Cape Cod Travel Guide
With its colorful clam shacks, shingle-style cottages and serene beaches, it's easy to see why Cape Cod — or simply "the Cape" to locals — is a top summer retreat for New England mainlanders. Quaint bed-and-breakfasts wrap around rugged sand dunes, scenic bike trails snake along forests and the seemingly endless seashore is punctuated by bright kayaks and fishing boats. Life moves at a slower pace here — but that's part of the charm. And while ... continue»
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The best time to visit Cape Cod is April, May, October or November. These shoulder months usher in pleasant temperatures for outdoor pursuits, fewer crowds than the busy summer season and reasonable room rates. Visiting between June and September is best if hitting the beach is a top priority for you, but you'll shell out a pretty penny for a seaside cottage during the peak tourist season. In contrast, the Cape is near abandoned from December through March and hotel prices are much less expensive than the warmer months. If you're looking for some time to curl up with a good book in quiet solitude, winter is the time for you.Best Times to Visit Cape Cod»
Cape Cod Neighborhoods
The Cape is split into four different regions: The Upper Cape, Mid Cape, Lower Cape and Outer Cape. Perhaps counterintuitively, each name does not match each area's geographic location. Bound by Buzzards Bay and the Cape Canal, the Upper Cape runs along the western edge of the Cape and includes the towns of Bourne, Sandwich, Falmouth and Mashpee. From west to east, you'll find the Mid Cape region, which includes seaports Hyannis and Yarmouth facing Nantucket Sound to the south and Cape Cod Bay to the north. The Lower Cape (or more accurately the eastern side of the Cape) includes Harwich, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham and Chatham at its easternmost point. The narrow peninsula known as the Outer Cape sprouts up from Eastham to the towns of Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown.
For many visitors, Bourne is the entryway to the Cape. Upon crossing the Bourne Bridge and catching sight of the famously manicured hedges that are trimmed to read "Cape Cod," you'll find this residential area, perhaps best known as the summer vacation spot for President Grover Cleveland and a once bustling pilgrim trading post in the 17th century. Today, history buffs can attend lecture series hosted by the Bourne Historical Society and walk through a model museum of the Aptucxet Trading Post and surrounding grounds for a small fee.
As Cape Cod's oldest town, Sandwich is the place to experience the Cape's storied past. Families can take youngsters to the Heritage Museums and Gardens to take a whirl around a vintage carousel, tour exhibits showcasing American Folk Art and meander through tranquil gardens. Another must-see museum is the Sandwich Glass Museum, which offers hands-on glass-blowing demonstrations to illustrate the technique and centuries-old glass-making history in Boston and Sandwich. The windswept Sandwich Boardwalk is another must-do, with its picturesque views to the northeast. The area also plays host to a variety of restaurants and lodging options, making it a popular launching pad for Cape visitors.
South of Sandwich, you'll find Falmouth, a quaint residential area that hosts a handful of bed-and-breakfasts, cottages and boutiques. The area is also home to an extensive oceanography library and exhibit center — the Marine Biological Laboratory — in Woods Hole, which offers interactive activities where visitors can learn about marine life and how to help protect the planet. Other top attractions in Woods Hole include the Science Aquarium and the Nobska Lighthouse, which offers excellent vistas of Martha's Vineyard, just across the Vineyard Sound. Here you'll also find the Shining Sea Bikeway, an 11-mile bike path that runs parallel to Buzzards Bay, and plenty of dining establishments.
Home to Sandy Neck Beach's 6-mile-long stretch, Barnstable is mostly sought after for its spectacular sands and 4,700 acres of verdant forests and dunes. The beach also offers lifeguards and concessions, making it a great spot for travelers with younger ones in tow. Just keep in mind, day passes come attached to an extra fee, and permits can apply for larger groups. Barnstable also contains the highest population of year-round residents, making it a bustling area during the summertime.
Made famous by the Kennedy family, this picturesque vacation destination is also a commercial epicenter chock-full of shops, hotels and eateries. During your visit, you can't skip checking out the Cape Cod Maritime Museum or the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum (where unique exhibits shed light on the Kennedys' long-standing ties to the Cape through photographs and artifacts). Another popular pastime: admiring the elegant yachts and sailboats gliding through Hyannis Harbor along Kalmus Park Beach, a kid-friendly spot with calm waves.
With a history that dates back to 1793, Dennis village appeals to those yearning for a taste of Colonial times. Wander along the streets and you'll find former sea captain homes, beloved seafood shacks, upscale eateries and museums, like Cape Cod Museum of Art, which showcases artwork produced by local artists. Plus, plentiful beaches and dunes are scattered across the area, making it a top stop for beach seekers.
A prime spot for vacationing clans, this 17-mile long town offers everything from eclectic boutiques to storied sea captain homes. The area also plays host to more than a dozen beaches, and a variety of pet-friendly lodging options — from hotels to bed-and-breakfasts to campgrounds — making it a convenient choice for those traveling with their four-legged friends in tow.
Home to lush forests and freshwater ponds, Brewster is a great place to learn about the Cape's diverse ecology. Kids will get a kick out of touring the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, which features nature trails and interactive exhibits, while outdoorsy types can sail, kayak, swim and hike in Nickerson State Park, a 1,961-acre area with a forest and seven separate ponds. Brewster also boasts plenty of inns, resorts and other lodging options, making it an ideal spot to hunker down.
With excellent spots for kayaking, surfing, sailing and other water activities, Orleans is a quintessential Cape retreat for those looking to stay close to the ocean. The vibrant town also boasts more than a dozen art galleries, numerous restaurants and a myriad lodging choices, making it a top pick for summer vacationers. And thanks to Orleans' close proximity to the National Seashore, beachgoers and nature-lovers have a wealth of nearby outdoor pursuits to choose from.
The Cape often conjures visions of shingled roofs, quaint boutiques and picturesque lighthouses — and Chatham only enhances this portrait with its spectacular saltwater beaches and charming inns. Tucked in the southeastern corner of the Cape, this lively town especially appeals to families with its spacious summer homes and cottages available for rent in the summer season. A top attraction here is the Monomoy National Wildlife Reserve — a prime spot for photo-ops of the exuberant migratory shorebirds that flock to the area in May and late July.
While Eastham lacks an official town center, it lures visitors with its striking dune-filled beaches. The Fort Hill Area along the National Seashore is a must-visit for photographers, with its spectacular vistas overlooking the surrounding Cape. And from Eastham, you can easily hit lesser-known hiking trails as you make your way up the Cape's peninsula to Wellfleet, the first town within the Outer Cape.
This small, 2-mile wide stretch is a long-time haven for artists. Apart from lovely beaches, like Marconi along the Cape Cod National Seashore, you can't miss roaming along Main Street to admire the storied homes and eye-catching art on display across chic galleries. And of course no visit to Wellfleet would be complete without chowing down on a half-dozen local oysters. The Wicked Oyster, with its classic menu staples like oyster stew, broiled oysters and clam chowder, is a great place for eating like a local.
After passing through Truro, the serene seaside town filled with picturesque seaside cottages, you'll find yourself in Provincetown, or P-Town to locals, the hip and bohemian northern tip of the Outer Cape. Once a primary stopover for Pilgrims before they went on to Plymouth, today this colorful seaport appeals to beach lovers and artists. P-town is also a major hotspot for the LGBT community, and boasts a history that stretches back to the 1920s of welcoming a gay and lesbian visitors. Take a stroll along the gallery-lined Commercial Street, and you can pop into funky boutiques and admire former sea captain mansions. Eclectic museums and monuments, including the Provincetown Art Association and Museum and the iconic Pilgrim Monument, can also be found here, along with unspoiled beaches and nature reserves. Cap off your visit with a trip to Race Point Beach — a great place to catch the sunset and enjoy whale-watching.
The best way to get around Cape Cod is by car, particularly if you're longing to explore a variety of areas across the Cape. Route 28 and Route 6A run far and wide across the Cape — making navigating to top attractions and towns a cinch. The Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority bus system also offers a handful of lines that service the island, transporting passengers to popular areas like Sandwich and Barnstable. Experiencing Cape Cod by bike is also popular, thanks to the 22-mile long Cape Cod Rail Trail; however, a bike is less dependable for extensive exploration.Getting Around Cape Cod»