One weekend in Wellfleet—a Cape Cod photo essay
Online only: Expanded story, plus more photos of Wellfleet!
Like the menus in its many fine restaurants and the artistic creations on display in its galleries, the town of Wellfleet has so much to offer. From beaches, nature areas and bike trails, to the vast harbor and charming downtown, there’s a lot here to explore. This Outer Cape community has a fascinating history, with highlights including a 1620 visit by the Mayflower, countless shipwrecks and rescues along the coast and an island community that no longer exists. The town is also famous for two star attractions: the savory oysters harvested from its waters and The Wellfleet Drive-in Theatre, an iconic recreation spot on Route 6. For two days in September, photographer Charles Sternaimolo and I explored the town, chatting with residents and tourists, artists and fishermen, and everyone in between. We hope you enjoy this photo essay on the town of Wellfleet.
The first sight that caught our eye in town was the cacophony of color that is Seaberry Surf. The Route 6 shop sells fun gear for the beach, from inflatable rafts and fishing nets to boogie boards and blankets. Many of the products are on display in front of the store—and on the roof. The shop also sells a large collection of wooden whirligigs, which were buzzing in the breeze; there’s a chicken pecking at corn, a whale’s spout going up and down and, best of all, Uncle Sam milking a cow named “Taxpayer.” The staff spends three hours each morning setting everything up—but the results pay off. “You wouldn’t believe the amount of people that stop and take pictures,” says Jim Baptist, who manages the store with his wife, Lori.
Baptist was very complimentary about his community. “Wellfleet is a great town,” he says, “and it hasn’t changed much in 30 years. A lot of tourists say they keep coming back because it’s not built up . . . It brings back a lot of memories from their childhood.” Baptist praised President Kennedy and others who were involved in establishing the Cape Cod National Seashore, and wondered what the Outer Cape would look like otherwise.
At Marconi Beach, we met Rick and Lisa Lamothe, who were walking their dogs, Lucy and Zoey. Rick says his family has been visiting the Atlantic-facing beach since he was a kid—and the couple traveled all the way from Northboro just to spend a few hours there. “It’s great that we have the [Cape Cod National] Seashore because so much of the Cape is getting built up,” Rick says, adding that he enjoys Marconi’s dunes and the area’s nice, easy trails. “You can just cruise along.” Named for Guglielmo Marconi, who in January of 1903 sent the first radio telegraph across the Atlantic, from Wellfleet to London—Marconi Beach is certainly a place to write home about. It’s a hotspot for surfing and beach walking—and pure relaxation. We noticed one group of visitors lounging on the beach in the lee of a massive piece of driftwood.
One of Wellfleet’s hidden treats is the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail. Located near the site of the former Marconi station (and north of Marconi Beach), the trail loops for about one mile through woodlands and swamp, where cedars grow in peaceful seclusion. The boardwalk through the swamp is sturdy and well maintained. In the morning, the sun’s rays streaming through the tree canopy create a nice setting for a nature stroll.
In South Wellfleet, Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary offers several miles of trails to explore. Stop in the nature center to browse exhibits on local wildlife and pick up a bird-sighting checklist that lists 200 species that frequent the area, from the Eastern Bluebird to the Prairie Warbler. On the trails, which overlook marsh, meadow and bay, we met Attila and Joan Kariko of Worcester, their daughter-in-law Nicole, and granddaughters Hadley and Sadie. “It’s beautiful,” Hadley says of the sanctuary. “There’s a lot of nature, grasses . . . lots of places to explore.” For Sadie, seeing the fish in the nature center aquarium was cool, particularly the lumpfish.
Depending on your perspective, The Cape Cod Rail trail begins or ends in Wellfleet. On a warm summer morning the trail was packed with walkers, cyclists and a few on rollerblades. Following the route of the former Old Colony Railroad, the trail stretches all the way to Dennis, a distance of 24-1/2 scenic miles. At its northern terminus, the trail ends in a perfect spot if you’re hungry—it’s just a short walk to PB Boulangerie & Bistro on Lecount Hollow Road.
Inside the cafe, we enjoyed the enchanting aroma of bread baking, and met general manager William Maitrepienne. “Wellfleet is a lovely town,” he says. “It reminds me of the small village where I grew up in France.” A native of Fleurieu in Lyon, Maitrepienne describes PB’s as a place where locals and visitors come for coffee and a chat. The bistro bakes baguettes, batards and many other types of bread as well as sweet treats like almond croissants. Ninety percent of the menu is prepared with locally sourced ingredients, but the butter, that’s imported from France. So are the chefs. “To make bread,” Maitrepienne says, “it’s a real science. It’s not just mixing water and flour together.”
To the west of Route 6, Wellfleet’s downtown is an attractive center that is great for walking, shopping and dining. Stop in Abiyoyo for a Wellfleet t-shirt, Emack & Bolio’s for ice cream and Wellfleet Marketplace for coffee, groceries and a large selection of books about the town. Built in a former church, Preservation Hall is a bustling community center that hosts film screenings and other cultural events, while a plaque in front of town hall commemorates the Mayflower’s visit in 1620.
The downtown is also blessed with several great art galleries. At 25 Commercial Street, Left Bank Gallery is an attractive space that’s loaded with creations displayed in several viewing rooms and nooks. The work of artists Steven Kennedy and Ed Chesnovitch stood out, as did a cast-bronze cycling sculpture by Peter Dransfield. Outside, colorful bird sculptures kept watch over Duck Creek.
In Glenn’s Gallery at 220 Main Street, we met artist Maria-Eugenia Lopata, who was hard at work at the easel. Originally from Brazil, Lopata enjoys painting seascapes and other coastal scenes, and common subjects include Wellfleet’s Great Island, Long Pond and Newcomb Hollow Beach. “I like the nature here, the light,” she says. One day, while painting at Duck Harbor, Lopata was so immersed in her work that only after some time did she realize she was a foot deep in water. The tide had come in.
Speaking of Newcomb Hollow . . . a few blocks away, we met Judith Newcomb Stiles, who owns Newcomb Hollow Shop at 275 Main Street. The shop sells the work of many artisans, including clothing, jewelry, lamps and men’s hats. “We bring things to Cape Cod that you can’t get here,” says Stiles. “I love meeting people—the people who visit and the people who live here.” Prior to opening on the Outer Cape, Stiles had a shop in Greenwich Village, New York for 25 years. She does a lot of business online, but alas, she doesn’t get to meet those customers in person; to make a connection, she sometimes emails her online customers just to see if they liked what they got.
A short walk from downtown, Uncle Tim’s Bridge is a great spot for photo ops. The bridge spans Duck Creek and is named for Timothy Daniels, who in the 19th century had a shop just across the bridge on Hamblen Island. During our visit, the sky was a striking baby blue, and cyclists traveled back and forth over the bridge while kayakers passed beneath it below.
While in town, folks we met recommended several restaurants including The Beachcomber, Mac’s, PJ’s Family Restaurant, The Wicked Oyster and Winslow’s Tavern. For lunch, we went to Winslow’s. The restaurant has an outdoor patio that affords charming views of Main Street, and diners can enjoy dishes like lobster salad with sweet corn relish, shishito peppers and other tantalizing ingredients. Summer in a Glass, a popular Winslow’s cocktail, consists of house-made basil lemonade, vodka, triple sec and soda. “As far as I’m concerned, Wellfleet is the best town on the Cape,” says chef Phillip Hunt, who owns the tavern with his wife, Tracey Barry-Hunt. “It’s a special place. It draws a very special crowd. People who get it, get it, and people who don’t, don’t.” Over the years, Hunt says he’s met many tourists in town who’ve arrived from France, Germany, Japan and other far flung locations.
After lunch, we visited Salt, a women’s clothing store at 55 Commercial Street. Owner Siobhan Doane says her inventory includes some items that are perfect for vacation wear, some for life back in the city. She partners with Apolis of Los Angeles to create a specialty item for the shop: a stylish burlap bag made with leather handles. It’s called the Wellfleet Bag. What does she like about Wellfleet? “It has a small town feel,” she says. “You really get to know your clients. I like the combination of tourists and locals.” Doane’s father, Terry Galvin, was on hand during our visit. He helped Siobhan build the store, and he gave us his take on Wellfleet. “It’s a pearl,” Galvin says. “It’s a great little town. It’s actually getting better I think . . . New energy, new ideas.”
Energized, we stopped by Sickday Surf Shop, where we found a healthy selection of surfboards, skateboards, sunglasses and sandals. “I think the coolest thing about our store,” manager Chris Loretz says, “is how we interact with people. We just love on people. We’re open to all the surf, all the skate [communities]. It’s a pretty chill atmosphere.” Sickday offers surfing lessons and rentals, too.
While in town, one attraction that had me mesmerized was The Wellfleet Drive-in Theatre’s retro double feature of Back to the Future and Jaws. On Sunday evening, we arrived just as the cars began pulling in. “We’re the last drive-in on Cape Cod,” says co-owner John Vincent, Jr., who recalled other Cape drive-ins, including one in Hyannis, that have gone the way of silent movies and VHS. The Wellfleet Drive-in has space for 700 vehicles, and customers pay by the person—not the carload. To advertise, the staff posts old-fashioned movie bills around town, and the show goes on rain or shine—even if it’s pouring. Some moviegoers arrive in trucks with flatbeds, and they back into their spot so they can watch the film, with pillows and blankets, from the back of the truck. The venue is busy on weekend days as well as it’s also home to the Wellfleet Outdoor Flea Market. “I love Wellfleet,” Vincent says. “There’s no better place. People here are down to Earth.” The Wellfleet Drive-in Theatre celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2017.
Gary Flomenhoft runs Outer Cape Sailing, a charter boat business in Wellfleet Harbor. Originally from Lexington, Flomenhoft came to the Cape to be a lifeguard in 1976, and today, he lives here in the summer. He says he loves the outdoors, taking in the wind and sun, and “meeting the really nice people that come here.” Flomenhoft brought us on a tour of the harbor, pointing out notable spots here and there. To the west, Great Island serves as the harbor’s barrier beach, and three centuries ago it was home to a tavern patronized by local whalers (Learn more about Smith’s Tavern in the July 2017 issue of Cape Cod LIFE). South of Great Island, Billingsgate Island was home to a small 19th-century fishing community with 30 homes before eventually being swallowed up by the surf. Today, Billingsgate—“Cape Cod’s Atlantis”—only exists as a sandbar at low tide.
Visiting Mayo Beach in the afternoon, we noticed several trucks parked on the sand. It was low tide, or just after, and fishermen were bringing in the day’s catch. Irving Puffer, well seasoned in the trade, works with his son, Jake, and a crew harvesting quahogs and oysters. It’s laborious, backbreaking work that all involved seem to really enjoy. “After 40 years, I love it,” Puffer says, “and it’s still the ‘first day on the job.’ I’ve never ‘worked’ a day in my life.” What’s all the fuss about Wellfleet oysters anyway? “Did you ever French kiss a mermaid?” Puffer asks. “That’s what Wellfleet oysters taste like.”
An hour later, we had our first taste of Wellfleet oysters at Bookstore & Restaurant, which overlooks Mayo Beach. The oysters arrive fresh each day, and in summer the restaurant may serve up to 800 per night. The oysters were delicious, and we enjoyed them while the sun set over the harbor. After dinner, we met John Fitzgerald, a Wellfleet resident who was casting for baby bluefish at the town pier. He went to high school in Western Mass., and the day after graduation he hit the road for Cape Cod—and has never left. “This is where I chose to live,” Fitzgerald says, “and I love it.”