Journey Around Cape Cod: 21 Memorable Landmarks and Lighthouses
Cape Cod offers more than majestic beaches. Here are the top spots for free tours, priceless views from atop lighthouses and towers, and peaceful walks along hundreds of miles of shores and marshes – starting from the bridges and traveling all the way to Provincetown at the Cape’s tip.
1. Admire the picturesque Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge from the nearby Cape Cod Canal Bikeway (access the bike path from Buzzards Bay Recreation Area for the best views). This vertical lift bridge crossing the bustling canal waterway was the longest in the world when it was completed in 1935. While the bridge is usually in the upright position to allow ships to pass underneath, it’s lowered several times a day for trains entering and leaving Cape Cod.
2. The only way in or out of Falmouth’s Eel Pond by boat is to pass through the Woods Hole Drawbridge (77 Water St., Woods Hole), which operates just about every half hour in summer months. The kids will get a kick out of boats blowing their horn (exactly 4 times) to signal the bridgetender.
3. The formidable Nobska Point Lighthouse (Nobska Road, Woods Hole) was originally constructed to protect vessels entering and leaving Buzzards Bay. Today, those taking the ferry over to Martha’s Vineyard can catch the best view of the 40-foot light tower and adjacent keeper’s house.
4. Falmouth native Katharine Lee Bates, poet and author of the patriotic anthem “America The Beautiful,” is remembered in a life-sized bronze statue in front of the Falmouth Public Library (300 Main St., Falmouth).
5. Take a stroll or admire colorful sunsets at the Sandwich Boardwalk (Boardwalk Road, Sandwich), which spans more than 1,300 feet across sand marshes that lead to Town Neck Beach. A welcome summer sight is kids squealing in delight as they jump off the boardwalk bridge at high tide.
6. A visit to Sandwich isn’t complete without a stop at the Dexter Grist Mill, located on the banks of an idyllic lake (2 Water St., Sandwich). The mill, which is still in operation after nearly three centuries, produces fresh ground cornmeal (available for purchase) the same way the Pilgrims would.
7. Walk the 1.6-mile Kennedy Legacy Trail around downtown Hyannis for a glimpse into the Kennedy family’s life and times on Cape Cod. There are 10 sites in all, and the trail concludes with the beautifully landscaped JFK Memorial overlooking Lewis Bay. Trail maps can be picked up at the JFK Hyannis Museum (397 Main Street, Hyannis).
8. Enjoy sweeping views of Scargo Lake and Cape Cod Bay from atop the 30-foot cobblestone Scargo Tower (Scargo Hill Road, Dennis) that sits on one of the tallest hills on Cape Cod.
9. Arrive at the Chatham Fish Pier (45 Barcliff Ave., Chatham) in the morning to watch the bustle of fishing boats unloading the day’s catch. Want to know what fish is in season? Ask the pier host, available during summer weekends to explain the pier and fishing operations.
10. Located right on the “elbow” of the Cape, Chatham Light (37 Main Street, Chatham) makes for a postcard-perfect photo opportunity. The building now functions as a Coast Guard facility.
11. Watch the frenetic show of herring spawning in late spring. Thousands of the little creatures navigate their way through the streams at the Brewster Herring Run at Stony Brook (Herring Run Road, Brewster). The lucky ones make it to their destination, while others are plucked from the waters by swarms of hungry seagulls.
12. See the restored Coast Guard lifeboat CG-36500 (end of Rock Harbor Road, Orleans) involved in the dramatic 1952 rescue of the SS Pendleton, an oil tanker that split in half off the coast of Chatham during a nor’easter. The boat and its daring mission were the inspiration for several books and the 2016 feature film The Finest Hours. Tours are available during weekends in season at its summer quarters at Rock Harbor.
13. Take a tour of Jonathan Young Windmill (41 Old King's Highway, Orleans), one of the oldest wooden windmills in the U.S. Though no longer used to grind corn or barley, the building, with many of its original gears intact, is open to the public in July and August.
14. The iconic Nauset Lighthouse (Nauset Light Beach, Eastham) is open for tours May through late October. In 1996, the oft-photographed lighthouse was restored and moved across the street from its original perch on an eroding cliff.
15. Spend a few hours or an entire weekend exploring the Cape Cod National Seashore, spanning nearly 40 miles along the Atlantic shores of Cape Cod. The park is a jewel showcasing the best of New England—sandy beaches, ocean swimming, bike trails, Doane Rock (the largest boulder on Cape Cod), Nauset Lighthouse, and a variety of ranger-led walks throughout the park. Start at the year-round Salt Pond Visitor Center (50 Nauset Road, Eastham).
16. Highland Light (27 Highland Light Road, North Truro) is the oldest and tallest lighthouse on Cape Cod. Step inside the restored structure for public tours held May through October. Climb to the top on a clear day and you’ll be treated to spectacular ocean views that extend more than 20 miles!
17. Head to the very end of Race Point Road in Provincetown to catch a glimpse of seafaring life as it once was. The Old Harbor Life-Saving Station, operated by the U.S. Coast Guard in Chatham until it was decommissioned in July 1944, was relocated in 1977 to Race Point Beach due to a threat of erosion. It now serves as a small museum that holds rescue reenactments in summer months.
18. Hike through sand dunes (or catch a ride with Art’s Dune Tours) to get to the remote 19th-century Race Point Lighthouse on the farthest edge of Provincetown. The Whistle House and the Keeper's House, which has been restored to its 1950s-era beauty, even offer accommodations in an intimate B&B-style atmosphere.
19. Go for a stroll, watch the fishing boats steam in and out, head out on a whale watch, or catch the high-speed ferry to Boston on Provincetown Harbor’s MacMillan Wharf. In addition to being the town’s transportation hub, it’s also just steps to fantastic restaurants and shops.
20. Want a panoramic view of Provincetown? Climb the 116 steps to the top of the Pilgrim Monument (1 High Pole Hill Road, Provincetown), the tallest all-granite structure in the U.S. Standing at 252 feet, it’s impossible to miss when you arrive to Provincetown. The impressive monument commemorates the famous first landing of the Mayflower pilgrims in the New World along the shores of Provincetown on November 11, 1620.
21. For the ultimate Cape Cod road trip, drive down Old King’s Highway (Route 6A) on the bay side of the Cape, stretching from Bourne to Provincetown. The historic two-lane road takes visitors past iconic clapboard houses, salt marshes, woodlands and towns that retain much of their original colonial charm.