Looking for the best things to do in Cape Cod Massachusetts? Cape Cod is the nicest seaside destination in New England, in my opinion, filled with long dune-surrounded beaches, charming small towns that evoke an earlier age, picture-perfect shingled houses, and gardens straight out of a magazine.
Unlike lots of kids in Massachusetts, I didn’t grow up going to the Cape every summer. It’s a destination that’s come to mean more to me as an adult.
The Cape is more than just beaches and mini-golf, though of course those have their places. The Cape is filled with so many interesting towns, a lovely collection of museums, local breweries and wineries, charming walkable downtown areas, a theater, hydrangeas bursting out of everywhere, a local baseball league featuring soon-to-be MLB pros.
You could spend your entire trip to Cape Cod — or down the Cape, as we say in Massachusetts — without setting foot on a beach, and it would still be time well spent. This destination has a way of spellbinding you.
Here are some of the best things to do on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Best Things To Do in Cape Cod
Relax on the Cape Cod National Seashore
What do you think when you hear “Cape Cod”? You probably have images of beaches dancing in your heads! Spending time on the Cape Cod beaches, including the Cape Cod National Seashore, is one of the best things you can do here.
While there are wonderful beaches all over the Cape, from Mashpee to Dennis, the Cape Cod National Seashore is a nationally designated area covering 40 miles of beaches along the Lower and Outer Cape, from Chatham to Provincetown. The CCNS was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 as a means of preserving this wonderful coastline.
Some of the nicest beaches along the National Seashore include Nauset Beach in Orleans, Marconi Beach in Wellfleet, and Race Point Beach in Provincetown.
With coastline along Cape Cod Bay and the Atlantic Ocean coastline, you can easily relax the day away and pick up a tan, but keep aware of shark warnings. While shark attacks are uncommon, know that they do like to swim in the Cape’s waters, especially if seals are around.
There are fees to park at the National Seashore from $25 per day in summer. And if these beaches aren’t your thing, head to a different part of the Cape for even more beaches.
Visit a Cranberry Bog
Did you know that cranberries come from southeast Massachusetts? There’s a reason why we have them on Thanksgiving! (And a reason why the Cape Codder cocktail has its name.)
The Cape is full of cranberry bogs, some of which you can visit. You may not see the cranberries floating on the water — that’s solely during harvest time — but it’s fascinating to learn about these bogs and how the cranberry industry works today.
Cranberry Bog Tours offers tours of their own bogs in Harwich, showing the ins and outs of farming cranberries. Tours run from spring through fall.
Can’t get enough cran? The Harwich Cranberry Arts and Music Festival takes place each September, showcasing crafts and live music throughout town.
(And yes, I accidentally typed “cranberry blog” a dozen times while writing this.)
Go Whale Watching
Despite its reputation for being a shark haven thanks to Jaws, Cape Cod is one of the best places in the country you can see whales. Witnessing these majestic sea creatures is one of the best things you can do in Massachusetts — and the Cape happens to be a great whale hub.
The cool Atlantic waters make for a perfect stopover for whales, especially in the summertime when the Cape is booming with tourists. June through September is peak whale watching season, and companies take people out on their boats to see and photograph them close-up.
So where’s the best spot on the Cape for whale watching? Most tours depart from Provincetown, including the popular Dolphin Fleets and Captain John Boats. Alternatively, Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises depart from Barnstable.
Sandwich Glass Museum
Really, is one of the most surprisingly fun things to do in Cape Cod a little glass museum on the Upper Cape? Most definitely. The Sandwich Glass Museum is very unique and filled with many eye-catching exhibits that make all visitors stare in wonderment.
Located near Shawme Lake, visitors to the museum can see amazing miniatures and glassware from local and international artisans. Glass can be shaped in such interesting and inventive ways, as any viewer of Blown Away on Netflix can testify. And yes, the gift shop has plenty of ornate items for visitors to get their hands on and take home.
The Sandwich Glass Museum is open daily from 9:30 AM-5:00 PM with glassblowing demonstrations every hour, on the hour.
Visit Cape Cod Wineries
The Cape is home to the mildest climate in Massachusetts, and what comes with a mild northern climate? Wine, of course! Fortunately, there are plenty of lovely boutique-style vineyards to experience on the Cape to find your perfect pairing.
So where should you go? (Oh, and FYI, there are no vineyards on Martha’s Vineyard. It must be said!!) North Truro on the Outer Cape, just next door to Provincetown, is home to Truro Vineyards, which offers daily winter tastings (be sure to try their cabernet). They also have a distillery on site.
Bike or Run the Cape Cod Rail Trail
Taking a beach bike ride or run on a warm summer’s day is one of the Cape’s simple pleasures, and the Cape Cod Rail Trail that runs along picturesque Cape Cod Bay provides a memorable place to do so. These bike paths make for a great way to get your exercise in while enjoying the landscape.
The Cape Cod Rail Trail trailhead starts in West Yarmouth, splits off in Harwich, and continues up through the Cape before ending at the Wellfleet Trailhead.
It’s a lot to do on a single trip, but some people love returning to different sections on each visit, especially for frequent Cape visitors.
This 26-mile trail runs along the disused Cape Cod Central Railroad, which opened back in 1846.
Visit the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum
Over the years I’ve noticed that the Cape and islands tend to showcase Indigenous culture more than anywhere else in Massachusetts. And the Provincetown Museum is a great example — it’s the only permanent display to depict the pilgrims’ arrival from the point of view of the Wampanoag people. It’s the perfect opportunity to learn this story in a way that is more truthful than the overly sanitized version we were taught as children.
You’ll know the Pilgrim Monument when you see it — this tall tower dominates P-Town’s landscape, and yes, you can climb to the top of it. This landmark commemorates the town’s history as one of the first places settled by foreigners in the US. No Cape checklist would be complete without a visit to P-town!
The Pilgrim Monument was finished in 1910 to commemorate the signing of the Mayflower Compact and is a great place to learn more about the founding years of the United States. The Provincetown Art Association and Museum on Commercial Street (PAAM) houses a glorious art collection that is well worth the visit.
Explore Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge
Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, those little islands that look like raindrops falling from the elbow of the Cape in Chatham, provides a unique look at Cape Cod’s diverse geography and wildlife. It offers an in-depth look at the wildlife and landscape, all in a 3,500-acre area. The refuge is also home to the historic Monomoy Light and keepers’ house.
While many people come here to lie on the beach, I recommend you go for some nature walks while you’re here. The trails section of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge has more information and maps of hiking trails.
Hiking, photography, and wildlife watching are very popular here, and if you want to fish or hunt, you’ll need a license.
Be sure to stay out of the tall grasses while you’re here, unless you’re wearing long pants, socks, and covered shoes. Ticks can be an issue throughout New England.
Whydah Pirate Museum
Of COURSE the Cape has a pirate museum! Why would that be in question? Pirates may be long gone from the sandy shores of the Cape, but the evidence of their past is all housed within this museum, located in West Yarmouth.
The Whydah Pirate Museum is a tourist attraction that blends history, artifacts, and authentic re-creations for a fun activity the whole family will enjoy. It will probably be on top of your kids’ list of favorite things to do while visiting Cape Cod, and is a solid option for a rainy day.
The Whydah Pirate Museum requires ticket purchases for entry. General admission is $13-17.
Dive into Beautiful Hydrangea Gardens
When my sister and brother-in-law got married on the Cape, they gave us Cape-themed temporary tattoos as favors, and I immediately grabbed a hydrangea tattoo for my wrist. These beautiful flowers, in shades from periwinkle to lilac to rose, are all over the Cape and islands.
Just taking a leisurely stroll through the Cape’s charming towns is a delightful way to enjoy the vibrant colors of many residents’ hydrangea-filled gardens. You’d be hard-pressed to find another place in the world with as many hydrangeas as here in the summer season.
And if you’re a gardening enthusiast or just a fan of pretty flowers, you’ll love visiting the Heritage Gardens & Museums in Sandwich.
Another option is this this private garden tour at The Hydrangea Guy’s house in Yarmouth. The Guy in question, Mal Condon, happens to be the curator of the museum!
And the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival takes place for 10 days every July, with locals opening their gardens to visitors. It’s a wonderful way to experience the Cape’s most beautiful flowers and meet interesting gardeners.
See a Movie at the Wellfleet Drive-In
Drive-in movie theaters were a mainstay of the 1950s — and, um, 2020 — but they’re still going strong down the Cape! Wellfleet still hosts drive-in movies for those nights when you want to go out but also relax and chill.
The Wellfleet Drive-In shows many new release films and summer classics and will often show two films a night, the earlier one for the family and a more adult-oriented offering later on.
The Wellfleet Drive-In is located just off Highway 6 on the Outer Cape. It has a fun dairy and snack bar (with prices more reasonable than typical movie theaters), plus mini-golf and a playground.
Explore JFK and Kennedy History
While many celebrities and public figures have enjoyed spending time on the Cape and islands, no family has been as associated with the Cape as the Kennedys. On Cape Cod, particularly Hyannis, visitors will notice their influence constantly, with plaques and historical markers.
A good way to dive into this history is to visit the John F Kennedy Museum in Hyannis. Further down toward Hyannisport is the Joseph P. Kennedy House, better known as the Kennedy Compound, the massive family compound where they continue to spend their summers (and is not open to the public).
The John F Kennedy Museum in Hyannis is open Monday through Saturday year-round but changes hours according to the season.
Cape Cod Caper Scavenger Hunt
Scavenger hunts have been popping up in cities all over the US, and it’s so nice one has arrived that includes the Cape. Then take your family vacation on a scavenger hunt through Hyannis and beyond!
All you need is your phone, and you set off checking in at different destinations, interpreting clues, and meeting locals along the way.
It’s a great way to explore Hyannis and its surroundings, and works very well as a family activity or adult-only adventure. Plus, you’ll feeling like a local expert when you’ve finished.
Cape Cod Goat Experience
If you’re looking for something a little more unique than sit-in-the-sun-and-get-ice-cream, have I got an experience for you. If you want an experience on Cape Cod that is both family friendly and off the beaten path, then look no further than The Goat Experience in Barnstable.
This experience at Triple H Farm involves a 90-minute meet-and-greet with some of the cutest little farm animals you’ll ever see.
Trust me — if you bring young kids here, this is what they’ll always remember about their trip down the Cape! And for adults who love animals, you will enjoy this just as much (and get plenty of good Instagram photos).
Visit Cape Cod Breweries
New England is internationally famous for its home-crafted of IPAs, and in my opinion, there’s nothing better than enjoying a locally brewed craft beer with a lobster roll. That is what my home state’s cuisine is to me! Fortunately, Cape Cod has some amazing breweries to enjoy throughout the year to go with its world class seafood.
Some of the popular breweries down the Cape include Cape Cod Beer and Barnstable Brewing in Hyannis, Naukabout Brewery in Mashpee, the ever-popular Hog Island Beer Co. in Orleans, and the vibrant Provincetown Brewing Co located in Provincetown!
Hog Island has a beer garden on a spacious lawn and often features live music with loads of fun games to play.
Cape Cod Museum of Natural History
Located on Main Street in Brewster, the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History is unique in that it is an indoor/outdoor experience. With plenty of exhibits and short lectures to listen to, visitors will learn lots of interesting information about the flora and fauna of the Cape’s unique land.
There are walking tours to enjoy, an aquarium, opportunities for outdoor recreation, and a chance to see native animals to the Cape in their natural habitat. This is a great spot if you have kids.
The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History is open daily, 10:00 AM-4:00 PM.
Explore by SUP or Kayak
If a stand-up paddle board or kayak day trip is more your speed, Cape Cod’s bodies of water make for great opportunities to explore. The Cape Cod Canal and the Cape’s various ponds and lakes offer serenity and charm without having to contend with big ocean waves.
There are plenty of opportunities to see the Cape on a scenic drive or bike ride, but a leisurely paddle is just as good for taking it all in! (And it’s fantastic for your core.)
There are several rental services to choose from, with many located on the Upper Cape, near Bourne and Sagamore. Cape Cod Kayaks, located in Bourne, has all your kayak and SUP rental needs covered for exploring the canal. And just about every town on the Cape has its own rental spot.
Visit Cape Cod’s Lighthouses
Many Cape Cod regulars and residents would argue that the most common symbol of Cape Cod is its historic lighthouses, and there are plenty of them to see and experience when you visit. They are a quintessential reminder of what the old Cape was like and always have an amazing local legend or two behind them.
While there are quite a few lighthouses on the Cape, some of the more iconic ones include the Chatham Lighthouse in Chatham, Highland Light in North Truro, and Nauset Lighthouse in Eastham. Race Point Light Station up in Provincetown is also popular with visitors.
If you happen to be swimming at Nauset Light Beach, Race Point Beach, or Lighthouse Beach, a visit to their respective lighthouses makes for an enlightening way to add to your beach day.
See a Show at the Cape Playhouse
Sure, there are some of the best beaches on the East Coast on Cape Cod, but this iconic region also has a thriving theater arts scene. The Cape Playhouse was born in the 1920’s when founder Raymond Moore moved an abandoned Nobscussett meetinghouse to his land in Dennis. It gained popularity with New Yorkers, who loved Broadway but couldn’t stand Manhattan in the stuffy, stifling summer temperatures!
Each year several productions make their way to the Playhouse, delighting its captive audiences. Bette Davis, Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart, and Jane Fonda have all performed here.
Take a look at their schedule to see what’s on this summer.
See a Cape Cod Baseball League Game
Cape League Baseball is considered the best summer league competition in the country. For many college players about to enter the MLB Draft, it acts as a “finishing school” before they’re drafted by teams. This is your chance to say “I knew them when” before they get nationally famous!
Each player is hosted by a family on the Cape, and some form lifelong bonds with their families. The film Summer Catch centers around the league and chances are several of your favorite players spent a summer here. A Cape Cod Baseball League game is must-see for any sports fan visiting Cape Cod in the summer.
The CCBL teams include Chatham Anglers, Brewster Whitecaps, Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, Orleans Firebirds, Bourne Braves, Hyannis Harbor Hawks, Cotuit Kettleers, Harwich Mariners, Wareham Gatemen and Falmouth Commodores. Who will you adopt?
For scheduling info, standings, merchandise and all things CCBL, visit their website.
Cape Cod Museum of Art
When it comes to things to do on Cape Cod for the artistically inclined, there’s almost too much to experience. With galleries and exhibitions everywhere, you’re spoiled for choice. But the Cape Cod Museum of Art is its central hub and well worth a visit.
Located in Dennis, just across the street from the Cape Playhouse, the CCMA houses several exhibitions throughout the year from local and international artists. The sculpture garden is a particular highlight worth visiting.
For more information about the CCMA including current exhibitions, hours or other events, visit their website.
Have a Fun Day or Night Out in P-Town
Provincetown, as you may have noticed, has been mentioned several times in this list of Cape Cod activities. That’s for good reason! There’s plenty to do for the whole family, and the town really comes alive at night. The LGBTQ+ community thrives here, and each night, in the summer especially, is always both vibrant and memorable.
There are plenty of shops and galleries to browse through on and off Commercial Street during the day, and iconic restaurants and bars to visit, like the famous Lobster Pot, at night. (And if you want to dance by afternoon, head to the Tea Dance at the Boatslip.) Be sure to try some Portuguese food, too.
If you are visiting P-town from Boston, the ferry makes it a fantastic summer day trip. I highly recommend coming by ferry over driving, because it will save you hours of transport time.
Read More: 22 Fabulous Things to Do in Provincetown, MA
Take a Day Trip to Martha’s Vineyard
Can the Vineyard be done as a day trip from the Cape? I think so, if you’re staying close to the ferry (either Woods Hole in Falmouth, or Hyannis). I wouldn’t do a day trip if you’re staying in, say, Truro or Provincetown. Taking your car over is expensive, so get around with a mix of the buses and a bike if you’d like.
I recently visited Martha’s Vineyard for the first time ever, and I’m sorry it took me so long! It is often regarded as a playground for the rich and famous, including former President Barack Obama, and has long been a vacation getaway for wealthy Black travelers. But despite the many wealthy people who travel here, the island feels down to earth with great things to do for everyone.
The beaches of Martha’s Vineyard are lovely, and while they were the inspiration for the location of Jaws, don’t let it scare you from taking a well-earned dip! I loved the beaches on Chappaquiddick Island, including Wasque Point. And don’t miss Moshup Beach and the spectacular cliffs of Aquinnah (formerly Gay Head), which look especially good just before sunset.
Edgartown and Oak Bluffs are the two main centers on the island, both home to shops and restaurants. Oak Bluffs is famous for its gingerbread houses, which dot many a Vineyard postcard. Vineyard Haven is a lovely town that feels more local and low-key. But don’t shy away from visiting more remote areas.
Take a Day Trip to Nantucket
Can you do a day trip to Nantucket from the Cape! Definitely, but I only would if you’re staying close to Hyannis, and I wouldn’t bring your car with you (it’s even more expensive than bringing your car to Martha’s Vineyard).
Nantucket island is absolutely stunning, even on the dreariest of days. There are many amazing historic homes to gawk at and lovely beaches to explore.
But there is plenty of history to examine when visiting Nantucket, thanks to its history as a whaling hub. Once you hop off the ferry, you only need to walk a block or two to be at the footsteps of the Whaling Museum. Here you can learn all there is about the Cape’s whaling history and see the delicate intricacies of Scrimshaw Art hand-carved by these whalers.
For a fantastic seafood meal with a view, it’s hard to pass up CRU on the harbor. The Chicken Box is a famous Nantucket bar where there’s always fun late-night shenanigans afoot. For beer enthusiasts, head on over to Cisco Brewers on the south end of the island.
To get to Nantucket from Cape Cod, ferries leave regularly from Hyannis via Steamship Authority. Red pants are optional.
How Much Time To Spend in Cape Cod
There are a million different ways to plan a trip to Cape Cod, and you can have fun no matter how much time you have.
Only coming down for a day? That’s great! If you’re coming from Boston in the summer, I highly recommend taking the ferry to Provincetown for the day, as it’s pleasant, fun, and you get to avoid traffic. Otherwise, plan carefully. There can be a lot of traffic on summer weekends and I don’t want you to spend half your day stuck on the bridge.
Coming down for a weekend? Wonderful. Spend your days exploring the town you’re based in and soaking up some beach time — and maybe venture to a few key historic sites you want to visit.
Coming down for a week? Excellent. You’ve got time to do quite a lot of things along the Cape, traveling up and beyond your immediate area, visiting Falmouth if you’re based in Truro, visiting Wellfleet if you’re based in Dennis.
Coming down for an extended stay? Fantastic! Get ready to know the Cape well. You can fit in some juicy day trips to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket — perhaps even overnight if you’d like — and truly get to explore the wonderful towns up and down the Cape.
How to Get To Cape Cod
Cape Cod is easily accessible within Massachusetts and New England. Most visitors arrive by driving, but keep in mind that the Sagamore Bridge can have quite a bit of traffic on summer weekends and other busy days.
You can fly directly to Cape Cod — there are airports in both Hyannis and Provincetown. Hyannis services flights from a few different destinations in the Northeast, while Provincetown services flights from Boston (just 20 minutes!).
The ferry from Boston to Provincetown is a wonderful way to get to the Cape and avoid traffic! It’s a car-free hydrofoil, but luckily, P-Town is one of the best places on the Cape to explore without a car.
And if you’re looking to arrive by public transportation, there are bus lines connecting the Cape. Cape Cod Regional Transport Authority has a variety of bus lines criss-crossing the cape, while Peter Pan Bus Lines has routes down the Cape from destinations in Massachusetts and beyond. The CapeBus provides premium shuttle transportation from Logan Airport.
Where to Stay in Cape Cod
Where’s the best place to stay in Cape Cod? The answer is different for every traveler! Take a look at my guide to the towns of Cape Cod to figure out which town is best for you.
Provincetown is a great choice if you want a fun, bustling, nightlife-rich town you can enjoy without a car. The modern and central Pilgrim Inn is one of the best-reviewed spots in town (see more places to stay in P-town here).
Orleans is a nice choice for a quieter getaway with lovely beaches, yet the amenities of a nice downtown. The Cove Motel is well-situated downtown and enjoyed my stay here (see more places to stay in Orleans here).
Best Time To Visit Cape Cod
Cape Cod is a quintessential summer destination, and when the Cape is at its best. It’s all about beaches, biking, lighthouse-hopping, eating fresh oysters while looking over the water, and topping it off with ice cream and mini-golf, or maybe a Cape Cod Baseball League game.
That said, summer is the busiest and most expensive time of year. If you’re going to book a summer trip down the Cape, be sure to book your accommodation as soon as possible, because the good places tend to book out very quickly.
That said, if you’re looking for off-season fun, the Cape happens to be fantastic in the fall. You get to experience a quieter atmosphere, fewer crowds, fall foliage, and a more local feel. Fall colors tend to peak in late October on the Cape, and are among the last leaves to turn in New England.
Spring is also an option for an offbeat Cape Cod getaway, but spring weather in Massachusetts tends to be more of a gamble than the fall, with lots of gray rainy days. But if you land on a perfect early spring day, there’s nothing better!
Winter on the Cape is quiet and local. It feels a lot like how the Cape used to feel, back before so many wealthy visitors bought up the real estate. This is very much low season, and many businesses are closed.
This can be a nice time to visit if you enjoy solitude and perhaps have a creative project to work on. And while it does snow here, snowfall is mild compared to other parts of Massachusetts.
Is Cape Cod Worth It?
Of course Cape Cod is worth it! This is one of the most fabulous beach destinations in the United States, and one of the true gems of New England!
I may not have visited Cape Cod much while growing up in Massachusetts, but visiting an adult has shown me what a truly special destination it is.
Go enjoy the best of the Cape. You might have found your new favorite summer destination!
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Have you been to Cape Cod? What are your favorite things to do? Share away!