Cape Cod is so much more than just a giant sandbar. It’s a surprisingly diverse landscape, filled with fantastic food, unforgettable geographical landmarks and activities for every member of the family. Of course, there are plenty of beaches to plop down on, and that’s certainly the main attraction. But don’t miss out on these quintessentially Cape Cod experiences:
1. Go On A Whale Watch
It may seem clichéd, but it’s a magical moment to observe a rare right whale reveal its jet black, bus-sized body. Whale watches embarking from Barnstable and Provincetown harbors will last 3-4 hours and, depending on the time of year, whale sightings are virtually guaranteed. Private whale watches, while more expensive, will last longer and will likely bring you to places larger fleets just can’t reach. Try our comprehensive guide to whale watches here.
2. Bike The Cape Cod Rail Trail
This 22-mile bikeway runs through the beautiful Mid and Lower Cape towns of Dennis, Harwich, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham and Wellfleet. Enjoy feeling like a little locomotive with wheels as you cruise this former railroad line through some of the most picturesque sights on Cape Cod. Watch the scenery evolve from downtown Dennis to the more agricultural areas of Harwich and kettle ponds of Brewster. The further you ride, the more opportunities you’ll have to pull over and make a stop at one of the fantastic Lower Cape beaches.
3. Overdose On Ice Cream
If you come to Cape Cod during the summer, what better way to relax and socialize than with a cone or cup from one of the area’s ubiquitous ice cream parlors. There’s a flavor for everyone here, from “cranberry bog” to “penuche pecan” to “lavender honeycomb.” Don’t fret if you’re visiting during the off-season, though. Ice cream is such a way of life here on Cape Cod, many of the region’s most famous spots either stay open all year long or have extended seasons.
4. Watch A Menemsha Sunset
There’s a wide range of options for viewing sunsets on the Cape. But one severely underrated evening experience requires you to hop on a boat or plane and head on over to the Vineyard – the southwestern corner of the Vineyard, to be precise. Nestled in the peaceful town of Chilmark, there’s a fishing village called Menemsha which has a little beach, a harbor and not much else. Nothing quite compares to the sunset here: The rustic harbor to the left and stretch of shoreline to the right, and a clear view of the perfectly centered sun sinking down under the waves. The spectacle draws a small crowd each evening throughout the year. It’s almost a local tradition; a habit written in the village’s collective DNA. The sense of community atmosphere and divine anticipation makes this sunset a must-see.
5. Tour All The Local Lighthouses
There are 14 lighthouses on Cape Cod, most of them are open regularly for visitors to learn about their rich naval histories and even walk around the light itself. See how these symbols of security have brought seafarers home safely from their offshore excursions for generations. Many of the tours are free and offer insight into intriguing pieces of local lore.
6. Rollerblade The Cape Cod Canal
A perfect route for any day, since the cooling canal winds are so refreshing during exercise. Try to outrun the smaller ships as you propel yourself down the smooth concrete paths on either side of the canal. Make a stop for lunch or ice cream under the train bridge on the Buzzards Bay side. There are also many geocaching opportunities along the 13 miles of paths. This is a local favorite for a reason: perfect for quick stops or longer picnics.
7. Climb To The Top Of The Provincetown Monument
This 252 foot high monument commemorates the Pilgrims actual first landing spot – not in what is now Plymouth, but at the tip of Cape Cod. The solid granite structure is actually 350 feet above sea level and requires summiteers to mount 116 steps to reach what is possibly the greatest view on Cape Cod. Once up there, you’ll see the harbor where the Mayflower docked 400 years ago, and, on a clear day, the natural curve of the Cape heading south.
8. Walk The National Seashore
There’s so much of the pristine outer Cape to explore, and the 68.1 square miles of National Seashore is the best place to start. Founded in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, this set of preserved Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens is filled with over 450 species of animals and 800 species of plants. Nature enthusiasts from across the world love to stroll the boardwalk inside the Atlantic Cedar Swamp, one of only a few such habitats remaining in the world. Or try the Fort Hill trail in Eastham which offers views of Nauset Marsh and Nauset Spit.
9. Search For Seals And Sharks On A Monomoy Tour
Since Monomoy Island off of Chatham is a haven for seals, it is also a haven for their greatest predators. Great White sharks can be seen off other Cape towns, but the Monomoy Island Ferry and seal cruises offer the closest views of the food chain in action. Even if you don’t spot a shark, the intelligent (and cute!) gray and harbor seals are entertaining in their own right. Great for kids or simply those who like watching cute, playful animals in their natural habitat. If you do see a shark, check out our guide to sharks near the Cape.
10. See A Double Feature At The Wellfleet Drive-In
Drive-ins aren’t just for ’50s high school couples. The only remaining drive-in on the Cape and South Shore is proving there’s still a place for a classic Americana experience. The outdoor theater’s outer Cape locale – noted for cool ocean breezes during warm summer nights – will be a respite for sweaty families after a long day at the beach. Founded in 1957, the drive-in features a classic snack bar with hard- and soft-serve ice cream, fries, popcorn and other staples of the cinephile diet. Films are shown here in double-feature format, which really makes the most of the $9 entrance fee.
Take your car on a mini road trip tour of Route 6A, the Cape’s original Highway. Stretching from Sandwich to Orleans along Cape Cod Bay, this roadway is lined with historical homes and charismatic small shops. Come here for art, food, novelty shops and plenty of views.
• Host or attend a clambake for some of the most traditional food around
• Watch the cranberry harvest in the fall
• Take a “haunted Cape Cod” tour during October
• Rent or hire a sailboat for a luxurious special date.