Formed by retreating glaciers and fluctuating sea levels thousands of years ago, Cape Cod remains a contender for top vacation destination in New England. Originally inhabited by the Wampanoag tribe, Cape Cod was landed upon by many early explorers including the Norse, the French, and most notably the Pilgrims made their first settlement in Provincetown. The industry to impact Cape Cod most significantly has been the fishing and whaling industry, and much of the peninsula is reminiscent of that culture. Offering quaint ocean views, deep history, and delicious seafood, its easy to become overwhelmed with everything Cape Cod has to offer. Here are ten things to do in Cape Cod that you don’t want to skip.
10. Wellfleet Drive-In
While this Drive-In may seem a little out of place on this list, it can be a refreshing change of pace. The theatre is a genuine drive-in, dating back to 1957, which means it’s speakers can go on the fritz here and there – however the cinema broadcasts the audio on its own radio station so that customers can use their car speakers. Additionally, they also sport a regular cinema in the case of poor weather, as well as snack bar and mini golf. Cash only, and bug spray is recommended.
9. Pirate Adventures Hyannis
If you have little ones, this is one of the best things in Cape Cod. Assisted by a lively and friendly crew, visitors board an ‘old’ pirate ship before setting sail on the Cape and searching the high seas for treasures, making friends and defeating foes. Face painting, water cannons to shoot, and plenty of sea chanteys wait. This place is great fun for parents and kids and is extremely safe; it cost roughly $25 per person and roughly an hour long.
8. Dinner at Captain Linnell House
If you are looking for excellent New England seafood dishes prepared with the utmost skill and care, then you must look no further than the Captain Linnell House. Located inside a majestic Victorian style home once belonging to a sea captain, the Captain Linnell House is lavishly complete with white columns and extensive gardens. The prices are a bit on the high side – averaging $26 per entrée – but the quality is absolutely worth it and the menu includes an extensive wine list. Be sure to make reservations for a truly romantic dining experience.
7. Shining Sea Bikeway
The Shining Sea Bikeway is a completely paved bike trail that follows the path of a former railroad track. At nearly 11 miles, it is recommended that you begin somewhere in the middle if you are not an experienced biker, although it is very flat. Along the way, you will be rewarded with phenomenal views and an easy ride. Bikes for both kids and adults are available for rental at many places in Falmouth, which is where the trail begins, including Bike Zone and Corner Cycle. Typically, you can expect to pay anywhere between $20 and $30 per day, although discounted weekly rentals are also available.
6. Monomoy National Refuge
The Monomoy National Refuge, located at the southeastern tip of the peninsula, was established during WWII to provide refuge for migratory birds. Today, you can see many of these birds by visiting during just about any time of the year. Some of these sightings could include egrets, woodpeckers, or hawks. But there’s plenty more wildlife available than just birds – Monomy National Refuge is also home to horseshoe crabs, harbor seals, and much more. There is a small trail that will take visitors through the marsh and intertidal areas. Parking and access is free.
5. Day Trip to Martha’s Vineyard
With its beautiful landscapes and cliffs with lighthouses, gingerbread houses, and serene beaches, Martha’s Vineyard is certainly worth a day trip. A common vacation spot for celebrities and high-profile politicians, Martha’s Vineyard is an island that lies south of Cape Cod, and is only accessible by ferry or plane. Certainly the most popular ferry is the Island Queen Ferry, which leaves from Falmouth on a consistent schedule, taking roughly 45 minutes to reach Martha’s Vineyard. Admission is $20 for an adult and $12 for children over 4. Children 4 and under are free.
4. Pilgrim Monument
Towering at over 250 feet, the Pilgrim Monument literally towers above Provincetown. Commemorating the landing of the Pilgrims, the Pilgrim Monument was built at the beginning of the 20th century and is constructed entirely of granite – the walls are one stone thick and many towns from around the nation dedicated an engraved stone. Visitors can make the climb to the top, which includes a breathy 60 ramps spiraling up the interior. Once at the top, you are provided with an impressive view of Provincetown and the ocean. There is a museum at the bottom showcasing Pilgrim history.
3. Atlantic White Cedar Swamp Trail
It likely goes without saying that a swamp would be one of the most unexpected places to visit in Cape Cod, let alone one of its most interesting. As the glacier retreated, it carved out the depression, which would eventually become the White Cedar Swamp, a 24-foot deep swamp. Protected from the harshness of the sea, a forest of cedars has grown around the swamp. A raised wooden platform has been installed around the swamp, allowing visitors access to this fascinating phenomenon. There is no entry or parking fee. Bug spray highly recommended.
2. Go Lighthouse Sightseeing
Since Cape Cod jutted out into the Atlantic so unexpectedly, many lighthouses had to be constructed to prevent ships from running ashore (there were nearly 3,000 recorded shipwrecks surrounding the area). Although these primitive GPSs were built in the 19th century, a handful still exists today, and a few are even still in use! There are a few lighthouses where you can arrange free tours. All in all, there are over fifteen lighthouses on the peninsula, each offering their own iconic portrayal of the New England coast.
1. Commercial Street
There is a particular strip of Commercial Street that is a New England shopper’s dream. Small, crowded streets are crossed by wires hanging colorful flags and flanked by vibrant, creative stores and cool cottages, all offering something different. Often there will be colorful flags flying, and turning down small alleyways to find even more hidden gems will reward average explorer. It is hard to overstate the uniqueness of Commercial Street, which takes many of its cues from other Eastern Shore boardwalks, while ironing out the kitsch and cranking up the charm for the whole family. Typically more busy on the weekend.
Although typically Cape Cod is associated with lighthouses, chowder, and whale watching, it deserves more credit as an entirely ecosystem and culture. And while it may not seem that there are many bonafide tourist attractions in Cape Cod, it is very clear that there is enough history, interesting architecture, and exquisite cuisine to keep one coming back year after year.