Cape Cod is an incredible spot because it has been kept so protected by state and national laws. Also known as “The Cape,” it is 65 miles long from Bourne at the top to Provincetown at the bottom with fifteen different Cape Cod towns and villages. As it is a sliver of land with a bay on one side and an ocean on the other, you have several options for beaches. The areas are very different (discussed below). Some areas are extremely tourist trap-like and others have the most gorgeous landscape in the world. The delicate balance is mixing some of the ticky-tack summer fun (fried seafood, drive-in cinema!) with the stunning nature. Most of all, we love a beach and outer Cape Cod has some of the best in the world.
Type of accommodation in Cape Cod
Commercial land is very rare, building permits are difficult to obtain and for a variety of reasons there aren’t hotel chains or high rises. Your options are really either a house or an Inn. Houses tend to be by the week, Saturday to Saturday, sometimes booked a year in advance but Airbnb and VRBO have opened up more options. Alternatively, there are Inns (bed and breakfasts) throughout the Cape. You may find a Best Western or a Holiday Inn in Hyannis but that’s not really the way to see the Cape. There may not be a Four Seasons Cape Cod, but that is also part of the charm.
How to get to Cape Cod
You can come to Cape Cod from BOS by water ferry, which is the most efficient way to get there but then leaves you without a car on Cape Cod. You don’t strictly need a car on Cape Cod because you CAN bicycle and take shuttles, but you want a car. It’s exhausting without one as a family.
The traffic between Boston and Cape Cod in the summer notorious. Again, part of this is charming because it is just a tiny one land local highway (6A &6). We depart either before 6am or after 7pm going either way in August.
There is also an airline called Cape Air, but I’ve never explored that option that is mostly for New Yorkers as Cape Cod is difficult to get to from NYC.
The water ferry will take you to Provincetown which is the tip/end of Cape Cod.
Areas of Cape Cod
Cape Cod is also about finding the area that works for you and then jetting around to visit the others for what you need.
You may prefer mid cape made up of Hyannis, Yarmouth, and Dennis. There are many more restaurants, shops and activities and it is a shorter drive from Boston. Hyannis is where you go to learn about the Kennedys, although you would not stay there. Yarmouth and Dennis are too touristy for my taste but are close to the ferries to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
The Lower Cape is made up of the towns of Harwich, Brewster, Chatham, and Orleans and could be a good choice as a halfway house between the Outer Cape and the family-friendly mid Cape. Harwich has a fun main street with lots of unique shops (but as people who stay in Outer Cape, we just stick to Provincetown). Great option.
My favourite area is the Outer Cape. In my mind, this is Cape Cod. Mostly this is because the distinctiveness of Cape Cod and its National seashore beaches only be found there. Outer Cape consists of Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown.
Truro and Wellfleet
Truro and Wellfleet are my two favourite towns. Truro is a sleepy town close to the action of Provincetown and the attractions of Route 6 but not full-on. It has great beaches –Ballston Beach, Coast Guard Beach (Truro) and Head of the Meadows. Coast Guard. My vision of Cape Cod is dramatic dunes on one side and the waves on the other. The Atlantic side can have some strong waves. In Truro the beaches are less touristy where you bring your own everything – beach chairs, sun umbrella, food, water, etc. There’s usually one food cart and port-a-loos at the top of the beach dunes and then nothing else.
Coast Guard Beach (Truro) has a tiny parking lot so I recommend going after 4pm and then staying to watch the sunset. It is spectacular and has made for many magical evenings for our family over the years.
In Wellfleet, I love the Beach Comber and Cahoon Hollow Beach so much. It also has the famous dunes. PJs has the best fried seafood. Wellfleet has a charming old fashioned Drive-in Theatre. Also, Wellfleet oysters are some of my favourite oysters in the world. Even though I stay in Truro, I spend a lot of time in Wellfleet.
At the tip of Cape Cod sits the LGBTQ, high energy community of Provincetown, also knowns as P’town. I love walking with my children down the street eating ice cream amongst drag queens, gay celebrities and families from Manhattan. Only thing is that it is a good idea to check what big events will be taking place in Provincetown during your stay because it gets very crowded. Parking is limited but available in lots. The best fresh seafood store in Cape Cod – Mack’s Market is there. Our favourite evenings are going to Coast Guard Beach for sunset then cooking fresh fish at home from Mack’s.
Activities in Cape Cod
In addition to the beaches, there are great cycling trails. I like the Cape Cod Rail Trail and the one in Provincetown one the best. The Great Island in Wellfleet has wonderful hiking spots. Gray’s Beach in Yarmouth has a gorgeous walk (but I’ve never done it!) and there are many lighthouses to visit. We take whale watching tours from Provincetown one day, beach most days, go to the drive-in another evening, eat at PJs, then have fresh seafood at home, one nice dinner out, another evening at the Beachcomber and that’s basically our week!
Let me know where you choose to stay and then I can go into more detail by asking other people who spend time in lower or mid-Cape. I’ve enjoyed Cape Cod at all stages of my life and now love being there with our two boys.
Featured image by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen/Triplepassport