“A unique melange of crisp night air, color, and warm, sunshine-filled days. There’s no waiting in line, no worry about reservations, and no crowds.” That’s how Michelle Haynes, a Provincetown native who also happens to be the Director of Communications of regional airline Cape Air, describes September on Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. As an insider, she calls this Indian summer period the “not-so-off-season.”
At the same time, much of New England hits its peak stride with droves of visitors clamoring to see fall foliage. However, Cape Cod and the Islands, more popular as a summer family destination, enters its off-peak shoulder season, especially for mid-week travel. This drop in summer visitation opens the door for lower prices, particularly right after Labor Day weekend when the kids go back to school. Because days and ocean temperatures stay warm, summer activities such as swimming and bicycling remain in full swing.
Why Cape Cod and the Islands in September?
One of the biggest reasons Cape Cod and the Islands have September allure is splendid and distinct weather. As Haynes stresses, “there are not too many places where you can see foliage and still be on the ocean.” This juxtaposition of summer and fall is what makes the area truly special.
Temperatures remain in the low 70s during the day, while nights see comfortable lows in the mid-50s. Ocean temperatures, which have been heating up the previous months, also remain palatable for swimming and related activities. Glenn Faria, President of MPDC, Ltd. (public relations for the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce), recommends beaches protected by harbors such as those in Osterville, where water “tends be warmer opposed to the open ocean.”
While September visitors can cling to summer, they can also indulge in fall. Haynes notes foliage starts to unveil in September, “the poison ivy turns first, then the maples.” Faria describes the colors as characteristic only to the Cape with muted greens and oranges, referring to them as “understated versus celebrity.” He also adds there’s nothing like the beauty of the salt water marshes and a drive up Route 6A in the autumn.
September also brings inherently Cape Cod events. The Harwich Cranberry Festival, from September 9 through 18, signals the harvesting of the Cape’s famous cranberry bogs. The celebration showcases arts and crafts, food, and entertainment. The Bourne Scallop Festival, which takes place between September 23 and 25, focuses on the scallop industry and is one of New England’s largest festivals. Visitors will enjoy arts and crafts, a home expo, and famous scallop dinners. Faria states these festivals are true Cape Cod grassroots events, where local volunteers come together to benefit both the industries and the community.
Crowds thin in September, allowing visitors to experience a more subdued Cape. The crowd dynamic also changes from families and kids to couples, where splashing water and eating ice cream become taking quiet walks on the beach and sipping wine. Cool nights also make for a good excuse to light up a fireplace, common at many inns.
Brian Rybicki of Merrimac, MA, decided to spend his September 2004 honeymoon on Martha’s Vineyard. In pursuit of “100 percent relaxation,” he and his wife bagged their plans to go to Italy and booked a weeklong stay at the Crocker House Inn in Vineyard Haven. He said they did nothing but recharge. The innkeepers gave them so much personalized attention Rybicki and his new bride didn’t have to worry about a car, breakfast, or dinner reservations. Instead, they spent their time drinking wine, watching sunsets, and hiding out on their favorite secluded beach near Lambert’s Cove.
The crowds ease during September, but Cape Cod and the Islands remain in business. Dune tours continue until mid-October, beaches stay open (offering free parking after Labor Day), and restaurants and shops keep serving. Rybicki remarks on how he was able to snag last-minute reservations at restaurants he’d have trouble getting into during the summer.
Although it’s technically off-season during September, those in the know will still come to the Cape, particularly on weekends. Thus the maximum benefit and value can be found mid-week when most people are at work. For instance, as Faria states, traffic may be less frenetic in general even through the notable bottleneck at the Sagamore Bridge, but it still picks up around peak times such as Friday evenings. Also, many hotels slash rates after Labor Day, but there tends to be more availability, and often better savings, Sundays through Thursdays.
September Cape Cod and the Islands savings
When it comes to dollars and cents, hotels offer the biggest savings across the board. From a quick scan, it wasn’t difficult to find properties on the Cape and both islands that cut rates in September, often in the most dramatic fashion immediately after Labor Day. The minimum savings were 20 percent, but others soared above and beyond up to 66 percent.
|Hotel||Summer rate||September rate||Savings|
|Barnacle Motel (West Dennis)||$60 (June 16 through September 5)||$40 (September 6 through October 31)||33%|
|Bradford Inn (Chatham)||$195 (June 10 through September 5)||$155 (September 6 through October 22)||20%|
|Brass Key Guesthouse (Provincetown)||$265 (July 1 through September 6)||$90 (September 16 through December 27)/$110 (September 7 through 15)||66%|
|Colonial Inn (Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard)||$225 (May 27 through September 17)||$145 (September 18 through October 29)||36%|
|Cranberry Inn (Chatham)||$195 (June 24 through September 4)||$160 (September 5 through October 22)||18%|
|Harbor House Village (Nantucket)||$270 (June 17 through September 4)||$120 (September 5 through October 22)||56%|
|Nauset Beach-Side Motel & Cottages (East Orleans)||$158 (June 12 through September 5)||$108 (After September 5)||32%|
|Sandpiper Beach Inn (Harwichport)||$199 (June 10 through September 5)||$125 (September 6 through October 10)||37%|
|Shiretown Inn (Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard)||$165 (June 24 through September 4)||$98 (September 5 though October 31)||41%|
Prices are based on the lowest published rate for the designated time period. Rates vary by date and availability. Weekend rates tend to be higher than weekday rates.
Along with standard post-Labor Day rate reductions, many hotels also offer incentive packages to lure autumn travelers. The Nantucket Inn, for example, offers a two-night “Autumn Charm” package throughout September. For $389, couples receive full breakfast each morning and a $50 dinner voucher in addition to their room. Winnetu Resort on Martha’s Vineyard treats guests at the end of September with its “Autumnal Equinox” mid-week special. Receive one night free with a minimum two-night stay, or receive a free upgrade with a studio-room booking.
The two main airports near Cape Cod and the Islands are Boston and Providence. Fares to these airports generally remain consistent throughout the year, while several low-cost carriers provide regular service, including JetBlue, Delta’s Song, Independence Air, and Southwest. For flights directly to Cape Cod and the Islands, Cape Air provides regional service from New England, which remains hourly even after Labor Day. Although prices don’t change by season, the airline does offer mid-week specials. Its major codeshare partner is Continental, which leads to smoother connections from many other destinations. Cape Air also has ticket and baggage agreements with most other airlines.
Keep in mind that unless you fly direct, you will need to take a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, so plan ahead especially if you are bringing a car. Luckily, the The Steamship Authority, the only car ferry, reduces round-trip fares after September 14 by up to 40 percent.
When it comes to visiting a world-class destination in September, it doesn’t get much better than Cape Cod and the Islands. The sunny days and sea air keep summer alive, while the turning leaves and harvests announce fall, all for much less than a summer vacation. Essentially, September visitors get to experience two seasons for less than the price of one.