Pirate museums and potato chip tours have their place, but sometimes, you want a little romance and grown-up fun on your Cape Cod vacay — heck, even a date night. To that end, we queried some Cape locals for their “most romantic’’ recommendations. “Cape Cod Bay at sunset is incredibly romantic. It’s a popular spot for popping the question,’’ says Maegan Storey of Chatham. (And she should know; she works with wedding parties at Ocean Edge Resort in Brewster.) Storey gives major props to the lower and outer Cape, “since it’s less-crowded and quieter’’ than the rest of the Cape. Her favorites include the Beach Bar at Ocean Edge (of course) and a bike ride on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, with a stop at the Beachcomber in Wellfleet, “the sweetest bar on earth to take your significant other!’’ she raves.
Pam Meriam of Centerville finds romance at the other end of the Cape, on a walk through the lush blooms at Heritage Gardens in Sandwich, followed by a ride on the charming carousel and drinks in the cafe. A number of folks mentioned active pursuits like kayaking, hiking, and biking as primo ways to bond with their sweetie. More surprising was the number of times “ice cream’’ came up. (More than “cocktails,’’ in fact.) The takeaway message: Whatever romance means to you, you can likely find it on the Cape. So settle in with a Cape Cod Blonde (as in ale) and start planning your romantic rendezvous.
We’re starting with this one because you’ll have to call this minute if you want a reservation — the Ocean House in Dennisport (www.oceanhouserestaurant.com) is that popular. And why wouldn’t it be? This is one of the few places on the Cape where you can indulge in tasty, inventive cuisine (not the usual fried seafood) in a tasteful dining room that overlooks Nantucket Sound. The small plate offerings really shine, like jerk octopus ($12), and PEI mussels steamed in a broth of madras curry, lager, cilantro, and Thai pork sausage ($14). No reservation? Nab a seat at the al fresco Beach Bar (Fri.-Sun.) and dig into the Cape Cod Potato Chip-crusted codfish ($26) with fennel-cabbage slaw and fries, enhanced by live music.
There’s no view at C Salt Wine Bar & Grille (www.csaltfalmouth.com) in Falmouth, unless it’s the Instagram-worthy, artfully arranged food on your plate, as executed by chef-owner Jonathan Philips. Opened in 2013, C Salt has become a go-to for Cape Cod foodies, thanks to dishes like Chicken Chow Fun ($26) and pork belly bites ($13), an addictive starter. And there’s this: The wine list has been deemed “brilliant’’ and the best on the Cape.
Paddling under a full moon — now that’s what we call a date night. No worries about transporting a boat to the Cape; join Mass Audubon’s Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary (www.massaudubon.org) for a full moon kayak tour and exploration of Sampson’s Island in Cotuit for what they call a “luxurious sensory experience.’’ (The next one is on July 27; $50 members; $55 nonmembers.) Prior kayaking experience is required for this, and you’ve got to be older than 12, so you won’t have a bunch of kiddies splashing around. They also offer (achingly romantic) sunset tours.
Nothing says “adult fun’’ like a vineyard visit. Family-owned South Hollow Spirits + Truro Vineyards (www.southhollowspirits.com; www.trurovineyardsofcapecod.com) in Truro has become a favorite spot to unwind (if only from a day at the beach) with a glass of wine or a summery cocktail featuring South Hollow’s Twenty Boat Rum or Dry Line Gin. The sprawling lawn is bedecked with Adirondack chairs, perfect for kicking back with a beverage and a lobster roll from the onsite food truck with fare from Truro’s Blackfish Restaurant. Local music and daily wine and spirits tastings add to the lively vibe.
Several Cape Cod wash-ashores mentioned this as their favorite romantic outing, so we had to check it out: A sunset excursion with Art’s Dune Tours in Provincetown (www.artsdunetours.com). Rob Costa runs several tours, but sunset in the dunes of Cape Cod National Seashore is something special. (You can also BYO blanket and a bottle of wine along on the two-hour trip.) Make it a real event, and add on a New England-style clambake picnic, with steamed lobster and all the fixings. (Or opt for BBQ chicken, sushi, or veggie sushi.) A picnic on the beach at the seashore at sunset = a memorable date night for sure. (Sunset tour, $49 per adult; clambake, $111.06 per adult.)
A long walk on the beach is a fine thing, but a hand-in-hand meander on a secluded trail at sunset is ultra romantic. One such spot: Cornelia Carey Sanctuary (a.k.a. the Knob), a bird sanctuary at Quissett Harbor in Falmouth (www.saltpondsanctuaries.org). From Route 28, head right on Quissett Harbor Road to a dead end, where you’ll see a turnstile and a large house. Go through the turnstile to enter the sanctuary. Trails wind through 13 acres of red cedar and oak trees, leading to a grassy promontory with stellar views of Buzzards Bay and the Elizabeth Islands.
When it comes to retro romance, the drive-in movie is right up there with sock hops and malt shops. And since these places are dwindling rapidly (there are about 300 left in the country), we’re happy to do our part to keep the Wellfleet Drive-In (www.wellfleetcinemas.com; adults, $12), in business. It shows first-run double features on a 100-foot screen; for sound, you use an old-fashioned speaker box or your car radio. Don’t blame us if you feel like singing songs from “Grease’’ or canoodling with someone named Kenickie (RIP, Jeff Conaway.)
And if you’ve left your pint-size hell-raisers home, it’s the perfect time to check out places like Sandwich Glass Museum (www.sandwichglassmuseum.org), currently featuring a solo exhibition by artist Christopher Belleau, and the wonderful galleries of Provincetown (www.ptownchamber.com). If you’re into olde things, there’s antiquing galore, at multidealer spots like the Antiques Center of Cape Cod on Route 6A in Dennis. If we had to pick just one shop to hit, it would be Yak Arts in Orleans (www.yakarts.com). No boring brown furniture here, just 3,000 square feet of cool, hand-picked items — masks, jewelry, sculpture, you-name-it — way better souvenirs than an “I heart Cape Cod’’ T-shirt.
For a real grown-up getaway, seek out adult-oriented digs. If golf and spa-ing are high on your list of pleasurable pastimes, take a look at The Mansion at Ocean Edge (www.oceanedge.com; rates from $250-$700) in Brewster. Mansion rooms at the resort are built in the wings of the 100-plus-year-old mansion — a former sea captain’s home and seminary — overlooking Cape Cod Bay. (Best Cupid-approved feature: a private beach with barefoot waiters. Runner-up: the beach bar with sunset views over the bay.) This 420-acre property draws sporty couples with amenities like paddle boarding, croquet, swimming pools, and tennis, along with a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course and a luscious full-service spa. (This is a popular two-fer, so golf-and-spa packages are available.) The Cape Cod Rail Trail crosses through the property. Plus, super-cute Brewster is right outside the door.
If the phrase “cozy inn’’ rings your romantic chimes, consider the Chatham Inn at 359 Main (www.359main.com; from $459.) TripAdvisor named this 18-room property “the most romantic hotel in Massachusetts.’’ It’s chic, not frou-frou, with white duvets, rugs by Serena & Lily, and Frette towels, bathrobes, and slippers. Lighthouse Beach is a stroll away, and a stay includes the Chef’s Grand Breakfast on the patio in summer. The menu features an enticing array, from crab cakes to avocado toast.
Finally, if popping the question is on your itinerary, here’s a suggestion, offered by an Osterville gent with romantic street cred (he got married on a mid-Cape beach): Scargo Tower in Dennis (www.dennishistsoc.org). Overlooking Scargo Lake and Cape Cod Bay, this 28-foot tower sits atop 160-foot Scargo Hill. On a clear day, you can see the entire Cape from this aerie. Just don’t drop the ring.