Best Things To Do in Cape Cod
With an expansive 40 miles of national seashore, Cape Cod is one of New England's premier beach destinations. But there's more to do here than sun and sand: Thriving summer theater scenes draw out the best of Broadway while miles-long bike trails and well-protected wildlife showcases the one-of-a-kind Cape Cod environs. And don't forget to visit lively Provincetown where a lesser-known chapter of the Thanksgiving Pilgrim story waits to be uncovered.
Updated August 27, 2019
- #1View all Photos#1 in Cape CodRecreation, Sightseeing, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRecreation, Sightseeing, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Popular with bikers, rollerbladers and horseback riders, this 22-mile paved trail is a breezy ride through the Lower Cape's diverse ecosystems. Previously known as the Old Colony Railroad corridor, the Cape Cod Rail Trail is considered one of the best bike trails in New England.
Many outdoor enthusiasts highlight the trail as one of the best ways to experience the natural attractions across the Cape. They also praise how well-marked and clean the trail is, and report that it's mostly flat and easy to navigate. Some of the Cape's best beaches and ponds are scattered throughout the area, especially in Orleans and Wellfleet. Unique snack shacks and lunch spots are perfect pit stops when your stomach starts to grumble. And don't forget to explore the area's smaller villages for a taste of the Old Cape.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Cape CodEntertainment and Nightlife, Recreation, ShoppingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDEntertainment and Nightlife, Recreation, ShoppingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
With a mini-golf course nearby and a playground set up in front of the screen, the Wellfleet Drive-In is perfect for families looking for a break from the beach. Double features are shown each night throughout the summer (complete with a vintage welcome reel and quintessential theater snacks at the Dairy Bar and Snack Bar), making for a memorable family theater outing. And though the original 1950s mono speakers have been known to offer spotty speaker functionality (they are antiques, after all) you can always tune your radio to the drive-in's own 89.5 FM radio station for audio.
Past theatergoers say the retro drive-through experience is not to be missed, saying it’s a great nostalgic activity, but recommend getting there early to secure a good spot.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Cape CodBeaches, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
In 1961, summer native President John F. Kennedy designated the east shore of the Outer Cape a national park. Today, the 40-mile stretch of coast is recognized as having some of the best beaches on Cape Cod, including Nauset Beach in Eastham, Marconi Beach in Wellfleet and Race Point and Herring Cove beaches in Provincetown.
Beyond the shores, there are plenty of hiking and biking trails for you to explore, and two helpful visitor centers that are worth a pit stop. Plus, the seashore is a great place to attend lecture series and take in the spectacular scenery along the beach. Past visitors called sunsets along the shore "magical," and recommend stopping at the visitor centers to learn more about the area.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Cape CodParks and Gardens, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDParks and Gardens, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
With more than 7,600 acres of protected dunes, salt and freshwater marshes and a decommissioned lighthouse, the gorgeous Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge will make you feel like a trailblazer. But there's more than rugged scenery; the encompassing islands of Morris, and North and South Monomoy are a nesting habitat for hundreds of species of migratory seabirds. Off the coast of South Monomoy, a large harbor grey seal population congregates to mate, play and sun themselves on the shore.
You can opt to take a guided tour in the summer season or stroll along the beach on your own with the help of self-guided maps. Recent visitors praised the staff at the welcome center and say that it’s a beautiful area to walk.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Cape CodMuseums, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Sandwich's Heritage Museums & Gardens appeal to travelers of all ages and interests. Car fanatics will drool over the Josiah K. Lilly III Antique Automobile Collection, a living timeline of the evolution of the automobile. Art aficionados can browse the eclectic collection of American folk art while the kids enjoy a ride on the vintage, hand-carved carousel. And there are more than 100 acres of gardens – full of lilacs, daylilies, magnolias, hydrangeas and the notoriously flamboyant rhododendrons – that attract nature lovers. A delightful two-acre children's area called Hidden Hollow is packed with things to do and explore, such as log balance beams, water experiments, sensory gardens and more.
Recent visitors praised the versatile exhibits and serene surroundings at the Heritage Museums & Gardens, citing the area as a peaceful respite for visitors of all ages.
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The old Boston & Sandwich Glass Company facility – once the cornerstone of the glass-blowing, pressing and cutting industries – was preserved by Sandwich Historical Society at the turn of the century. Now a museum, this site boasts both historical and modern displays of glass art, as well as live glass-blowing demonstrations on the hour. The museum exhibits almost 6,000 pieces of glass produced at the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company between 1825 and 1888. Exhibits detail how important Sandwich’s contributions were at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
Previous visitors said the museum offered more interesting and hands-on activities than they had anticipated and said it is well worth a visit. They add that that you shouldn’t miss the glass-blowing demo and that the museum is laid out well.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Cape CodMonuments and Memorials, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMonuments and Memorials, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Towering over the quaint Provincetown skyline, the Pilgrim Monument – modeled after the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy – is a must-see for history-loving travelers. The 252-foot-high tower is the tallest all-granite structure in the United States. Commissioned in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt, this monument commemorates the site of the Mayflower Pilgrim's first landing in the New World. It takes about 10 minutes to climb up the tower, but most visitors say the trek is worth it; describing the vantage point from the top of the Pilgrim Monument as one of the best on the Cape. Many agree the museum is quite informative, too.
The Provincetown Museum, which features permanent exhibits highlighting the arrival of the Mayflower pilgrims, the town's maritime history, the early days of modern American theater in Provincetown and the building of the monument. There is also a recreation of a 19th-century sea captain's parlor at home and his quarters at sea, a diorama of the Mayflower Compact being signed aboard the Mayflower in Provincetown Harbor and more.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Cape CodHistoric Homes/Mansions, Monuments and MemorialsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDHistoric Homes/Mansions, Monuments and MemorialsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Edward Gorey's name might not ring a bell immediately, but his drawings sure will. His more recognizable works include the macabre alphabet in "The Gashlycrumb Tinies" and the illustrated edition of T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" as well as illustration and design credits on Broadway and PBS. So if you love this distinct illustrator, you'll enjoy a tour of his home in Yarmouth Port, located along the Mid Cape.
According to past visitors, if you are a Gorey fan, this quirky museum is must-see. Travelers say that the museum offers a glimpse into the life of Gorey, along with eclectic personal items and informative tour guides.
- #9View all Photos#9 in Cape CodEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDEntertainment and NightlifeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
With more than 90 seasons under its belt, the Cape Playhouse is the country's oldest professional summer theater. Complete with the original – and somewhat uncomfortable – pews serving as the venue's seats, the interior makes for a quaint theater experience. But don't let the shabby-chic atmosphere fool you: The playhouse boasts quite an impressive alumni base, including Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis.
Though tickets can be pricey, many theatergoers say the productions are well worth the cost, praising the production quality and the ambiance. Many past visitors described the venue as beautiful and the atmosphere as welcoming, though some do lament the stiff seating and lack of strong air conditioning.
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