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30 ways to have the perfect Cape Cod vacation

From the Canal to Provincetown, a guide to old, new, and unforgettable experiences on the Cape.

Globe staff

Whether it’s an ice cream cone after a day at the beach or kicking back with a cocktail while taking in a spectacular view, Cape Cod has few rivals when it comes to the classic summer vacation. But that doesn’t mean things never change. From old standbys to some new surprises, here’s a guide to eating, playing, and making memories on the Cape.

1. Cape Cod Baseball League

You don’t have to go to an Iowa cornfield to see baseball at its purest. Some 350 active Major Leaguers got their start playing in the Cape League, one of the country’s premier collegiate summer leagues. It’s also the last to use wooden bats, just like the pros. Games are so intimate that you hear every smack of the ball in the glove. Between mid-June and mid-August, each of the 10 teams, representing towns from Wareham to Orleans, plays 44 games, followed by a post-season tourney. Admission is by donation. Various locations. –Patricia Harris and David Lyon

A Cape League game between the Chatham Anglers and Bourne Braves last July in Bourne. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press


2. Shining Sea Bikeway, Falmouth

South of the Bourne Bridge, find the paved 10.7-mile Shining Sea Bikeway rail trail from North Falmouth to Woods Hole. Hop on your bike and make a stop for candy at Uncle Bill’s Country Store. Once you and your crew are satisfactorily sugared up, set off for sweeping views of harbors, salt marshes, cranberry bogs, and the Vineyard Sound. Refuel with fried seafood, ice cream, or a pint in Woods Hole before heading back, bone-tired but tear-free. Parking lot at County Road and Route 151. Uncle Bill’s Country Store, 412 North Falmouth Highway, North Falmouth, 508-564-4355 –Julie Suratt

3. Pirate’s Cove, South Yarmouth

This iconic mini-golf franchise Pirate’s Cove towers over Route 28, with 36 holes spread over a mini-mountain of caverns, pirate ships, mannequins, twisting paths, and water hazards. There’s also the appropriate soundtrack: Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirate’s life for me. On cloudy days and nice summer evenings, expect to wait on every hole — all part of the experience. (Or head down Route 28 and have your choice of themed mini-golf courses: Skull Island Adventure Golf and Sports World, Wild Animal Lagoon, or Putters Paradise.) Adults from $13.50, children $12.50; 3 and under, free. 728 Main Street, 508-394-6200; check website for schedule – Susan Moeller


4. Dig Your Own Clams, Harwich

No clams taste as sweet as those you dig yourself. Harwich makes it easy with a $30 per day shellfishing permit available from the harbor master’s office, where you can also purchase a shellfish gauge to measure your catch and get advice on where to dig. You’ll need your own clam rake and a 10-quart bucket or mesh bag. Bring a charcoal or gas grill, a steamer pot, potatoes, and corn to set up a DIY clambake on some nearby Chatham beaches, where grills are allowed (secluded Jackknife Cove is a local favorite). Harbor master’s office, 715 Main Street, 508-430-7532 – Patricia Harris and David Lyon

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5. PB Boulangerie Bistro, Wellfleet

Cape Cod may be known for its seafood, but don’t sleep on this award-winning spot for French pastries, baked goods, and more. Set in the woods just off Route 6 on the Outer Cape, the bright, colorful PB Boulangerie Bistro is a combination bakery and restaurant that features incredible takes on baguettes, eclairs, tarts, madeleines, quiche, croque monsieur, and sweet and savory croissants, including a sublime ham and cheese version. The bakery is open year-round (except for a brief break in February); the bistro is open from late spring to the fall. 15 LeCount Hollow Road, 508-349-1600 – Marc Hurwitz


Brewster General StoreHandout

6. The Brewster Store, Brewster

This circa 1866 general store was once housed Brewster’s post office. Now it’s a charming portal to the past. Think playthings of yore, jars of penny candy, and an actual working nickelodeon. Shelves are stocked with kitchen utensils, souvenirs, books, Marshmallow Fluff, you name it — and that’s just the Brewster Store’s first floor. Go up the creaky staircase and discover crafting items, a miniature model of the general store, handmade doll clothes, and jigsaw puzzles — so many jigsaw puzzles! After you leave, don’t forget The Brewster Scoop is right next door. 1935 Main Street, 508-896-3744 – Diane Bair and Pamela Wright

7. Nickerson State Park, Brewster

Lovers of the outdoors will find plenty to do at this popular park, covering more than 1,900 acres of forests and fields, dotted with eight freshwater kettle ponds. If it’s a warm day, take a hike on the Cliff Pond Trail, an easy 3-mile loop around the largest pond in Nickerson State Park, with access to swimming beaches along the way — it’s a palate cleanser from all that ocean exposure. There are more than 8 miles of winding, hilly biking paths, some connecting to the Cape Cod Rail Trail. There’s also boating (rentals available), fishing, and staff-led nature programs. Want to extend your stay? Book a site at one of the eight camping areas within the park. 3488 Main Street, 508-896-3491 – Diane Bair and Pamela Wright


8. Can’t-Miss Ice Cream!

Getting ice cream after a beach day is a treasured part of the Cape experience. And while Centerville’s Four Seas Ice Cream went on the market in February, the good news is the 90-year-old landmark remains open. (The current owners hope whoever buys the property will keep the ice cream churning.)

Ice cream from Twin Acres in Sandwich.Handout

On the Upper Cape, with kids (and canines) twirling on the lawn, a visit to Twin Acres Ice Cream Shoppe in Sandwich (21 Route 6A, 508-888-0566) feels like an ice cream social of yore. It offers 70-plus flavors — and pup cups. For an in-your-face punch of chocolate, head to Polar Cave Ice Cream Parlour in Mashpee (22 Falmouth Road, 508-477-5553), where the “Death by Chocolate” is a triumph of premium chocolate ice cream swirled with fudge and dark chocolate chips.

On the Mid Cape, Cape Cod Creamery’s homemade ice cream is a longtime favorite, incorporating ingredients such as French cocoa, Madagascar vanilla, and Colombian coffee. Pro tip for newbies: Try the six-mini-scoop sampler. (Open year-round in Hyannis, 645 Iyannough Road, 508-568-3600; Dennis and South Yarmouth outlets open seasonally.)

“If it’s ice cream we make it,” is the slogan at Ice Cream Cafe in Orleans (5 South Orleans Road, 508-240-0003) on the Lower Cape. The made-to-order ice cream sandwiches — homemade ice cream stuffed between chubby cookies from Cottage Street Bakery — would make the Good Humor man weep. At Lewis Brothers Ice Cream in Provincetown (310 Commercial Street, 508-487-0977), favorites include Crystallized Ginger, Lavender Sea Salt, and Beach Plum. Some skew boozier, like Mudslide Chip and Belle de Brillet, all made on site. Look for their solar-powered ice cream truck at Truro Beach. – Diane Bair and Pamela Wright


The Rhododendron Festival at Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich.Handout

9. Heritage Museums & Gardens, Sandwich

Since opening in the late 1960s, Heritage Museums & Gardens near Sandwich Village has been a popular place for nature lovers. And with its lush gardens and nature trails, it’s easy to see why. The highlight is its Hydrangea Festival, which takes place in early to mid-July and celebrates a plant that brings vibrant colors to the Cape each year. Tickets for adults $22, youth $12; children under 2 and members free. 67 Grove Street, 508-888-3300 – Marc Hurwitz

10. Kayaking Nauset Marsh, Eastham

Watch for egrets and herons feeding in the shallows and osprey hovering overhead as you paddle through a maze of tidal channels and creeks. This nutrient-rich salt marsh, with small grassy islands and picturesque coves, is protected from the Atlantic Ocean by a large outer sandbar. The water is clear enough to see scurrying fiddler crabs and pools of periwinkles below. Keep your eyes peeled; it’s not uncommon to see seals, too. Great Marsh Kayak Tours ($75 for adults) offers three-hour guided paddling tours. Hemenway Landing, 508-470-4971 – Diane Bair and Pamela Wright

11. Green Briar Nature Center & Jam Kitchen, Sandwich

A jar of sticky fruit jam is a classic Cape Cod souvenir, and you can make your own at this historic 1903 kitchen. The cast-iron burners were converted from kerosene to propane back in the 1930s, but little has changed since, making this a thoroughly old-fashioned experience. Flavors vary with fruits of the season, and participants leave with four to six jars of their own making. The Green Briar Nature Center & Jam Kitchen jam-making workshops (for one adult or one adult with a child age 6 or older) cost $75 for members, $85 for non-members. 6 Discovery Hill Road, 508-888-6870 –Patricia Harris and David Lyon

12. The Boatslip, Provincetown

Ask the Boatslip’s summertime denizens about this landmark bar and they’ll wax poetic. No journey to the end of the Cape is complete without a stop at this beloved gay bar. From June 20, and on selected dates before, the Boatslip hosts daily tea dances — parties from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the open deck. While in the area, find the Provincetown Jetty and walk out to the end of the world — or at least the Cape. 161 Commercial Street, 508-487-1669 – Michael Colbert

The Lanes Bowl & Bistro in MashpeeHandout

13. The Lanes Bowl & Bistro, Mashpee

Kids can handle only so much beach time. Plus, rain happens. Coming to the rescue is The Lanes Bowl & Bistro, a 10-lane, tenpin bowling alley and eatery at Mashpee Commons. Set in an old Shaw’s supermarket, the colorful, comfortable space was created with mostly salvaged materials. Book a lane in advance (up to six people per lane, $30 to $40 per hour depending on time) and bowl your hearts out, or let the kids bowl as you snack on, say, a pulled pork sandwich on a pretzel bun, paired with a Beach Blonde ale from Cape Cod Beer. On good weather days, sit outdoors and play bocce. 9 Greene Street, 774-228-2291 – Diane Bair and Pamela Wright

The 103rd Annual Mashpee Wampanoag Pawâw will be held from July 5-7.Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff/File 2013

14. 103rd Annual Mashpee Wampanoag Pawâw, Mashpee

Arrive early to get a good viewing spot for the daily noontime Grand Entry parade of dancers in traditional regalia. It’s one of the highlights of the Mashpee Wampanoag Pawâw, an annual celebration of the culture and traditions of the People of the First Light. From July 5-7, the powwow grounds come alive with music and dance, skills competitions, crafts, and feasting — including a traditional clambake on Sunday. 483 Great Neck Road South – Patricia Harris and David Lyon

Mussels from the Lobster Trap in Bourne.mike diskin

15. Get Your Seafood Fix

No trip to the Cape would be complete without a stop at a seafood shack — and options abound, though be sure to check online for opening times. Along the Cape Cod Canal in Sandwich, Seafood Sam’s (6 Coast Guard Road, 508-888-4629) is often the first stop for vacationers, who find heaping seafood platters and fried lobster. There is a location in Falmouth as well.

Near the Bourne Bridge, the Lobster Trap Restaurant (290 Shore Road, 508-759-7600) has served up fresh seafood for more than 50 years. Jim’s Clam Shack in Falmouth (227 Clinton Avenue, 508-540-7758) offers views of Falmouth Harbor and beyond from its picnic tables. On the Mid Cape, Spanky’s Clam Shack in Hyannis (138 Ocean Street, 508-771-2770) is a harborside spot with fried seafood and raw bar items including oysters.

The view from Jim’s Clam Shack in Falmouth.Handout

On the Lower Cape, JT’s Seafood Restaurant in Brewster (2689 Main Street, 508-896-3355) is known for its clam chowder and ice cream. Part restaurant and part market, Mac’s Chatham Fish & Lobster (1291 Main Street, 508-945-1173) is a local fave with one of the Cape’s best lobster rolls.

A lobster roll from Mac's in Chatham.Amy Voll / Mac's Seafood

On the Outer Cape, Arnold’s Lobster & Clam Bar in Eastham (3580 US Route 6, 508-255-2575) is famous for its choice of chilled or warm lobster rolls. PJ’s Family Restaurant (2616 US Route 6, Wellfleet, 508-349-2126; opens May 16) includes Portuguese options (kale soup, linguica rolls) along with clam chowder and lobster dinners. – Marc Hurwitz

The Adventure Park at Heritage Museums & Gardens, Sandwich.Handout

16. The Adventure Park at Heritage Museums & Gardens, Sandwich

Climb, zipline, and traverse rope bridges at this aerial adventure park, which opened this spring. The Adventure Park at Heritage Museums & Gardens has five color-coded courses — requiring different levels of agility, strength, and courage — that make their way between 60 tree platforms. Yellow courses, for example, are for beginners; double-blacks are recommended for age 14 and older. Safety gear is provided. Although it’s under the auspices of the Heritage Museums & Gardens, the park is operated by Outdoor Venture Group and admission is separate from the gardens. Reservations are a good idea because this is the busy Cape, after all. 67 Grove Street, 508-866-0199 – Susan Moeller

Head to Sandy Neck Beach in West Barnstable. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File 2020

17. Sandy Neck Beach Park, West Barnstable

The Cape Cod National Seashore gets all the love, with good reason, but there’s a closer-to-Boston barrier beach that’s wonderful, and often overlooked: Sandy Neck Beach Park, a 4,700-acre stretch of beach, dunes, maritime forests, and marshes. The beach is rocky — we’re not gonna lie — but Sandy Neck’s true glory lies slightly inland, where foot trails wind into the dunes, linking Cape Cod Bay and the Great Marsh. Hiking up sandy hills is hard work, but oh, those views! Open year-round; parking fee charged from Memorial Day to Labor Day. 425 Sandy Neck Road, 508-362-8300 – Diane Bair and Pamela Wright

18. Stargazing, Outer Cape

It’s easy for city dwellers awash in light pollution to forget how spectacular a star-laden night truly is. Not so on the Outer Cape, which boasts some of the darkest skies in Southern New England. Prime time for stargazing is during the Perseids, the year’s best meteor shower, which runs from mid-July to late August (peaking August 11-12). Head to the Marconi Beach parking lot in Wellfleet, a favorite of amateur astronomers, to take in the Milky Way with all the shower’s luminous streaks. Or simply find a spot on the sand to spread a blanket, and turn your eyes skyward. Cape Cod National Seashore beaches and parking lots close at midnight, so true night owls will need to find another spot away from lights after then. – Spencer Buell

Provincetown’s weekend social scene launches every Friday evening with what is known as The Stroll. Starting in late May, about two dozen galleries along a mile-and-a-half stretch of Commercial and Bradford streets fling their doors open wide. Many plan exhibition openings during these hours, so you might rub elbows with excited artists over a cheese board. Several nonprofits hold events and open houses, including the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, which offers free admission after 5 p.m. on Fridays. Provincetown Art Association and Museum, 460 Commercial Street, 508-487-1750 – Patricia Harris and David Lyon

John F. Kennedy Hyannis MuseumHandout

20. John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum, Hyannis

This Main Street museum captures the spirit of the Kennedy family’s long association with the Cape through photos, videos, and artifacts including one of President Kennedy’s famous rocking chairs. This summer, there are special exhibits including one on John F. Kennedy Jr. and another on Robert F. Kennedy’s fight for civil rights. Kids (and adults) can test their skills with the museum’s scavenger hunt. Also this season: the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum will offer Kennedy Legacy Trail walking tours through Hyannis. 397 Main Street, 508-790-3077 – Susan Moeller

Highland Light in TruroJohn Tlumacki/File

21. Highland Light, Truro

The Cape’s first lighthouse, also known as Cape Cod Light, was originally commissioned by George Washington in 1797. The current tower at Highland Light was built in 1857 and moved back from an eroding cliff in 1996. At 130 feet above sea level, it is the highest of the Cape and Islands’ 14 lighthouses. Guided tours take visitors up the steep 69 steps to the tower where an LED beacon warns ships of the Outer Cape’s treacherous coastline. The dramatic 360-degree views look over the open Atlantic, miles of rolling moors, and the Highland Links golf course. Tours (adults $8; discounts for students, seniors, and military) are kid-friendly but there is a strict 48-inch height minimum. 27 Highland Light Road, 508-404-9117 – Susan Moeller

A fisherman cast his line along the Cape Cod Canal as the sky brightened behind the Bourne Bridge in this photo from 2020. Stan Grossfeld/ Globe Staff

22. Cape Cod Canal, Upper Cape

One of the Cape’s most enticing treasures — the canal — barely gets a glance from most visitors barreling over the bridges. But the twin 7-mile ribbons of asphalt bordering the shimmering waterway are breathtakingly scenic spots to get your steps in, then picnic as yachts, freighters, and the occasional Tall Ship glide by. You’ll sometimes spot a seal, a dolphin, or even a wayward whale. Find parking at several recreation areas along the canal, as well as amenities ranging from grills to camping areas. Worth a stop: the Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center, a free museum in Sandwich at the Cape Cod Bay end of the canal. Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center, 60 Ed Moffitt Drive, 508-833-9678 – William J. Kole

23. Dockside Dining at Baxter’s Boathouse, Hyannis

Why settle for enjoying the Cape’s abundant fresh seafood in view of the waves, when you can float atop the waters from whence it came? Such is the draw of dockside eateries such as Baxter’s Boathouse in Hyannis Harbor that offer slips for boaters to pull in, just steps from the kitchen. No need for a yacht or luxury speedboat; a rented pontoon will do just fine. Stay awhile, recline in the captain’s chair, and order a batch of Bloody Marys — the house specialty — from the vintage bar. Or, simply grab your crew a round of lobster rolls to go, and ferry them to the nearest sandbar. 177 Pleasant Street, 508-775-4490 – Spencer Buell

24. Harbor Lounge, Provincetown

Running alongside Provincetown Harbor, many of the businesses on bustling Commercial Street offer stunning water views. The Harbor Lounge boasts some of the best, in addition to local beers, sangria, martinis, and old-fashioneds. Situated at the end of a courtyard, the laid-back drinking spot (open from April through the end of the year) has large windows that wrap around the place, and a pier out back with a surreal view of the harbor, and, if you’re lucky, a glorious sunset. 359 Commercial Street, 508-413-9527 – Marc Hurwitz

Great Island Trail in WellfleetMadeline Bilis

25. Great Island Trail, Wellfleet

One of the most scenic hikes in New England is tucked into the curving arm of the Outer Cape. Wellfleet’s Great Island Trail begins with a gentle walk along an inlet, then climbs into a pitch-pine forest. From there, the tops of dunes unfurl panoramic views of Cape Cod Bay, while pristine stretches of sand are completely devoid of umbrellas. The full loop — with a jaunt out to Jeremy Point when the tide is out — totals 8.8 miles. Bring lots of water, more sunscreen than you think you need, and a bathing suit for taking a mid-hike dip in the bay. Griffin Island and Chequessett Neck roads – Madeline Bilis

Chatham Band ConcertsHandout

26. Chatham Band Concerts, Chatham

Promptly at 8 p.m. on Friday nights, the red-uniformed Chatham Band sings out a chipper “Hip-Hip Hi-De-Ho!” and launches into its opener, “Band Time in Chatham.” Arrive early to claim a grassy spot near the bandstand and be prepared to join in the crowd-pleasing “Bunny Hop.” For an old-fashioned afternoon, start with a lobster roll lunch at the First United Methodist Church, peruse the Main Street shops, and pick up concert treats at Chatham Candy Manor. Concerts and lobster roll lunches are every Friday from June 28 to August 30. Kate Gould Park, 15 Chatham Bars Avenue; First United Methodist Church, 569 Main Street, 508-945-0474 – Patricia Harris and David Lyon

Art's Dune Tours in ProvincetownHandout

27. Art’s Dune Tours, Provincetown

You haven’t seen Cape Cod until you’ve taken a ride through the remote and wild dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore. These iconic tours, aboard comfy six-passenger vans, have been offered by the Costa family since 1946. On the slow and scenic one-hour Daily Tour, learn about the history and ecological significance of the region. You’ll also get a peek at the famous dune shacks, where artists, including writers Eugene O’Neill, E.E. Cummings, Jack Kerouac, and Norman Mailer, once lived and worked, inspired by the otherworldly landscape. Art’s Dune Tours begin in mid-May, starting at $41.20 for those over 8 years old; $25.75 for children 5-8; $15.45 for children 4 and under. 4 Standish Street, 508-487-1950 – Diane Bair and Pamela Wright

Titcomb's Bookshop in East SandwichMeghan Bousquet

28. Titcomb’s Bookshop, East Sandwich

Off Route 6A, a statue of a man wearing a red coat and tricorn hat beckons you to enter the bibliophilic gem that is Titcomb’s Bookshop, which has traded in books, games, and memories for over 50 years. The shop feels like a treehouse filled with wonders, from books published in the 19th century to a replica of a terracotta army soldier. Alongside them are more recently published materials covering a wide range of topics and genres. It’s three floors of knowledge, literature, and whimsy where any book lover could lose themselves for hours. 432 Route 6A, 508-888-2331 – Kevin G. Andrade

29. Wellfleet Flea Market and Drive-In

This highway-side institution is as retro-nostalgic as Patti Page singing “Old Cape Cod.” You might even find a well-worn recording of that tune at the weekend flea market that runs 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Up to 150 vendors make it one of the biggest flea markets on the Cape. Come back in the evening for iconic summertime entertainment at the Wellfleet Drive-In’s double feature. The main season for both begins in late May, with extra days (and nights) added as summer progresses. Flea market admission $1-$3; drive-in admission adults $15, seniors $12, ages 4-11 $10. 51 State Highway Route 6, 508-349-2450 – Patricia Harris and David Lyon

Dishes from Keshar in West YarmouthHandout

30. Eat Your Way Around the World — On the Cape

Thanks in part to the Cape’s diversifying population, the food scene has evolved beyond chowder and lobster rolls. That’s great news for foodies with adventurous palates.

Drink from AplayaHandout

On the Upper Cape, Tiger Ramen in Falmouth (587 Main Street, 774-392-6621) serves up bowls of traditional ramen, and infuses local flavor in its Drunken Clam ramen. On the Mid Cape, Mi Pueblo in Hyannis (577 Main Street, 508-771-4382) is one of three Mexican restaurants in a quarter-mile stretch of Main Street and a great spot for tacos and pork hominy stew. Also in Hyannis, Mr. Kabab (199 Falmouth Road, 774-470-4511) serves up takeout falafel and shawarma — inside a United gas station. To get your fix of mango lassi and Indian curries, try Keshar Indian Restaurant and Bar (476 Route 28, 781-985-3201) in West Yarmouth.

On the Lower Cape, Chatham’s Branches Grill and Cafe (155 Crowell Road, 508-358-1716) is serving up Caribbean flavors; don’t miss the mannish water (tripe soup) or Jamaican jerk chicken. Also in Chatham, Aplaya Kitchen and Tiki Bar (483 Main Street, 774-840-4144) is a seasonal outdoor spot for tiki drinks and Filipino specialties such as chicken adobo and empanadas.

When visiting the Outer Cape, make sure to stop at Kung Fu Dumplings in Provincetown (293 Commercial Street, 774-538-7106) for handmade dumplings, steamed buns, and bubble tea. – Susan Moeller

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