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Harbor LIFE: Woods Hole

Adventure awaits in this sublime village

This is the fourth installment of a new series exploring the vibrant harbors across Cape Cod and the Islands

In Woods Hole, you’ll find a unique mix of art, food, scenery and science that’s unlike any other harbor on the Cape & Islands, or perhaps anywhere.

The science component is the thing that sets the place apart. Woods Hole is home to the headquarters of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) and the Woods Hole Research Center, as well as a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) outpost and a Buzzards Bay Coalition visitors center. But you don’t have to have a Ph.D. to enjoy Woods Hole.

Another striking thing about Woods Hole is that no matter how you get there, the approach is beautiful. Driving on Woods Hole Road, you’re shaded by the woods lining the way until you get an open look at Little Harbor on the left. Treehouse Lodge, a new family-friendly hotel, greets you as you approach the village, and your arrival  is marked by the first glimpse of the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank set into the historic triangular building at the top of Railroad Avenue. Coming by ferry, you see Nobska Lighthouse and the aptly named Airplane House on Juniper Point. Pedaling on the Shining Sea Bikeway (a 10.7-mile trip from the northern end or 3.6 miles from the Depot Avenue parking lot), you have a breathtaking view of Vineyard Sound.

Most of the action in Woods Hole centers on Great Harbor and Eel Pond. Step off the ferry or shuttle bus and in a few strides away you have a range of food options within the space of two village blocks.

On the corner of Luscombe and Railroad Avenue sits Quicks Hole Tavern, where you can enjoy cocktails whose names are inspired by local landmarks like Penzance Punch and the Monahansett Mojito, and snack on Pig Candy—crisp pork belly braised in maple syrup and house spices. The upper level of the bar gives a view of the bustling action at the ferry docks.

Next door, Jimmy’s Sandwich and Ice Cream Shop promises “food on the run for your day in the sun.” If your taste for ice cream is on the decadent side, try a cone filled with Bourbon Caramel Pistachio Brittle or Coconut Cheesecake Brownie.

Water Street, at the other end of Luscombe, constitutes the main street through the village. A right turn passes the Woods Hole Inn, where some of the second-floor rooms have private decks, with Adirondack chairs overlooking the harbor. Next up the street, a terraced flower garden on either side of the steps marks the entrance to Under the Sun, a gallery with glasswork, pottery, paintings, clothing and jewelry. Colleen Corson, who works at the shop, makes colorful sculptures from painted palm pods and leaves. “Anyone that’s local and good, we have them here,” she says. Store owner Joyce Stratton makes clocks whose faces depict nautical charts, including the Cape Cod Canal, Woods Hole and other Cape and Islands harbors. “She makes them upstairs,” says Corson. “You can’t get more local than that.”

The tempting aromas from Pie in the Sky Bakery & Café, up the street a bit farther, cut right through the salty smell of nearby ocean water. Apple, blueberry, key lime, pumpkin and chocolate mousse pies make for a difficult snacking decision, or you can go for quiche, cannoli, cookies, roll-ups and sandwiches.

Woods Hole

Cross the street and you’ll pass the headquarters for WCAI, home of the Cape and Islands NPR stations (90.1, 91.1 and 94.3 FM), on your way to the Woods Hole Historical Museum. A new exhibit this year tells the overall story of Woods Hole, with details on whaling, scientific research and the guano industry—the Pacific Guano Company’s factory, built on Penzance Point in 1863, shipped in bird droppings for the production of fertilizer. In another gallery, a continuing exhibit tells the history of shellfishing on Cape Cod. The adjacent Small Boat Museum displays a range of small boats, boat models and maritime artifacts.

Back toward the village on Water Street, and a right turn on School Street, you’ll spot the WHOI Exhibit Center and Gift Shop by the swordfish weathervane atop the former Methodist church. The center has exhibits about the Alvin, a submersible HOV (human-occupied vehicle) that has been used for scientific research for over 50 years and assisted in the exploration of the wreck of the Titanic in 1986. Center employee Hannah Voorhis says, “Kids are really excited about the shark-cam display because it was on Shark Week on the Discovery Channel.” Families also love the Lego table, where a sign invites you to “Be a WHOI engineer” and design your own underwater research vehicle.

Turn right and walk over the draw bridge, the subject of a recent short documentary called “Keeper,” which was shown at this year’s Provincetown International Film Festival. A few steps later you’ll see red, white and blue lines crossing the road, marking the starting line for the world-famous Falmouth Road Race. Every August a field of Olympic-caliber runners shares the roads with recreational runners for a hot but scenic 7.1-mile race to Falmouth Heights. The race was started by longtime barkeeper Tommy Leonard of the Captain Kidd, just steps away, that is a longtime favorite restaurant of the locals. Lift a glass in his honor as you enjoy a view of Eel Pond. Also overlooking Eel Pond, and located at the starting line, is 41-70, a cozy and intimate restaurant serving classic dishes. Venture down a cobblestone alleyway to discover Shuckers World Famous Raw Bar and Cafe, where cocktails and the freshest seafood you can imagine are all served al fresco.

Woods Hole Handworks, next door, is a cooperative gallery formed over 30 years ago and operated by 18 local artists. Prices range from under $20 to over $1,000 for pottery, paintings, fabric art and glasswork. Woodworker Brian Weir says some customers arrive by boat, tie up at the adjacent dock and poke around at the gallery before grabbing a bite nearby.

The Pierce Exhibit Center, a bit farther up Water Street, uses live animals and underwater video footage to tell the story of the MBL. The adjacent MBL Gift Shop is a great place for souvenirs.

Waterfront Park, opposite the Lille Laboratory, includes several pieces of artwork, including the Yalden Sundial and a life-size sculpture of scientist and writer Rachel Carson, sitting on a bench with pen and notebook in hand. From the park, you can see Martha’s Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands, as well as the houseboats that are used as weekend getaways or even seasonal residences.

Continue on Water Street and turn right to reach the Woods Hole Science Aquarium on Albatross Street. Tanks hold hundreds of species of ocean animals from North Carolina to Maine. Along with bass and lobsters, you can see the oyster toadfish, bandtail puffer and lump fish. Upstairs you can talk to staff members as they set up new tanks, prepare food and provide medical care. A touch tank lets you put your fingers on a Forbes sea star or an Atlantic purple sea urchin.

Returning down Water Street, grab a fruit smoothie at the Woods Hole Market and enjoy it on their rooftop deck—a great place to perch and take it all in. Water Street Kitchen’s open and airy dining room serves up a farm- and sea-to-table menu for dinner nightly with a waterfront view. Then collect just a bit more knowledge with a visit to the Buzzards Bay Coalition’s Woods Hole Outreach Center on Luscombe Avenue. A spider crab dominates the 100-gallon touch tank, which also holds sea urchins, hermit crabs and shellfish. Large exhibit signs explain threats to our fragile coastal waters. Daily events include touch tank feedings and a Creature Feature. “We’re dying to get people out and exploring,” says Rebecca Vasa, the coalition’s outdoor exploration manager.

On your way back to the ferry docks, the Landfall Restaurant, halfway down Luscombe Avenue, a dozen or so tables are just a french-door away from a dock on Great Harbor’s edge. The menu is packed with local cuisine, and the décor is classic, with wooden buoys hanging from the ceiling and beams.

Visitors to Woods Hole travel by ferry, bike and car, and many headed to Martha’s Vineyard arrive on a shuttle bus from the Steamship Authority parking lot on Palmer Avenue in Falmouth. When asking the shuttle driver if he’s had a good day, he answers matter-of-factly, “I can’t remember a bad day here.” Agreed.

Hours for many Woods Hole attractions change with the seasons, so be sure to check by web or phone before visiting.

Freelance writer Bill O’Neill is a Cape Cod native who lives in Yarmouth Port.

Around Woods Hole


Landfall Restaurant

A spectacular oceanfront restaurant, open April through December, featuring fresh local cuisine, including lobsters, swordfish, clams, scallops, and seasonal fin fish. Constructed of wood from ship wrecks and boards from old buildings and docks. Celebrating their 73rd year, Landfall’s dining room is authentic Cape Cod. Enjoy their ocean views and sunsets.

9 Luscombe Ave. • 508-548-1758


Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank

Community banking is important to maintain a sustainable economy, and Martha’s Vineyard Bank is known for their award-winning customer service and quality. The Bank has nine easy-to-find branch locations, in Woods Hole, Falmouth, Martha’s Vineyard, as well as online and mobile. They offer solutions in banking, lending and advising that simplify financial complexity. Contact them today to get started.


Pie in the Sky Bakery

You really can have your cake and eat it too, or pie, coffee and so much more. Coffee, espresso and cocoa drinks are made from freshly ground, 100% organic beans. Bread, cookies, croissants and pies are all baked from scratch. Hearty sandwiches are made to order, and you can also enjoy homemade soups and salads. Pie in the Sky Bakery and Internet Cafe is open 7 days a week, 364 days a year, from at least 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.

10 Water Street • 508-540-5475


Shuckers World Famous Raw Bar & Cafe

Shuckers World Famous Raw Bar & Cafe is a casual waterfront eatery and a quintessential Cape Cod experience. Order from an extensive menu of fresh local seafood, beef, chicken and salads. Raw bar features fresh native oysters, littlenecks, cherrystones and shrimp. Affordably priced dinner specials and kids plates are always available. Open 7 days a week May through October.

91A Water Street • 508-540-3850


The 41-70

Reminiscent of being on a boat (next to the drawbridge), you will enjoy spectacular waterside views. The menu includes Cape Cod favorites such as lobster rolls, fish & chips and whole belly fried clams, and there is also a variety of seafood starters, salads and lunch options. Find out what it means to be at The 41-70. 

71 Water Street• 508-457-3100 


Woods Hole Market & Provisions

Woods Hole Market & Provisions is a great place to see old friends, meet the new ones, and enjoy the view while waterside eating on the upper or lower decks for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The market is a complete shopping experience. Featuring Dietz & Watson meats and specializing in Hog Island Gourmet Pizza. Open year-round, 7 days a week, and also offering delivery services to landlubbers and mariners.

87 Water Street • 508-540-4792


Water Street Kitchen

There is a lot to love at Water Street Kitchen. The list of satisfied patrons is endless, and the results are unanimous: dining at this restaurant is a culinary experience in perfection. Creative dishes are inspired by locally sourced farm-and-sea-to-table ingredients. Expect a diverse menu, attention to details by the friendly and knowledgeable staff, and great waterfront views and ocean breezes. Reservations are encouraged, and walk-ins are always welcome. Open at 5 p.m. daily.

56 Water Street • 508-540-5656

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