It's February vacation, and we're cozily holed up on the Cape. Some people think it's a little odd to be here in "the gray (or brown, depending on locale) season", when there's no easy beachin', no open ice cream stands or clam shacks, and despite the relative lack of snow this season, no decent biking or mini-golf opportunities.
Summer is playtime on the Cape, fall is breathtaking, spring is inspiring, and winter - the quiet season - is the time to really get to know it.
Winter is the time to wander leisurely through the stores that are jam-packed with tourists during the summer and find out who the hearty souls are who hang in there even when business is slow. We had a delightful chat the other day with the man who owns Brewster Sweets, a candy store in Lemon Tree Village that offers delicacies from key-lime chocolate truffles to (real!) seasoned larvae. We stuck with the chocolate.
It's the time to try out the hot restaurants without having to wait for a table. Most restaurants, even the tonier one, welcome children during this less hectic time and may offer them special kid-friendly meals even if they don't have a children's menu.
When the temperature hovers above freezing and the wind is calm, it's a great time to explore the shore. You can travel hither and yon without a beach sticker or parking fee. The Mass. Audubon Society's Wellfleet Bay sanctuary and the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster have family programs in the winter that are also worth checking out.
Ice skating is an obvious winter activity, and although the ponds aren't always sufficiently frozen for the outdoor variety, the Cape is blessed with what I would wager is the highest skating arena per population ratio in the country. There's a rink in almost every other town, and they have regular public skating times. Sure, the rinks are open year-round, but who thinks of donning leggings and gloves when it's a beautiful beach day?
If you can't live without summer-type fun, there's always the indoor playgrounds such as Bonkerz in Yarmouth and Willy's World in Eastham, or the wave pool available to registered guests at the Cape Codder Resort in Hyannis.
Winter might be the Cape's best-kept secret. And there's almost no traffic.