There's more to Cape Cod than sandy beaches and breath-taking vistas. The peninsula, first settled by the Wampanoag tribe long before the Pilgrims came ashore in Provincetown, is full of archaeological gems, presidential pride and plenty of the nation’s firsts. Here are the best spots to soak in history and culture as you start exploring.

Early roots
The Mashpee Wampanoag Museum details the history and culture of the Wampanoag tribe from the Stone Age to present times. Set within a restored historic property, the museum features displays of ancient artifacts and other Native American heirlooms, and provides a detailed picture of life and times on the Cape prior to the English settlers' arrival. Displays include a variety of tools, baskets, hunting and fishing implements, weapons and domestic utensils.

The Colonia Era
Climb the 116 steps to the top of Provincetown's Pilgrim Monument to commemorate the first landing of the Mayflower Pilgrims in the New World on November 11, 1620. Standing at 252 feet, it’s the tallest all granite structure in the U.S.

Ever wonder what life was like in 17th century New England? Plimoth Plantation recreates the experience of the Wampanoag people and the colonial English community in the 1600s; the living history museum allows you to interact with people who live, dress, work and speak just like they did almost 400 years ago. The re-creations are based on a wide variety of written records and artifacts from the time.

Wing Fort House in Sandwich is a slice of Cape Cod nostalgia. The property, now a museum, is the oldest home in New England continuously owned by the same family. Built in 1641, it later became the home of Stephen Wing, one of the early settlers of Sandwich. The family restored it and furnished it with Wing family antiques showcasing the house's long history, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Natural History
For those with an affinity for the great outdoors, the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster is the perfect place to discover and explore. The museum features exhibits on the Cape’s changing landscape, a seasonal butterfly house, a Honey Bee Observation Hive, an entire wing dedicated to Eldridge Arnold’s world-class bird carvings, and an aquarium comprising creatures common to the Cape’s ponds, streams, oceans and tidepools. Guided walks along the museum's outdoor trails meander through marshes, woodlands and tidal flats.

The 20th Century
A visit to the pristine, protected Cape Cod National Seashore is a must for any history buff, as is checking out the original site where Guglielmo Marconi sent the first two-way trans-Atlantic wireless radio transmission. It was from South Wellfleet where, in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt spoke with King Edward III in Cornwall, England. While most of the former South Wellfleet site is now gone due to erosion, the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center celebrates Marconi’s contributions to wireless communication; the newly pioneered technology won Marconi the Nobel Prize in 1909.

For a more familiar understanding of the 35th president, the John F. Kennedy Museum in Hyannis provides a window into the years JFK spent at the family compound in Hyannis Port. There are four permanent photographic exhibits, as well as revolving exhibits on loan from the JFK Library in Boston. From the museum, walk the 1.6-mile Kennedy Legacy Trail around downtown Hyannis. There are 10 sites in all, and the trail finishes at the JFK Memorial overlooking Lewis Bay.

Heritage Museums & Gardens is one of Sandwich’s crown jewels. In addition to housing folk art, cultural artifacts, and acres of lush gardens, the museum has a collection of rare antique cars ranging from an 1913 Ford Model T and 1962 Chevrolet Corvette to a 1909 White Steam Car Model M owned by President Taft. From April through October, the museum will put its permanent collection in storage to make room for the limited time exhibit “Start Your Engines! Cars and Stars of the Indy 500.” Twenty iconic Indy 500 race and pace cars will be on display—from the 1914 Duesenberg driven by Eddie Rickenbacker to the 2016 NAPA winner driven by Alexander Rossi.

Just down the road, the Sandwich Glass Museum helps tell the story of the town’s greatest contribution to the American Industrial Revolution. Displays offer more than 6,000 stunning pieces created by the town's glass companies during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Maritime History
For those with a love of all things nautical, the Cape Cod Maritime Museum in Hyannis is an intimate space dedicated to the Cape's close ties to the sea. The museum showcases the Cape's maritime history with a variety of permanent and temporary exhibits, along with the region’s largest scrimshaw collection. There's also a variety of classes and lectures ranging from sailing knot know-how to boatbuilding.

The local experts

For a deeper view of town records and other little-known facts about the Cape’s rich history, local historical societies offer a wealth of information. The Historical Society of Santuit & Cotuit provides a peek into 19th-century life on the Cape. Visit the Dottridge Homestead to better understand life on the coast, while the Fire Museum displays a 1916 Model T Ford Fire, the first mechanized fire truck on Cape Cod. Visitors are also able to tour the Cotuit Archives, the Rothwell Ice House, Cotuit Museum Shop, and Historical Kitchen Gardens.

The Bourne Historical Society is housed in the former town library, built in 1896 by the well-known architect Henry Vaughan. The organization also oversees the Aptucxet Trading Post, the first trade house built in 1627 by Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth Colony

The Atwood House and Museum is home to the Chatham Historical Society. The gambrel-roofed house was built in the 1750's and includes eight exhibits – from displays on the town’s commercial fishing industry to the works of famed local author Joseph Crosby Lincoln. Walk the grounds to see the Chatham School Bells display, and the original fresnel lens from the town’s famous twin lights.

The Falmouth Museums on the Green overlook the town's Village Green, where members of the Colonial militia trained in the 1700s. Two 18th-century houses display period furniture, fine art, textiles and rotating exhibits that provide a glimpse into the town’s rich historic past. Nearby, on the Falmouth Public Library lawn, take time to admire the statue that pays homage to town native Katharine Lee Bates, who penned the patriotic anthem “American the Beautiful.”

The Harwich Historical Society is located within the Brooks Academy building, home to Harwich's first high school. The society boasts the largest collection dedicated to cranberry culture on Cape Cod and maintain the reconstructed Elmer Crowell Barn on the museum grounds; the restored workshop presents the life and times of the famous bird carver.

In 2016, the Brewster Historical Society moved into its new location - the beautifully restored Captain Elijah Cobb House. Each room features a themed exhibit, some permanent, some rotating. In addition, the society manages a restored 18th century windmill and a blacksmith shop (offering tours and demonstrations) at Windmill Village adjacent Drummer Boy Park.

One last way to celebrate the Cape’s past is to frame it…literally! Maps of Antiquity in Chatham features thousands of original and reproduction antique prints, including lighthouse charts, nautical charts, postcards and vintage maps depicting the Cape and Islands.