Originally inhabited by the Wampanoag people and settled by Pilgrims in 1644, Eastham is content to remain relatively undiscovered by 21st-century tourists. In fact, although almost 30,000 folks summer here, year-rounders (fewer than 5,500) seem perfectly happy that any semblance of major tourism development has passed them by. There isn’t even a Main Street or town center per se.
What Eastham does boast, as gateway to the Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS), is plenty of natural diversions. There are four things you should do, by all means =>
Stop in at Salt Pond Visitor Center, one of two CCNS headquarters, which dispenses a wealth of information and offers ranger-guided activities and outstanding nature programs.
Consider taking a boat trip onto Nauset Marsh, a fragile ecosystem that typifies much of the Cape.
Hop on a bike or walking trail; a marvelous network of paths traverse this part of the seashore, including the Fort Hill area.
And of course, head to the beach. The Cape’s renowned, uninterrupted stretches of sandy beach, backed by high dunes, begin in earnest in Eastham and extend all the way up to Provincetown.
One of them, Coast Guard Beach, is also where exalted naturalist Henry Beston spent about two years during the mid-1920s observing nature’s minute changes from a little cottage and recording his experiences in The Outermost House, published in 1928.
Eastham is best known as the site where the Mayflower’s Myles Standish and a Pilgrim scouting party met the Nauset Indians in 1620 at First Encounter Beach. The “encounter,” in which a few arrows were slung (without injury), served as sufficient warning to the Pilgrims: They left and didn’t return for 24 years. When the Pilgrim settlers, then firmly entrenched at Plymouth, went looking for room to expand, they returned to Eastham. Led by Thomas Prence, they purchased most of the land from Native Americans for an unknown quantity of hatchets. Although the history books cite these encounters as the beginning of Eastham’s recorded history, the Wampanoag people have been here some 6,000 years.
You can’t miss the Cape’s oldest working windmill — built in Plymouth in the 1680s as a smock mill; then moved to Truro in 1770; and landing here on Route 6 in Eastham in 1793. Its final move was in 1808. There are concerts and festivals aplenty at the Samoset Road park, including Windmill Weekend, held shortly after Labor Day. (Grist mills, windmills, and meeting houses were peregrinatious structures back in the day — moved with astonishing frequency, considering the lack of modern-day jacks and double-wide vehicles.) The windmill is open daily June through Aug.
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.
Stop into your local indie bookstore, or order it on Amazon. Help keep the guide alive. Thanks!