Cape Cod is a cape jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean in the easternmost portion of the state of Massachusetts, in the Northeastern United States. Its historic, maritime character and ample beaches attract heavy tourism during the summer months. In 1914, the Cape Cod Canal was cut through the base or isthmus of the peninsula, turning nearly all of Cape Cod into what would technically be described as an island, though this term is not common in everyday speech.
Cape Cod stretches from Provincetown in the northeast to Woods Hole in the southwest. Cape Cod encompasses Barnstable County, and is in full jurisdiction of the Cape Cod Commission, which includes a small part of that area that is on the mainland side of the Cape Cod Canal (which includes Buzzards Bay,Bournedale and Sagamore Beach. Most, however, incorrectly see the canal as Cape Cod’s western boundary. Historically, the entire Town of Bourne (which was a part of Sandwich until 1884) was considered Cape Cod hundreds of years before the canal was built. The Town of Sandwich also extends over the Cape Cod Canal onto the mainland side of Cape Cod.
Two road bridges cross the Cape Cod Canal: the Sagamore Bridge and the Bourne Bridge. In addition, the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge carries railway freight and limited passenger services onto the Cape. Cape territory is divided into fifteen towns with many villages; Provincetown lies at the tip of the peninsula.
Like Cape Cod itself, the islands south of the Cape have evolved from whaling and trading areas to become resort destinations, attracting wealthy families, celebrities, and other tourists. These include the large nearby islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, which are themselves famous summer tourist destinations, commonly accessed by ferry from Cape Cod. The phrases Cape Cod and the Islands and the Cape and Islands are often used to describe the whole region of Barnstable County, Dukes County (including the Vineyard and the smaller Elizabeth Islands), and Nantucket County.
The Forbes family-owned Naushon Island was first purchased by John Murray Forbes. Naushon is one of the Elizabeth Islands, many of which are privately owned. One of the publicly accessible Elizabeths is the southernmost island in the chain, Cuttyhunk, with a year-round population of 52 people. Several prominent families have established compounds or estates on the larger islands, making these islands some of the wealthiest resorts in the Northeast, yet they retain much of the early merchant trading and whaling culture.
Cape Cod in particular is a popular retirement area, and the average age of residents is the highest of any area in New England.