Sandwich: 3 miles E of Sagamore; 16 miles NW of Hyannis. Falmouth: 18 miles S of Sagamore; 20 miles SW of Hyannis.

Just over the Cape Cod Canal, the towns of the Upper Cape are the closest to Boston (just over an hour’s drive), and they’ve become bedroom as well as summer communities. They’re a bit more staid, more New England-y, than the beach towns farther east, but they’re also spared some of the fly-by-night qualities that come with a transient population. Shops and restaurants here 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.

VISITOR INFORMATION -- Just off exit 2 of the Mid-Cape Highway, the Sandwich Chamber of Commerce, 520 Route 130 (tel. 508/681-0918) has a spiffy visitor center with restrooms. The Cape Cod Canal Region Chamber of Commerce, 70 Main St., Buzzards Bay (tel. 508/759-6000), open year-round Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, has all the info on Bourne and activities around the Cape Cod Canal. The Falmouth Chamber of Commerce, 20 Academy Lane, Falmouth (tel. 800/526-8532 or 508/548-8500), is open year-round Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, Saturday 10am to 4pm, and Sunday 11am to 3pm.