The rest of the Cape may have its civilized enticements, but it's only on the Outer Cape that the landscape and even the air feel really beachy. You can smell the seashore just over the horizon -- in fact, you can smell it everywhere you go because you're never more than a mile or two away from sand and surf.

You won't find any high-rise hotels along the shoreline here. No tacky amusement arcades, either. Just miles of pristine beaches and dune grass rippling in the wind. You'll also see the occasional cottage inhabited by some lucky soul who managed to get his or her hands on it before the coastline became the federally protected Cape Cod National Seashore in the early 1960s.

While they share the majestic National Seashore, Outer Cape towns are quite diverse. Eastham, as the official gateway to the National Seashore, certainly gets its share of visitors, yet there is also a sleepy quality to this town, which used to have the distinction of being the turnip capital of the country.

Wellfleet, called the art-gallery town, is in my view one of the nicest towns on Cape Cod. Main Street is lined with intriguing shops in historic buildings. Commercial Street, which leads to the harbor, has art galleries filled with work inspired by local artists. Wellfleet was for years one of the premier fishing villages on Cape Cod, and it still has a bustling and picturesque harbor.

Some of Cape Cod's finest swimming holes and most spectacular beaches line the coast of Wellfleet.

Tiny Truro is the least developed of the Cape's towns; it has the smallest population and the highest proportion of acreage reserved for the National Seashore. The fact that this blink-and-you-miss-it town has four libraries should tell you something about its residents.

Provincetown is a former Portuguese fishing village turned into a world-famous art and gay scene with a flamboyant nightlife. The main drag (so to speak) is Commercial Street, with the best shopping on Cape Cod. Families come for the strolling, museums, and whale-watching; bon vivants for the restaurants, cafes, and entertainment. And the beaches? Seemingly endless.