The Top 10 Museums on Cape Cod

When people think about Cape Cod, they tend to think of the beaches, the boats, the sharks, the ice cream, the mini-golf, the light houses, the quaint streets and the fried clams. Less in the forefront of the mind is that Cape Cod is a historical and cultural center.

It’s where  the Pilgrims first arrived, novelists Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer called the Cape home, as did painters Edward Hopper and Sam Barber. Actors and musicians too numerous to name, artists of every stripe have lived in or been inspired by the Cape. We are an arts community and an historical center.

There are a number of museums here on Cape Cod that you may not know about, which are really worth a visit. Hey, not every day is a beach day.

The pandemic has affected museums as much as any businesses. Check with the museum you’re interested in to see if it’s operating under new hours. 

Highfield Hall and Gardens

Highfield Hall & Gardens is not your typical historic estate. While there’s plenty of history within its glorious old walls, Highfield is a vibrant cultural center surrounded by restored gardens, peaceful walking trails and conservation land. The magnificently restored 1878 estate of the Beebe family has been transformed into a vibrant center of cultural and community life on Cape Cod. The story of this property is a dramatic one as it was, literally, saved from the wrecking ball in 1994 and lovingly restored, opening as a museum and historic site in late 2006. From 2011 to 2013, the property’s two magnificent gardens also underwent restoration. Highfield Hall & Gardens offers many programs, hosts concerts and art exhibitions, weddings, private celebrations and corporate events at its spectacular Falmouth location. 

Cape Cod Children’s Museum

Cape Cod Children’s Museum is devoted to fun. It offers a tactile experience, where kids are encouraged to touch and feel, use their imagination and be creative. The museum prides itself on nurturing ‘the whole child’ through music, creative movement, science, art, literacy, exercise, and activities focused on local culture.

Adults are encouraged to get involved, touch stuff, and play in a way that in many other circumstances might freak people out.

The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History

The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History preserves, exhibits, and interprets collections of natural history artifacts from the region and displays relevant traveling and loan exhibits too. The museum engages with children and adults in programs, classes, lectures, panel discussions, workshops, films, walks, field trips, and interactive exhibits that reveal the many facets of the natural world and the impacts that humans and nature exert on each other particularly here on Cape Cod.

Heritage Museums and Gardens

Heritage Museums & Gardens offers 100 acres of family fun! The grounds include three galleries and expansive gardens. In the galleries, you’ll find an engaging collection of American Folk Art, a vintage carousel you can ride, important American automobiles from the brass age to the present, and traveling exhibits the family can enjoy together.

The gardens feature internationally important collections of rhododendrons, as well as the country’s most comprehensive collection of hydrangeas,  over 1,000 varieties of daylilies, hostas, herb, and heather gardens, and more than a thousand varieties of trees, shrubs and flowers along beautiful and easily walked paths.

The Sandwich Glass Museum

Operated by the Sandwich Historical Society, the Glass Museum, collects, preserves, and interprets the history of the Town of Sandwich through its association with the production of American glass. The Museum features a glass firing oven where guests can watch the resident glassblower turn and twist the hot glass into forms, while also touring through exhibits featuring thousands of historical and contemporary glass collections.

The John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum

There is a lot to know about the nation’s 35th president, But the JFK Hyannis Museum focuses on the president’s life on Cape Cod at “The Summer White House.” There is a particular focus on his youth and formative years, as well as his relationship with his family in Hyannis Port. They offer special exhibits on individual members of the Kennedy clan, provide multi-media displays, and host forums on the Kennedy’s contributions to the nation and to the Cape.

The Cape Cod Maritime Museum

The Cape Cod Maritime Museum is Cape Cod’s first museum dedicated to the region’s rich maritime culture. They pride themselves on preserving critical artifacts of bygone eras, and promoting the well-known sailing skills and heritage through exhibitions, displays, public events, and educational programs.  The year-round operation offers seminars on boat building, has the Cape’s largest scrimshaw collection, offers a “Climb Around Boat” for kids, and features a rotating display of maritime art.

The Cape Cod Museum of Art

The Cape Cod Museum of Art’s mission is to collect, study, interpret and exhibit works by outstanding artists with a regional association. The museum’s collections and exhibitions also include works drawn from a broader context, providing a more comprehensive understanding of the Cape’s regional artistic heritage. The museum offers educational and outreach programs; displays modern, contemporary, impressionist, portrait, and sculpture pieces; and features and ever-changing array of special exhibit collections.

The Whydah Pirate Museum

The Whydah Pirate Museum focuses on the lives of pirates with a particular emphasis on the pirate ship Whydah, a former British slave vessel – turned pirate ship under “Black Sam” Bellamy. After sinking in 1717, the ship was discovered by local explorer Barry Clifford, and became the first ever pirate shipwreck with its identity having been established and authenticated beyond doubt.

Now the collection has found a home in Yarmouth where young and old alike can learn about the Whydah’s slave and pirate history, while viewing actual gold and silver pirate treasure, pistols, buttons, buckles, and the ship’s cannon.

Falmouth Museums on the Green 

The Falmouth Museums on the Green contain a treasure trove of stories and artifacts that tell the history of the town of Falmouth. The museums overlook the Village Green where members of the Colonial militia practiced in the 1700s and sea captains built their homes. Two 18th-century houses display period furniture, fine art, textiles and rotating exhibits that provide a glimpse into the town’s rich historic past.

The museum offers beautiful gardens, facilities, and artifacts, but its real value is in presentation. Volunteers in period garb show you around like the place is their own. They teach you about the homes’ former residents, what’s growing in the garden and why, everything from how to make soap and candles to how to salt a fish.

By Staff
737 West Main Street
Hyannis, MA 02601
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