Many could argue, with some success, that Orleans’ biggest draw is Nauset Beach, an Atlantic Ocean barrier beach more than 9 miles long. It can accommodate hundreds of sun seekers and sandcastle builders in summer. But in the off-season you’ll be practically alone, walking in quiet reflection, observing shorebirds and natural rhythms. It’s a beautifully haunting place during a storm — so long as it’s not a huge storm.
The real charm of Orleans, which has few historical sights, lies not in the sand but in the waters that surround the town. A large number of finger-like inlets creep into the eastern shoreline from aptly named Pleasant Bay, dotted with tiny islands. Most of these quiet inlets are accessible via back roads and town landings.
Excursion boats explore the rich habitat of Nauset Marsh to the north, while bayside, Rock Harbor is home to the Cape’s most active charter fishing fleet.
Because Routes 6, 6A, and 28 converge in Orleans, traffic is heavy in summer; getting anywhere takes time. But Orleans straddles the two distinct worlds of the Outer Cape and the Lower Cape. On the one hand, Orleans serves as a year-round commercial and retail center for the area. It offers plenty of activities and a variety of dining and lodging options. On the other hand, Orleans has its share of exclusive residential areas and plenty of quiet, waterside spots.
In the summer, Orleans balloons to a population of about 22,000 from its year-round count of 6,500.
Orleans is the only Cape town without a Native American or English name. Incorporated in 1797 after separating from Eastham, Orleans was named for Louis Philippe de Bourbon, duke of Orléans (and later king of France), who sojourned here in 1797 during his exile.
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!