Sounds like a lovely area and a wonderful place to vacation! Thanks for all the great tips on things to do and places to visit.
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Cape Cod with the family!
We went to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, every summer when I was young, and it was the highlight of the year. My family and my Aunt’s family met in a vacation rental and lazed away the week before the 4th of July. We went to beaches on the bay side and on the Atlantic side, swam in kettle ponds, built sandcastles, strolled through Provincetown, went to the drive-in movies, rode bikes, read books, dyed our hair, never wore the sunscreen we swore to our parents we put on, took showers in the outdoor shower, and always put on a play based on books we could find in the rental houses (generally Danielle Steele books).
It was the stuff all the best vacations are made of–enough things to do without actually taxing yourself too much. It all felt very American, and our week often ended in a 4th of July parade in Wellfleet with a fireworks show over the dunes in Provincetown.
Then for some reason, around ten years ago, we all just stopped going. None of us remember why we stopped going but we just didn’t keep up the tradition. I’m sure it was that some of us started having kids, health issues, being poor grad students, starting new jobs, and all the things that complicate life. We often traveled to other places with my aunt and cousins, but the Cape was something we all said we should do again and never did…
Until memorial day weekend 2016! We spent four idyllic days on the Cape with most of the old gang. Do you know the saying “you can’t go home again”? Well, you can on Cape Cod!
Everything was the same! Our favorite restaurants were still making the same food, the beaches looked the same, the same smell of the sea was there, and the drive-in was as kitschy and uncomfortable as ever. We reveled in the sameness of our favorite haunts.
And I realized with horror that I was the same age as my mother when we started going to the Cape! We have all decided that an entire week may be too long to dedicate to Cape Cod every year, but we can donate Memorial Day or Labor Day or a midsummer week to our favorite location.
If you want to begin your own Cape Cod tradition, here are the things you must know:
- Cape Cod is the muscley arm part of Massachusetts that boasts beautiful beaches on all sides. When you think of Cape Cod, it might bring to mind Hyannis and the Kennedys or the very tip that is Provincetown and its colorful community. But don’t limit yourself to the two well-known towns, there are so many beautiful towns in between that are less expensive, less crowded, and just as beautiful.
- Our family trips were mainly in Wellfleet, but we have stayed in Truro and Chatham.
- Cape Cod is an easy 70-mile drive from Boston or a 250-mile drive from NYC.
Cahoon Hollow Beach
This is my favorite beach on the Atlantic side of the Cape. It is also one of the most popular beaches on Cape Cod.
Massive sand dunes are behind you, and the blue sea is ahead of you, with big waves crashing in crescendo as you near them. In fact, you have to walk down a 75-foot sand dune trail to get to the beach, so if walking back up is going to be hard, you might want to skip this particular beach. Cahoon Hollow is swimmable but consistently colder than the calmer bay-side beaches. However, it is excellent for boogie boarding, body surfing, and sand castles.
Eat at the Beachcomber
Visit the Beachcomber restaurant next to the beach parking for great seafood. Don’t miss the raw bar and the beautiful Wellfleet oysters, famous up and down the East Coast. Over the years, we were all paid $5 or so to eat a raw oyster by our parents and older cousins. Although we had to gag down the first ones, we eventually grew to love them. This past trip, my cousin paid each of my kids $5 to eat an oyster, so the fun continued.
Tip for Cahoon Hollow:
Parking costs $20, but that money can be put toward a drink or meal at the Beachcomber. But go before 10 a.m. to be able to get parking at all.
Visit some Kettle Ponds
Although other Kettle ponds are scattered around the Cape, Wellfleet has the majority of them, which is why we continued to stay in Wellfleet year after year. These freshwater ponds are a nice companion to the salt beaches. I recommend going to a beach in the morning and then rinsing off in a pond!
Our favorite of all the ponds is Great Pond (on the same road to Cahoon Hollow), and it is a beautiful pond (really, it’s a lake) surrounded by pine trees with a small beach and quite a bit of shallow water for the little ones. Once again, it’s a bit of a hike down, but it is worth it!
Long Pond is another great one for small kids. It has a roped-in swimming area, frogs to catch, and a much bigger sandy beach. However, it is always much more crowded than Great Pond. It is worth visiting both to see which one you prefer.
Many other ponds are wonderful but are harder to find and have no parking. If you are lucky enough to be staying by one, make use of it!
Both Great Pond and Long Pond have small parking lots that fill up in the middle of the day. If you go before 10 am or after 3 pm you are more likely to find a parking spot.
Indian Neck Beach, Wellfleet
This is a bay-side beach with calmer waters, a big sandbar, and lots of fun critters to see. This was nicknamed “Hermie beach” by my brother and cousin because they could find dozens of hermit crabs on the beach. The crabs are still there and easily found buried shallowly in air holes in the sand. Also found are horseshoe crabs swimming in shallow water, fiddler crabs on shore, snails, and beautiful shells. If you have little nature lovers, allot an hour or two here.
Duck Harbor Beach
This bayside beach is a hidden gem in Wellfleet! Unlike many beaches in Wellfleet, it doesn’t include a long hike from the parking lot. The bayside makes it a gentle beach for younger kids who don’t want the big waves. This is a great sandcastle building, lot walk beach, and it has enough soft sand to make mom and dad happy too!
Wellfleet Drive-In Theater
What is more nostalgic than a drive-in movie? I’m not old enough to remember them in their prime, so the nostalgia for me is actually of the Wellfleet drive-in. I remember watching The Princess Bride, Pocahontas, and Toy Story while lying on sleeping bags in the hatchback of my parent’s van.
The drive-in plays a double feature every night during the summer season and features a playground for early arrivees and a decent snack bar. Be aware that prices are per person, and they only take cash.
What to Eat in Wellfleet
There are so many fabulous places to get fresh seafood on the Cape, there are cheap little roadside spots, breweries that serve food and fine dining.
This is always the favorite of the family! The raw bar here is the shining star of the restaurant! Oysters and clams are opened in front of you and are sweet and delicious. We also love the enormous nachos, fish and chips, and steamed mussels. If you are able to sit outside, you will be rewarded with a beautiful sea breeze and a spectacular view.
If you are a nightlife lover, The Beachcomber has become famous for their party atmosphere.
This may not be the single best place to get seafood on the Cape, but it is pretty delicious.Clam strips, fish and chips, and good burgers and onion rings. Plus it is on the way to Cahoon Hollow, Great Pond and very close to Wellfleet center. This is a great grab and go option as well.
Bookstore and Restaurant
This higher-end restaurant has a diverse menu of baked and fried fish, pasta, salads, and good kids’ meals. It is situated on the Wellfleet Pier and beach, and on a beautiful day, it is great to sit outside to enjoy your meal. My favorite is the baked scallops; they are delicious every time.
PB Boulangerie Bistro
This is a relatively recent addition to the Wellfleet restaurant scene and a very welcome one! There is now a great place to grab breakfast. This bistro offers French pastries, countless varieties of breads, sandwiches, and drinks. I heartily recommend the kouing aman, the meringues, and the cheese bread.
Things to do in Provincetown
Although staying in Provincetown is not necessary and is generally more expensive, a trip to this beach town is a must. This is not your usual boardwalk town. The Mayflower landed there before heading toward Plymouth, and the Mayflower Compact was signed here. The town then became a part of the Plymouth colony and was used primarily for fishing.
It became a town in 1727 and continued to be a fishing and whaling center through the early 1900’s. The picturesque harbor attracted artists, and the business guild later began promoting gay tourism. Since then, P-town (as the locals call it) has become the artistic capital of the Cape.
You can easily spend a day here with your family or stay longer for the many festivals P-town hosts. The souvenir shops have lots of fun and inexpensive treasures for you and your kids to take home with you. Stroll the historic streets that wind around, visit the Pilgrim monument where the Mayflower docked, or rent bikes and ride the dunes trail.
Dolphin Whale Watch
If you have an animal lover among you, this trip won’t disappoint. We have gone on these 3-hour boat trips and have always seen lots of whales, mostly humpbacks, very close to the boat. The boat has bathrooms, a snack bar, and lots of seating, plus a great tour guide. A not-to-be-missed attraction.
According to wildlife expert Niels Roskott from Whale Watching Tromso, when booking your tour, you have to ensure that the company has animal welfare as its first priority and educate the guests on the importance of nature and wildlife conservation, and uses environmentally friendly transportation.
Plan on 3-4 hours.
Cape Cod Province Lands Trail
This 5-mile looping bike trail will take you up and down sandy dunes and throughout Provincetown. The loop extensions are heading to 3 different beaches: Race Point, Bennett Pond, and Herring Cove. The paved trails are easy enough for kids over the age of 8 to go on but be warned that there are some significant hills that are difficult to bike.
Tips for bike rental in Provincetown:
If you didn’t bring your bikes with you there are many options for bike rentals all over Provincetown. Here are some we have used over the years
Gale Force Bikes (this is closest to the beaches and trails, but I find it to be a little pricier.)
Coast Provincetown (they rent scooters as well as bikes)
Lighthouses on Cape Cod
Many of the lighthouses on the Cape have tours that are short enough for the kids and informative enough for you. My picks for families is the Nauset Lighthouse in Eastham. It has free admission and easy access from the road.
Or visit the Chatham Lighthouse overlooking Lighthouse Beach in Chatham. (This is a fabulous beach to visit as well.) I found the tour here a little more in-depth but still very interesting. There is a lot of lawns to run on if the kids are too restless for the tour, and parents have to take turns! I remember reading that the Chatham lighthouse is the most photographed, but I can’t be positive.
Where to stay on Cape Cod
My favorite choice for a weeklong stay is a home rental. But if you are staying for a weekend or really prefer a hotel these are my favorite choices.
Chatham Bars Inn
If you want an impeccable stay in Cape Cod and do it in style, look no further than the Chatham Bars Inn. Known all over the cape as the nicest hotel with the best views. The Chatham Bars Inn embraces the New England coastal vibe in the simplest and best way. Their rooms are elegant without being fussy, their restaurant features local catches of the day done simply, and the amenities, like the spa, are first class.
For booking information, click here.
The Wagner at Duck Creek
This inn has recently changed hands and had a number of interior renovations, making what was once a good hotel into a great one. One of the few inns in Wellfleet, the rooms are spacious and lovely, and the bed is super comfy.
A variety of room arrangements allow for a family room or a more intimate room for two. Either way, you are sure to enjoy this charming inn in my favorite town on Cape Cod.
For booking information click here.
Tips For Visiting Cape Cod, Massachusetts
- High season starts the week after the 4th of July and goes through August. Prices for rentals are cheaper in June, and the Cape is beautiful, so go early and save some money and beat the crowds.
- Rentals are hard to come by if you don’t have your rental by May.
- Every town has beaches that require their own town’s parking stickers to park at them. Check out your favorite beaches and then stay in the town in which they are located. You can purchase a parking permit from the town for the week of your visit. Some beaches do have paid parking, so check before you go. Our favorite swimming spots were the kettle ponds in Wellfleet, so we continued to stay in Wellfleet in order to park at the ponds.
Are you looking for more day trip fun from Boston? Check out our 16 Day trips to Boston.
Do you want more beach vacation inspiration? Prince Edward Island beach vacation.
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