No place says summer in New England like Cape Cod – that iconic arm that reaches out into the Atlantic, yielding 560 miles of sun-drenched, windswept coastline.
Cape Cod is the quintessential summertime destination, with sand dunes covered with wild beach roses, happy kids frolicking in the surf and seals bobbing in the water. The varied coastline means that birding, beachcombing, biking, hiking, surfing and sailing are all on offer. Here are the 12 best beaches on Cape Cod for sun and fun.
Sharks and parking: what you need to know about visiting Cape Cod's beaches
Shark sightings have become more frequent in recent years, especially at the ocean beaches on the Outer Cape (including all of the Cape Cod National Seashore beaches). Do not swim where seals are present or fish are schooling, and pay attention to warning signs and flags on all beaches.
In season (between Memorial Day and Labor Day), you’ll pay to park at all public Cape Cod beaches.
Old Silver Beach is the region's best beach for families
Warmish waters and a westward orientation make this Falmouth beach a favorite for swimming and sunsets over Buzzards Bay. Families, in particular, love the sandbar, which promises a calm, safe place for the little ones, while the rocks are fun for climbing and exploring.
Old Silver Beach is famous for its fine soft sand and crystal waters – both unusual on Cape Cod. Unfortunately, it’s a small beach so there’s no escaping the crowds at prime time in summer.
Mayflower Beach has gentle waves, perfect for young children
Mayflower Beach is the prettiest of the three beaches in Dennis that front Cape Cod Bay. The bayside location means gentle waves at high tide and sandy tidal flats at low tide, making Mayflower one of the best beaches on Cape Cods for families with small children.
Kids love frolicking in the gently sloping waters at this dune-backed beach, and the rock pools are alive with hermit crabs and clams and other tiny sea creatures. Come in the late afternoon to avoid the crowds and stay for a spectacular sunset.
Herring Cove Beach is a wonderful spot to watch the sunset
The outermost beach on the Cape Cod National Seashore, Herring Cove is a gorgeous, sandy stretch of beach that happens to face west – a prime sunset spot offering a rare chance to watch the sun drop into the ocean on the East Coast. Bonus: it's free to park after 5pm.
Aside from the sunset, Herring Cove is the most popular beach in Provincetown because it’s close to town and there’s easy access from the parking lot. But it’s still possible to lose the crowds. In fact, the far southern reaches are desolate enough that sunbathers make the trek when they want to strip off entirely (use some discretion, as nudity is technically illegal on the National Seashore).
Cahoon Hollow Beach has the best seafood restaurant
Cahoon Hallow is another wild and fabulous beach along the Cape Cod National Seashore. The seals are bobbing, the thrilling waves and the dunes provide a postcard-perfect backdrop.
So what makes Cahoon Hollow special? The Beachcomber is a classic beach bar in an old lifesaving station, perched on a dune above the beach. Raw bar, lobster rolls and seafood platters are all on the menu, as are signature cocktails.
Long Point Beach has stunning views
If you like a little adventure with your beach outing, Long Point could be for you. This Provincetown beach sits at the tippity-tip of the Cape’s curling arm: it’s a mile-plus walk along the stone jetty from the western end of Commercial Street.
The walk itself offers splendid vistas of the surrounding seascape and across the harbor to Provincetown. Once you arrive, you might just have the beach to yourself. Wear solid walking shoes and bring food and water. Most importantly, time your visit carefully as the jetty submerges at high tide.
Coast Guard Beach is great for birdwatching
Part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, Coast Guard Beach is a stunner, backed by tall, undulating beach grasses. Birders and wildlife watchers are in their element at this Eastham beach: take a walk around Nauset Marsh and Nauset Spit to spot shorebirds working the tidal flats, while seals are often sighted in winter months.
Coast Guard Beach is among Cape Cod’s best beaches for surfing. Surf’s up in August; come for a beach break with swells up to nearly 10ft when the tide falls.
Race Point Beach is a wild, dune-filled spot
On the wild tip of the Cape, Race Point Beach captures the essence of the National Seashore, with its crashing surf and undulating dunes as far as the eye can see.
You can walk for miles in either direction and see nothing but sand and sea – and perhaps Race Point Lighthouse if you make it that far (two miles west).
The 5-mile paved Province Lands trail winds between the dunes and connects Race Point and Herring Cove beaches. Rent a bicycle in Provincetown and explore the area on two wheels: the hilly terrain and fantastic seascapes are guaranteed to exhilarate.
Craigville Beach is the place to search for sea glass
A wide sandy beach on Nantucket Sound, this Centerville beach is classic Cape Cod. Children frolic in the surf, teens play Spikeball on the sand. The waves are variable but the temperature is always pretty perfect (especially compared to the chilly water at the northside beaches).
Thanks to its unique basin-shape and location between two islands, it is one of the Cape’s best beaches to find sea glass. For a perfect ending to a perfect day at Craigville Beach, stop at Four Seas, a local institution that’s been scooping homemade ice cream since the 1930s.
Sandy Neck Beach is perfect for long strolls
The barrier beach at Sandy Neck in Barnstable fronts a gorgeous 6.5 miles of Cape Cod Bay. Its undulating dunes, salt marshes and maritime forests make it the perfect beach for trail walking and birdwatching.
Access hiking trails that cross inland over the dunes and skirt the salt marsh from the beach. Don’t skip the post-hike stop at the Snack Shack for fried clams or an ice cream treat: you earned it. Note that it’s called Sandy Neck, but the beach itself is quite rocky, so don’t forget your water shoes if you’re planning to swim.
Sandy Neck has an accessible ramp, along with beach wheelchairs (including one for the Off-Road Vehicle Beach) and beach walkers.
Nauset Beach is the best beach to watch the sunrise
Dune-backed and gloriously wide and sandy, this wild barrier beach extends for 10 miles along the open Atlantic. Nauset Beach in Orleans is a premier place for early risers to watch the golden orb commence its daily journey across the sky.
For everyone else, it’s wonderful for long beach walks and possible sightings of seals and even whales. Decent waves make for excellent bodysurfing and boogie boarding.
Kalmus Beach is a top place for windsurfing
The warm waters and consistent southwesterly winds create excellent conditions for windsurfers at Kalmus Beach in Hyannis. This is not the most beautiful beach on Cape Cod, nor the most swimmable, but it is the best spot to raise a sail. Wear water shoes to avoid cutting your feet on the seashells.
Head of the Meadow Beach is the best crowd-free beach
It’s worth the nearly hour-long trek from Cape Cod airport to Truro for this pristine, unpeopled, endless, ocean beach. The remote location means it is the least crowded beach along the Cape Cod National Seashore.
The beach’s beauty is beloved for its grass-covered dunes and its fabulous sandbar. The waves can be daunting at high tide, but most of the time the sandbar creates a sweet, shallow and shark-free swimming area – perfect for kids.
Walk north from the entrance to spot seals hauling out on the beach, especially at low tide.