Cape Cod still resembles the old Patti Page song "Old Cape Cod," with plenty of "sand dunes and salty air," and even "quaint little villages here and there," but it is also a modern destination. Several towns on the Cape are in the process of installing townwide Wi-Fi, and a number of the region's hotels have top-shelf amenities, including elaborate spas. Sophisticated restaurants abound, along with chic boutiques and cutting-edge art galleries.

Cape Cod encompasses 15 towns in all and numerous villages, each with its own personality. The nearby islands of elegant Nantucket and quaint Martha's Vineyard also have unique personalities.

Politically, the Cape and islands struggle with the usual issues of small-town America, including the struggle to stay authentic and preserve ties to history while still embracing modernization. The difference between other small towns and those on the Cape is that the peninsula's history and natural beauty -- the fact that the Pilgrims actually landed here first, before settling in Plymouth, and that it is home to miles of pristine beaches, for instance -- are also its livelihood. People come to see these quaint New England villages and these famous sand dunes -- about 75 feet high in places along the Cape Cod National Seashore -- and if they pave paradise and put up a parking lot, no one will come to visit. So preservation is prized in all of the Cape's 15 towns, and you will find fascinating historic sites -- windmills, historic houses, and lighthouses, to name a few -- throughout the region.

The towns of the Cape and the nearby islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket have managed to maintain their special qualities, and visitors still do come by the millions every summer. They bike, hike, kayak, and bask in the sun. They visit historic sites, dine out at refined restaurants, eat in at clambakes, and shop 'til they drop.

Of course, urban and suburban issues of growth -- like traffic, wastewater disposal, water quality, and, especially, traffic -- are omnipresent. Writer Kurt Vonnegut, a former Cape Cod resident, once said of congestion on local roads, "Traffic to Hyannis Port was backed up through three villages. There were license plates from every state in the republic. The line was moving about 4 miles an hour. I was passed by several groups of 50-mile hikers. My radiator came to a boil four times." The Cape's traffic is notorious, and smart visitors plan their vacations to stay off the roads during prime times and choose a lodging option that is within walking or biking distance of the beach, as well as shops and restaurants (an easy option in many of the Cape's towns).

Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket offer what many consider a perfect vacation. There are unforgettable experiences to be had, like the time I saw three minke whales jump out of the water simultaneously, their fluked tails lined up in formation, during a whale watch at Stellwagen Bank, a protected ocean reserve off Provincetown. There are moments of the sublime, like when you chow down on a heaping stack of fried clams (bellies and all) while sitting at a picnic table with a view of the setting sun at Menemsha Harbor on Martha's Vineyard. And there are moments of enrichment, like shooting the breeze with an honest-to-goodness miller while watching him grind corn in a restored 17th-century gristmill in Sandwich. But mostly, the Cape and islands are about enjoying a low-key beach vacation, preferably with buckets, shovels, and a trashy novel in tow.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.