Timeless traditions and affordable family fun await on this iconic stretch of New England surf and sand.
The world seems to spin by at an incredible rate these days, but on Cape Cod, New England’s best-known summer escape, life slows down and rambles along to the laid-back sounds of Jimmy Buffett and James Taylor. My husband, Butch, grew up spending summers here and most of the family traditions he grew up with are still going strong. From lazy afternoons on the beach to shopping for the day’s fresh catch for dinner, life here rolls you along and brings you back to a quieter time. Here, 8 easy and affordable ways to enjoy the best of the Cape.
The gorgeous white-sand beaches have inspired painters and photographers for generations (check out my video above for a taste of Cape life). Grab a snorkel and dive in the shallows to see some of the offshore wildlife or just relax on the sand and take in the views or a page-turning beach read.
The Cape Cod National Seashore (nps.gov/caco) offers 40 miles of nonstop beach along the Outer Cape (day parking $15, but after 4pm parking is free - with hours of daylight remaining). The water is invigorating (by which I mean it’s chilly) and the waves are perfect for bodysurfing, boogie-boarding, or surfing. If you’re interested in the Great Whites that make these waters home (yes, it’s still very safe for swimming) download the Sharktivity app to follow their whereabouts. If you are looking for a more mellow swim check out the saltwater ponds that dot the cape. Grew’s Pond, in Falmouth, is a staple for locals.
No beach day is complete without ice cream. Schoolhouse Ice Cream (schoolhouseicecream.com), in Harwich Port, is an easy and tempting stop along Route 28. There are enough flavors and topping choices to please any sun-kissed traveler, and no one will judge if you decide to get one more topping. If you like something a little sweeter, take your pick of candy shops along the way. You can’t miss at The Candy Manor (candymanor.com), in Chatham. The chocolates are made in the back and the old-fashioned penny candy is hard to resist. Keep an eye on your bag though, they fill up quick and costs can surprise if you don’t keep track.
Sure, every town on on the Cape has beautiful, picturesque architecture, but no town feels quite like Provincetown, at the very tip of the Cape, where the highway is lined with sand dunes. Provincetown has drawn creative types and divergent thinkers for years (the tip of the Cape is, after all, where religious pilgrims seeking freedom of worship first landed from England to settle in the New World) and the community is especially cherished for its decades-long embrace of LGBTQ pride. The town is dotted with restaurants serving fresh seafood. A local favorite, The Squealing Pig (squealingpigpubs.com) now serves breakfast for avid Provincetown visitors and locals who couldn’t get their fill at lunch and dinner. The views from the Pilgrim Monument are worth climbing the 116 steps. Entry to the tower ($12 for adult, $4 for kids) also gets you into the museum and gallery. Parking at the monument is $14 and you get one adult ticket to the museum and monument. It’s worth keeping this spot while you explore the town, as parking can be a challenge.
No driver’s license required here at Bud’s Go-Karts (508-432-4964), in Harwich. At around 8 years old, kids are tall enough to meet the height requirement and drive the go-karts at Bud’s on their own. But don’t let the kids have all the fun. Grab a kart and show them how fast you can take the curves. Grandparents too! ($7 per car, one and two-person go-karts available)
CHATHAM FISH PIER
Fresh seafood and seal watching are both a must while on the Cape. For your best chance to experience both in one place, head to the Chatham Fish Pier (chathampierfishmarket.com). The seals are always close by waiting for an easy meal. Choose from a lobster roll, fish and chips, or clam chowder while you wait for the fisherman to return. When they do, head up to the observation deck and watch the gulls and seals delight as the days catch is unloaded.
CHATHAM BAND CONCERTS
If you like to hokey-pokey (or are just curious to see hundreds of people hokey pokey at one time), you will want to see and hear the Chatham Band Concerts (chathamband.com). Each Friday night in the summertime, the all-volunteer band has been performing free concerts since 1931. For the best seats, claim your spot with a blanket by 10am. (Really, you can leave your stuff all day.) On your way back to your blanket, pick up some candy at The Candy Manor. Each Friday concert starts with “It’s Band Time in Chatham” and ends with “The Bunny Hop.” What you get in between - classic marches and other favorites - will get you up dancing and leave you singing.
CAPE COD BASEBALL LEAGUE
Wherever you end up on the Cape, you will be close to a free professional baseball game. The Cape Cod Baseball League (capecodbaseball.org) includes 10 teams and currently has many alumni playing in the big leagues. Bring your glove and find a seat near foul ball territory, but get ready for competition.
Get the kids in their PJs, arrive early for a good spot, and nestle your car up to the movie speaker or set your radio. The Drive-In movie theater (wellfleetcinemas.com), in Wellfleet, is the last of its kind on Cape Cod. First built in 1957, the theater and its playground still have that Mid-Century feel, and kids love it. Some things don’t need an upgrade ($12, adults. $9 kids and seniors).