Great Things to Do in Cape Cod & the Islands
Welcome to this beautiful vacationland, known for its dreamy beaches, dramatic cliffs, and picturesque small towns. Cape Cod is a crescent of land left by the forward edge of a glacier and shaped like a bent arm stretched 90 miles into the Atlantic. Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are islands lying to the south of the Cape, in the Atlantic, and easily accessible by frequent ferries from Boston and from the Cape Cod towns of Hyannis, Falmouth, Woods Hole, and Harwich Port.
Cape Cod and each of the islands has its unique character, but all have a strong links to their maritime history of sailing, fishing, boat building and whaling, expressed via historic lighthouses, maritime festivals, seafood restaurants, cruises, shopping and museums.
The Outer Cape towns of Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown are the location of the magnificent Cape Cod National Seashore, where visitors can enjoy beaches, walking, bike trails, freshwater ponds, and lighthouse tours. The National Seashore has two excellent welcome centers, in Eastham and Provincetown, with very good guides and public programs. Beaches on Cape Cod Bay are more protected, with warmer and calmer waters, and wide mud flats at low tide. The ocean side beaches have bigger waves, good for surfing. Apart from the National Seashore, many more beaches on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket welcome visitors to all the beach-based pleasures: swimming and sunning, surfing and fishing. Martha’s Vineyard is known for its majestic cliffs above Aquinnah Beach; Nantucket beaches are prized for locations that allow magnificent sunsets.
Cape Cod and the Island have a big assortment of lodgings, from luxurious, full-service beach and ocean resorts with spa services to relaxed and casual hotels and motels for families, with pools and playgrounds. Intimate bed and breakfasts are popular, and at the other end of the spectrum are vacation rentals, where who families or groups can share a roomy house and yard. Many lodgings of all sizes and price points are pet-friendly, so your dog may often join the trip.
Having mentioned the beaches, we can move on to other distinctive attractions. All parts of the Cape and Islands have historic lighthouses, some open to visitors, some with guided programs. The Cape Cod Rail Trail, a biking and walking trail on a converted railroad bed, travels for miles within the national seashore, or alongside the Cape Cod Canal. Skipping around a bit: Art’s Dune Tours are overland trips by dune buggy into the moonscape of dunes just outside of Provincetown. The Monomoy Island Ferry Rip Rider out of Chatham offers a tour of marine mammals and sea birds along the Monomoy Islands. A walk along the Sandwich Boardwalk in Sandwich is like nothing you’ve ever seen. The boardwalk arches above gurgling marshes from the mainland out to a distant barrier beach. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth is a cool visit for people fascinated by marine biology.
In the town of Oak Bluffs, on Martha’s Vineyard, kids enjoy the Flying Horses Carousel, one of the oldest in the U.S., and adults enjoy walks through the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association neighborhood, with its charming gingerbread cottages. During Illumination Night in mid-August every summer, hundreds of paper lanterns are hung on cottage porches. The MV towns of Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, Tisbury, and Chilmark have plentiful shopping and art galleries on the main streets – these are places where affluent people have vacationed for generations. West Tisbury, on Martha’s Vineyard, runs a twice-a-week farmers market packed with foods and baked goods and fine crafts.
Outdoors people love Nantucket’s Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge, famous for its historic lighthouse, white sand beaches, and world-class fishing. Rolling maritime dunes cover more than 200 acres. Great Point Light is open to the public from May to October. Adults and kids learn about the island’s dramatic maritime history at the Nantucket Whaling Museum. In the present days, whales play in the waters off the island as people on whale-watch cruises hang over the rails and gaze in amazement.
Shopping on a visit to Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket does not mean malls and big box stores. The Cape and Islands are rich with boutique stores, gift shops, book and jewelry stores, art galleries, some country stores, and funky marine supply and novelty stores. Nearly every town has a whimsical place to shop, like the Lemon Tree Village Shops in Brewster, to name just one. Next up is dining. Visitors can look forward to lobster in the rough and all other types of seafood; fun summer food at ice cream stands; and gorgeous formal dining in the main towns and resorts.
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