The Ultimate Guide To Cape Cod
Cape Cod, the most sought-after beach destination in the northeast US!
Cape Cod, a crescent-shaped peninsula extending out into the Atlantic Ocean, is home to several quaint beach towns, idyllic beaches, and a couple of islands, making it one of the most popular tourist attractions of New England!
Cape Cod, an arc-shaped headland jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean from the southeast corner of Massachusetts, is located about seventy miles south of Boston. The unfathomably beautiful landscape of Cape Cod, consisting of several miles of gorgeous sandy beaches, marshlands, sand dunes, forests, and many picturesque lighthouses, has been cherished by tourists and photographers for years! The quaint seaside towns, with art galleries, gardens, lovely architecture, seafood shacks, cute stores, and several local eateries, add to the captivating charm of Cape Cod!
Cape Cod and its surrounding landscape, including its several small and a couple of bigger islands, inland lakes, and ponds, were formed by glaciers and are continuously being shaped by the ocean. There’re fifteen towns in Cape Cod, and the entire peninsula is divided into three logical sections – Upper Cape, Mid Cape, and Lower Cape & Outer Cape. Cape Cod is also home to several islands, out of which Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard are the two major and most popular islands of Cape Cod that are accessible via ferries departing from the Upper Cape region.
Enjoy the gorgeous beaches, marvel at spectacular coastal views, see historical monuments, explore charming coastal towns, tour the lighthouses, and take a ferry to one of Cape Cod’s islands!
The gorgeous coastline of Cape Code offers a myriad of family-friendly water recreational activities, including sunbathing, swimming, sailing, surfing, bodyboarding, kayaking, and private boat rentals. However, there’s a ton of other things to do in Cape Cod catering to every age group and interest, including several historic sites, some great museums, many historical lighthouses, whale watching, hiking, biking, golfing, and several vibrant nightlife venues!
Here is my ultimate guide to Cape Cod, featuring essential trip-planning information, major attractions, Cape Cod attractions map, and recommendations on hotels and restaurants in Cape Cod!
Planning Your Trip To Cape Cod
Flying into Boston and then drive to Cape Cod, staying in an oceanfront resort, and exploring the islands and coast using local tour companies, is the best way to get the most out of your trip to Cape Cod!
Best Time To Visit Cape Cod: Even though next to the Atlantic Ocean, winters are a bit chilly in Cape Cod, making late spring through fall the best time to visit Cape Cod for water sports and beach activities. Summer and fall, June through October, are the peak seasons in Cape Cod as they have the perfect temperatures for outdoor fun, but being the busiest time in Cape Cod, you must make your reservations in advance and be prepared for a lot of crowd and traffic. However, if you don’t mind slightly cooler temperatures and layered clothing, traveling in winter and early spring is a great way to beat the crowds at Cape Cod.
Time Required At Cape Cod: Many people make day trips to Cape Cod from Boston, mainly visiting Provincetown, the outer section of Cape Cod, which is fine if you’re pressed for time, but there’s a lot more to see in Cape Cod. With so many things to do and see in the different regions of Cape Cod, I recommend spending a minimum of three days to see the major highlights of Cape Cod. However, if you have more time, you could spend an entire week in Cape Cod exploring every museum, visiting its several lighthouses, hitting all of its gorgeous beaches, and go whale watching, besides all the mainstream attractions.
Getting To Cape Cod: Though Cape Cod has a regional airport, flying into Boston Logan International Airport and then driving to Cape Cod is the best way to get to Cape Cod. Alternatively, you could also take an Amtrak train or a Greyhound bus to Boston and then drive to Cape Cod.
- Flight: Barnstable Municipal Airport (HYA), in Hyannis, Cape Cod, is the closest airport to Cape Cod, but it’s serviced only by a few airlines. A better option is flying into Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), Boston, Massachusetts, about 70 miles from Cape Cod, and then driving an hour and a half to Cape Cod, or taking a ferry or bus from Boston to Cape Cod.
- Train: The South Station in Boston, an Amtrak train station located right in downtown Boston, is the closest Amtrak station to Cape Cod. Once you get to Boston South Station, you could rent a car and drive or take a bus or ferry to Cape Cod.
- Bus: Greyhound offers bus services in Massachusetts, with the closest Greyhound bus stop to Cape Cod located at 700 Atlantic Avenue, in downtown Boston.
- Boston to Cape Cod: I recommend renting a car when visiting Cape Cod, but if driving is not an option, you could take a bus, Plymouth-Brockton Bus, or a ferry to Cape Cod, offered by Bay State Cruises and Boston Harbor Cruises to get to Cape Cod from Boston.
Traffic, Parking & Transportation In Cape Cod: Most hotels and attractions in Cape Cod offer onsite parking, but Cape Cod is known for its infamous traffic congestions, especially during the peak seasons. Though Cape Cod’s Regional Transit Authority (CCRTA) offers year-round bus and shuttle services, I recommend renting a car when visiting Cape Cod.
Sightseeing Tours In Cape Cod: While you could drive to all the inland attractions in Cape Cod, you would need to use one of the local tour companies in Cape Cod to get to the islands and explore its gorgeous coastline and marine life. Here’re some of the popular sightseeing tours and companies in Cape Cod – Dune tours by Art’s Dune Tours, Provincetown Trolley tours by Mayflower Trolley, ferries to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket islands offered by Island Queen and Hy-Line Cruises, whale & dolphin watching cruises by Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises and Dolphin Whale Watch, Monomoy, an island and wildlife refuge tours by Monomoy Island Excursions.
Lodging Options In Cape Cod: Cape Cod is home to several gorgeous seaside retreats ranging from luxury oceanfront resorts to rustic seaside bread and breakfasts, featuring spectacular coastal views in a laidback and romantic setting. Here’re my top picks for resorts and hotels in Cape Cod –
- Wequassett Resort and Golf Club
- The Mansion at Ocean Edge
- Chatham Bars Inn
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cape Cod Hyannis
- Ocean Club On Smugglers Beach
Dining Options In Cape Cod: Popularly known for its fresh seafood, especially lobster dishes, fried fishes, and homemade ice creams, Cape Cod offers several dining options ranging from charming seaside shacks to waterfront fine dining. Here’re my top picks for eateries in Cape Cod – Classic seafood in The Lobster Pot in Provincetown and Spanky’s Clam Shack and Seaside Saloon in Hyannis, yummy homemade ice cream at Katie’s Homemade Ice Cream in Hyannis and Sundae School Ice Cream in Dennis Port, and delicious pastries at Cottage Street Bakery in Orleans.
Things To Do In Cape Cod
Cape Cod Attractions Map
Cape Cod Brief Overview
The inland Cape Cod is logically divided into three regions – Upper Cape, Mid Cape, and the Lower / Outer Cape. Upper Cape is the area closest to the mainland, Lower / Outer Cape the furthest section from the mainland, and the area between the Upper and Lower Cape is called Mid Cape. Though every region has its own charm and attractions, the Lower / Outer Cape is the most popular among all, and if you’re just visiting for a day, that’s where you should plan to spend most of your time.
Cape Cod also has several islands, three major islands, and many other smaller islands along the Atlantic Coast. To make it easy for you to follow and plan your trip to Cape Cod and to organize the content better, I have grouped the attractions and things to do in Cape Cod into four sections – Upper Cape, Mid Cape, Lower / Outer Cape, and Cape Cod Islands.
Here’re the must-see see places on a trip to Cape Cod, starting with attractions in Lower / Outer Cape!
Lower / Outer Cape
Lower / Outer Cape
Provincetown ✦ Orleans ✦ Truro ✦ Harwich ✦ Brewster ✦ Chatham ✦ Eastham ✦ Wellfleet
The Lower / Outer Cape is the most popular section of Cape Cod, and if you’re pressed for time or just visiting for a day, this is where you would want to spend most of your time. Home to Cape Cod National Seashore, the Lower / Outer Cap features stunning coastal views, several beaches, dunes, historical monuments, museums, and a myriad of various water sports and outdoor activities. If you’re taking a ferry to Cape Cod from Boston, you would most likely dock at Provincetown, which is the town at the tip of Cape Cod and the best place to stary your Cape Cod venture. Even if you’re driving to Cape Cod, I recommend heading straight to Provincetown in Lower / Outer Cape and then making your way back to Mid and Upper Cape.
Lower / Outer Cape Beaches: Race Point Beach, Oyster Pond Beach, Rock Harbor Beach, Hardings Beach, First Encounter Beach, Nauset Beach, Long Point Beach, Skaket Beach, Nauset Light Beach, Coast Guard Beach, Lighthouse Beach, Marconi Beach, Herring Cove Beach
Lower / Outer Cape Lighthouses: Race Point Lighthouse, Wood End Lighthouse, Long Point Light Station, Highland Lighthouse, Three Sisters Lighthouses, Nauset Lighthouse, Chatham Lighthouse,
Lower / Outer Cape Attractions
- Cape Cod National Seashore: The east coast of Cape Cod’s Lower / Outer Cape is a designated National Seashore protecting the pristine coastline, natural resources, woodlands, and marine life. The Cape Cod National Seashore features spectacular beaches, dunes, woodland areas, and several hiking trails.
- Pilgrim Monument: The Pilgrims, a group of English settlers seeking religious freedom, crossed the Atlantic Ocean and first landed in Provincetown in 1620. Later in 1910, the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown was built to commemorate the first landfall of the Pilgrims. The Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown is about 252 feet tall freestanding Italian-style bell tower. You can climb to the top of the Pilgrim Monument for spectacular coastal views and explore the several exhibits in the museum at the monument’s base.
- Highland Light: While there’re numerous lighthouses in Cape Cod, the Highland Light, also known as the Cape Cod light, was the first lighthouse constructed in Cape Cod and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The lighthouse features a museum and offers seasonal lighthouse tours and climbs.
- Chatham Marconi Maritime Center: The Chatham Marconi Maritime Center was once a wireless radio station that played a significant role in World War II. It’s now a museum showcasing radio equipment and other exhibits shedding light on maritime radio and modern-day radio technologies.
- Cape Cod Museum of Art: The Cape Cod Museum, also referred to as CCMOA, is an art museum in the town of Dennis, Lower / Outer Cape Cod, featuring paintings and sculptures created by various artists inspired by the natural beauty of Cape Cod.
- Provincetown Art Association and Museum: Located in the town of Provincetown, PAAM is another excellent art museum in Lower / Outer Cape Cod, showcasing and promoting fine arts through its several art exhibits created by artists of Provincetown and its several workshops and events.
- Cape Cod Museum of Natural History: The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History is a small museum located in Brewster, featuring several exhibits and artifacts related to the natural resources at Cape Cod, including an aquarium, Bee Hives, a Marshview Room offering views of the marshland, and a discovery and play area popular with kids.
Hyannis ✦ Barnstable ✦ Dennis ✦ Centerville ✦ Cotuit ✦ Marstons Mills ✦ Osterville
The region between the Upper Cape and the Outer / Lower Cape is known as the Mid Cape. The Mid Cape section of Cape Cod features golden sandy beaches, a couple of interesting museums, historical sites, and the heritage Cape Cod Central Railroad, which offers epic scenic train excursions. Here’re are the must-see beaches, lighthouses, and other popular attractions in the Mid Cape region of Cape Cod
Mid Cape Beaches: Kalmus Beach, Sea Street Beach, Craigville Beach, Veterans, Park Beach, Grays Beach, Seagull Beach, West Dennis Beach, Chapin Memorial Beach
Mid Cape Lighthouses: Sandy Neck Lighthouse, Hyannis Light, Point Gammon
Mid Cape Attractions
- Cape Cod Maritime Museum: Located in Hyannis, the Cape Cod Maritime Museum showcases the rich marine history of Cape Cod through its several artifacts and exhibits related to shipbuilding, shipwrecks, and artwork.
- Cape Cod Central Railroad: The Cape Cod Central Railroad offers scenic rail excursions of Cape Cod, featuring scenic coastal vistas, marshlands, sand dunes, and some pristine areas of Cape Cod. The Cape Cod Central Railroad also offers onboard dining experiences and a few seasonal train rides, including Halloween and Polar express rides.
- Whydah Pirate Museum: Located in West Yarmouth, the Whydah Pirate Museum is one of the most unique museums in the US that features several recovered pirate treasures. The Whydah Gally, a cargo and passenger ship, was captured by the notorious pirate Captain Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy, who used it to rob many other vessels before Whydah Gally sank to the bottom of the ocean. It was later recovered with several pirate treasures, which are now on display at the Whydah Pirate Museum.
- Judah Baker Windmill: Named after its creator Judah Baker, the Judah Baker is a historic windmill built in the year 1791, located in South Yarmouth, offers picturesque coastal views and access to the windmill where you could see the old machinery.
- Cape Cod Rail Trail: Stretching 25 miles from Dennis to Wellfleet, the Cape Cod Rail Trail is a paved trail used mainly by cyclists with several vista points and outlooks. Though it’s primarily a bike path, Cape Cod Rail Trail is also used by hikers and horse riders.
Sandwich ✦ Falmouth ✦ Mashpee ✦ Bourne ✦ Falmouth ✦ Sandy Neck
The Upper Cape region of Cape Cod is the area closest to the mainland adjacent to the Cape Cod Canal is the second most popular section of Cape Cod after the Outer / Lower Cape. The Upper Cape section is popularly known for the museums and historical sites in the town of Sandwich in the northern part of Upper Cape and its ferry terminals to the island of Martha’s Vineyard.
Upper Cape Beaches: Menauhant Beach, Old Silver Beach, Sandy Neck Beach
Upper Cape Lighthouses: Wings Neck Lighthouse, Cleveland Ledge Light, Nobska Lighthouse
Upper Cape Attractions
- Sandwich Glass Museum: Celebrating the heritage of glass making, the Sandwich Glass Museum features an extensive collection of intricately carved glassware produced in Sandwich, hourly glass-blowing demonstrations, and several exhibits about the town’s history and contribution to the American glassmaking industry.
- Heritage Museums & Gardens: The Heritage Museums & Gardens is a museum complex featuring ten beautiful gardens decorated with various artworks, sculptures, and miniature structures, including a treehouse, a windmill, a flume fountain, and bee hotels. The museum complex also features an Antique American automobile collection, an American folk art collection, and a vintage carousel.
- Dexter Grist Mill / Hoxie House: Reflecting on the town’s history and culture, the Dexter Grist Mill and Hoxie House offer a glimpse of what the town of Sandwich looked like in the 17th century. The Dexter Grist Mill is an old working grist mill powered by a water wheel, and the Hoxie House is a historical New England-style house with original furniture, a site to experience original colonial construction and lifestyle in the town of Sandwich.
- Highfield Hall & Gardens: Once the summer home of the Bebe Family, the Highfield Hall & Gardens is now open to the public, offering self-guided tours of the beautiful gardens and the expansive seaside victorian mansion with original furniture artwork, ceramics, and paintings. Highfield Hall also hosts seasonal events, including art exhibitions, concerts, and shows.
Cape Cod Islands
Cape Cod Islands
Martha’s Vineyard ✦ Nantucket ✦ Monomoy Island
While Cape Cod has several small islands along the Atlantic Coast, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Monomoy Island are the most popular islands that are often visited when visiting Cape Cod. While Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are offshore resort destinations of Cape Cod, featuring quite a few oceanfront resorts and eateries, Monomoy Island is a day-trip destination featuring a wildlife refuge.
Martha’s Vineyard, the largest of all islands in Cape Cod, can be reached via a 45 minutes ferry ride departing from Woods Hole, Falmouth, in Upper Cape, offered by the Steamship Authority. Martha’s Vineyard is home to pristine beaches, sandy bluffs, salt marshes, farmlands, old Gothic Revival-style buildings, the famous Aquinnah Cliffs, Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, and the nation’s oldest platform carousel, the Flying Horses Carousel, still operational in Martha’s Vineyard. Martha’s Vineyard offers several lodging and dining options and is an excellent choice for a day trip or a prolonged beach vacation.
Nantucket, the second-largest island of Cape Cod, was once the world’s largest whaling industry. Nantucket is located about 30 miles south of Cape Cod and can be reached by ferries offered from Hyannis, Lower / Outer Cape region by Steamship Authority and Hy-Line. Featuring gorgeous beaches, lighthouses, the Nantucket Whaling Museum, Egan Maritime’s Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum, and several quaint resorts and eateries, Nantucket is one of the premier off-coast summer destinations in Cape Cod.
The Monomoy Island is a barrier island south of Chatham, which at times stays connected to the mainland when the water levels are low but separates when the water level rises. Monomoy Island is home to the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, protecting seals, various species of sea birds, and other wildlife. Monomoy Island is a popular day-trip destination accessible via boat tours offered by Monomoy Island Excursions.
Other Massachusetts Attractions & Related Posts
I hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Guide To Cape Cod, and I hope this will help you plan your trip to Cape Cod. You can find other attractions in Massachusetts in my Massachusetts Travel Guide.
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