Once strictly a warm-weather destination, the Cape and islands traditionally open the season with a splash on Memorial Day weekend and shutter up come Labor Day. The official beginning of summer is heralded by the Figawi sailboat race on Memorial Day weekend. Traffic all over the Cape is horrendous on this last weekend in May, and ferries are booked solid. It's a rowdy party weekend, but then, strangely, things slow down for a few weeks until late June. The weekend closest to July 4th is another major mob scene, when summer really gets rolling. It's no wonder that July is the second-busiest month of the year and August is by far the most popular month for visiting the region: You are fairly guaranteed good beach weather these 2 months, and the Atlantic Ocean warms to comfortable swimming temperatures. Summer comes to an end with Labor Day, a heavily trafficked weekend you'll probably want to avoid.

Shoulder Seasons

Cape Cod now welcomes more and more tourists to witness the tender blossoms of spring and the fiery foliage of autumn. During these shoulder seasons, lodging tends to cost less, and a fair number of restaurants and attractions remain open. Most important, traffic is manageable. In addition, the natives seem far more accommodating in the off season, and shopping bargains abound.

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In the past few years, a number of entertaining town festivals and events have attracted crowds in the spring and fall. Spring brings daffodil festivals, and fall brings cranberry, arts, and harvest festivals. Unless your idea of the perfect vacation requires a swim in the ocean, you may be better off with the smaller crowds and better deals of the shoulder months: May, June, September, or October.

Off Season

November and December don't quite qualify as "off season" on the Cape and islands. In fact, some say the most crowded time on Nantucket is during the Christmas Stroll in early December; it kicks off a month of holiday events. Martha's Vineyard also rolls out the red carpet in December with events in Edgartown and Vineyard Haven, such as Santa's arrival on the ferry. Many towns on the Cape, such as Sandwich, Osterville, Falmouth, and Chatham, also have big holiday festivals. The holidays are quite popular for family gatherings on the Cape and islands.

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Tourist-oriented establishments on the Cape and islands traditionally close during the coldest months, but some tough out the quietest season -- January through March. It's a rare treat to enjoy the region's historic towns and pristine landscapes with almost no one but natives about. To avoid disappointment in the off season, however, always be sure to call ahead to check schedules.

Climate

The Gulf Stream renders the Cape and islands generally about 10° warmer in winter than the mainland, and offshore winds keep them about 10° cooler in summer (you'll probably need a sweater most evenings). The only downside of being surrounded by water is the other wet stuff: no, not rain, fog! Typically it's sunny about 2 days out of 3 -- not bad odds. And the foggy days can be rather romantic. Pack some good books for when it pours. Check out www.ackweather.com for up-to-date wind, surf, and tide conditions for the Cape and islands.

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Summer -- The first few weeks of June can be a perfect time to visit the region, but be forewarned: You may need to request a room with a fireplace. Weather this time of year, particularly on the Outer Cape, can be unpredictable at best; at worst it's cold and rainy. Don't count on swimming in the ocean unless you're a member of the Polar Bear Club. Late June weather is usually lovely. July and August can be perfect -- sunny and breezy -- or damp, foggy, and humid. Usually, it's a combination of the two.

Autumn -- On Cape Cod, it usually starts feeling like fall a week or two after Labor Day. September and October are splendid: Leaves start to change color, roads start to unclog, and everyone seems happier. The ocean retains enough heat to make for bearable swimming during the sunny days of Indian summer, and the subtly varied hues of the trees and moors are always changing, always lovely. Day temperatures are perfect for long hikes along the seashore. By October you'll need a sweater during the day, and evenings can be downright chilly. But this is a lovely time of year on the Cape and islands.

Winter -- It's not supposed to snow on Cape Cod, but it does. In recent years, some towns have had more than 100 inches. During a recent winter, the Cape received virtually no snow until a surprise blizzard on April 1. January, February, and March tend to be on the bleak side. This is when a lot of locals head south to sunnier climes.

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Spring -- April is a cheerful time on the Cape and islands, and daffodil festivals abound. During May and June, the entire Cape blooms. Gardening goes way beyond hobby in this gentle climate, and blooms are profuse from May right through the summer. But springtime weather can be rainy, and the Atlantic Ocean is bone-chillingly cold.

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.