Cape Cod Travel Guide: A New England Summer Escape

Chatham lighthouse and coast guard boat in Cape Cod with Sarah Fay facing it.

Cape Cod is where time stops, and life slows down and you actually can relax on your vacation. The best Cape Cod towns to experience feel like they have stood still in time. I have been going to the “Cape” as locals call it since I was in a little kid perks of growing up in Massachusetts part-time. Maybe I love it for the nostalgic memories, but mainly I love it because the setting of the Cape makes me feel like I am at the center of a Nicholas Sparks novel. 

Lately, my world has been spinning at a million miles an hour, so I thought I would go somewhere I could catch my breath. While Cape Cod is New England’s best-known summer escape, I would also recommend it in September for a last-minute getaway before fall really starts in New England. 

Road tripping is the only way to truly see Cape Cod. And that is exactly what my mom and I did on this particular trip to find the best Cape Cod towns and experiences. So, get in a car and escape Boston, for nature, the beach, and quirky but quintessential New England Cape Cod towns. From relaxing days on the beach, to a thrilling day whale watching on Cape Cod, the Cape will bring you back to quieter times and have your worries by the wayside at least for a weekend! 

Here are some of my favorite, fun filled ways to have a great time on the Cape no matter your budget, along with the best Cape Cod towns and experiences. . 

Cape Cod Beaches

Sunny day on the beach with umbrellas and people enjoying the day

What is a summer vacation without a trip to the beach? Cape Cod’s National Seashore is the place where it is okay to get lost since you will run into cute stores, locally owned shops, amazing ice cream stands, and secret beautiful spots along the seashore. 

“A man may stand there [the Outer Beach] and put all America behind him.” Henry David Thoreau described the special feeling you get when you are on almost any beach when on Cape Cod. 

The 40 miles of sandy beaches, dunes, marshes, and diverse life are protected, but are still for the public to enjoy in more ways than the obvious swimming. The seashore offers bike paths, ranger guided tours by the National Park Service, and with a permit you use off road vehicles in certain areas. 

My Favorite beaches: Eastham Beach, Seagull Beach, Sandy Neck Beach, and the Chatham Lighthouse Beach 

Sarah Fay travel blogger in front of Chatham lighthouse beach.
Chatham Lighthouse Beach

Cape Cod Whale Watching (or Sharks) 

Cape Cod is historically known for its’ fishing and has beautiful old captain’s mansions with widow watches as proof. While Captains used to go out fishing for whales, they now take eager tourists whale watching. 

You never know you may even see a great white shark, since they also are known to hang around the Cape due to the myriad of seals along the coast. This summer there was quite a lot of great white sightings and seals, so it is definitely worth a trip to sea! 

Check out this whale watch cruise with Viator for $47 USD from Provincetown, Ma. Definitely a steal HERE.

Cape Cod seagulls, fishing boats, and dock in Massachusetts.
Docks in Chatham

Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge

Sitting at the cusp of the beginning of Cape Cod, is the Cape Cod Canal Railroad. A visit to the Buzzards Bay Recreation Area offers the best views of the bridge and also gives you access to the Cape Cod Canal Bikeway.           Where you can bike or walk along the canal to enjoy good weather, get outdoors and kick off your trip to Cape Cod! 

The Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge was built in 1935, and was the longest vertical lift bridge in the world.  Still in use today it stays lifted until a train comes by every once in a while, bringing throngs of tourists from Boston to Hyannis via train. 

Sarah Fay travel blogger in front of the Cape Cod Canal Rail road bridge  in Massachusetts, USA.
In front of the Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge

Stroll on Classic Main Streets 

Some of the cutest Main Streets of the USA are in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. While there may be different variations, architecture, and boutiques certain things remain constant, including: ice cream shops, candy shops, quirky shops, and churches everywhere.

I wonder how small quirky shops like the “Ducks in the Window” shop in Chatham are able to sustain business, but they have been around FOREVER and that is enough for vacationers to buy a rubber duckie. 

Fresh from the Sea Seafood

Cape Cod has some of the freshest seafood in the United States. Trust me there is a huge difference between seafood and fresh from the sea seafood that comes right off the boat to your plate. Go shucking for oysters, have a huge lobster, clam chowder, scallops, and mussels- all local and an explosion of flavorful fresh seafood.  

Experience what fresh really means at local haunts, such as the Chatham Pier Fish Market. I enjoyed watching the fisherman clean their boats after unloading the catch of the day. The fisherman threw scraps to the seals ecstatically swimming below. It was a picture-perfect New England day, not to mention I had one of the best fried scallop sandwiches in Chatham, Massachusetts. 

Chatham Pier Fish Market in Chatham, Massachusetts, USA. Best seafood.
Chatham Pier Fish Market for fresh off the boat seafood on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Lighthouses 

14 historical lighthouses grace Cape Cod with bucolic beauty, unique architecture, and make for a killer photo. The experience of climbing up a tall windy stair case, for the vantage point of lighthouses is next to none.  The sound of waves, the fresh sea breeze, and the vistas of boats passing brings up feelings of nostalgia of the rich shipping past of Cape Cod. 

Two of my favorites are Highland Lighthouse of Truro and Chatham Lighthouse in Chatham. Many offer tours at odd times here and there throughout the week, so be sure to check with the local tourist office or Visit Cape Cod’s site.. For more information about Lighthouses on Cape Cod check out this resource here

Sarah Fay travel blogger in front of Chatham Lighthouse in Chatham Massachusetts on Cape Cod.
Chatham Lighthouse in Cape Cod
Lighthouse in New England during sunset with ocean in background.
Lighthouses in New England are the perfect setting for a sunset.

Nickerson State Park 

One of the best kept secrets for budget travelers and outdoor enthusiasts is Nickerson State Park just outside of Brewster, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Once again proving you don’t have to break the bank if you want to experience the beauty, nature, and activities Cape Cod has to offer.

Nickerson State Park offers a freshwater option in one of its many ponds to cool off in. Recently Nickerson State Park was ranked as a top 10 campgroundin Massachusetts for fishing by MassWildlife. Here you can fish for trout, bike along the paths, and swim in refreshing freshwater.  

Get Nostalgic at Wellfleet Drive-In 

Cape Cod brings you back to simpler times, and brings up feelings of nostalgia of American past times. The historic and still running Wellfleet Drive- Inis one of the last of its’ kind and shows 2 movies every night. Bring a blanket or your convertible and pull up to watch a movie. 

Best Cape Cod Towns

While there are so many beautiful places and towns on Cape Cod, these are just a few that stood out to me on my last two trips to the Cape. 

Yarmouth and West Yarmouth 

What I love about Yarmouth is that there are so many cute Cape Cod cottage rentals. On Driving a long between Yarmouth and West Yarmouth you will find cute restaurants, museums such as Stony Brook Grist Mill, and country side back. 

My favorite viewpoint and scenery that I found this summer was at Grays Beach and boardwalk that stretches as far as the eye can see over beautiful marshes. Seagull Beach in Yarmouth is also one of my favorite beaches on Cape Cod. 

For a quirkier adventure you could always head to the Whydah Pirate Museum in West Yarmouth, and explore artifacts and history of the pirate shipwreck off the coast of Cape Cod in 1717. 

Sarah Fay travel blogger and her mother at Grays Beach and boardwalk.
My mom and I at Grays Beach and Boardwalk.

Chatham

Chatham is the New England town you never heard of until you arrived on the Cape. It is the “Nantucket” of the Cape. With mega beach mansions, luxury oceanfront resorts, beach clubs, and everything that makes a town on the Cape great! A lighthouse, amazing seafood restaurants, shopping, and the best beaches. 

I know it is not local. However, the Lilly Pulitzer store is so aesthetically pleasing and definitely worth a stop for my shoppers. 

See one of Cape Cod’s windmills at the Chatham’s Godfrey Windmill. Maybe you feel like stepping back in time with a visit to Captain Atwood’s house. It was built circa 1752 to learn more about the life of a shipping captain during that era. 

Windmill in Cape Cod in Orleans Massachusetts on a sunny day with blues skies.
Windmill in Orleans, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Provincetown 

Come to the end of the world as locals like to think of it. Provincetown is perched at the end of Cape Cod. Known for it’s colorful community of artists, drag queens, and Provincetown Carnival hosted every year by the LGBTQ community. This is the capital of parties for the month of August on the Cape during Carnival. Think drag queens casually strolling the streets, music everywhere, and people being who they are and not caring what people think about them.

Aside from the quirky and cool vibes of Ptown, this meticulously maintained coastal New England town is easyto get to. Take a ferry in order to miss the traffic for a long weekend from Boston, Massachusetts. For a weekend of drag Brunch, fun parties, and the beach this is the place for you! 

Sarah Fay travel blogger in 2017 in Provincetown Ma the tip of Cape Cod.
My friend Shauna and I in Provincetown, Ma in 2017.

Hyannis

You may have heard of Hyannis before, since it is the Kennedy escape for the summer for generations. The massive Kennedy compound sits right on the water and can be seen from the harbor cruise.

Hyannis, Massachusetts is the place I frequent most since it is a short 45 minute drive from where my mom is from, New Bedford, Massachusetts. However, it really is a cute, fun, and relaxing destination to bring your family or bachelorette party. What would a summer weekend be without a late night at Torino Restaurant, that also doubles as a nightclub for this Cape Cod Town.  

Where to Stay in Cape Cod?

The fact is the Cape is expensive during the peak season. However, don’t be discouraged my budget travelers. There are hostels, budget hotels, and Campgrounds that offer accommodation to the most beautiful New England summer escape. For my more luxurious folk, there are some amazing luxurious resorts and hotels. 

Beautiful landscape of Stony Brook Grist Mill a museum off of Route 6A in Cape Cod Massachusetts.
Stony Brook Gris Mill in Cape Cod between Yarmouth and West Yarmouth, Ma.

Budget- 

Hosteling International Truro (June-Sept.) , HI Eastham (June-Sept.), and HI Hyannis (May-Oct.) offer dorms at reasonable rates for the solo traveler. These are seasonal hostels, so be sure to double check your dates. But these hostels are amazing options and are so close to the beach! The rates for a dorm go between $30 USD and $50 USD depending on what is going on. Mid-week is definitely the best prices. 

Mid-level- 

SeaCoast Inn in Hyannis, MA is perfect close to the nightlife, the beach, and the ferries. The perfect location if you decide to do a quick day trip to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard

The Escape Inn in South Yarmouth, MA is a newly renovated midlevel hotel that won’t break the bank, but has all the comforts needed. The pool is perfect to cool down after a long day exploring. 

Luxury Resorts/5 Star Experiences- 

Chatham Bars Inn is the quintessential Cape Cod resort located in Chatham, MA. Sit in a beach cabana and relax by the pool, while feeling the sea breeze brush against your face. This place is classy and has all the New England summer escape vibes going for it. 

Captain’s House Inn a B & B formerly a sea captain’s estate dating back to 1839 set on a few acres of land that will transport you back in time. Have high tea here after braving the waves. 

Tips

  • Don’t drive during the middle of turnover day, aka Saturday. This is when most holiday rentals turn over for new guests. Get to where you need to go early or later in the afternoon. If you want to avoid traffic all together you can take a ferry to Provincetown (the tip of Cape Cod) for $58 USD one way. 
  • Rent a bike for a day to bike and experience the outdoors on one of Cape Cod’s many bike trails. 
  • If you are going to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket leave from Falmouth Woods Hole depot for the best prices! A thirty minute ferry will have you there in no time!

How to get to Cape Cod?

Ferry on a Sunny day to commute to the Cape in Massachusetts
Ferry to Cape Cod anyone?

There are a multitude of ways to get to the Cape: rail, automobile, plane, train, and ferry.

Car rental/Automobile– My favorite way to see the Cape is by taking Route 6A all the way to Provincetown, the tip of Cape Cod. Make your own itinerary and see all the quirky, memorable landscapes, and towns that make up the Cape.

Bus– Buses run from South Station and Logan Airport in Boston to Cape Cod. Also, once you are on the Cape the RTA (the local bus) runs in between the different towns all year.

Rail– The Capeflyer offers service from Boston to Hyannis during the summer season and offers one of the best options to beat the traffic out to the Cape. With free wifi and bikes at no extra charge this is a great option! Costs $40 USD Round Trip and runs Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend.

Ferry– Seasonal ferries go every summer between Boston, Ma and Provincetown, Ma. They help you beat the traffic and get to one of the most beautiful towns on Cape Cod. So perfect for a overnight jaunt or weekend getaway from the city. $61 USD one way. Check it out HERE.

Plane– The Barnstable Municipal Airport was recently renovated on Cape Cod. A state-of-the-art facility that readily accommodates corporate aircraft and offers scheduled service between NYC, Boston, Providence, and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. JetBlue operates daily seasonal flights between Barnstable Municipal Airport and JFK Airport in New York City for another easy way to get to and from the city.

Sarah Fay in front of the Stony Brook Grist Mill in Cape Cod on Route 6A.
The most beautiful Grist Mill that I ever did see. (Or the only one that I have seen)

Come to the Cape! What are you waiting for?

Share this post with a friend you think would enjoy Cape Cod and put the Cape on your bucket list! This is the perfect New England summer escape that never gets old. I always will go back to satisfy my nostalgia of American past times, great seafood, and the best beaches in New England in my opinion. 

Cape Cod Travel Guide where nostalgia and new experiences come together. From whale watching and chilling on the beach, to riding on the miles of coastline bike paths. Here is why Cape Cod is the best New England summer escape. #CapeCod #NewEnglandLife #USATRAVEL

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