Cape Cod is no place to be driving this time of year. Even after you make it through backups at the bridge, congestion in many spots can look more like rush hour than vacation.
It seems as if Cape traffic gets worse every year, and it does.
''The heaviest summer volume of 20 or 25 years ago is now the year-round norm," says Bob Mumford, transportation program manager for the Cape Cod Commission. Summer traffic has gone up by about 15 percent in the last decade.
Not so long ago, a typical stay on the Cape centered on a cottage, a beach, maybe a couple of nearby restaurants and entertainment spots. These days, vacationers dash over to Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard on the new high-speed ferries for the day, journey to Provincetown to pass a rainy afternoon, or drive two towns over to try a new restaurant.
Let's think about this: What is the point of vacation if you end up like the people seen so often at Hillside Farms in Truro, running in to buy corn and tomatoes, then lining up in their cars waiting to turn back onto the highway?
Just because you can get to Nantucket and back in one day doesn't mean you should. Just because there are interesting things to do in every town doesn't mean your vacation will be better if you fit them all in.
Why stay somewhere that requires a drive every time you need a carton of milk or a glimpse of the water? Why not choose a vacation location that offers much within walking distance? Here are a couple of suggestions.
BrewsterMain Street in Brewster is also Route 6A, which can be bumper-to-bumper on summer afternoons. On the other hand, there's a sidewalk for safe promenades and plenty to do within walking distance. In the late 19th century, Brewster was home to more sea captains than just about anywhere in the country, and the road is still lined with many of their homes, several of which have been converted to inns. Antiques stores and pottery shops, restaurants, and beautiful bay beaches are all within a half mile.
Try one of the inns near the intersection of Routes 124 and 6A. The Old Manse Inn, on the National Register of Historic Places, dates to 1801. Owners Paul and Joyce Stier function both as innkeepers and vacation planners. They'll put together activities for every day, if you like.
The Captain Freeman Inn, built in the 1860s, sits off Main Street facing Breakwater Road. A large screen porch overlooks the pool and a lawn for croquet and badminton. Innkeeper Donna Amadeo serves breakfast in the morning and lemonade on the porch in the afternoon, and keeps a wine and beer bar open in the evening for guests.
In front of the Captain Freeman is the Brewster Store. Built in 1852 as a Universalist Society church, it has been the town's informal gathering place since it became the store in 1866. People sit outside eating ice cream they bought at the parlor inside the store, or they mill around the penny candy section by the entrance.
''Everybody's got to have a candy fix," says manager Pam Praetsch.
From the store, in any direction, there's plenty to do. Across the street is the Brewster Ladies' Library, with children's story hour Wednesday mornings. Public tennis courts are a quarter-mile to the west. The Woodshed has live music nightly.
The scenery's not bad, either. Paul Stier says one of the nicest walks starts just beside his inn at Lower Road.
''From that corner, about a mile down on the right on Lower Road, is a great sea captain's cemetery," he says. ''As you continue along, there are four or five beaches where you can have privacy and beautiful views."
Cliff Manchester sends guests at his Bramble Inn down Breakwater Road, which begins beside the Brewster Store.
''It's in the shade, so they don't get fried in the sun," he says. If they continue half a mile to Breakwater Beach, they can fry all they want. Brewster has some of the widest tidal flats anywhere on the Cape; at low tide, you can walk out half a mile.
The Bramble Inn has five guest rooms, but it's best known for its restaurant. Manchester's wife, Ruth, is the chef, creating signature dishes like assorted seafood in a light fruit curry sauce with toasted coconut and grilled banana, and parchment-roasted boneless breast of chicken, served with lobster and lobster champagne sauce.
''We get hate mail if we take it off the menu," she says of the chicken.
If you decide running on your own power is too much, but you still don't want to climb back into your car, Stier says just meet him at the end of Breakwater Road: ''We can deliver a sailboat or power boat right to the beach."
East OrleansIt's easy to think of Orleans as the mostly commercial strip along Route 6A between the two big supermarket complexes. Continue down Main Street, however, cross Route 28, and you hit East Orleans. Stay anywhere along the 1 1/2-mile stretch that begins at the Parsonage Inn and ends at Nauset Beach, and you could spend days without ever crossing back over Route 28.
''One guest each year comes for weeks from Kansas City without a car," says Ian Browne, who, with his wife, Elizabeth, runs the Parsonage Inn, a circa 1770 house and converted barn.
It's only a few hundred feet from the inn to the small commercial district, which includes a post office, deli, ice cream store, antiques shops, clothing stores, and Fancy's Farm Stand, which sells fresh produce, soups, salads, breads, and takeout food. One highlight right beside the inn is In My Travels, a small consignment shop for women's upscale, casual clothing. As for the friendliest spot, it might be the Eldia Market and Coffeehouse.
''We are the mecca of East Orleans," says co-owner Jon Prete. ''A lot of people, when they started coming in, didn't know other people in town," says Prete. ''We talk to people, other people will come up, and we'll introduce them. Now, a lot know each other by name and speak to each other. We have groups of people who come once a week, pull the tables together and congregate here."
Heading toward Route 28, it's just a half-mile walk to the Academy of Performing Arts for evening theater. One mile away, at Route 28, are tennis courts and a baseball field where the Orleans Cardinals play in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
Travel in the opposite direction, toward the beach, for a pair of restaurants. The Nauset Beach Club combines local ingredients with contemporary northern Italian and Mediterranean fare, and has an extensive, small-estate wine list. The Barley Neck Inn has a formal dining room and a casual tavern, Joe's Beach Road Bar & Grille, anchored by a 25-foot mahogany bar.
One of the nicest places to stay, a half mile from Nauset Beach, is the Nauset House Inn, an 1810 farmhouse with alcoves, winding staircases, hand stenciling, unusual antiques, and a 1907 Victorian glass conservatory. A lovely double room with shared bath is $75, including a full breakfast. Owner Diane Johnson works in traditional white line wood block prints, and you can see, and buy, her work in a small outbuilding.
If you like waking up to the sound of the surf, stay at the Nauset Knoll Motor Lodge, on four acres overlooking Nauset Beach. It's a cut above standard motel fare, with solid wood furnishings and huge picture windows -- and you can't beat the view.
Kathy Shorr is a freelance writer living in Wellfleet. She is the author of ''Provincetown: Stories From Land's End" (Commonwealth Editions, 2002). Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.