Find Cape Cod Tourist Attractions, Activities, Events & Things to Do: 52 Things to Do on the Cape & Islands
The biggest draw for visitors to the Cape and Islands is undoubtedly the water. Many come simply to bask in the sun and play in the surf along the Cape’s 560 miles of sandy coastline. The area offers many water-related activities, to be sure, from whale and seal watching to surfing and sportfishing. You can paddle a kayak or sail on a sloop. Kids can learn about the marine environment aboard an educational cruise or play the role of buccaneers on a pirate cruise. In addition to water-related pursuits, the Cape and Islands offer museums and walking tours, hiking and biking trails, train rides and plane rides. The agricultural tradition continues to thrive here. You can tour wineries and small farms—even visit farmers’ markets. You can learn about the Cape’s abundant natural assets by visiting the 27,000-acre Cape Cod National Seashore or the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History. For old-fashioned summer fun, play a round of miniature golf or take a spin on a carousel. In the evening, you can take in a drive-in movie, a Cape Cod Baseball League game, a concert on the town green or a show at the Cape Cod Melody Tent or any number of theaters. From stimulating to sedate, the activities here offer something for everyone. Here are 52 to consider:
1 | National Treasure
The Cape Cod National Seashore should be on the top of every visitor’s list. Millions visit the National Seashore each year for its pristine beaches, self-guided nature trails, bicycle trails, lighthouses, picnic areas, scenic overlooks and historic sites. Most of the park’s features are located along a 40-mile stretch of Route 6 between Eastham and Provincetown on the outer Cape. Begin your visit at one of the park’s two visitor centers: the Salt Pond Visitor Center (50 Doane Rd., Eastham; 508-255-3421), open year round, or the Province Lands Visitor Center (Race Point Road, Provincetown; 508-487-1256), open May through October. Here you’ll find all the information you need to plan your expedition. Sign up for ranger-led programs, such as the Junior Ranger program, which gives children ages 5 to 12 the opportunity to look for seals, tour a lighthouse or listen to stories around a campfire. The National Seashore provides an opportunity to see indigenous flora and fauna in marshes, ponds and uplands—all unspoiled by development. Most activities are free. Beach fees: $15 per vehicle or $3 per person on foot or bicycle.
2 | Canal Capers
The primary purpose of the Cape Cod Canal—the widest sea level canal without locks in the world—is to provide a safe channel for vessels passing between Cape Cod Bay and Nantucket Sound. On average, the canal saves 135 miles of open sea travel around the tip of the Cape, which can be dangerous to navigate. But the Cape Cod Canal has come to serve another purpose: recreation. On any given day, you’ll see bicycling, jogging and rollerblading along the canal’s 7-mile service road. You’ll find people fishing from the canal’s banks and those just sitting along the banks hoping to catch a glimpse of a yacht, ship, barge or tugboat. A self-guided bike/hike map, with numbered poles 500 feet apart, indicates points of interest. The Visitor Center offers interactive films and exhibits on the operation and history of the canal. For more information, call the Cape Cod Canal Field Office (Academy Drive, Buzzard’s Bay; 508-759-4431) or the Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center (60 Ed Moffitt Drive, Sandwich; 508-833-9678). The Visitor Center is open from the beginning of May through mid-October.
3 | Our Heritage
Enjoy the rolling lush lawns, gorgeous gardens and eclectic collections found in the 100-acre wonderland of the Heritage Museums and Gardens (67 Grove St., Sandwich; 508-888-3300). If you visit in spring, the rhododendrons will be in bloom in various hues of pink; in summer, the daylilies create swaths of blazing color; in fall, the changes in foliage become apparent; during the winter holidays, the grounds are bedecked with an enchanting light display. Among the three museums are the Shaker round barn replica, which houses a collection of antique automobiles—including a 1930 Duesenberg driven by screen star Gary Cooper. The Art Museum exhibits such art and artifacts as early folk portraits and whalers’ scrimshaw. Take a spin on the restored Charles I.D. Looff 1912 hand-carved carousel. The American History Museum houses military and Native American artifacts, as well as antique toys. Feel free to make a day of it. You’ll find food at the Magnolia Café—or bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on the grounds. Open seasonally from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: $15 for adults; $12 for age 60 and over; $7 for ages 4 to 12; free for children under 3. Gardens Aglow, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday, Nov. 25 through Dec. 18. Admission: $10 for adults; $5 ages 3 to 17; children 2 and under are free.
4 | Seal Watching
The Lower Cape’s answer to whale watches is seal watches. Thousands of gray seals haul out along Chatham’s east coast, just a short boat trip from shore. Several services provide up-close views of the frolicking protected marine mammals: Beachcomber Seal Watch (508-945-5265), Outermost Adventures (508-945-5858) and Monomoy Island Ferry (508-945-5450). Prices range from $15 for kids to $25 for adults. Please call for schedules.
5 | Rail Trail
For outdoor enthusiasts, the 22-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail (508-896-3491) from Dennis to Wellfleet offers one of the best ways to catch back-door glimpses of the real Cape Cod. Tool on two wheels in the sunshine and ocean air along a paved path that runs past houses, cranberry bogs, salt marshes, ponds and country stores. Following the former right of way of the Old Colony Railroad, the trail has recently undergone rehabilitation to ensure a smoother ride. While bicyclists predominate, the trail also accommodates in-line skaters, runners, walkers and horseback riders (on the unpaved shoulder). No motorized vehicles are allowed. Bicycle rentals, food and water are available at several points along the trail. You’ll also find opportunities to exit the trail to visit a beach or a village center. An 8-mile extension from Harwich to Chatham takes bicyclists along main roads through parts of Harwich and along the shoreline past such landmarks as Chatham Light and the Chatham Fish Pier.
6 | Train Ride
Rail fans are bound to enjoy a ride aboard the Cape Cod Central Railroad (252 Main St., Hyannis; 888-797-7245 or 508-771-3800). Trips range from the two-hour scenic excursion to the three-hour elegant dinner train, featuring a five-course meal served in vintage dining cars. Also offered are two-hour luncheon excursions and a family supper train, featuring entertainment for children. While rolling along 46 miles of track, you’ll see sand dunes, salt marsh, cranberry bogs and woodlands. Fares range from $18 to $65; $14 to $30 for children under 12.
7 | Lighthouse Tours
Lighthouses are as much a part of Cape Cod and the Islands as the sea. For centuries they have guided mariners to safety through treacherous shoals. You’ll find eight working lighthouses on the Cape alone, mile-for-mile one of the largest concentrations of working lighthouses in the world. Be sure to check out the Cape Cod Highland Lighthouse (27 Highland Rd., Truro; 508-487-3397 or 508-487-1121), the oldest and highest lighthouse on Cape Cod. Also known as Cape Cod Light, it was one of Henry David Thoreau’s favorite spots on the Cape. Perched at the edge of a 120-foot-high cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the observation deck offers an incredible view. Open mid-May through mid-October, admission is $4. Children must measure 51 inches to climb the lighthouse. Other Cape lighthouses include Nobska Light in Woods Hole, Bass River Lighthouse at the Lighthouse Inn in West Dennis, Chatham Light next to the US Coast Guard Station in Chatham, Nauset Light off Ocean View Drive in Eastham and Race Point Light, Wood End Light and Long Point Light, all in Provincetown at the tip of the Cape.
8 | Art Trails
Do you enjoy following an artistic path? The Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, in its new Arts & Artisan Trails of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, offers routes to more than 200 artists and their studios. Following the trails outlined in the book will lead you to some of the Cape and Islands’ unique characters and their remarkable works of art, from carved decoys to scrimshaw. There’s the Shining Sea Trail, the Old King’s Highway Trail, the String of Ports Trail and more. New in 2008, the guide includes a watercolor map to help plan your trail-hopping. It also lists changes to the guide since the first printing and highlights new stops. The guide and map are available for $9.95 at the Cape Cod Chamber visitor center or online at www.capeandislandsartsguide.com.
9 | Natural History
Nature is the Cape’s chief asset, and the Lower Cape offers many ways to enjoy the outdoors. The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History (Route 6A, Brewster; 508-896-3867) provides a great introduction to the flora, fauna and natural history of the Cape, with exhibits about coastal processes and creatures of the land, sea and air. The “osprey cam,” trained on a nest near the museum of this once nearly extinct raptor, is a special treat. The property also includes walking trails that wind through various habitats, from woodland to marshland to beach. The museum is open daily June 1 through Sept. 30, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Wednesdays through Sundays the rest of the year, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 1 through May 31 and from noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 1 through March 31. Admission is $8 for ages 13 and up; $7 for seniors; $3.50 for ages 3 to 12; free for under 3.
10 | Nantucket Walking Tour
Learn about Nantucket’s rich history of whaling captains, intrepid wives, Quaker roots and the Great Fire of 1846 on a 1-1/2-hour walking tour of historic downtown, offered by the Nantucket Historical Association (15 Broad St.; 508-228-1894, ext. 0) With more than 20 properties under its umbrella, the NHA brings island history alive with colorful narratives of historic sites and provides an unbeatable perspective of how Nantucket came to be an international destination. Summer tours leave from the Whaling Museum at 11:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and at 2:15 p.m. on Sundays. Evening tours are available at 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday in summer. Tickets: $10 for adults; $8 for seniors; $4 for children.
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