the Basketball Hall of Fame. You can slide out further West if you want to check out MassMOCA or Tanglewood.

And if you're a book lover, man oh man, if you're a book lover, you can spend the entire few days hunting for treasures in used bookstores without ever doubling up. Don't skip the Montague Book Mill; that place is amazing.
posted by .kobayashi. at 4:45 AM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

I live in Boston and my thinking is that the Cape In August is going to be very, very crowded. Not the most relaxing vacation. Also, beaches in Hyannis kind of suck compared to the ones up the arm (Nauset Beach in Eastham is the best except that there's almost always shark sightings in August and the beach closes). Unless you absolutely have to, I wouldn't stay in Hyannis.

Boston in August will also be crowded and damned hot.

NYC in August, again...hot.

So if I were you, the last thing I'd want to do is drive from the Cape to Washington (at least 8 hours) and then return to NYC (4 hours). But your family may enjoy car rides more than mine. My kids used to start the backseat invisible demarkation line of death within 3 seconds of getting in the car and within 12 minutes I was usually threatening to leave them on the side of the highway. YMMV.

If I were you, I'd stay further up on the Cape so you don't have to drive as much. At the elbow, the Cape becomes one highway.

It's one very.long.packed.highway.to.hell.that.goes.nowhere.in.August.

So if I could, I'd stay LONGER. Unless you absolutely have to stay in Hyannis, I wouldn't. Eastham, Orleans, Chatham, Ptown are much more Cape-like. Ptown is super wicked pissa fun. Great beaches, fun people, great food and all walkable (or busable). You won't need a car there.

For locals, Hyannis itself is the town we drive through to get to Dennis and better towns.

If you're committed to this itinerary, I would still say try to avoid the trip to DC and instead spend the time in the Berkshires/Pioneer Valley area, which are spectacular in August. There's Tanglewood, great hiking, canoeing, diners, rustic towns. It's really relaxing and beautiful. And if you're between a few days in crowded Boston, even more crowded Hyannis and NYC, a few days in the Berkshires will recharge your batteries and restore your faith in humanity.
posted by kinetic at 4:53 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

You can also take advantage of northern New England while you're here in particular there is NH's lake's region, the White Mountains, and the Maine coast. Parts of that will be less slammed than the Cape, and it's just up 95 from Cape Cod. You'll get a totally different coastline if you go up Maine, too - rocky and wonderful.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:14 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, DC in August is a sweaty armpit. However, I've always felt that it is one of the best tourist destinations I've ever interacted with. Most of the museums are free and many are in one centralized location. They are air conditioned. The zoo is free. The metro is reasonable to navigate and will get you where you want to go.

That said, I'd rent a place by a lake (this avoids some of the crazy beach traffic and insanity that happens in August) for the week.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:19 AM on April 30, 2013

I love DC and I even like the summer, but I am pretty much a lizard person. August will be a sweltering mess and most of your trip will be wrangling your family from one air-conditioned refuge to another, unless it thunderstorms and your afternoon plans get ruined. You could swing through New Jersey and hit up the softer side of the shore-- Avalon or Cape May. But the recommendations for museums in MA and CT are right on. You could also look at towns like Salem.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:19 AM on April 30, 2013

Just chiming in again to say that Cape Cod on weekends can be very difficult to get around because of traffic. But on weekdays in summer it is not that bad. Just be mindful of your itinerary. You don't want to drive from Boston to Cape Cod on a Friday afternoon/evening. Also, DON'T....and I repeat.....DON'T try to leave Cape Cod on a Sunday afternoon/evening (leaving Sunday morning on the early side is OK). So if you can be there mostly on weekdays life will be much easier.

People here are starting to push you to other great places. But be mindful of the distances. Yes, the Maine coast is very beautiful....you could go to Acadia National Park. But that is NOT just a little drive up 95. It is a very long full day drive from Cape Cod....like 6-8 hours up to Acadia for example.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 5:24 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you want to check out the island thing without the hassle of getting to Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket, you could try Block Island. It's on the way to NYC from Hyannis and is supposed to be generally a bit quieter than the bigger islands. There's a ferry from Westerly, RI, or a commuter airline that can get you there.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:59 AM on April 30, 2013

AFAIK, Sandy didn't have as big an effect on New England coasts than they did in NYC/NJ. There is nothing, NOTHING New Englanders like more than talking about driving directions (especially if they involve a coffee shop). "You can't get there from here!" is well-loved for a reason...

I'll leave Jersey Shore recommendations to others. You certainly could drive from Hyannis to NJ in a day, then continue south to DC, then back to NYC. But I don't have any info on those areas...

If you decide to meander through New England, I suggest Rhode Island, but I see many people beat me to it. Newport is lovely and perfect that time of year. Tiverton and Little Compton might be good places to explore: rural, but gorgeous. Real southern New England to be found there. It's right on the way to NYC, and you can easily spend a few days pottering around Newport, taking a trip over to Tiverton/Little Compton or to Block Island, or heading up to Providence. For convenience's sake, I'd say that'd be the best way to go.

Western MA isn't really on the way to NYC from Hyannis, just so you know. It's in the general direction but further north. from Hyannis, it'll take a good 3 hours, but I wouldn't be surprised at 3.5 to 4 because getting off Cape can be a hassle in August. Heed the warning about getting off cape off peak (not friday afternoon, not saturday afternoon, when many of the rentals turn over... instead aim for super early Saturday and you might be ok.) That said, the drive from Western MA to NYC is pretty easy... straight south until you hit I95, then go west towards NYC.

Western MA and the Berkshires are 3-4 hours or so from NYC. Overall, you'll add some time to your trip, but western MA (Amherst/Northampton/montague/shelburne falls/etc) are all just as lovely as everyone her has already said... especially in August, where it can get hot, but there are relatively few people and plenty of swimming holes and hikiing. Lovely food, quiet scenery, lots and lots of lush greenery, and festivals (check out Hilltownfamilies for events a little ways from Northampton.) It's much quieter than the bustle of Newport in the summer... think quiet retreat vs. bustling tourist attraction and sailing destination. If that's your cuppa, you should seriously consider Northampton and its environs.

Having recently done the Western MA to DC drive, I could not imagine doing that drive and then going back to NYC when you drive right through it on the way... That said, from Western MA to DC is a good 8 hours. I'd recommend spending some time with Google Maps to get a feel for distances (e.g. Acadia, Maine, although gorgeous, is a long, long way away). If you absolutely must do DC, plan DC on the end of your return to NYC... That is, do not go from Hyannis to DC then back to MA then to NYC. You will hate yourself at the end. Instead, maybe Hyannis to RI, to CT to DC then back to NYC (although that still makes me itchy... so inefficient! :) Also, the roads around here, although mostly good, are old, in that they are not laid out in a grid, and do not take the most efficient way to get somewhere. So, it's entirely possible to drive for 2 hours and not really leave RI (well, except for a short jaunt through Fall River, but we don't like to talk about that ;)
(Actually, Fall River can be a hidden gem with Battleship Cove and some of the best Portuguese food to be found. Mmmmm Sagres!)
posted by absquatulate at 6:35 AM on April 30, 2013

Mystic Seaport is a lot of fun.
posted by oceano at 6:53 AM on April 30, 2013

Ugh, I just saw you are from the UK... let me be a little more specific with notations (although some have already been clarified upthread):
Fall River == Fall River, Massachusetts
CT== Connecticut
MA== Massachusetts
I95== Interstate 95
Tiverton== Tiverton, RI
Little Compton == Little Compton, RI
Newport == Newport RI

And, we tend to talk about distance in times, rather than miles or kilometers, because often times distance as measured by miles means very little (see pithy photo above about Boston vs. NYC :)

Have fun! And have a Del's Lemonade if you end up in RI.
posted by absquatulate at 6:54 AM on April 30, 2013

Since you have your kids, I'd seriously consider Plimoth Plantation, which brings the original pilgrim landing site to life, complete with history fanatics embodying all the settlers, speaking in era-appropriate English, and demonstrating the crafts, cooking, farming, etc. More immersive and less commercial than Williamsburg. You can even plan to have dinner there, if you reserve ahead.
posted by acm at 7:38 AM on April 30, 2013

OK, so it's fairly obvious you shouldn't leave the Cape on a Sunday afternoon, but actually Saturdays are really bad too: people who rent houses for the whole week often leave on Saturday, and so Saturday traffic can be BRUTAL. And actually Sunday afternoon traffic can be terrible on all the interstates in Massachusetts: I-95 and I-495 (southbound full of Boston-area people coming home from Maine), I-90 (westbound full of New Yorkers heading home from the Cape), and I-84 (see I-90). So avoid travel *towards* the ocean on Friday, and *away* from the ocean on Sunday.

Weirdly, given how dense with STUFF the northeast US is, there aren't a lot of places "on the way" from the Cape to DC, if you take the most direct route. You mostly skirt around the major cities and stay away from the coast and the mountains. You can take a small detour/alternate route that takes you through the Connecticut coast or the Jersey Shore or Delaware coast, or a slightly larger detour through Western Massachusetts, the Hudson River Valley, or Amish country in Pennsylvania, or a more dramatic detour up to northern New England.

The drive from Massachusetts to DC can be very easy (though boring) or, if traffic is bad, it can be MISERABLE. I have not yet figured out how to anticipate which it's going to be.

*On preview: if you go to Plymouth, make sure you check out Plymouth Rock, America's most disappointing tourist attraction. I love to take people there and make a big deal out of it.
posted by mskyle at 7:42 AM on April 30, 2013

Why are you leaving Cape Cod?? There is no better place to be for a week!

Break it up and stay on the Vineyard for a few days.

Nthing a million times Western Mass.

DC in August sounds like a nightmare. The drive from the Cape to DC sounds like a NIGHTMARE. Especially in August. (and yes, I've done it.)

On the way down if you really must.... Newport RI with the big old timey mansions, Block Island, skip the Jersey Shore, canoe camping on the Delaware River is AWESOME (memail for details, rent canoe is easy) I'm sure Philly is fun but it's been ages, Baltimore is a big maritime city and fun for a day, annnnnnd that's it.

Oh. I skipped Mystic Connecticut and the Mystic Aquarium.

Were I you, I would not leave the Cape area. I can EASILY fill a week there of excellent fun activities. I'd only ditch it for a day or two in the mountains, if I'd never been before (I'm looking at you, Mount Greylock!)

Hope this helps and your trip is excellent.

PS I don't understand all of the time you'll waste driving, dipping below NYC to DC and then back up again. My grandparents lived in Virginia and I grew up in NY. I hate that looooong drive with the passion of a thousand suns because it sucks. Via contrast, NYC to The Cape is manageable and won't blow your entire day, even if you stop at the Mystic Aquarium, which I've definitely done.

Anyway, sometimes less is more. You'll be starting off in THE BEST vacation spot within a day of NYC, why would you leave it voluntarily??)
posted by jbenben at 7:48 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

The whaling museum in New Bedford MA is excellent.

I spent summers down in this general area and I second this. New Bedford is a neat little town with a great whaling history. You can also stop in at the New Bedford library which has a whaling section and some pretty neat art exhibits and there are some great places to go get food, particularly Portuguese food. I do think you may want to assess how much of this time you want to spend in traffic and how much you want to be at any particular location. Some people don't mind traffic. I am not one of those people and I'd be much more inclined to pick a few places and putter around between them (New Bedford, Newport RI and Battleship Cove would be my suggestions). Rhode Island is neat, small and has a lot of wonderful New England history and won't be as much of a mob scene as either the Cape or the Vineyard. Block Island is also a great place to look around. And yeah for kids I'd suggest Plimouth Plantation and I'd second Plymouth Rock as being the worst tourist attraction in New England but you can just walk right up to it which is sort of neat.

New England is fine after Sandy, I don't know the status of parts of NJ.
posted by jessamyn at 7:54 AM on April 30, 2013

I missed that you're from the UK. Maybe I should put some of the driving into perspective so maybe you understand why so many people are urging you to skip DC - driving from Boston to Washington DC is like driving from your home to Paris. By contrast, driving from Boston just to New York is more like driving from your home to London. So your plan right now - to start on the Cape, work your way down to DC and then go back to New York - would be like starting at your house, driving to Paris and then turning around and going back to London. It's possible, but you wouldn't get to see very much of each of your destinations, and you would end up spending entire days driving.

So that's all the more reason to maybe skip Washington - or at least switch New York and Washington around in your itineraries.

Cape Cod is indeed very, very busy in the summer, and trying to leave on a summer afternoon is indeed very difficult. The beaches in that part of the country should be fine - if a bit windy and rocky, but that's the way they've always been (I grew up in that part of the country). New York City and points south would be most affected by "Sandy Damage", but August may be okay.

But from what I understand, some of the beaches on Long Island - that long spit of land that stretches from New York City eastward - may be okay, particularly the further east you go. They'll also be busy too (the easternmost end, known as The Hamptons, is a cluster of towns that are a sort of rich-person's summer playground), but one site, Fire Island, is a national recreation area (sort of like a national park) and would be a bit more affordable. They may have been affected a bit by Sandy but their web site seems to indicate that they're bouncing back. It's actually possible to take a ferry from New London, Connecticut across to Long Island, which would let you get to Fire Island without going through New York City.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:08 AM on April 30, 2013

MBTA will have a weekend train between Boston and Hyannis starting this summer.
posted by brujita at 8:54 AM on April 30, 2013

I rent a house (in Wellfleet or Eastham) on the Cape for a week each August, so I have to deal with the end-of-week rental turnover traffic, and -- it's really not that bad. Yes, it's slow, and it will take longer than you'd like, but it's not "dear god why haven't we moved for 15 minutes" bad. I usually take my time and stop frequently for ice cream and lobster rolls and stuff. (The Cape is all about the food, for me.)

I live in Western Mass, and the summer is when I regularly stop, look around, and think "I can't believe I get to live here." That said, there are nice, non-trashy towns on the actual Jersey Shore -- Long Beach Island is one. Look for towns/barrier islands that are mostly protected seashore. And the Jersey shore is actually on the way to DC, unlike western MA. Some towns got hit by Sandy harder than others; you'll have to do a little research on that.
posted by chowflap at 9:37 AM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all - really helpful and a lot of food for thought. A lot of people questioning why dip down to DC? I guess given it's unlikely we'll be over that way again for a long time (if ever as a family) and there's so much to see it seemed like it was too good a chance to miss.......
posted by brettski at 10:38 AM on May 1, 2013

A fair point about DC (I mean, I'm going to Italy in a few days, with a couple days' side trip to Florence, but I'm also debating a day trip to Naples because of the same "but it's right there" impulse).

So in that case, if you don't want to drop DC altogether, consider switching DC and New York in the order in your itinerary. That'll avoid any "backtracking", and also gives you more time to explore parts of upstate New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

Fair warning that DC does indeed get VERY, VERY humid in summer (I went once for July 4th some years back, and I actually was driven to soaking my jacket in the Lincoln Monument reflecting pool and putting it back on dripping wet because it was so hot out and I needed to cool off), but there are indeed some fine things to see - and most attractions in DC are free. Philadelphia is another fun visit, and some of the countryside around it is lovey (and the countryside tends to be less humid than the cities).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:18 AM on May 1, 2013

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