Where is Cape Cod? What makes a great Cape Cod getaway? Learn more about the popular summer vacation destination, including where to find the best beaches, restaurants, hotels, activities, and events.
By Aimee Tucker
Aug 19 2022
Old Silver BeachPhoto Credit : Aimee Tucker
Just where is Cape Cod? It’s a common question for visitors planning a Cape Cod vacation or New England road trip. Fortunately, the answer is an easy one. So where is Cape Cod? Look no farther than the crescent-shaped peninsula, or “arm,” of Massachusetts that juts into the Atlantic Ocean.
Famous for its beaches, landscapes, and cultural offerings, Cape Cod is one of the most popular summer vacation destinations in New England, if not America. Ready for a visit? Read on for a more in-depth answer to the question “Where is Cape Cod?” — including how to get there — plus highlights celebrating our favorite Cape Cod beaches and beach towns, Cape Cod restaurants, Cape Cod hotels, and some of the best things to do on Cape Cod. Let’s go!
Driving to Cape Cod
Ah, Cape traffic. In the summer, it’s unavoidable, but as long as you’ve got a full tank of gas, you just need to sit back, turn up the radio, and remind yourself that it can’t last forever.
There are two main routes to the Cape, each with its own bridge over the Cape Cod Canal. The Sagamore Bridge at the northeastern side of the canal carries Route 6 to the Cape. The Bourne Bridge, southwest of the Sagamore, carries Route 28.
Flying to Cape Cod
Connect or fly directly from Boston to Hyannis or Provincetown on Cape Air. The company also offers flights to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. JetBlue operates seasonal flights from New York City.
Taking the Ferry to Cape Cod
Both Boston City Harbor Cruises and Bay State Cruise Company provide fast ferry trips from Boston to Provincetown, dropping you off at MacMillan Pier and Provincetown Marina. Captain John Boats also offers a fast ferry to Provincetown from Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Taking the Train to Cape Cod
Since 2013, the CapeFlyer has provided a popular alternative to sitting in Cape traffic jams. Departing from Boston’s South Station, the seasonal service (weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day) stops in Buzzards Bay and the village of Hyannis.
Cape Cod spans all of Barnstable County, which comprises 15 towns, each with its own villages. The communities are arranged in four geographical groups, from the “Upper Cape,” closest to the Cape Cod Canal, to the “Outer Cape,” which ends at the tip in Provincetown.
Upper Cape Cod Towns
Mid-Cape Cod Towns
Lower Cape Cod Towns (the “elbow” of Cape Cod)
Outer Cape Cod Towns
You’ll also frequently hear Cape Cod described in the context of “the Cape and Islands,” referring to the large islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
In recent years, Yankee spring and summer travel features have celebrated themes such as the 25 Best Beach Towns in New England and the Best New England Coastal Walks. Unsurprisingly, both include Cape Cod. Here are the Cape Cod beach towns and coastal spots we love the most.
At the tip of Cape Cod, P-town has it all: Cape Cod National Seashore beaches, stunning sunsets, a vibrant gallery and restaurant scene, whale-watching cruises, and the most eclectic people-watching of all.
See More:Things to Do in Provincetown, MA
Here you’ll find a quintessential village green replete with gazebo and bands playing concerts in summer, surrounded by a good selection of restaurants and shops, plus the Chatham Bars Inn, one of our favorite Cape Cod oceanfront hotels.
See More:Charmed by Chatham
Spend the morning on Nauset Beach’s exquisite length of dune-studded coastline along Cape Cod National Seashore, the afternoon biking in the shade of the Cape Cod Rail Trail north past the ponds of Eastham, and the early evening watching a Cape Cod Baseball League game.
One of the larger communities on Cape Cod, Falmouth has both busy and picturesque sides. If you’re looking for affordable lodging, restaurants that grill fresh seafood perfectly, a fun town center to stroll, a vast assortment of beaches, the Shining Sea Bikewaytrail down to Woods Hole, and easy accessibility via Route 28 south off the Bourne Bridge, follow the Bostonians who have a second home in Falmouth.
Located on Nantucket Sound within the town of Barnstable, Hyannis beckons with sandy beaches, a hometown Main Street, seaside art shanties, museums, restaurants, and ample opportunities to get out on the water. It’s more than enough to keep you busy on a Cape Cod getaway weekend.
See More:Things to Do in Hyannis, MA
If we were judging beach towns solely on variety and quality of beaches, Wellfleet would earn top honors. Its mix of Cape Cod National Seashore beachfront, freshwater ponds, and bayshore and harborside walks is unparalleled. It’s all worth the drive from the small town center. Don’t miss the retro-favorite Wellfleet Drive-in for the perfect family-friendly night out.
Brewster’s bayside beaches, including Paine’s Creek, have far less surf and are warmer than the Cape’s Atlantic-side beaches, thus attracting younger families. Add the Cape Cod Rail Trail, top-tier resorts such as Ocean Edge, and restaurant fare, and it’s clear why Brewster belongs on any list of best Cape Cod beach towns.
From seaside fun to top-notch museums and colorful cultural offerings, Cape Cod has a dizzying amount of attractions to entertain visitors of all ages. It’s also home to a year-round roster of events celebrating everything from summer hydrangeas in Sandwich to Mardi Gras in Provincetown. Here’s a roundup of some of our favorite Cape Cod activities and Cape Cod events. With a region so large and diverse, it’s impossible to include them all, but we hope you’ll agree this is a good start. And be sure to let us know in the comments which Cape Cod activities and events are your family’s favorites.
Seen in green on the map above, the Cape Cod National Seashore — created in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy and operated by the National Park Service — stretches for 40 miles around curve of the Outer Cape from Orleans to Provincetown. Enjoy dunes, salt marshes, nature trails, kettle ponds, and unspoiled beaches.
See More:Guide to the Cape Cod National Seashore | Beaches, Biking & Hiking
Threading 22 miles from the mid-Cape in Dennis to Lecount Hollow Road near PB Boulangerie in Wellfleet, this paved path with a few gentle hills includes several points of access to Cape Cod National Seashore beaches. Pets on short leashes are permitted on the trail, so Fido can run alongside. Named a 2016 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Tourist Hot Spot.”
No yo-ho-holiday on Cape Cod is complete without a competitive round of putting for family supremacy at this photo op–filled adventure course in South Yarmouth. There are two 18-hole options — one with ramps, one with stairs — and each takes you deep into a land of shipwrecks, rapscallions, and sharks. Along the way, you can blast water cannons, duck beneath waterfalls, and brush up on your New England pirate lore. The swashbuckling soundtrack will supercharge your appetite for ice cream at the arcade and gift shop o’ pirate bling. Named a 2019 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Mini Golf.”
See a need; fill it. That formula has catapulted many 20-something entrepreneurs to greatness. And yet Matthew Scinto’s 2018 startup seems particularly gutsy. A Cape Cod transplant with a newly minted doctoral degree in conducting, he’s assembled a dynamic young cadre of professional musicians and already forged collaborative inroads with local arts organizations. Concerts at acoustically superb Pilgrim Congregational Church in Harwich Port feature rousing reinterpretations of classics and fresh works by a composer-in-residence. Named at 2019 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best New Cultural Attraction.”
Once you’ve been through the museum — learning about the forces of nature that shaped Cape Cod, studying its various ecosystems, and checking out local fish and mollusks in the aquarium — you’ll be ready to hit the three nature trails on this 400-acre-plus site in Brewster. Named a 2014 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Natural History.”
The windblown heaps of sand beside Route 6 as you approach town seem almost like a little piece of the Sahara come to New England. Art’s Dune Tours of Provincetown has been driving folks into this landscape since 1946, and no one else offers this kind of colorful, historical, and ecologically sensitive experience of the fragile ecosystem. Named a 2012 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Retro Ecotour.”
See More:Art’s Dune Tours
Many stars of stage and screen have trod the boards at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis since it opened in 1927 in a former Unitarian meetinghouse. The country’s oldest professional summer theater knows how to put together an entertaining six-play mix of comedies, musicals, mysteries, and old favorites. Named a 2013 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Vintage Summer Theater.”
See More:Best New England Summer Playhouses & Theaters
The gardens and trails crisscross 100 acres; the gentle maritime climate encourages dramatic displays of rhododendrons, daylilies, hostas, and hydrangeas. The museums offer something for everyone in the family – from the gorgeously restored Looff carousel to antique automobiles to iconic American folk art. Named a 2012 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best All-Family Attraction.” The on-site Adventure Park, with its five treetop trails of varying difficulty traversing the forest canopy, earned this Sandwich landmark a 2016 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Family Adventure.”
See More:Heritage Museums & Gardens on Cape Cod
Much as artist and author Edward Gorey (1925–2000) loved the macabre, his pen-and-ink drawings were always touched by whimsy (see the animated opening credits for the PBS Mystery! series). The Yarmouth Port house preserves the artist’s collection of books, artifacts, beach stones, and curios — and his enduring, ultimately droll vision. Named a 2015 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Artist’s Home.”
From mid-April through October, one of the most thrilling activities for visitors of all ages is a Cape Cod whale watch. Trips generally take three to four hours and include educational narration. Two favorite whale watches on Cape Cod are Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises, departing from Barnstable Harbor, and Dolphin Fleet, departing from MacMillan Pier in Provincetown.
See More:Boston Whale-Watching Guide
Want even more Cape Cod activity suggestions? We also recommend Green Briar Jam Kitchen and Sandwich Glass Museum in Sandwich, the Whydah Pirate Museum in West Yarmouth, the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum in Provincetown, and the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum and Cape Cod Potato Chip Factory in Hyannis.
Held at the 17th-century Taylor-Bray Farm in Yarmouth Port, this popular annual event includes sheepshearing and herding demonstrations, wool spinning and dyeing, and a silent auction to benefit the farm. It’s especially hard for kids (and adults, for that matter) to resist the baby lambs.
Spanning 10 full days in July, the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival includes garden tours, workshops and lectures presented by leading international horticulturalists, nursery promotions, a restaurant cocktail trail, and (what else?) a heck of a lot of gorgeous summer hydrangeas.
See More:Scenes from the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival
Held at the traditional powwow grounds in Mashpee, the Mashpee Wampanoag Powwow is an annual (dating back to 1921) celebration of Native American culture featuring dancing, drumming, games, and food. You can also admire and take home Native American art, jewelry, crafts, and clothing.
This annual concert, held on the Hyannis Village Green and featuring the Boston Pops Orchestra led by a special guest conductor, is considered the Cape’s largest cultural event. It also helps raise money for the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod.
P-town’s annual weeklong celebration of LGBTQ life attracts nearly 90,000 visitors with a full schedule of dance parties and art fairs, plus special events like the costume ball, a sunset dune cruise, drag bingo, and the official Carnival parade.
Enticements here include local cuisine, cooking demonstrations, arts and crafts, children’s activities, live music, a sunset dance party, road races, walking tours, and the oyster shuck-off competition, where hopefuls compete for the $1,000 cash prize and bragging rights.
See More:Best Fall Food Festivals in New England
The many beautiful beaches of Cape Cod are among the main reasons to love a Cape Cod summer vacation. Whether you prefer the calm, warm waters of Cape Cod Bay or the crashing surf of Nantucket Sound, here are five favorite Cape Cod beaches to visit, based on some common beachgoing interests. Be sure to let us know in the comments which Cape Cod beaches are your family’s favorites.
Overlooking Buzzards Bay in Falmouth, Old Silver Beach has two sections separated by a small rock jetty: one for residents and another for the general public. Both are equally good. The calm water, soft sand, bustling snack bar, and plentiful restrooms make this one of the most popular family-friendly beaches on Cape Cod.
Located in the Barnstable village of Centerville, Craigville Beach is large and long with plenty of parking. Its size and mid-Cape location on Nantucket Sound makes it a favorite beach for groups, including families, teens, and students. Need to cool off after a day sunbathing? Four Seas Ice Cream, located a few minutes’ drive away, serves up some of the finest ice cream cones and sundaes on Cape Cod.
Named for its history as the reputed site of the first encounter between Native Americans and the Pilgrims before the latter made their way to Plymouth, First Encounter Beach on the Outer Cape offers calm, warm water and lovely, wide views of Cape Cod Bay that are perfect for taking in sunsets.
This picturesque barrier beach spans 6.5 miles on Cape Cod Bay. Strollers and hikers love its 4,700 acres of salt marshes, dunes, and maritime forests, including four hiking trails. Maps are available at the gatehouse.
Towering sand dune cliffs, a spacious beach, and substantial waves paired with rougher waters make White Crest Beach a favorite Cape Cod beach for surfing. You’ll also find a concession stand, lifeguards, and restrooms.
See More:Cape Cod National Seashore Beaches
From classic lobster rolls and fried clams to gourmet pastries and farm-to-table fare, Cape Cod is home to some of the most delicious dining in New England. Here are some of our favorite Cape Cod restaurants and eateries to hit up on your next visit. Be sure to let us know in the comments which Cape Cod restaurants and eateries are your family’s favorites.
There’s a gargantuan amount of fresh-shelled claw and tail in the Monsta Lobsta roll at this indoor-outdoor eatery, ideally sandwiched between Onset Beach and the town band shell. With a side of truffle fries, it’s a meal for two, so don’t flinch at the price. You’re going to want to snap souvenir photos with this beast before you drizzle on drawn butter and devour every morsel. When this outpost closes for the season, you can still slay the King Kong of lobster rolls at the Quahog Republic Dive Bar in Falmouth. Named a 2019 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Lobster Roll.”
See More:Best Cape Cod Lobster Rolls
Perched at the edge of a shopping plaza in Orleans, this café is a little slice of California cool on the Cape (think chalkboard menus, tables fashioned from wood slabs). Originally opened as the brick-and-mortar outpost of a popular but now-defunct Wellfleet food truck, Sunbird serves up porchetta-and-fried-egg sandwiches and quinoa porridge with coconut milk, dates, and candied ginger coupled with Counter Culture and Tandem coffee by day, and worldly snacks and plates — ramen, rigatoni with pork sugo, and pho — by night. Named a 2018 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Café.”
Hike down the steep slope of Briarcliff Avenue, where this busy market dominates busy working pier, and you might think that our judgment has been swayed by the setting: the keening seagulls, the bobbing seagulls, the weatherworn fishing boats. But we’d choose this chowder even if it were spooned up miles from the coast. Rich with brine and clams, just creamy enough, never gummy, it’s worthy of a day’s journey from wherever you are. Named a 2018 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Chowder.”
Designated simply by a hanging wrought-iron fish on Truro Center Road, this blacksmith shop turned restaurant has been reeling in lower Cape diners since 2007 with refined fare starring bounty from nearby purveyors: Nauset mussels, Longnook Meadows Farms lettuces, Wellfleet Chicken Coop eggs, and so on. In other words, chef Eric Jansen was doing farm-to-table well before it was buzzy. Not content to rest on their locavore laurels, however, Jansen and company now host a winter pop-up at his burger spot, Local 186, in Provincetown, and also operate the Crush Pad food truck at Truro Vineyards. Named a 2018 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Farm-to-Table Dining.”
Boris Villatte trained with the legendary Eric Kayser and Alain Ducasse in Paris and plied his trade around the world before moving to Falmouth to open a bakery-patisserie named Maison Villatte. Here, his classical education shines in such treats as pain aux raisins, éclairs, and fruit tarts. Then there are the little meringue kisses, savory croissants, and breads flavored with bacon, cheese, and olives. These treasures are so masterfully made that they retain a moist crumb long after lesser loaves turn stale. There’s no better baguette in New England, and the large, country-style rounds are worth the often-long waits during the peak summer season. Named a 2017 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Bakery.”
Cape Cod accommodations are plentiful and cover a wide range of budgets and tastes. Looking for Cape Cod hotels on the beach? Cape Cod bed-and-breakfast options? Here are just a few of our favorite Cape Cod hotels and inns to check out on your next Cape escape. Be sure to let us know in the comments which Cape Cod hotels are your family’s favorites.
Though the team behind Salt House Inn also owns the newer Eben House in Provincetown (plus two other properties in New York and New Jersey), we’re still stuck on this, the flagship of the Salt Hotels mini-chain. Tucked away on a leafy side street and featuring clean lines, a soothing white-on-white palette, and thoughtfully collected antiques, it’s a handsome respite from the Commercial Street crush. On the lovely sun deck or in the shaded garden, you can tuck into daily breakfast treats. Like the luxe hand soap in the bathroom? Pop over to the Salt Supply store to take some home with you. Named a 2018 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Boutique Hotel.”
Commanding panoramic views of Cape Cod Bay and the Atlantic Ocean from its hilltop perch, this shingle-style mansion is close enough to the water that from its many decks and lookouts you can spot whales feeding offshore. The stunning vista is complemented by tasteful art and antiques and modern amenities.
See More: Favorite Provincetown Hotels & Inns
Imagine: You’re soaking in the rays as your kids paddle around this resort’s main pool overlooking the ocean when a 1950s-style Good Humor truck pulls up, doling out free ice cream for all. It’s this kind of amenity that makes the Wequassett so memorable for young guests. Other highlights for wee ones and their families include a free shuttle to a secluded Cape Cod National Seashore beach, a nautical-themed playground, and movie nights, but the pièce de résistance is the Children’s Center, offering programming for toddlers and kids such as scavenger hunts and a day of shadowing the property’s pastry chef. Named a 2018 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Family Lodging.”
After the tykes have had their fill of the tennis courts, the private quarter-mile beach, biking, water sports, and the on-site farm, they can jump into hands-on and educational activities galore. All summer long, the tony resort offers a slew of programs that run from pirate cruises and seal-watching to clam digging and scavenger hunts, all led by CPR-and-first-aid-certified instructors who seem to be having nearly as much fun as the kids. Named a 2017 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Family Lodging.”
Stroll through the heart of the Old King’s Highway Historic District and you’ll run right into this Georgian-style beauty, where the nine guest rooms feature Winslow Homer prints and poster beds, fireplaces, and 200-year-old pine floors. Loved for its epic breakfasts taken in the 1790s dining room, it’s an ideal spot from which to explore the rest of the Cape. Named a 2017 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Historic B&B.”
The main building of this beach-house complex is a handsome late-19th-century private retreat with lovingly restored details and spacious, modern bedrooms. Most rooms have ocean views, queen beds, and fireplaces. The actual beach is 100 yards away, and the inn provides beach chairs, beach towels, beach umbrellas, and even sunscreen. Named a 2016 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Beach Amenities.”
Have you ever visited Cape Cod? Tell us about your ideal Cape Cod vacation in the comments below!
You can also learn more about the many things to see and do on Cape Cod by visiting theCape Cod Chamber of Commerce.
This post was first published in 2018 and has been updated.