Hyannis Harbor and surrounding areas

Hyannis Harbor and surrounding areas. Photo by George Vosgerichian

Hyannis Harbor – By Bill O’Neill

Bismore Park is the gateway to Hyannis, and Carol LaDuke is the gateway greeter.

You can find her at the Bismore Park Welcome Center on Ocean Street, and there’s not much about Hyannis Harbor that you’d want to know that she can’t tell you. For example, LaDuke, who loves detective movies, did some research to find out why the greenspace at the harbor is named Bismore Park. “All we had was a drawing of him in the harbormaster’s office,” she says. LaDuke managed to track down several relatives of Ralph Bismore, including his 96-year-old sister. Bismore came from a large family in Hyannis. He left his job as an assistant at a Main Street pharmacy to serve in the Air Force during World War II. A gunner in a fighter plane, he saw action during D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge before dying in a crash. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Hyannis Harbor is “the gem of Barnstable,” according to LaDuke. “You have the fishermen who work here, the local people who wander by, and the visitors who come from all over the world. There’s a diverse mix of people in one little area. To me, that’s a wonderful thing.”

On a sunny day, the cornhole boards in front of the welcome center get steady use. Town agencies run free programs at Bismore Park, including Natural Resource Department talks on Cape Cod wildlife and hula-hoop classes put on by the Recreation Department.

The docks for Hy-Line Cruises are just south of the welcome center, and ferry passengers add to the pedestrian flow around the harbor. If passengers stroll past the visitor center, they will encounter a collection of small sheds, the HyArts Artists Shanties. The shanties are home to dozens of local artists over the course of the warmer months (they’re open 11 a.m.-evening, Friday-Sunday, from May 3 to June 9 and then daily through Columbus Day). Some artists spend a week per summer in a shack, and others are there multiple times. One of the regulars is Jeanmarie O’Clair of Bass River Pottery, who has a year-round studio nearby on South Street, in the HyArts campus, next to the Guyer Barn.

Being in a shanty is a nice break from the solitude of studio work, she says. “I get to connect with artists who are old friends, I get to meet new artists and make new connections, and I get to talk to tourists all day,” she says. “A lot of times when people purchase artwork, they’re also purchasing a piece of Cape Cod, a memory. I’ve talked to them and explained my life to them, and they’ve made a connection. I can say that my work is all over the world.”

Just past the shanties is one of the anchors of Hyannis Harbor, Spanky’s Clam Shack, owned and operated by Billy Moore and Jeff Spilman since 2002. “When we started, it was a learning process, and we struggled to do 200 lunches and 300 dinners,” says Moore. “Now in the summer, we do 500 lunches and 700 or 800 dinners.” Popular menu items include stuffed quahogs and lobster bisque. “Cape Cod has some of the best seafood in the world, right off our shore,” says Moore.

You might see a movie star or famous athlete at Spanky’s, but the main draw is the water view and the casual vibe. “Our main goal is keeping it family friendly for the local people and the tourists,” says Moore.

Other restaurants on the harbor’s west side include the Black Cat, the Bluewater Grille and the Raw Bar on Ocean Street. Continuing north toward South Street, you reach Aselton Park, named in memory of a Barnstable police officer. The corner park is the site of many public events, including the LoveLocal Fest. Mark your calendar for the 2019 festivals (July 28 and September 29), which feature local artisans, vendors and musicians.

Turn right on South Street and pop into the Cape Cod Maritime Museum at 135 South Street. Take a deep dive into Cape Cod’s nautical history by checking out the displays of artifacts, models and fine art.

Continuing clockwise around the harbor, you can stop in at Baxter’s Boathouse, tucked down non-descript Pleasant Street, a casual bar and restaurant perched above the water’s edge. Pair your fish and chips with a harbor-themed drink: the Binnacle Bloody, the Anchor Hitch or the Harbor Sunset.

Nearby is the Hyannis terminal for the Steamship Authority, and if you continue winding your way around the harbor into West Yarmouth, you’ll find a few more popular harborside hangouts (both at 21 Arlington Street): Trader Ed’s, where you can sip on frozen drinks by the pool, and Tugboats, a restaurant with deck seating overlooking the harbor.

Of course, there’s plenty of maritime activity along the harbor. Commercial fishermen come and go, and charter fishing boats also call the harbor home. For a family adventure, try Pirate Adventures for a treasure-hunting voyage, or a Hy-Line harbor cruise for a view of the Kennedy Compound from the water.

There’s plenty worth exploring just a little bit away from the harbor. If you venture south on Ocean Street, you’ll arrive at the John F. Kennedy Memorial and the adjacent Korean War Memorial. Nearby Veterans Beach has picnic tables for family gatherings. At the end of Ocean Street is Kalmus Beach, a popular spot for windsurfers and a great spot to watch ferries and other boats coming to and going from Hyannis Harbor.