If there was one word to describe the quaint town of Orleans, which rests not far from the Cape’s elbow, it might be this: happy. In fact, the seaside community ranked #2 on Coastal Living's 2017 list of "Happiest Seaside Towns in America,” a moniker that fits Orleans perfectly.
As the year-round commercial hub for most Outer Cape communities, Orleans lies just as the Cape begins its northwestern jog towards Provincetown. It is here in Orleans that Cape Cod’s main roadways—Routes 6, 6A and 28—merge at a rotary directing drivers in as many directions.
The Cape’s landscape begins a dramatic metamorphosis from here outward towards Provincetown. Thick woods become scanty then disappear, the sky seems to open up, sand dunes, silver marsh grass in salt marshes and windswept moors are revealed.
Nestled between spectacular Nauset Beach on the Atlantic and tranquil Skaket Beach on Cape Cod Bay, the town comprises three villages: Orleans, with a center near Main Street and Route 6A; East Orleans, with a center on Main Street two miles from Nauset Beach; and South Orleans, with a center near the junction of Routes 28 and 39. The Orleans village center is a charming and relaxed downtown with a quirky sensibility. Enjoy shopping and gallery hopping, and dine on fresh local seafood.
As one of the state’s designated Cultural Districts, Orleans offers an abundance of opportunities for those seeking creative outlets. The first piece of public art for the town since 1883—a majestic steel whale diving over a one-ton fieldstone—was installed in 2015 and can be seen on Cove Road. Local galleries feature some of the top local talent when it comes to fine art. The Artist Cottages at the Orleans Market Square are a collection of vivid wooden huts where creators showcase and sell their work in season, with new artists rotating in each week. Community theater can be found at the Academy of Performing Arts, and the town’s “Live in Orleans” outdoor summer concert series spotlights new and emerging local musicians.
The natural beauty of Orleans’ shores and forests makes the town a perfect spot for a wide range of outdoor activities, including fishing, boating, swimming, biking and just plain relaxing in the clean, fresh air. Surfing is popular at Nauset Beach, known for its expanses of white sand and its gentle waves. Skaket Beach has warm clear waters and tidal pools to explore; at low tide, you can walk for miles on the flats.
The Cape Cod Rail Trail passes right through Orleans, so cyclists can follow the trail west to Dennis or north to Wellfleet. Namskaket Sea Path is a five-mile trail loop that traverses a long stretch of Cape Cod Bay shoreline, crosses seaside outposts of Nickerson State Park, coincides with the Cape Cod Rail Trail bicycle path and hugs some scenic historic roads.
Orleans has an impressive history and is rich in maritime heritage. One of the oldest windmills in the United States ─ the Jonathan Young Windmill ─ is located in Town Cove Park. The French Cable Station Museum in Orleans is where such important messages were relayed as Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 successful trans-Atlantic flight and arrival in Paris and Germany’s 1940 invasion of France.
In 2016, Disney’s “The Finest Hours” placed a bright spotlight on Orleans, the summer home of Lifeboat CG36500. That’s the same Coast Guard vessel featured in the film, which depicts the daring 1952 rescue of 32 men off the coast of Chatham when the SS Pendleton went down during a ferocious nor’easter. Docked in Orleans' picturesque Rock Harbor in season, the public can tour the famous vessel during the summer months.
Find more information on Orleans through the Orleans Chamber of Commerce.
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