10 Ways to Enjoy Cape Cod Al Fresco
In addition to world-famous beaches, Cape Cod has miles of hiking and biking trails, hidden nature preserves tucked between coasts, and enough outdoor activities to keep you busy your entire vacation and then some. See how many you can squeeze in before you go home!
1. Art’s Dune Tours
The wind-swept dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore are another world, and the only way to explore them (other than on foot) is with Art’s Dune Tours in Provincetown. Founded in 1946 and grandfathered in when the land became federally protected in 1961, Art’s takes visitors on daily excursions through the surreal, sandy hills, with guides pointing out the rustic shacks that have hosted famous writers and artists, as well as the occasional fox. For a truly memorable experience, sign up for the sunset tour with a New England clambake dinner. Watching the sun drop into the bay while you crack open a lobster claw will be a highlight of your trip.
2. Outdoor Music
Nearly every night of the week in summer, you’ll find people in beach chairs huddled around a bandstand at a public park or town green, with singers belting out show tunes, saxophonists supplying smooth jazz, or a band leading kids in singalongs. Friday-night Chatham Band concerts at Kate Gould Park are a local tradition, with the band’s first free concert in Chatham dating back to 1932. Other popular outdoor concert venues include Drummer Boy Park in Brewster, Mashpee Commons,Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown, and the Hyannis Village Green. The Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis steps it up a notch, presenting a rotating lineup of world-class performers each summer in an intimate tented theater-in-the-round.
3. Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
Birds are only the beginning at this 937-acre Mass Audubon preserve in South Wellfleet. Spot butterflies in the sanctuary’s wildlife garden, hike five miles of trails through pine and oak woodlands, and follow the Boardwalk Trail across a salt marsh to the tidal flats of Cape Cod Bay, spotting fiddler crabs and shorebirds along the way. The center’s educational programs offer a way for kids and grown-ups alike to learn more about the plants and animals of the Cape. In “The Big Catch” (ages 6 and older, with a caregiver), participants wade into the water with seine nets to catch fish, shrimp, horseshoe crabs and other creatures. Other programs and guided walks include “In Search of Nesting Box Turtles,” “Salt Marsh Science” and a marine life cruise. For a full listing of programs, go to massaudubon.org.
4. Waterfront Dining
It’s a known fact—seafood just tastes better by the ocean. Snag a front-row seat to the water at such celebrated waterfront eateries as The Pilot House Restaurant in Sandwich, The Lure at New Seabury, The Flying Bridge in Falmouth and Black Cat Harbor Shack in Hyannis. Water views will also complement your meal at the Chart Room at Crosby’s in Osterville, the Skipper Chowder House in South Yarmouth, Mattakeese Wharf in Barnstable and Ross’ Grill and The Mews in Provincetown.
5. Cast a Line
Prefer to catch your own dinner? Drop a hook in the deep seas or along the shore. Aquarius Sportfishing in Barnstable offers charters ranging from four to eight hours, including striped bass and bluefish trips, as well as excursions for shark and tuna. North Side Charters, meanwhile, emphasizes fly and light tackle fishing. Want to get the kids involved? Check out the 90-minute, family-friendly trips (aboard an amphibious vehicle) offered by Kids Fishing in Hyannis.
6. Explore on Two Wheels…
The flat expanse of Cape Cod makes it perfect for biking, and the Cape Cod Rail Trail, which runs 22 miles from South Dennis to Wellfleet and recently extended into Yarmouth, will let you cover a lot of ground. Pedal past cranberry bogs and forests as you make your way through more than half a dozen Cape communities, stopping for snacks at trailside establishments. If you have a fat tire bike and want to bring it to the beach, know that bicycles aren’t allowed on the National Seashore. However, Sandy Neck Beach in Barnstable is open to these bikes and offers six miles of scenic views. Parts of the beach are sometimes closed to accommodate nesting shorebirds, but there’s also a network of sandy trails set back from the shore. Be sure to roll with low air pressure, though, or you’ll find yourself stuck in the sand.
7. …Or on Two Feet
Stretch your legs in the shade of the woods or scramble over stones by the sea on Cape Cod’s more than 100 public walking trails. Two great places to start are the Cape Cod National Seashore and Nickerson State Park in Brewster. Other popular trails include The Knob in Falmouth, Mashpee River Woodlands and Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary. Tip: The 7.5- mile Great Island Trail in Wellfleet has been called “one of the best hikes in all of Massachusetts.”
8. Farmers’ Markets
Whether you’re looking for locally harvested cranberries or just rustling up some fresh veggies for dinner, the Cape’s farmers’ markets are a great way to spend some scratch while still enjoying the sun. In addition to local produce and alpaca wool spun on site, the Brewster Historical Society Farmers’ Market offers the fresh catch of a local lobster fisherman. A stop by the Cape Abilities Farm in Dennis is a must for their award-winning tomatoes. Purchase a day pass to walk the farm and pick your own crops in the field at Coonamessett Farm in Falmouth. Farmers’ markets are also held in almost every Cape town in season, and Cape Cod Beer’s seasonal Happy Hour Farmers’ Market includes live music, cornhole and an outdoor beer garden.
9. Cape Cod in Bloom
The lush private gardens featured during the annual Cape Cod Hydrangea Fest are a gorgeous reason to embrace the great outdoors. The 10-day event kicks off each July (July 12-21, 2019) with a burst of blooms, workshops and fun befitting the Cape’s signature flower. Daily tours of private gardens are the highlight, with the proceeds from each $5 tour benefitting local nonprofits. If you can’t coincide your trip with the annual fest, don’t worry. Visit Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich at any time in season to explore over 100 acres of exquisite gardens (including hydrangeas, of course).
10. Watch the Stars, Under the Stars
Movie night doesn’t mean you have to stay inside. The town of Yarmouth hosts weekly outdoor movies on Wednesday nights during the summer, alternating between park and beach showings. Also on Wednesdays, outdoor movies are offered at Peg Noonan Park in Falmouth and at the Mashpee Commons bandstand. For a night of nostalgia—and a double feature—head to the Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre. The 1957 drive-in still features old-fashioned speakers that you can hang on your car window (although you’ll get better sound by tuning into the drive-in’s dedicated radio station), and there’s a playground for kids to get their energy out before they fall asleep in front of the silver screen. The drive-in is the last of its kind on the Cape, and one of only around 300 left in the entire country. If you’ve never been to one, you should add it to your bucket list. There’s nothing quite like sitting on the hood of your car and munching popcorn, waiting for the show to start as dusk settles around you.