It should come as no surprise that the birthplace of Katharine Lee Bates is a cultural hub on Cape Cod. Long after the famed poet and writer penned the words to “America the Beautiful” in 1893, Falmouth remains firmly entrenched in the arts with opportunities for visitors to experience countless opportunities to embrace the creative during their getaways to the Cape.
Anyone vacationing in this part of the Cape will find several homages to Bates, including a striking statue of her on the Falmouth Library lawn overlooking the town’s charming Main Street.
The must-see Shining Sea Bikeway also serves as a nod to Bates and her most famous work (“from sea to shining sea”). The 10.7-mile stretch runs from North Falmouth to Woods Hole, passing through cranberry bogs, the breathtaking Sippewissett Marsh, peaceful forests, and scenic views of Vineyard Sound and nearby Martha’s Vineyard.
While nature provides plenty of inspiration for your Falmouth getaway – make sure to visit The Knob, a favorite nature walk among locals that is owned and managed by the nonprofit Salt Pond Sanctuaries – there is an abundance of artistic offerings that do just the same.
Look no further than Main Street which is home to several art galleries as well as Liam Maguire’s Irish Pub, the go-to spot for anyone looking to combine fun with live music. Both the Pier 37 Boathouse, with prime views of Falmouth Harbor, and Grumpy’s Pub, a tried-and-true classic dive bar where there has been known to be Eugene Mirman (“Bob’s Burgers”) sightings, also cater to live music.
Local fans of the comedian saw him screen his touching documentary “It Started As A Joke,” which chronicled his eponymous Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival in New York City, at the Woods Hole Film Festival in 2019 prior to the pandemic.
Film Festival Spotlights Beauty of Woods Hole
Started in 1991 by founder and Executive Producer Judy Laster, the festival has morphed into a one-hour screening of five short films to a weeklong celebration of movies that includes master classes with filmmakers, panel discussions with experts in the industry, and showcases of independent fare that can’t be seen anywhere else.
In recent years, the festival, held annually from the last Saturday in July to the first Saturday in August, has attracted a slew of Hollywood notables that have included screenwriter Jim Uhls (“Fight Club”), actors Michelle Monaghan (“Gone Baby Gone”, “Patriots Day”) and Joe Pantoliano (“Sopranos”, “Memento”), and documentarians Joshua Seftel (“Taking on the Kennedys”, “War, Inc.”) and Barbara Kopple (“American Dream”, “Harlan County U.S.A.”).
The event has become so popular that the festival offers film screenings throughout the year beyond its eight-day run each summer. Pre-pandemic, their popular dinner and a movie series allowed the public to enjoy a meal in Woods Hole before or after a screening of film festival favorites.
The quaint seafaring village of Woods Hole should be on everyone’s to-do list when visiting the Cape. The East Coast epicenter of science, Woods Hole is home to several prominent organizations including the Marine Biological Laboratory, the USGS Coastal and Marine Science Center, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution which has been responsible for innumerable discoveries – its 1986 unearthing of the RMS Titanic utilizing the manned submersible Alvin is among the most famous.
Embracing Science in Falmouth
If you’re drawn to science, the Woods Hole Science Aquarium – it’s the country’s oldest public aquarium – is perfect for the entire family, giving a firsthand look at marine animals found in Northeast and Mid-Atlantic waters. A touch tank allows little ones to safely handle a variety of creatures, from small fish to crabs to sea stars.
Describing itself as “a mighty little theater company inspiring audiences through the magic of the arts,” the nearby Woods Hole Theater Company embodies the best of local arts and culture. Along with theatrical productions, it hosts the popular Tales & Anecdotes where you can hear locals of all backgrounds share real-life stories that entertain, move, and tug at heartstrings.
Learn more about the village at the Woods Hole Historical Museum, adjacent to the Woods Hole Public Library. Open seasonally from June to mid-October, the museum offers insight into the impact this corner of the Cape has had, not only on the region, but the nation and the world. They also hold weekly walking tours of Woods Hole where you can gain firsthand knowledge of the history and culture of the area.
No visit to Falmouth is complete without stopping at Historic Highfield. It’s a stunning estate, the centerpiece of which is a beautifully-restored Queen Anne-style mansion that sits perfectly on a 6-acre property that features sweeping lawns and a delightfully playful sunken garden the entire family will love.
“It is a magical place that can stimulate minds and nurture the spirit,” says Highfield Hall Co-Executive Director Lisa Walker. “Whether you are 2 or 92, there is something for everyone at Highfield. The expansive six acres of grounds include historic gardens and ADA accessible walking trails. We abut Beebe Woods with nearly 400 additional acres of nature trails. The grounds are free and open to the public; we encourage visitors to picnic on the lawn. And kids are welcome to participate in our scavenger hunt and win a prize.”
Saving a Piece of Falmouth History
Highfield Hall, which was originally built in 1878 by the Beebe family, has a long and fascinating history. In 1994, it was nearly demolished before the community banded together to restore this historic gem which is open to the public for tours and plays host to a number of private and public events throughout the year, including concerts, lectures, cooking classes, art exhibits as well as weddings, private parties, and corporate outings.
Next door to Highfield Hall is Highfield Theatre which is home to the College Light Opera Company (CLOC) during the summer. For over 50 years, CLOC has brought college-age students from throughout the country to Falmouth to entertain audiences, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The remainder of the year, the Falmouth Theatre Guild brings live performances to the stage.
While there is no wrong time to visit Highfield Hall, it gets all decked out in December. This is when Falmouth truly shines, embracing the holidays with its annual Christmas Parade (Santa arrives by boat, of course), caroling at Nobska Light, and the lighting of the Falmouth Village Green which adds to the magic of the season in this Upper Cape town.
A few hundred feet from the Village Green is the ever-popular Falmouth Museums on the Green. Voted the Best Museum on the Cape in 2018, 2019, and 2020, its 2-acre campus gives visitors an opportunity to learn, explore, and experience how Falmouth grew and prospered in the 18th century to the present day. “One can stroll in the gardens, tour the historic houses, appreciate the exhibits and step back in time for an enjoyable getaway from the everyday life on Cape Cod,” Executive Director Mark Schmidt says. “We have great programs which focus on edu-tainment. People can learn while also feeling that they are having an entertaining use of their time.”
Embrace Your Inner Artist in Falmouth
Vacationers seeking to immerse themselves in the arts are in luck, thanks to the Falmouth Art Center. Housed in a modern, bright, inspiring building that was completed in 2009, the center offers a place for those of all ages, levels, and abilities to create and improve their artistic skills.
From watercolor workshops to iPhone photography classes to book club discussions to pottery classes, there are plenty of opportunities to learn, grow, and hone your talents under the friendly and nurturing eyes of the art center’s welcoming staff.
And then there are the special events that serve as the icing on Falmouth’s artistic cake. During the summer, there’s the quintessential New England experience of packing a picnic and watching the Falmouth Town Band play their weekly concerts overlooking Falmouth Harbor.
On Route 151, the Cape Cod Fairgrounds hosts a number of events throughout the year, including live concerts, food truck festivals, a drive-in theater, and the family-friendly Barnstable County Fair, an old-fashioned community fair held every summer that features animal shows, petting zoos, horticulture displays, rides, games, live music, food and commercial vendors, and arts and crafts exhibits.
On most any day or night, visitors will find an abundance of artistic offerings in this Upper Cape community. “Falmouth has a long history of being an incredibly vibrant and diverse arts community,” Highfield Hall’s Lisa Walker says. “Whether you’re interested in history, art, music, theater, or natural sciences, there is something for everyone in Falmouth.”
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