Just over an hour from Boston by car, the Upper Cape towns have become bedroom communities as well as summer retreats. They may not be the place to let the good times roll, like some towns farther east, but they're more constant from season to season than the resort towns. Shops and restaurants -- many catering to an older, affluent crowd -- tend to stay open year-round.
The four Upper Cape towns are all quite different. Bourne straddles the Cape Cod Canal; a few of its villages (Bournedale, Buzzards Bay, and Sagamore Beach) are on the mainland side, and the others (Cataumet, Pocasset, Bourne, Monument Beach, and Sagamore) are on the Cape side. The Canal provides this area with most of its recreational opportunities: biking, fishing, canal cruises, and the herring run.
Sandwich is the Cape's oldest town. At its core sits a lovely historic village with lots of unique shops and charming inns. Still, the town is primarily a pastoral place, with several working farms. In East Sandwich, miles of conservation land lead out to Sandy Neck, a barrier beach extending into Barnstable. The Old King's Highway (Rte. 6A) winds its way through Sandwich past a number of fine gift shops, galleries, and specialty stores.
Falmouth, the site of Cape Cod's first summer colony, is one of the larger towns on the Cape; it has a year-round population of 32,000. Main Street -- with a number of high-quality boutiques, restaurants, and galleries, in addition to the usual touristy T-shirt shops -- is a prime spot for strolling and shopping. Falmouth's Village Green is quintessential New England, with two imposing historic churches: St. Barnabas, a sturdy, reddish stone building; and the First Congregational, a white-clapboard, steepled church with a Paul Revere bell. Just north of Falmouth center, along Route 28A, lies West Falmouth; it has several good antiques stores, a fine general store, and a picture-perfect little harbor.
The most scenic drive in Falmouth leads to the beach at Falmouth Heights, a bluff covered with grand, shingled Victorians built during the first wave of tourist fever in the late 1800s. Falmouth's southernmost village is Woods Hole, which is the main ferry port for Martha's Vineyard. Home at any given time to several thousand research scientists, it has a certain neo-Bohemian panache, lively bars, and an air of inquisitive intellectual vigor. It's also a working fishing village and one of the most picturesque spots on the Cape.
Mashpee is the ancestral home of the Cape's Native American tribe, the Wampanoags. Much of the town's coastline is occupied by a huge resort called New Seabury; inland, the Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge offers frequent walking tours through its thousands of woodland acres.