Although Chatham is less accessible from Route 6 than are its neighbors, even the most hurried Cape visitors stop here. Occupying the tip of Cape Cod’s elbow, the town offers a good mix of archetypal Cape Cod architecture, a classic Main Street, a refined sensibility, plenty of excellent beaches and shops, and a rich seafaring history.
Today Chatham is known for its calm, genteel, independent spirit. The town’s vigilant zoning commission has kept tourist trap activity to a minimum. Bordered on three sides by water, the town is populated by descendants of its oceangoing founders, many of whom continue in their ancestors’ footsteps. Despite the difficulty in navigating the surrounding waters, Chatham sustains an active fleet of fishermen and leisure-time sailors. Fishermen, sailors, shop owners, and an increasing number of retirees live quietly in this delightfully traditional village.
Chatham, along with the spectacularly desolate Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, boasts 65 miles of shoreline. As such, Chatham’s beaches are varied: Some are hit by pounding surf, sandbars shelter others; some are good for shell collecting, others are wide and sandy. A walk along the shore reveals gentle inlets and beautiful seafront homes.
When a particularly strong nor’easter pummeled the Cape and other parts of the Northeast in February 2013, Chatham’s shorefront was hard-hit. An aerial video shows the new Southway break in the barrier beach.
An inland drive or bicycle ride takes you past elegant shingled cottages and stately white houses surrounded by picket fences and boasting primroses and tidy lawns.
In the center of Chatham, Main Street is chock-full of upscale shops, offering everything from tony antiques and nautically inspired gifts to jewelry, clothing, and culinary supplies. This central part of town has excellent restaurants and inns, and some of the Cape’s finest bow-shaped roof houses (so named because they’re shaped like the bow of a ship turned upside down).
North Chatham, primarily residential, is dotted with several picturesque inlets. West and South Chatham border the beaches; you’ll find lots of rental houses, summer cottages, and piney woods here. Chatham’s year-round population of 6,700 balloons to about 25,000 in the summer.
Beach House Grill
Captain’s House Inn of Chatham
Chatham Band Concerts
Chatham Bars Inn
Chatham Tides Waterfront Lodging
Chatham’s Main Street
Lighthouse, North and South beaches
Marion’s Pie Shop
Where the Sidewalk Ends
If you’ve fallen in love with the Cape and want to take a deeper dive with exploring, my Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket: An Explorer’s Guide has been the region’s travel bible since it was first published in 1995.
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