19 Things You Can Only Do on Cape Cod
Cape Cod is no ordinary beach destination. With some 560 miles of beautiful shoreline plus historic lighthouses, award-winning seafood and a rich history, including many American firsts, this sandy peninsula offers visitors a long list of experiences. Here are some favorites to add to your bucket list.
1. Retrace the first steps of the Pilgrims in the New World
The history books aren't completely accurate. The Pilgrims did land at Plymouth Rock, but they arrived on Cape Cod first. Pilgrim Monument (One High Pole Hill Road, Provincetown) commemorates the historic landing and provides one of the most spectacular panoramic views around. Just south, in Eastham, First Encounter Beach is the site of the first meeting between the Wampanoag tribe and the Pilgrims.
2. Eat Lobster Ice cream
New Englanders eat a lot of ice cream. They also devour local lobster. Ben and Bill's Chocolate Emporium (209 Main Street, Falmouth) combines these two New England favorites into sweet and savory lobster ice cream. The butter flavored ice cream—with bits of real lobster—is available year round.
3. Take in the vistas of the Cape Cod National Seashore
Stretching from Chatham to Provincetown,the Cape Cod National Seashore (nps.gov/caco) is the crown jewel of the Southern New England coast, with six swimming beaches along 40 miles of coastline. Come for the ocean waves, sheltered coves, salt marshes, historical lighthouses and well-kept paths.
4. Eat freshly harvested Wellfleet oysters
The most famous of all New England oysters, Wellfleet’s are farmed in protected flats of cold, fast-moving, pristine waters. It's this trifecta that gives the bivalves their briny, sweet flavor. Slurp down a raw one at one of Cape Cod’s many bars and restaurants….or plan you stay around the town’s annual Oyster Fest each October.
5. Touch the world’s only authenticated pirate treasure
The Whydah Pirate Museum (674 Route 28, West Yarmouth) provides a glimpse into real pirate life through recovered artifacts and interactive exhibits. The Whydah, originally a slave ship, was overtaken by pirate Captain Samuel Bellamy in the Caribbean and later shipwrecked off Cape Cod; it was discovered off the coast of Wellfleet in 1984. Climb aboard the ship’s life-size replica as you walk through the museum, and see and touch 300-year-old silver and gold pirate coins found on board.
6. Watch a play at America's oldest professional summer theater
Just minutes from the beach, the Cape Playhouse (820 Route 6A, Dennis) brings stars of stage and screen to Cape Cod every summer. What started in the 1920s as a way for actors to escape the unyielding heat of New York City summers has turned into a New England tradition, and is often referred to as the “Birthplace of the Stars.” Legends such as Bette Davis, Julie Andrews, Humphrey Bogart and Gregory Peck have graced the stage.
7. Get the chance to see future Major Leaguers
Summer baseball on Cape Cod is one of the hottest tickets in town, though you don't actually need a ticket. The Cape Cod Baseball League, the nation's premier amateur baseball league, does not charge admission to any of its 44 regular season games; just bring a blanket, grab some popcorn and enjoy one of Cape Cod’s best summer evening traditions. Your odds of watching someone who will someday play in Major League Baseball are good; notable Cape Cod Baseball League alumni include Hall of Famers like Thurman Munson, Frank Thomas and Craig Biggio, and current stars such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Tim Lincecum and Mark Teixeira.
8. Celebrate Cape Cod’s signature flower
Always wanted to peek behind the fence into those overflowing gardens on Cape Cod? The 10-day Hydrangea Fest – held every July across the region – provides the chance. Organized tours benefitting local nonprofits open the doors to private gardens full of showy blooms.
9. Explore the Kennedy family’s Cape Cod connection
Get a glimpse into President John F. Kennedy’s life and times on Cape Cod at the JFK Hyannis Museum, which explores the Kennedy family’s deep connection to Cape Cod through multi-media exhibits. The nearby Kennedy Legacy Trail is a self-guided walking tour across downtown Hyannis that highlights spots key to the family’s history, including the Hyannis Armory, where John F. Kennedy met the press for the first time as president-elect. A Hyannis Harbor sightseeing cruise, offered in season aboard Hy-Line Cruises, takes passengers by the historic Kennedy Compound in Hyannisport.
10. Visit the Cape Cod Canal
One of the most iconic landmarks around, the Cape Cod Canal is as picturesque as it is functional. The seven-mile canal is an active shipping channel that also provides postcard-worthy panoramas; a scenic bike trail runs along both sides of the canal, and is a great way to take it all in on bike or on foot.
11. Watch “Jaws” on the big screen
As unlikely as it seems, the film whose tagline is "Don't go into the water" has been embraced as a cult favorite among water-loving Cape Codders. From Fourth of July until Labor Day, visitors and locals alike pack into the historic 1915 Chatham Orpheum Theater (637 Main Street, Chatham) for frequent showings of the 1975 classic.
12. Visit the Edward Gorey House
Edward Gorey, renowned illustrator of the macabre, lived in this Cape Cod cottage (8 Strawberry Lane, Yarmouth Port) from 1979 until his death in 2000, and filled the house with eclectic flea market finds. The home is now a museum showcasing his most treasured items.
13. Tour the factory where Cape Cod Potato Chips are made
Is it possible to eat just one potato chip? Find out at the Cape Cod Potato Chip factory (100 Breeds Hill Road, Hyannis; capecodchips.com), where the humble vegetable is transformed into America's favorite snack. A fun photo opp involves posing with your Cape Cod Potato Chips in front of Eastham’s Nauset Light, the picturesque lighthouse featured on the bag.
14. Walk the dunes of Cape Cod
The peaked hills and majestic dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore make for an otherworldly environment - a sea of red beach plums and wispy beach grass set against a stunning ocean backdrop. For those who want to venture deep within, Art’s Dune Tours (artsdunetours.org) takes adventure seekers through protected lands and the “village” of dune shacks. If exploring on foot, be sure to follow the established paths and take care to avoid stepping on vegetation.
15. Stroll through Woods Hole
Quaint seaside village meets top science research destination—that's Woods Hole. It's home to the world-renowned Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Marine Biological Laboratory, as well as well as a working drawbridge, Nobska Lighthouse, eclectic shops and eateries, a small aquarium and stunning views of Buzzards Bay and Vineyard Sound. You can get there by car, but parking is limited; a more scenic route is via the Shining Sea Bikeway, or aboard a Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority trolley in season.
16. Greet Santa as he arrives by boat
Cape Cod remains vibrant all winter long. In addition to village strolls, festive parades, magnificent light displays and a polar railway, one of the most anticipated events of the Christmas season is Santa's arrival by boat into harbors across Cape Cod.
17. Sip a Cape Codder cocktail….on Cape Cod
The Cape Codder (a refreshing concoction of vodka, cranberry juice and a wedge of lime) is found on just about every cocktail menu from Provincetown to Bourne. It's best enjoyed in a plastic cup while overlooking the sea.
18. See a quahog predict the weather
Cape Cod reveres its clams. There is no day when this is more true than on the first day of summer, when the Cape’s resident mascot and trusty weather prognosticator Doug the Quahog predicts how many beach days the region can expect for the summer ahead.
19. Witness what might just be the most beautiful sunset in the world
Come for the beaches, ice cream and fried clams, and stay for the sunsets. With sweeping views of the Atlantic, sheltered bays and bustling harbors, there's really no bad place to be on Cape Cod when the sun goes down.