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Woods Hole, MA

You certainly won't want to miss this village where academics, fishermen, and yachtsmen share their love for the sea

Woods Hole Yacht Club, copyright (c) Doug Rugh. Reproduced with permission.

One of the most challenging tidal harbors to negotiate, Wood's Hole offers access to the world's finest marine biological and oceanographic resources. As a postgraduate studies center, its academic roots make the town rather stimulating. There is a great aquarium, the Marine Biological Laboratory, Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institute, Woods Hole Research Center, the US Geological Survey center, the SEA Education Association, a film festival, the ferry to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, whalewatching expeditions and countless other fun activities. It's a colorful strolling village where fishermen, scientists, and yachtsmen rub elbows, learn from each other, and share their love for the sea. We love this place. View the great collection of the museum's historical photos.

Where to tie up:

Wood's Hole does have a hellish current running through it, so we advise you to check the tide and current tables before approaching so you don't get swept away and squirted out the wrong way. If the tide is against you, you might consider waiting it out in Hadley Harbor. One time, our club passed through Wood's Hole from Martha's Vineyard en route to Hadley Harbor. It was foggy, the current was running at maximum, we had about 30 boats in procession, and several were swept well into the channel where a ferry was fast approaching. Luckily, there were no mishaps, but it pays to be vigilant.

Great Harbor in Woods Hole, NOAA Image Bank.

Another time, we had a terrific transit through the Hole and picked up a mooring at the Woods Hole Yacht Club. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay here. It's a simple place, rather rustic compared to some establishments of its kind. But we had hot showers, and a great chat with an "older" salt in front of the clubhouse with a lovely view of the harbor. Unfortunately, they don't have a website but they have a phone and you can call to get the lay of the land in advance.

There are three basic places to hang out in Woods Hole: at anchor in Hadleys Harbor, on a mooring at the Yacht Club, and at Woods Hole Marine, which offers transient slips and moorings, Shuckers Bar for lunch, and a location that's just a skip from Water Street - the main drag in town.

What to do:

This tiny Cape town has a global reputation. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, best known for discovering the Titanic, is the largest independent oceanography lab in the country. The Marine Biological Laboratory, brings even more scientists and discoveries to this corner of the world. It’s not surprising that nine Nobel prizewinners are buried in the yard of the Church of the Messiah. (Q: Do you know the difference between oceanography and marine biology? Look below for the answer.)

View toward the scientific facilities at dusk.
Yet, the town’s scholarly background doesn’t put a damper on fun. Everything in Woods Hole is within walking distance, so once you’ve arrived, you’re all set. Visitors can pedal to Falmouth and back along the Shining Sea Bike Trail (approx. 5 miles one way), board a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket from the town’s picture-perfect harbor, hike out to the “Knob,” one of the Cape’s prettiest overlooks, or visit Nobska’s historic lighthouse, with its fourth order fresnel lens still in use.

There are two aquariums in town. The Wood's Hole Aquarium offers visitors the chance to watch the seals being fed. The Aquarium of the National Marine Fisheries, which opened in 1871, is considered to be the country’s oldest. It displays 16 tanks of regional fish and shellfish. Magnifying glasses and a dissecting scope help you examine marine life, and several hands-on pools hold lobsters and many other sea critters.

The Woods Hole Film Festival is an eight-day showcase of independent film, featuring daily screenings, workshops, panel discussions, staged readings, special events, parties, an awards ceremony, music and more. Now in its 13th year, the festival is usually held the first week of August.

Exhibits change at the small but charming museum Woods Hole Historical Museum, a local labor of love. The permanent 1895 diorama of the town should give you a flavor of this seaport/scientific community and tourist destination's former glory.

En route to Woods Hole, the mecca for those who love the sea. As a marine biologist by training, Alex worships the place.

The WHOOSH Trolley Service, run by the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority (385-8311), runs daily between the Falmouth Mall (off Route 28) and the Aquarium in Woods Hole. The frequency varies during the season; pickups are every 30-60 minutes.

Where to eat:

There are several well established watering holes in town.

  • The Landfall Restaurant at Luscombe Ave (508-548-1758) is right on the waterfront offering great views of the harbor, fresh local seafood, and rustic Cape Cod style atmosphere. Best of all, you can come by dinghy to their 16 foot dock that has between 1-4 feet of water depth.
  • Captain Kidd's at 77 Water Street is our favorite watering hole in town; the bar is the epitome of the classic mahogony run, and the decor includes authentic nautical treasures. The bar menu includes yummy salads and sandwiches. The dining room features an outdoor deck overlooking the pond and a selection of simple, local fresh fare.
  • The Fishmongers Cafe at 56 Water Street offers quite and inventive menu and has specialized in natural foods for more than a quarter-century. The chowda is outstanding. Watch boats come and go through the eel pond drawbridge as you enjoy selections from the eclectic menu.
  • Pie in the Sky at 10 Water Street offers delectable deli treats as well as fresh brewed coffees and breads and pastries right out of the bakery. Eat in or take out. If you phone in your order you can pick it up on your way.

Related Links

Wood's Hole village information
Woods Hole: The early years
Woods Hole Yacht Club, 58 Bar Neck Road, Woods Hole; 508-548-9205
Woods Hole Marine, 91A Water Street , Woods Hole, MA 02543, 508-540-2402
Woods Hole Visitor's Brochure (pdf)
YaWHOI! The newcomer's guide to Woods Hole (pdf: great local guide for MIT students with lots of useful information for the rest of us)
Woods Hole Science Aquarium
Schooner Ernestina
Nobska Light
Woods Hole Historical Museum
WHOI Items of Local Interest
Woods Hole Aquarium
Woods Hole Handworks - 508-540-5291 , 68 Water St
Woods Hole Historical Museum - 508-548-7270 , 579 Woods Hole Rd
Pumpout Stations - Buzzards Bay Area

(A: Oceanography is the study of all aspects of the ocean: biological, geological, physical and chemical. Marine Biology focuses on the single aspect.)

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