Mass native weighing in on the ins and outs on the best things to do on Cape Cod!
Beaches, Towns, Lighthouses, Islands and Wildlife: The Ten Best Places to See on Cape Cod
If you live in the United States, you've no doubt met someone who has been to Cape Cod. What's the allure of this peninsula on the eastern edge of Massachusetts? It's the beaches, small villages and towns, the migrating shorebirds, the beautiful sand dunes, great seafood restaurants, cottages, parks and lighthouses, but best of all, it's the disconnect from the world - forcing yourself to relax and enjoy nature and life. While it's not the most remote of locations, Cape Cod doesn't have an overwhelming amount of commercialization in most towns. There's just you, the beach, and the sun (along with plenty of other tourists). Let's go over some of the best things to do on Cape Cod, shall we?
Provincetown's Race Point
Right at the northernmost point of Cape Cod is Race Point in Provincetown. The area is unlike any other part of the state, and perhaps the whole northeast. Natural sand dunes roll through and offer miles upon miles of unmatched views of the open Atlantic waters and Cape Cod Bay. If you're feeling really adventurous, try hiking out to Race Point Lighthouse, a good two mile walk. If you're looking for an excellent beach, it's hard to find anything better than Race Point Beach. One of Cape Cod's best beaches, this beach has no rocks, has a beautiful backdrop of the sand dunes behind, and has constant boat traffic headed towards nearby Provincetown harbor. It's a beach day you'll never forget. If you're lucky, you might be able to see some whales spouting miles offshore in the popular Stellwagen Marine Sanctuary (except in the winter).
In the town center, there are many places to stay, but one of the most popular is the bed and breakfast route. Inns like the White Street Inn and Prince Albert House have excellent guest reviews. You can find some of the best rates for bed and breakfasts in the Provincetown area on this page.
Wellfleet Sanctuary is a Mass Audubon organization with walking paths, marshes, and over 1100 acres of pristine Cape Cod beauty to explore, along with guide-led hikes and nature programs in the facilities. It's known for its amazing bird population, as well as the large Wellfleet Bay region. The sanctuary even has its own butterfly and hummingbird garden.
Route 6A King's Highway
Most tourists are very familiar with Route 6, but that highway is no fun at all (until you get past the Orleans rotary, anyway). For a genuine Cape experience, head to the north side of the Cape, where antique Colonial era houses dot the "King's Highway" region of Route 6A. Along this road, you'll find New England farmhouses, antique shops, seafood restaurants, and some of the best beaches on the Cape. Towns like Brewster, Yarmouth, and Barnstable have incredible views of Cape Cod Bay, as well as charming cottages and old motels. It's the less commercial side of the Cape, but can still get jam packed during the summer months.
Cape Cod National Seashore
In the village of Nauset, which is part of Orleans, MA, lies the massive Cape Cod National Seashore. This large protected area of shoreline boasts 40 miles of natural beaches, cranberry bogs and open Atlantic waters. You can find the main entrance to the seashore on Route 6 in Nauset (or Orleans). It's part of the National Park Service, so you can purchase one of the passes for the entire National Parks system and it should be valid here as well. A bargain at only $50 for the year. Protecting wildlife, woods and beaches from encroaching development, the Cape Cod National Seashore remains one of the top attractions of the Cape, so leave plenty of time to see this gem.
Highland Light (Cape Cod Lighthouse)
Highland Lighthouse, or Cape Cod Light, is located in Truro, Massachusetts, near Route 6. A few miles before Provincetown, this lighthouse is on the eastern side of the Cape, the open side. Years back, the lighthouse was in danger of toppling into the open Atlantic waters, but a massive undertaking to move the light went underway to save the light from peril. It was successfully moved inland far away from the edge of the cliff to its present position. It's one the oldest lighthouses in the country, the original being built in 1797, with the current lighthouse erected in 1857. The picturesque light is often photographed and is one of Cape Cod's most recognizable attractions.
Just south of Chatham, Massachusetts, between the shore and Nantucket, the long peninsula island of Monomoy is home to many migrating birds like the roseate tern and piping plover. The two islands, North and South Monomoy Islands, are frequented by seals regularly, while the island itself has beautiful beaches, marshes, and some of the most remote scenery you can find on the Cape. Boat tours of the island depart from Chatham regularly in the summer months.
Wood's Hole Falmouth
If you've ever been to Martha's Vineyard in Cape Cod, you have most likely been to Wood's Hole. Wood's Hole is the southwestern point of the Cape, in the town of Falmouth. In it, you can find a small fishing village, as well as boats to both Nantucket and nearby Martha's Vineyard. A few miles back north, you can find Falmouth Center, one of the Cape's most bustling towns at the end of Route 28. It's one of Cape Cod's biggest towns, with plenty of small villages, beaches, shopping and restaurants.
A Cruise Through the Cape Cod Canal on Video
Cape Cod Canal
While the Canal isn't the official beginning of Cape Cod, it does separate the "mainland" from the rest of Massachusetts, and it's the unofficial border between relaxing getaway and the rest of the world. The canal stretches approximately 7 miles long, but was dredged another ten miles to allow ships to pass through the waters instead of traveling around the entire Cape Cod peninsula.
Not only is the canal a marvel of engineering, but is a beautiful manmade site to see, and a great welcome to the Cape. Entering Bourne, you can find great views of the bridges, the Sagamore and Bourne Bridge, as well as the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge from several points along Route 6, as well as Sandwich Road, or Route 6A, along the Cape side of the bridge.
Truro Highlands Dunes
The dunes of Truro are one of the most spectacular sights of all of Cape Cod. You start to see these undulating dunes on your trek north on Route 6 headed towards Provincetown. To the right, you'll see several pullovers to get further look at these beautiful dunescapes. Plan on taking some time out of your trip to take a brief hike to the shore, or even picnic at the beach. While the dunes are mostly on the eastern side of the peninsula, the eastern side has incredible beaches, and rows of cottages which have been photographed and painted by famous artists and photographers. These rustic Cape Cod cottages may not have many amenities, and that's because they don't need to. The beautiful sunsets right on the shore of Cape Cod Bay are the only amenity you'll need.
What's the Best Place on Cape Cod You've Visited?
Chatham has one of the most visited town centers on the entire Cape. Galleries, tourist shops, restaurants and small cafes line the streets of downtown, which can be explored in a few hours or less, depending on the amount of time you'd like to spend in each place. There are also historic churches and inns along the road, and Chatham Light is a just a couple of miles down the road. Parking can be tough to find in the summer and on weekends, so you may have to walk far to find a good spot. For a less crowded visit, head during the fall or spring, or during a summer weekday before the crowds rush in.
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All Cape Cod Photos Licensed Under Creative Commons 2.0 on Flickr
- Map of Cape Cod
Click this link to see an up close shot of the map.
© 2009 kiwi91
Tell Us About the Top Places in Cape Cod You've Visited -- What Do You Recommend?
The Write Life from The United States on December 29, 2015:
Nice article. I have to check out those Truro dunes!
Dianemae on July 30, 2015:
I have sailed all around these towns and many more. It is very hard to pick a favorite. Where I am at any given time is the favorite. Cuttyhunk Island would make my top ten.
Neco Ricci on April 23, 2012:
Stoney Brook Herring Run in Brewster during spring when the herring are running! My children, husband and I go every year!! And I've gone since my brother and I where children back when you could catch them by hand... Good times and great family adventure.
sunrise on January 21, 2012:
wellfleet is my happy place, many years of cherished memories.All the beaches are beautiful to me on the cape, the sunrises and sunsets leave me without words.Broke my heart to see a dunkin show up in south wellfleet though, takes away the charm of this lovely town.I support family owned business.
mamadukes on July 19, 2011:
I spend time at the Cape every year, twice a year for over 20 years. Your hub is very informative and I learned a few things I didn't know. Great hub! thanks for sharing
CapeCodder on October 28, 2010:
I would recommend taking a ride on the Cape Cod Central Rail. I live on Cape Cod and have to say I really enjoy it. It takes you through areas you won't be able to see driving around and you get to cross the old railroad bridge which is neat.
Addison on September 19, 2009:
Very nice hub on one of my most favorite places in New England. I voted for Cape Cod National Seashore but consider adding Nauset Beach. I lived there for 2 years and the winter storms are a sight to behold. They are brutal and change the landscape of the cape beaches over the stormy winter months.
You can also walk the beaches with your dogs and when the beach is frozen it makes for easy walking. The fall is not too bad either.
I've put a link to this in my Squidoo Cape Cod Vacations lens as its another great resource for others to find in following sites around.
E. A. Wright from New York City on September 13, 2009:
You've covered the highlights very well. And yes, it's definitely good advice to take 6A.
Race Point is amazing, but my vote went to Chatham Light... I just have some sweet memories there.
Christine Mulberry on August 12, 2009:
I've never been there, but it sounds lovely. Now I have a list of things to do!
Sandra Mireles from Texas on August 03, 2009:
Thanks for an informative hub about Cape Cod and New England.