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Cape Cod and the Islands Summer Travel Attractions Fun

Nauset Beach, Cape Cod
Sunset at Old Silver Beach in Falmouth..

Article and photos (unless otherwise noted) by Eric Hurwitz. Updated 4/29/2022.

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There are probably a million fun things to do during a Cape Cod vacation but for bandwidth purposes and your limited vacation time and budget, we'll focus on a chosen few.

Let's make this very clear right from the beginning: There is no better feeling than spending a vacation on Cape Cod. One of the United States' truly great travel destinations, this famed coastal Massachusetts tourist destination (that is shaped like a bent arm) offers something for everyone. Saturated with refreshing salt air and a sweet breeze, the 70-mile stretch of Cape Cod is full of expansive, scenic family-oriented beaches, wonderful seafood restaurants, old-fashioned, tree-lined villages with captain's homes and charming bed and breakfasts and inns, and a commercial (and sometimes charmingly cheesy) element to please shopping, nightlife and miniature golf fanatics.

Where to stay on Cape Cod

Lighthouse Inn, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Lighthouse inn, West Dennis.

You certainly won't have any shortage of places to stay on Cape Cod. It was daunting for us to pick the right place out of all the great choices but finally chose The Lighthouse Inn in West Dennis. Located on scenic Nantucket Sound and contiguous with beautiful West Dennis Beach, this historic inn sits on nine acres with a private sandy beach, heated swimming pool, full service restaurant with water views (breakfast included as part of the stay), guest rooms, three bedroom cottages, family suites and tennis, shuffleboard and volleyball courts.

Lighthouse Inn, West Dennis (Cape Cod), Massachusetts
Breakfast at the Lighthouse Inn.
What we liked most about the Lighthouse is that nothing is contrived, over-hyped and loud. Even though it's a large, sprawling complex, there's a feeling of having the whole place to yourself which bodes well to those looking for a peaceful vacation by the sea.

Beachside at the Lighthouse Inn in West Dennis, MA (Cape Cod)
Beachside at the Lighthouse Inn.

Recommended Cape Cod Restaurants

The Lobster Trap, Bourne, Mass. The Lobster Trap in Bourne.

Cape Cod features an abundance of restaurants but be careful: Many come across as tourist traps and/or overly expensive. With that said, some of the restaurants that bring in tourist are quite good, especially places like the Lobster Trap in Bourne, Arnold's Lobster and Clam Bar in Eastham, Sesuit Harbor Café in West Dennis, The Raw Bar in Mashpee, Father's Kitchen & Taphouse in Sandwich, Centerville Pie Co. in Centerville and Grumpy's in East Dennis.

The Lobster Trap
(290 Shore Rd., Bourne) pleases with its seafood menu (yes, including lobster and lobster rolls!) and indoor and outdoor waterfront seating. This landmark restaurant also offers an impressive fish market with freshly-caught local seafood. See our more about The Lobster Trap in the Best Seafood in New England article.

Arnold's Lobster and Clam Bar (3580 Route 6, Eastham) has served as an iconic seasonal seafood shack best known for its huge lobster rolls, fried clams and ice cream. It's a wonderful Cape Cod tradition coming here for many locals and visitors.

The Raw Bar at Popponesset Marketplace (259 Shore Dr., Mashpee) is best known for its huge lobster rolls, chowder and drinks. Those one-pound lobster rolls, with huge chunks of flavorful lobster meat, should amply serve two people or one very hungry person. You'd be hard-pressed to find a bigger and better lobster this one! The Raw Bar is also a very pleasant, casual place to be on a summer's night -- especially at its laid-back, attractive outdoor dining area.

Lobster roll from The Raw Bar in Mashpee, Mass. (Cape Cod)
Lobster roll from The Raw Bar

Sesuit Harbor Café (357 Sesuit Neck Rd., East Dennis) offers a classic, seasonal clam shack dining experience that also includes outdoor seating overlooking North Bay Marina and Cape Cod Bay. It's unpretentious, reasonably priced and possesses the carefree Cape Cod summer atmosphere that we all long for when thinking of this beautiful coastal vacation land. Plenty of fried seafood and amazing lobster rolls!

Sesuit Harbor Cafe. East Dennis, MA (Cape Cod)
Charming Cape Cod-style exterior of Sesuit Harbor Cafe.

Father's Kitchen & Taphouse (406 Route 6A, Sandwich) does not have the tourist pedigree of the others restaurants mentioned here and comes across more as a neighborhood restaurant and bar. It's cozy, quaint, offers 41 craft beers and does neighborhood restaurant comfort food better than most restaurants we've experienced in New England. Definitely try the oversized fish sandwich. It's abundantly served with flavorful, tender fish.

Huge fish sandwich from Father's Kitchen & Taphouse in Sandwich, MA (Cape Cod)
Huge fish sandwich from Father's Kitchen & Taphouse.

Grumpy's (Route 6A,East Dennis) is actually very friendly. This welcoming, family-style breakfast and lunch restaurant serves up delicious soups, salads, sandwiches and daily specials including chowder, seafood platters, scallop rolls and broiled seafood. Everything here is homemade; you'll feel right at home at this breezy, sunny, roadside gem.

For delicious take-out meals and yummy desserts, Centerville Pie Co. (1671 Falmouth Rd., Centerville) is fantastic. They specialize in sweet and savory pies with a wonderful, unmistakable homemade taste. Oprah Winfrey named the Centerville Pie Co. chicken pie one of her "favorite things" three times -- 2009, 2012 and 2017 -- in "O Magazine!)

Chicken pot pie from Centerville Pie Co. in Centerville, Mass.
Chicken pie from Centerville Pie Co. Photo credit; Centerville Pie Co.

The Best Cape Cod Beaches

Cape Cod Beach: Bass River Beach, also known as Smugglers Beach
Smugglers Beach, South Yarmouth

The 10-mile long Nauset Beach, at 18 Bay Ridge Lane in Orleans, is one of the Atlantic's Coast's great stretches of beach, Part of the Cape Cod National Seashore Park, the panoramic ocean views are amazing and the sand is soft, making it the quintessential Cape Cod beach experience. The under toe can be a bit strong, the shoreline rocky in spots and the water many times a bit cold, but the unspoiled, stunning surroundings and gentle Cape Cod summer breezes make Nauset Beach a must-visit New England beach.

Nauset Beach, Cape Cod
Nauset Beach, Orleans. Photo, courtesy of MassVacation at

Coast Guard Beach, Eastham -- One of the best swimming beaches within the Cape Cod National Seashore’s spectacular 43,604 acres, Coast Guard Beach possesses that one-of-a-kind breezy, carefree, scenic Cape Cod summer beach vibe perhaps better than any other area beach — and with dunes included for your viewing pleasure. No matter how crowded expansive Coast Guard Beach gets here in the summer — and it does — you feel like you have your own space to fully unwind and relax.

Bass River Beach (also known as Smugglers Beach), South Yarmouth -- Bass River Beach differs greatly from Coast Guard Beach as the Route 28 area’s higher concentration of commercial and residential elements simply bring more people to the beach. Yes, it can get crowded here, but you’ll still be able to find you’re own spot to the tune of generally more gentle waters — and some marvelous sandy beach to soak up the sun. Bass River Beach offers convenience, too, with changing rooms and restrooms as well as snacks vendors, a really nice fishing deck and volleyball areas. More on Bass River Beach

Herring Cove Beach, Provincetown -- Sun, sand, scenery and sunsets all add up to a superb Outer Cape Cod beach experience. As an added bonus, the water at Herring Cove is warmer than many other Cape Cod beaches. Plus, you are close to downtown Provincetown, a lively eclectic, interesting tourist destination filled with seafood restaurants and shops.

Scusset Beach State Park Reservation, Sandwich -- A great aspect about Scusset Beach is you don’t have to drive too far up the Cape to enjoy one of its nicest beaches. Scusset is virtually next to where the Sagamore Bridge connects Cape Cod and the Massachusetts mainland!  Scusset also has many other elements that  visitors want in a Cape Cod beach — fewer crowds, soft sand in the summer (photo was taken in November), a breakwater, relatively warm waters with a slow drop, a campground within the state park and plenty of parking. An added bonus is that the Cape Cod Canal Bike Trail is virtually around the corner, featuring seven miles of paved path. The scenery might not be up to the caliber of Coast Guard or Nauset Beach, but it’s still so pleasant here and with that convenient location to save you on gas money.

Sunset at Old Sliver Beach, Falmouth MA (Cape Cod)

To round out a perfect beach day, there's nothing quite like a Cape Cod sunset by the coast. The best place to catch a stunning scene later in the day is on the west side of the Cape. We like Old Silver Beach in Falmouth best at sundown. The photos say it all!

Our #1 Place for Ice Cream on the Cape

Four Seas Ice Cream Stand Centerville, Mass. (Cape Cod)

Four Seas Ice Cream (36 South Main St.) in Centerville forever warms our hearts with its cool cones that yield some of the best tasting homemade ice cream in New England. Dating back to 1934, Four Seas continues to draw in the crowds who love the classic, unpretentious ice cream parlor/stand look and ice cream. Four Seas has definitely become one of Cape Cod's most famous commercial landmarks -- a must-visit kind of place and a rite of passage into a Cape Cod summer. We like some of the more unusual flavors like cantaloupe and lemon crisp.
cantaloupe ice cream from Four Seas in Centerville, MA

June brings strawberry ice cream with fresh local strawberries brought in directly from a local farm --picked one day and then turned into ice cream the next for optimal freshness. The same theory goes for July's peach ice cream with peaches brought in from Georgia and then immediately transformed into the most delicious ice cream imaginable.

Four Seas also happens to make a pretty amazing lobster sandwich. There's more tender lobster meat found here than in most lobster rolls!

Lobster sandwich from Four Seas Ice Cream Stand in Centerville, MA (Cape Cod)

The Islands: Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard

Nantucket Harbor, MassachusettsNantucket Harbor.
The stunningly beautiful island of Nantucket is located 30 miles south of Cape Cod, and represents the best of coastal New England scenery with its wide-open expanses of beaches (seek out Jetties Beach, Children's Beach, and Cisco Beach for the best experiences) and a quaint, quintessential New England feel -- historic buildings, seaside cottages and old-fashioned street lamps. Nantucket's welcoming mix of restaurants, shops (boutiques, galleries, gift stores, etc.), restaurants and fabulous lodging will surely accommodate your Cape Cod vacation dreams, but perhaps the most impressive aspect of Nantucket is its dedication to conservation land in the form of almost 50 percent undeveloped areas. Here, you can enjoy some fabulous bike riding and abundant plant life, bird watching, and salt-sea-air strolls, as if you have made you own special discovery.

Although expensive, you can also find ways to travel Nantucket on a budget.

A "must-sea" Nantucket travel attraction:
The Nantucket Whaling Museum (13 Broad St., Tel. 508-228-1894), a wonderul tribute to preserving and interpreting the history of Nantucket Island through displays and exhibitions.

Martha's Vineyard attracts visitors from all over the world, and with good reason: it's simply beautiful, what many would expect Cape Cod to look like. A 45-minute ferry ride from Falmouth brings you to this impossibly scenic Cape Cod destination. With five lighthouses and 11 glorious beaches including Moshup Beach, East Beach, and Lighthouse Beach, this is the "classic" Cape Cod that people expect the area to look like before embarking on the journey.

Comprised of towns Aquinnah, Chilmark, West Tisbury, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven (also known as Tisbury), Martha's Vineyard is ideal for beach goers, bird-watching, and shoppers (lots of boutiques and galleries in Edgartown and Oaks Bluffs). With a postcard-perfect coastal downtown, Edgartown has a little something for everyone -- beaches (Edgartown Beach on Seaview Ave. is simply marvelous!), a wonderful harbor and waterfront area with shops, lodging and restaurants, as well as amazing architecture in the form of Greek Revival sea captain's homes.
You can still get a taste of this former whaling port's history, strolling this Cape Cod step-back-in-time. Be sure to check out the Edgartown Lighthouse, (off North Water St.), too -- a classic Cape Cod lighthouse built in 1828 and replicated in 1938. For dining, the Black Dog Tavern (20 Beach St. Extension) in Vineyard Haven is a must-visit destination. Perhaps most famous for its t-shirt that everyone seems to have, the Black Dog Tavern avoids tourist trap hell by serving up some really good New England fresh local fish and some delicious baked goods.

Oak Bluffs is also charming with its stretch of classic Cape Cod gingerbread cottages. Also check out the fun, beautiful Flying Horse Carousel ride (33 Oak Bluffs Rd., Tel. 508- 693-9481), the nation's oldest operating platform carousel and a National Historic Landmark. It is open from from Easter Saturday through Columbus Day. Additionally, be sure not to miss the Aquinnah Cliffs on Lighthouse Rd., where you can experience the breathtaking, glacially formed, multicolored cliffs.

Oak Bluffs has a wonderful 19th century look, seemingly far removed your typical cookie cutter vacation destination. With ocean beaches, seafood dining and charming lodging options virtually at your doorstep, consider Oak Bluffs a great starting point for your Martha's Vineyard vacation! Editor's note: A great way to arrive at Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket is through the Woods Hole (main land)/Martha's Vineyard/Nantucket Steamship Authority with its long-time stellar reputation (in business since 1818!), U.S. Coast Guard certified crews, high speed ferries and reasonable rates.

Provincetown: Well Worth the Drive

We believe that the journey is as exciting as the final destination, but, honestly, sometimes the distance can become quite annoying. Don't fret when it comes to the driving distances traveled to Provincetown, located at the end -- or the tip -- of the Cape.  Provincetown is a popular gay summer vacation destination, but is also just fine for every walk of life looking for a Cape Cod vacation. The downtown is colorful, full of seafood restaurants and little shops, as well as a thriving, arts, theater and entertainment scene. One of our readers, the lovely Terry, of East Bridgewater, Mass, (OK, she's my sister-in-law and a great one!) highly recommends Fanizzi's By The Sea (539 Commercial St., Tel. 508-487-1964), within walking distance of the downtown), featuring spectacular views of Cape Cod Bay and "awesome seafood!" The Lobster Pot (321 Commercial St.) might just be Provincetown's most famous restaurant with its iconic, beloved neon lobster sign out front and delicious local seafood fare, inside. Yes, they do serve lobster here!

Of course, the Provincetown beaches are simply beautiful with Cove Beach and Race Point Beach providing scenic summertime coastal bliss with plenty of sand and relatively warm ocean water (remember, though, this is New England, not Florida!). Provincetown is located by the government-operated Cape Cod National Seashore Park, a 40-mile stretch of expansive beaches and myriad dunes along the way to the quaint Cape Cod community of Chatham. Nearby are charming, more quiet small towns like Eastham, Truro and Welfleet -- wonderful places to stroll the country roads, amazing dunes, and Cape Cod National Seashore Park beaches.

Biking Cape Cod

The 22-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail will bring you through the picturesque Cape Cod towns of towns of Dennis, Harwich, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham and Wellfleet. In many areas, you're close to a beach so we recommend leaving the trail to find your own special spot.
Free parking for trail users is available at:
• The trailhead at Route 134 in South Dennis
• Headwaters Drive in Harwich
• Route 137 in Brewster
• Nickerson State Park in Brewster
• Orleans Center
• Cape Cod National Seashore at the Salt Pond Visitors Center in Eastham, one-half mile from the Locust Road intersection with the trail
• National Seashore at Marconi Area
• The trailhead at LeCount Hollow Road in South Wellfleet

Shining Sea Bikeway, Cape CodShining Sea Bikeway

Also recommended is the Shining Sea Bikeway in Falmouth (Locust Rd., off Route 28) -- one of Cape Cod's most developed but still charming towns with lots of beaches, shopping, dining and lodging opportunities (As previously mentioned, check out Old Silver Beach on Quaker Rd. -- it's beautiful!). This 3.3 miles bike path spans along the Vineyard Sound shoreline, ending in the charming community of Woods Hole. The ride is pretty much level, making it ideal for the casual bike rider. By the way, the Shining Sea Bike way is named after the famous line in the song, "America the Beautiful." The song was written by Falmouth native Katharine Lee Bates and published in 1910!

Country Store, Cape Cod-Style

1856 Country Store - Cape Cod (Centerville), Massachusetts
1856 Country Store.

Many of us Cape Cod lovers constantly seek places that feel like taking a trip back in time.  You know, "Old Cape Cod," as they say in that famous song from yesteryear. To us, there's no better way to do that than visiting one of the many country and general stores in this region. Our absolute favorite: the 1856 Country Store in Centerville. Also known as "The Penny Candy Store," this local treasure seems to equally please locals and vacationers. All the country store favorites are here including jams and jellies, candles, collectibles and memorabilia, souvenirs and other gifts, toys, games and puzzles, candles and "for the home" merchandise. With a delightfully creaky wooden floor, historic building vibe and really nice staff, heartwarming, welcoming country store ranks with the very best of its kind in New England. Lucky for us, it's located on Cape Cod!

A Classic Cape Cod Lighthouse

Nobska Lighthouse, Cape Cod (Falmouth, Mass.
Nobska Lighthouse.

Cape Cod also has no shortage of  lighthouses but our favorite is Nobska Light in Falmouth. The mix of winding road, beach and lighthouse offers the scenic, unforgettable Cape Cod we often envision in our dreams. Walk around the lighthouse grounds and take in this historic structure (the light station dates back to 1828) while taking in some of that salt-water air, summer breeze and the gentle sound of waves in the distance. Absolutely beautiful and instantly memorable!

Hidden Cape Cod: A Beautiful Sunflower Farm

Sunflower field at Tony Andrews Farm, East Falmouth, Mass. (Cape Cod)
Sunflower Field at Tony Andrews Farm.

Tony Andrews Farm in East Falmouth (394 Old Meetinghouse Farm Rd.) features a expansive sunflower farm to help further blossom your Cape Cod travel experience. Around mid-August 2021, I witnessed the most amazing display of sunflowers at the farm's pick-your-own field of these beautiful flowers. Try to make it if you can for the sunflowers but if not, don't worry: This locally-owned farm also offers pick your own strawberries, peas and rhubarb in early June, as well as pumpkins in the fall. Other fun family activities include hay and trolley rides and an annual Corn and Tomato Festival in August. Additionally, the farm stand offers plenty of vibrant, fresh vegetables and fruit. Tony Andrews Farm proves that sometimes the best Cape Cod attractions are the ones you might not have know about!

This Sandwich is a Very Tasty Cape Cod Travel Destination

Sandwich Harbor in Sandwich, MA (Cape Cod)
Sandwich Harbor.

Sandwich is located virtually at the gateway to Cape Cod, which is good news for those who don't want to travel too far up the Cape. This charming, sleepy historical Cape Cod town has everything a visitor could ever want -- the great Scusset Beach for swimming and camping, a pretty harbor, a bike and walking trail along the Cape Cod Canal, fine inns and restaurants including the renowned Daniel Webster Inn and restaurant, golf (the 18-hole ,Sandwich Hollows is open to the public), boating opportunities and gift shops.

A one-of-a-kind attraction is the Sandwich Glass Museum (129 Main St., Tel. 508-888-0251) with displays of more than 5,000 glass pieces created by the different glass companies in Sandwich during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Heritage Museums and Gardens (67 Grove St., an art and history museum with displays of American folk art, fine art and militia and native American artifacts, also features 100 acres of magnificent garden designs featuring rhododendrons, hydrangeas, daylilies and more. It's a spectacular sight, not to be missed!

Sandwich is a great starting point, as you have the choice to spend a classic Cape Cod vacation here, or as wonderful stop along the way to eventually tour all the other great Cape Cod communities.  Either way, Sandwich is a worthy choice as a nice Cape Cod vacation destination with an ideal location.

Take a Scenic Ride on Route 6A, and Into the "Old Cape Cod"

Scenic splendor off Route 6A in East Dennis, Mass.
Scenic splendor off Route 6A in East Dennis, Mass..

All we can say is "Oh, my gosh" -- this scenic ride will tug at your heart, bringing you back to another time and place. The salt-air, tree-lined Route 6A (known as the Old King's Highway) hugging the ocean with its well-preserved stunning captain's homes and charming bed and breakfasts and inns bring us back to the Cape Cod we remember -- not the overly commercial destinations that threaten this beloved New England vacation destination. Scenic Route 6A spans 34-miles through endless scenes of salt marshes, harbors and open lands in beautiful New England communities like Bourne, Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster and Orleans. Here, you're sure "to fall in love with Old Cape Cod!"

But Then Again, There is a Certain Charm to the More Commercial Side of Cape Cod

Main Street -- Downtown Falmouth, Massachusetts Main Street in Falmouth.

Downtown Falmouth spans for more than a fourth of a mile and possesses all the town center bells and whistle that we have come to love and expect in a vacation destination's central district. This thriving, bustling, attractive downtown with an authentic "hometown" look features gift, book, furniture, hardware and home décor stores, clothing boutiques, galleries, places for ice cream and homemade fudge, as well as many restaurants (some with outdoor dining in the summer) that meet all budgets. Patty Noonan Park is located on Main St. yet offers a scenic,
peaceful oasis of open space for visitors and locals to relax.    One-half mile will bring you to Marine Park with great views of Falmouth Harbor and a summer farmers market and band concerts!

Hyannis, as Cape Cod's primary commercial center, offers just about every type of lodging as well as a busy downtown that seems to go on forever -- complete with gift shops and dining. The congestion of Route 28 outside the also congested downtown can seem overwhelming, but the chance to have a wonderful Cape Cod vacation is undeniable in Hyannis with 11 area beaches, 18-hole golf at the public Hyannis Golf Course (1840 Iyannough Rd.), miniature golf (I love the Hyannis Main St. Mini Golf at 531 Main St.!), plenty of soft serve ice cream, summer musical entertainment at the Cape Cod Melody Tent, motels and resorts with indoor pools (the Cape Codder is excellent with its indoor water park!), local Cape Cod Baseball League games (free!) and plenty of fishing and boating opportunities. Off the beaten track, you'll find scenery as good as any on Cape Cod -- check out the beaches first, especially the family-friendly Craigville Beach (the largest beach on the Cape at 1050 Craigville Beach Rd., Centerville)). Famous as the home of the Kennedy family, Hyannis features the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum (397 Main St., Tel 508-790-3077) that highlights his life through myriad exhibits. For potato chip fans, check out the the Cape Cod Potato Chip Factory Tour (100 Breeds Hill Rd.) -- it's fun and tasty!

The Ultimate Cape Cod Town

Welfleet is amazing! This unspoiled, quintessential Cape Cod town is located 75 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean, with 61 percent of the area being part of the Cape Cod National Seashore Park.  So, that means plenty of open beach space for you to enjoy! The Central Village area represents quaint Cape Cod at its finest with a nice variety of shopping and dining opportunities -- it is a great place to stroll. Welfleet also features fresh water ponds and is home to the Welfleet Drive-In Theater, one of its kind in New England.

If you're not into the commercial side of Cape Cod, Welfleet is the antidote!

A "Rail" Good Time

Named one of the top ten scenic train rides in the country by USA Today, Cape Cod Railway Central (252 Main St. Hyannis) offers a two-hour scenic train ride between Hyannis and Buzzards Bay. On this beautiful ride, you'll be able to view cranberry bogs, natural woodlands, lush marshes and other Cape Cod natural delights. Brunch, lunch dinner, and family suppers as well as narrated tours are available as part of the ride. All aboard!

Off-the-Beaten-Path Cape Cod

Pocasset Cape Cod

Just 10 minutes over the Bourne Bridge, Pocasset is the Cape Cod that people envision -- with less crowded ocean swimming, places to take a peaceful walks in the salt-air, and charming seaside Cape homes with families having cookouts. Pocasset has very little to do with the honky-tonk, hectic, busy Cape Cod that is becoming increasingly apparent. It's also an advantage that you don't have to drive too far into Cape Cod to get the region's true flavor. Just be sure to stay off private property as sometimes it it is hard to separate the line between that and publicly accessible areas. Drive around and enjoy the Cape Cod feel!

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Cape Cod is one of the most famous summer vacation destinations in the world and with good reason.  The 70-mile stretch of Cape Cod is full of expansive, scenic family-oriented beaches, wonderful seafood restaurants, old-fashioned, tree-lined villages with captain's homes and charming bed and breakfasts and inns, and a commercial (and sometimes charmingly cheesy) element to please shopping, nightlife and miniature golf fanatics.

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