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18 miles S of Sagamore; 20 miles SW of Hyannis

Falmouth is a classic New England town with historic churches alongside the Village Green and a bustling Main Street. The town offers a variety of activities and summer events for vacationers, from beautiful beaches and bike paths to weekly outdoor band concerts and summer theater. Founded in 1660 by Quakers from Sandwich, Falmouth proved remarkably arable territory: By the 19th century, it reigned as the strawberry capital of the world. Today, with more than 32,000 year-round residents, it's the second-largest town on the Cape, after Barnstable.

After catering to summertime guests for more than a century (it was the first "fashionable" Cape resort, served by trains from Boston starting in the 1870s), Falmouth residents have made hospitality an art. The area around the historic Village Green (used for military exercises in the pre-Revolutionary days) is a veritable hotbed of B&Bs vying to provide the most elaborate breakfasts and solicitous advice. Listen to your hosts, and you'll soon feel like a native.

Officially a village within Falmouth (one of eight), tiny Woods Hole has been a world-renowned oceanic research center since 1871, when the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries set up a primitive seasonal collection station. Today the various scientific institutes crowded around the harbor -- principally, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Marine Biological Laboratory (founded in 1888), and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (a newcomer as of 1930) -- have research budgets in the tens of millions of dollars and employ thousands of scientists. Woods Hole's scientific institutions offer a unique opportunity to get in-depth -- and often hands-on -- exposure to marine biology.

Belying the stereotype of the nerdy scientist, the Woods Hole community is far from uptight; in fact, it's one of the hipper communities on the Cape. A number of agreeable restaurants and shops make the small, crowded gauntlet of Water Street a very pleasant place to stroll. Don't even think of parking here in summer; take the shuttle bus from Falmouth, or bike down on the Shining Sea Bikeway.

West Falmouth (which is really more north of town, stretched alongside Buzzards Bay) has held on to its bucolic character and makes a lovely drive, with perhaps an occasional stop for the more alluring antiques stores. Falmouth Heights, a cluster of shingled Victorian summer houses on a bluff east of Falmouth's harbor, is as popular as it is picturesque; its narrow ribbon of beach is a magnet for all, especially families. The Waquoit Bay area, a few miles east of town, has thus far eluded the over-commercialization that blights most of Route 28 and with luck and foresight will continue to do so. Several thousand acres of this vital estuarine ecosystem are now under federal custody.