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Yes, You Can Do Cape Cod On a Budget!

Guest blogger Alexandra Grabbe an innkeeper and the author of Wellfleet, An Insider's Guide to Cape Cod's Trendiest Town.

Anyone familiar with Cape Cod knows the peninsula had an unusual visitor last month: A black bear swam across the Cape Cod Canal, traipsed through Orleans, and trotted down Ocean View Drive in Wellfleet without interacting with any people. He then proceeded on through the woods to Truro and Provincetown. The Outer Cape is like that—there's enough open space and nature walks for everyone ... even a bear!

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The forearm of Cape Cod features the towns of Eastham, Wellfleet, and Truro, with Provincetown standing alone at the fist. It takes a full day to visit Provincetown, and day-trippers can arrive by ferry in summer, so I will concentrate here on the three other towns. There’s plenty to see and do.

Nearly six million people visit Cape Cod every year. Four million spend time in the Cape Cod National Seashore. If possible, plan your trip mid-week. Most visitors drive across the canal on Saturdays or Sundays, creating massive traffic jams on the two bridges and Route 6, the "spine" of Cape Cod.

Stop in at the Salt Pond Visitor Center in North Eastham to pick up a list of free activities, organized by the National Seashore and led by park rangers. The "Seashore" also operates a small museum and shows a 15-minute film on the creation of Cape Cod. The bookstore offers a fine selection of postcards and nature books. 

Pack a picnic lunch or eat along the way. Like pizza? Plan a break at Red Barn Pizza in North Eastham, where staff serves up excellent pizza slices for $3. Add an affordable salad and you’ve got a meal. Or, buy sandwiches at Box Lunch, across Route 6, before heading for the Atlantic Ocean.

The sandy beaches of Eastham, Wellfleet and Truro stretch for miles along the Cape’s "backshore." Access to most town beaches in July or August requires a sticker. Stickers can be purchased for three days to a week with proof of temporary residence, but never fear, there's another option. The National Seashore operates a beach or two in every town: Coast Guard (named Best Beach #6 by Dr. Beach) and Nauset in Eastham, Marconi in Wellfleet, Head of the Meadow in Truro, Race Point in Provincetown. At all these beaches a pass, purchased for $45, guarantees entry and is good for one year. Or, get an Interagency Annual pass for $80 and use it at other national parks over the next 11 months.

If sunbathing is not your thing, explore the Cape Cod Rail Trail, which starts in South Wellfleet and extends beyond Orleans. Bikes can be rented at Idle Times and Little Capistrano, two popular bike shops which both operate out of several locations in summer. While on the Outer Cape, spend a couple quiet hours at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, which features well-maintained nature trails. 

For dinner, choose kid-friendly Moby Dick’s in Wellfleet, or make a reservation for PB Boulangerie Bistro, where $30 is all you need for a delicious three-course French dinner (request the Prix Fixe menu). An affordable alternative is Mac’s on the Pier.    

Everyone on the Outer Cape is talking about Wellfleet’s new Harbor Stage Company. Its first production, Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, received a rave review from the Boston Globe. Tickets cost only $20. Harbor Stage is offering Pay-What-You-Can on the first Friday of every show, which means July 20 for Church and August 17 for Sticks and Bones. "We would even take $1 if that's all someone could pay," says actor Jonathan Fielding.

Another free show not to miss takes place at Wellfleet’s Baker’s Field, Mondays and Tuesdays in July, courtesy of the Recreation Department. This season’s Tuesday play is The Tempest. Experience “Shakespearean Jukebox” on Mondays.

Shakespeare fans can also enjoy an inspired version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Payomet in Truro, every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday through August 11. General seating is $25, preferred seating $35. Friday night performances are Pay-What-You-Can at the box office, $15 minimum, with $5 discounts for seniors, teachers, students, and union members at all shows. The play begins with Billy Idol’s White Wedding. This unexpected jolt from the 20th century prepares the audience well for the remainder of the two-hour performance. 

Enjoy live music at Baker’s Field in Wellfleet, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday all summer. Wednesdays, square dance on the pier, an event that unites tourists, natives, and non-residents for an evening of raucous fun. There is no charge for either event.

Where am I to stay, you ask? How about the International Hostel in Truro? There’s a hostel in Eastham, too, but you may prefer proximity to beautiful Ballston Beach. There are 42 beds, arranged in dorm-like fashion. One night costs $35 for members of Hosteling International, and $42 for everyone else, breakfast included. This little-known gem still has some availability during July and August. The hostel offers a safe, pleasant community atmosphere. If both hostels are full, consider a room at the Inn at Duck Creek in Wellfleet, $110 to $135, or contact one of the local Chambers of Commerce. 

The "Cape Cod bear" probably walked right past the Truro hostel on his romp to Provincetown. Maybe he was simply checking out the spectacular scenery. The bear made the morning news, had a Facebook page, and started tweeting about the sights while "on vacation." He snacked at bird feeders and beehives before being relocated off-Cape by a animal rescue team. May your stay be as carefree.

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