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Harbor LIFE: Wellfleet

Aerial of Wellfleet Harbor

Wellfleet Harbor. Photo by Josh Shortsleeve

A good place to start your exploration of the harbor area is across from the pier at the Frying Pan Gallery on Commercial Street. Owner Steve Swain rehabbed the last intact oyster shack in the harbor area and turned it into a showcase for local artists.

“I love taking care of the building. It’s really special,” says Gina Trott, who’s worked at the gallery for three summers. “I also like to tell people that I look out my ‘office’ window and have an amazing view.”

Items in the gallery include photographs on aluminum by Shareen Davis, coastal paintings by Janet Lesniak and Karen Cappotto, wood and linoleum prints of coastal scenes by Ann Doyle, and jewelry by Lucia Moon. Plus, there are plenty of examples of Swain’s steel sculptures—seahorses, stripers, humpback whales and mermaids (with and without guitars, the former a tribute to his wife, local musician Sarah Swain). If you prefer practical art, check out Swain’s great white shark bottle opener, horseshoe crab sconce and lobster candle holder.

Adjacent to the gallery is Pearl Restaurant, where your seating options include a second-floor deck overlooking the pier and harbor and a marshside deck. There’s a raw bar (of course), chowder and the Big Bowls, filled with New England shrimp and grits, spicy paella or shrimp and scallop scampi. For the adventurous, you can create your own entrée with your choice of fish (cod, swordfish, tuna or salmon) and accompanying sauce (lemon beurre blanc, sweet and spicy plum, lobster aioli, pineapple gastrique or lime cilantro dill cream).

In the other direction from the gallery is a more casual option, Mac’s on the Pier. Fried seafood is the main draw here: clams, oysters, cod, shrimp and scallops. For a change of pace, try a burrito stuffed with fried fish or grilled scallops. The menu also includes lobster rolls and crab cake sandwiches, and the entire feast can be enjoyed at a picnic table under the shade of a beach umbrella, gazing at the nearby boat traffic, as sailboats dodge the working fleet.

If you’d rather prepare your own meal, visit Mac’s Seafood Market at the back of the building for fish, lobster and shellfish to-go.

Wellfleet Harbor

A bird’s-eye view of the harbor clearly depicts the shallows that are so perfect for growing the area’s world-famous oysters. The white sand crescent of Mayo Beach and Great Island showcase the beautiful beaches and shoreline in proximity to the harbor. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/David Sokoler

The Wellfleet Shellfish Department and Beach Sticker Office (next to Mac’s on the Pier) is a good place to grab an informational brochure or ask a question. Native Americans and Pilgrims harvested oysters, quahogs and softshell clams in Wellfleet, but by 1890, the industry was in decline, due to over-harvesting.

Biologist Dr. David Belding recommended aquaculture seeding, helping to revive the industry. Today Wellfleet oysters are known around the world by discerning shellfish lovers, and the Wellfleet OysterFest fills the downtown blocks every October.

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