Crowdsourced Cape Cod By the MiniTime Community
Highland Lighthouse in Cape Cod (Flickr: anneh632)
Why Go: Hermit crabs, mussels, and fireflies. Scents of salty air, freshly mowed grass, and honeysuckle. Going barefoot and swinging in a hammock. Days filled with long bike rides, sandcastles, and mini golf. Evenings spent watching drive-in movies and amateur baseball games.
Thereâs something so comfortingly timeless about Cape Cod, with its 15 yesteryear towns seemingly plucked from a Norman Rockwell painting. The Cape Cod National Seashore has ensured that precious little development has been allowed on almost 30 miles of the Atlantic coast. In the off-season, itâs possible to walk for half a day along this stretch of pristine beach and see little or no trace of humankind. In many of the picture-postcard towns, an awful lot remains the same from one generation to the next, thanks to designated National Historic districts that preserve architectural integrity. And best of all, the Cape is accessible and user-friendly. Well-marked trails have turned a vast area of the peninsula into a pedestrianâs and cyclistâs paradise, allowing an up-close look at the amazingly diverse topography of pine forests, marshes, cranberry bogs, and over 150 exceptional beaches.
Canât make it this summer? Thereâs plenty of appeal long after the summer crowds have disappeared. In the fall, prices are lower and the bay water often stays warm enough for swimming as late as October.
Best hotel or inn:
See our review of Ocean Edge Resort in Brewster.
See our review of Winnetu Oceanside Resort on Marthaâs Vineyard.
Viking Shores Motor Lodge (Rte. 6, North Eastham; 800/242-2131). Expect âbasic but clean rooms, a free continental breakfast, and a great location between the bay side and the ocean side.â Plus: The grounds include a pool, picnic tables, and charcoal grills. âThumbs up for the in-room fridge, WiFi Internet access, and cable TV with HBO.â Closed late October through mid-May.
Captainâs Quarters Motel (Rte. 6, North Eastham; 800/327-7769). Rooms are âclean but generic in dÃ©cor,â with a good location between the ocean and the bay. You also get cable TV, an in-room refrigerator and coffee-maker, plus a heated outdoor pool, two tennis courts, and beach volleyball and basketball courts.
Eagle Wing Guest Motel (Rte. 6, Eastham; 800/278-5656). âIf youâre traveling with teens on the northern stretches of the Cape, this is a great choice. The owners, a congenial couple, donât allow young kids to stay at their motel, which means the rooms are in excellent condition and the place is super-quiet. Furnishings and amenitites (free continental breakfast, cable TV) are a cut above those at comparably-priced motels in the area.â Open seasonally.
Get Your Bearings
Cape Cod is famously shaped like an arm jutting into the Atlantic, elbow bent and fist turned back toward the mainland. HabituÃ©s speak of the Upper Cape (shoulder), Mid Cape (bicep), Lower Cape (elbow), and Outer Cape (up to the fist), but wherever you are, youâre never far from water. Cape Cod Bay washes gently over the western shores, the open Atlantic Ocean pounds the Capeâs eastern coast, and Nantucket Sound laps up against the southern beaches.
Pick up a copy of Kids on the Cape, a free publication available at many shops, hotels, and attractions. Inside youâll find listings for many kid-friendly attractions and eateries plus dozens of money-saving coupons.
Most fun way to get around:
Bicycle. A family bike ride along the 25-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail is one of the most scenic ways to explore. The trail runs from South Dennis to South Wellfleet, following the now-paved route of the long-defunct Penn Central Railroad along terrain thatâs âgenerally flat, so itâs great for kids.â Along the way, youâll pass salt marshes, cranberry bogs, and ponds. Temptations for a detour off the trail include Nickerson State Park, which has its own bike path and âsome great catch-and-release fishing.â You neednât ride the entire trail. There are conveniently located parking lots in Harwich (on Pleasant Lake Drive), in Brewster (at Nickerson State Park), and in Eastham (at the Salt Pond Visitor Center). You can rent bikes from various shops near the trail in towns such as Dennis, Brewster, and Eastham.
Car. A favorite drive is along the north shoreâs Route 6A (a.k.a. Old Kingâs Highway), through some of the Capeâs oldest towns dating from the mid-1600s. âItâs eye candy for the eyes and soul.â
Cape Cod Highland Lighthouse (Highland Rd., North Truro). The Queen Ann-style lighthouse has been in operation since 1857, though it was moved back from the cliffs in 1996 because of erosion. Itâs the tallest lighthouse on the Cape and offers âachingly beautiful views of the Atlanticâ from the 120-foot observation deck.
Province Lands Visitor Center (Race Point Rd., Provincetown; 487-1256). âThe upper observation deck has a 360-degree viewâ from which âyou can sometimes spot whales!â
Scargo Tower (Scargo Hill Rd., East Dennis). This observation post sits atop the highest hill on the Cape. âClimb it and youâll enjoy a spectacular view of Cape Cod Bay.â
Sunrise from an east-facing beach. âNauset Beach, in Orleans, is spectacular.â
Sunset from a west-facing beach. âA great choice is First Encounter Beach, in Eastham.â Another good pick on the bay is âDuck Harbor Beach, in Wellfleet. You can watch the sun set over the water, which is calm and perfect for little swimmers.â
Soak Up the Local Scene
Donât miss events:
Wellfleet Drive-in Theater double feature (Rte. 6, between Eastham and Wellfleet; 349-7176). Built in 1957, this movie-loverâs delight hosts an enormous screen measuring 100 feet by 44 feet âand a state-of-the-art FM stereo sound system.â You can enjoy âfirst run double features most every night,â where thereâs typically a G-rated family flick, followed by something more grown up. Kids will love that âthere is a playground and snack bar, too.â
Cape Cod Baseball League game (nightly at various venues; games most often start at 5pm or 7pm; mid-June to mid-August). Every summer since 1885, this amateur league offers the chance to watch the boys of summer in an uncommonly enjoyable setting. âSome first-class ballâ is played by âtop-ranked college players and class-act up-and-comers.â Many major leaguers got their start here, including former Red Sox players Carlton Fisk and Mo Vaughn. Admission is free, though some teams may ask for a small donation. Donât have a favorite team? Go to one of the more evocative ballparks. Favorite viewing areas include âsitting in the bleachers at the impeccably-kept Eldredge Park, in Orleans,â or âplunking your lawn chair or blanket behind the backstop at Chathamâs Veterans Field.â For kids, the highlights will certainly be âchasing down foul ballsâ and âfeasting on scrummy ice cream and hot dogs.â
Pirate Adventure Cruise (Ocean St. Dock, Slip 4, Hyannis; 394-9100; $21/person; mid-June through Labor Day). Wanna play pirate? Six times a day, the skull-and-crossbone festooned Sea Gypsy sets sail in Nantucket Sound, where you can âhave a pirate adventure looking for treasure.â Thereâs an hour or so of onboard fun, including âtreasure maps, face painting, pirate sashes, squirt guns, floating skulls, and a terrifically engaging staff.â Book a few days in advance.
Let the Fun Shine In
Doane Rock (Nauset Rd., Eastham). This favorite picnic spot is near the homestead site of John Doane, the first of the Plymouth settlers to make his home on the Cape, in 1644. A unique feature is a huge exposed boulder that was transported to the spot by glaciers. There are picnic tables and hiking trails.
Best public beach:
Everybodyâs got a personal favorite. Yours will depend on what kind of beach experience youâre looking for and, to some extent, how old your children are. For the classic Cape Cod beachâhumongous dunes, huge waves, chilly water, and miles of uninterrupted sandâhead to the Cape Cod National Seashore on the Atlantic coast. West-facing beaches generally have the sandiest shores, gentlest waves, and most temperate waters. Southside beaches on Nantucket Sound are known for their gently rolling surf. And donât forget inland. There are said to be 365 freshwater ponds on the Cape, one for every day of the year, with clear, warm water and sandy beaches that are ideal for small kids. Here are some of the most beloved beaches on the Cape:
Coast Guard Beach, Eastham. A favorite among the many quintessential dune-backed beaches that make up part of the Cape Cod National Seashore. âCoast Guard Beach has been cited by the Travel Channel as one of the most beautiful beaches in the US.â During the summer, thereâs no on-site parking; you catch a shuttle bus from the Little Creek parking area, across from the Doane Area.
Kid-friendly attraction Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf (Flickr: jylcat)
Nauset Beach, East Orleans. A âbeautiful town-managed beachâ with a nice boardwalk and snack bars.â Itâs âgreat for a long beach walks, but even a short walk will take you beyond the crowded area. You may see seals in the water.”
First Encounter Beach, Eastham. At low tide, the beach is at its most dramatic. âThe sand seems to stretch on forever and you can walk out up to two whole miles!” The tidal flats harbor a multitude of interesting treasures to collect and âthe water is quite warm when the tide comes back in because it passes over the heated sand.â Bring pails and minnow nets.
West Dennis Beach, West Dennis. Long and wide, with pristine marshland and âawesome for windsurfing.â Families love it because thereâs a playground, snack bar, and restrooms.
Best fun attraction:
Red Barn Pizza & More (4180 Rte. 6, North Eastham; 255-4500). âFun for tots and teenagers alike.â There is an outdoor mini golf course and an air-conditioned indoor arcade with plenty of fun games. âYouâll also find a huge selection of candy that you mound into a basket as selections are madeâa fun way to shop!â
Pirateâs Cove Adventure Golf (728 Main St., South Yarmouth; 394-6200; $7.95/adult, $6.95/kid). âThe best place for mini golf on the Capeâ offers two 18-hole swashbuckling courses âfor the most over-the-top putt putt experience.â
Budâs Go-Karts (362 Sisson Rd., off Rte. 28, Harwich Port; 432-4964). âKids love getting behind the wheel and going really fastâ around the track at Budâs, âa must stop in Harwich.â
Cartwheels (11 Gages Way, South Dennis; 394-6755). A fun place for the whole family to spend a few hours. There are âtop-of-the-line go-karts, batting cages, and an arcade.â
Cape Escape Adventure Golf (14 Canal Rd., Orleans; 240-1791; $7.50/adult, $7.00/kids 12 and under). This particularly lovely mini golf course ânot only is a lot of fun, but it delivers an authentic Cape ambience.â Decorations include real fishing boats, a live koi fishpond, and pretty waterfalls.
Meet Flippered Friends
Best for whale watching:
Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch (132 Bradford St., Provincetown; 800/826-9300 or 349-1900; $39/adult, $31/kids 5 to 12, free for kids 4 and under). These âexcellent four-hour tripsâ feature narration by marine biologists from the Center for Coastal Studies. You might spot humpbacks, minkes, finbacks, or dolphins. âItâs incredible to watch a whale surface!â Book in advance, and âcheck the web site for online discounts.â
Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises (Barnstable Harbor; 1-888/WHALE-WATCH; $45/adult, $26/kids 4 to 12; free for kids 3 and under). This is the only whale watching outfit on the Mid Cape. Cruises last three-and-a-half hours, with commentary from expert naturalists and a good chance at seeing humpbacks, finbacks, and other species. âDuring the summer, tickets are first come, first served.â
Best museum for kids:
Cape Cod Museum of Natural History (869 Rte. 6A; Brewster; 896-3867; $8/adult, $3.50/kids). Kids can learn âeverything there is to know about lobsters, crabs, clams, mussels, starfish, frogs, turtles,â and more. Thereâs also âan impressive list of excursions that teach kids about the Capeâs natural environment.â
Whydah Pirate Museum (MacMillan Wharf, Provincetown; 487-8899;$10/adults, $8/kids) âYouâll discover much about local seafaring history through artifacts from the pirate ship Whydah,â which sunk off Marconi Beach on Cape Cod in 1717.
Cape Cod Potato Chip Company (100 Breedâs Hill Rd., Hyannis; 775-7253). Nevermind that itâs not a conventional museum (you say potayto, we say potahto), because “your kids will still learn a little something.” Best of all: After a short factory tour where you see how potato chips are made, “you get some yummy free samples.”
Heritage Museums & Gardens (67 Grove St., Sandwich; 888-3300; admission $12/adult, $6/kids 4-16; free for kids 3 and under). Set on 100 acres of âbeautifully landscaped grounds with rhododendrons blooming everywhere from mid-May through mid-Juneâ this complex includes three museums. The Shaker Round Barn is an auto museum which showcases vintage and classic cars, including âan old Model T that kids can climb on and pretend to drive.â The American History museum is known for its collection of military artifacts. The Art Museum houses Native American arts, antique toys, and even a carousel thatâs âfor riding, not just for looking.â Families should inquire at the ticket office for Family Funpacks with childrenâs activities, or the Clue tours, which are âcool scavenger-hunt games for exploring the grounds.â In the summer, âFridays are a great day to visit. Thereâs a concert, magic show, or other live performance in the gardens from 11am to noon, followed by a childrenâs craft project that kids can take home.â
Salt Pond Visitor Center (Doane Rd., off Rte. 6, Eastham). The âgateway to the Cape Cod National Seashoreâ offers âa brief film on how Cape Cod was formed through the ages with interesting time-lapse photography comparing the beach in summer versus winter.â There is also a museum and a gift shop âwith lots of interesting books for children about Cape Cod.â
Nauset Beach in Orleans, MA (Flickr: djs1021)
Jams (14 Truro Center Rd., Truro; 349-1616). This bakery-cum-deli is a perfect place to stock up on picnic provisions, with pastries, cookies, rotisserie chicken, and much more. âTry the to-die-for freshly baked pizzas.â
Cottage Bakery (5 Cottage St., Orleans; 255-2821). “Hands down, the very best bakery on the Cape,” providing everything from croissants to dessert cakes. âIf you go for breakfast, donât pass on a Dirt Bomb, which is a cross between a doughnut and a muffin, completely smothered in cinnamon sugar.â âYouâll get addicted to the dirt bombs.â
Red Barn (Rte. 6, North Eastham; 255-4500). âFabulous pizza and terrific ice cream.â This place is âa godsend when children get tired of eating seafood.â/p>
Best clam shack:
The Friendly Fisherman (4580 Rte. 6, North Eastham; 255-6770). âAbsolutely, positively the best lobster roll on the Cape. Big sweet chunks and just a tad of mayo to hold it together. Well worth the $16.50 price.â The adjacent shop next door has âmany varieties of super-fresh fish to bring back to your cottage and throw on the grill. There are also fresh vegetables and homemade pies, all top quality.â Outdoor seating only, â with a small playground, and a table with coloring books and crayons for kids.â Open seasonally.
Cobieâs (3260 Rte. 6A, Brewster; 896-7021). This is what every clam shack should be: âNothing fancy, but theyâve got fabulous lobster rolls and fries,â not to mention the fried clams, burgers, shakes, and foot-long dogs. Cash only.
Cookeâs Seafood (Junction of Rte. 6A and Rte. 28, Orleans; 255-5518). This casual, family restaurant âhas the ambiance of a Howard Johnsonâs, but oh mamaâthose lobster rolls are delectable!â
The Clam Shack (Off Scranton Ave., Falmouth Harbor; 540-7758). âThis classic is perched right on the edge of the water,â and serves up âreasonably priced fried seafood with all the fixinâs.â You and the kids can âdine happily and no-frills,â on picnic tables beside the counter or better yet, âright on the rooftop, for the most fantastic view of the harbor.â
Capât Cass Rock Harbor Seafood (117 Rock Harbor Rd., Orleans; no phone). You can’t miss this shack, which âlooks untouched since the 1950sâ and is covered in colorful, salvaged lobster buoys. Thatâs your first clue to the freshness of whatâs inside. Order the âamazingly sweet fried scallopsâ, which come in âsimply prepared, huge portions.â Cash only.
Arnoldâs Lobster & Clam Bar (3580 Rte. 6, Eastham; 255-2575). âPrepare to wait in lineâ at this âbig and bustlingâ place known for itâs âamazing, totally high cholesterol meals.â Faves include fried oysters, fried onion rings, fried shrimp, fried lobster, and of course fried clams. âOrder the whole clams, not the strips.â There are âlots of outdoor and indoor seating options for large groups and restless kids,â plus an outdoor walk-up window for ice cream.
Jerryâs Seafood and Dairy Freeze (654 Main St., off Rte. 28, West Yarmouth; 775-9752). Go for the âwonderfully fresh clamsâ and âit rates tops for soft ice cream, too.â
Moby Dickâs Restaurant (Gull Pond Rd., off Rte. 6, Wellfleet; 349-9795). âThe menu at this lovely shack goes on and on, with plenty to interest the whole family.â Kids get âcrayons and placemats to color.â
Marionâs Pie Shop (2022 Rte. 28, Chatham; 432-9439). For about 50 years, this is where the cognescenti come for best pies, be it âlife-altering lemon meringue for dessert to the sea-clam pot pie for dinner.â Closed Mondays in winter.
Best ice cream:
Sundae School (Locations at 381 Lower County Rd., Dennisport; 606 Main St., Rte. 28, Harwich Port; 210 Main St., East Orleans). The three locations at this âslice of nostalgiaâ serve up ice cream thatâs âpure nirvana,â along with real whipped cream, and old-fashioned sarsaparilla and cream sodas.
Emack & Bolioâs (Rte. 6A, Oracle Sq., Orleans; 255-5844. Other locations: 2 Kent Pl., Chatham and 117 Main St., Wellfleet). Located in a Victorian-era house with a wide front porch and tables inside and out, this quaint shop offers options that are creative and change often. âA double scoop of Serious Chocolate Addiction is worth a drive from anywhere on the Cape.â
Buffyâs (456 Main St., Chatham; 945-5990). Serves âdecadently rich ice cream, fresh-squeezed citrus rickies and delicious fruity smoothies.â
Halletâs Store (139 Hallet St., Yarmouth Port; 362-3362). In operation since 1889, this âdarling country drugstoreâ dispenses fabulous ice-cream from its marble soda fountain with swivel stools.
Best for a splurge:
Chatham Bars Inn (297 Shore Rd., Chatham; 945-6704). âIf you feel liking dressing up for a meal, this is the place to go. The main dining room and menu were remodeled in 2007. Now both are much more welcoming to kids. They even have a kidsâ menu. Meals are expensive but inventive and delicious.â