There’s more to Cape Cod than sea and sand. Some of the coolest things to do on the iconic Massachusetts “arm” take place off the beach.

Get out on the water for fantastic wildlife watching; indulge in the region’s finest seafood and hottest nightlife; shop till you drop in the art galleries and antique shops; explore the unique landscapes and gorgeous gardens that bedeck the Cape. 

From fun in the sun to vibrant towns to unexpected adventures, here are the best things to do in Cape Cod. 

Get local insight on destinations all over the world with our weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox. 

Stop and smell the flowers at Heritage Gardens

There’s always something blooming at Heritage Museum & Gardens — 100 acres of landscaped gardens and walking trails in Sandwich. May and June are something special, when the Dexter Rhododendron Garden bursts into magnificence, while the Hydrangea Display Garden lights up from July to September with thousands of blossoms. 

Besides the flowers, there’s an antique car collection, a gorgeous (working!) vintage carousel and a fun outdoor play area for kids, making this place one of Cape Cod’s best destinations for families.

Eat at a beachfront seafood shack

Whether it’s fried clams or lobster rolls, fresh seafood tastes best when consumed at a picnic table overlooking the water. This is where you can breathe the salty air, gaze at expansive vistas and savor the ocean’s bounty. Some of my favorite seaside seafood shacks are the Beachcomber at Cahoon Hollow Beach and the Sesuit Harbor Café in Dennis.

Two women are silhouetted by the setting sun as they paddle in the water of Cape Cod Bay at low tide
Watch the light change over Cape Cod Bay as the sun sets © Gerald G Gantar / Getty Images

Frolic in Cape Cod Bay at low tide

When the tide goes out, Cape Cod Bay becomes an expansive, ever-changing interplay of sunlight, sea and sand. The scene is otherworldly and unexpectedly gorgeous.

Now, the beach is no longer for swimming, but rather for sandcastle building, hermit crab hunting and maybe some frisbee throwing – a Cape Cod must-do for families with kids of all ages. The west-facing bayside beaches are also prime spots for sunset watching, especially Mayflower Beach in Dennis and Point of Rocks in Brewster.

Shop for antiques on Old King’s Highway

Between Bourne and Orleans, Route 6A is known as the Old King’s Highway – what used to be the main east–west thoroughfare along Cape Cod. This is a delightful drive, with white picket fences framing flower-filled gardens and stately old homes.

The biggest concentration of historic homes is in Yarmouthport, where nearly 50 sea captains’ houses are lined up along Main St, aka Captains’ Mile. Antique shops are sprinkled all along the Old King’s Highway: stop to browse and you’ll surely come home with some treasure.

Watch the “stars of tomorrow” hit one out of the ballpark

If you like baseball, you'll love the Cape Cod Baseball League, one of the country's oldest and most prestigious collegiate baseball leagues. This is world-class baseball – more than a thousand players have gone on to the major leagues – without the commercialism and big price tags. In fact, admission is free! A Cape Cod tradition since 1885, this baseball league is a fun all-American summertime activity and a unique thing to do in Cape Cod.

Hike the trails at Sandy Neck

In Barnstable, Sandy Neck is a 6.5-mile long barrier beach fronting Cape Cod Bay, with miles of hiking trails meandering among the undulating dunes, salt marshes and maritime forests.

Go walking in the early morning or late evening for the best chance to spot wildlife like red foxes and shorebirds. Don’t skip the post-hike stop at the Snack Shack for fried clams or an ice-cream treat: you earned it.

Gray and harbor seals gather in a huge pile of bodies on the edge of the water on Monomoy IslandHauled Out Aerial
Take a boat trip to Monomoy Island to see the seals © Christopher Seufert Photography / Getty Images

Spy on seals in Chatham

It’s not unusual to glimpse a sweet whiskered face peeking out of the ocean near Cape Cod — home to some 50,000 gray and harbor seals. If you want to be sure, take a boat trip out to Monomoy Islands, where you’ll see them bobbing in the water and hauling out on the beach.

During mating season (especially September and October), the sheer number of bodies is amazing: the long narrow beach is packed with hundreds of seals piled on top of each other, like anchovies in a tin. You can usually also spot seals from the observation deck at Chatham Fish Pier (which is also a fantastic place for a lobster roll lunch).

Cycle the Cape Cod Rail Trail

There are many fantastic bike trails up and down the Cape, but the queen of them all is the Cape Cod Rail Trail – 25-plus miles of flat, paved, scenic, off-road riding. The trail stretches from South Yarmouth to Wellfleet, traversing forests and farms, kettle ponds, cranberry bogs and salt marshes. The last few miles run parallel to the National Seashore, allowing an easy side trip to the beach for a dip to cool off.

Paddle around Nauset Marsh

With calm waters and prolific wildlife, Nauset Marsh is Cape Cod’s best kayaking destination (especially for beginners). Amid the scenic salt marsh, keen-eyed paddlers might spot seals and otters, in addition to the rich bird life. Extend your journey into Salt Pond Bay or even out to Coast Guard Beach to get a taste of different ecosystems and more challenging conditions.

A trop of people sit on the edge of a top-down car watching a movie at the Wellfleet Drive-In in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Watch a movie under the stars at the Wellfleet Drive-in © Evan Richman / Boston Globe via Getty Images

Watch a movie at the Wellfleet Drive-In

After an exhilarating day of surf, sand and seafood, when the sky starts to darken, motor over to the Wellfleet Drive-In: it’s time to sit back and enjoy a double feature. The technology and the flicks are up-to-date, but the drive-in experience is straight out of 1957. A playground and mini golf keep the kiddies entertained between flicks.

Browse the galleries on Provincetown's Commercial Street

Wander down the main drag in Provincetown for the Cape’s best window shopping, gallery hopping and people-watching. Whether you’re in the market for a funny t-shirt, an idyllic seascape or an erotic sculpture, you’ll find it for sale on Commercial Street. When you need a break, Aqua Bar is the perfect perch to sip a cool cocktail and watch the sun set into Provincetown Harbor.

People in drag smile at the camera in Provincetown
The LGBTIQ+ community is loud and proud in Provincetown © Vadim 777 / Shutterstock

Get down with the LGBTIQ+ vibe in Provincetown

When it comes to being out and proud, Provincetown wins. The flamboyant street scenes and unbridled nightlife make this the liveliest town in Cape Cod and the hottest LGBTIQ+ destination in the northeast. To get a taste of it, attend the afternoon Tea Dance at the Boatslip, catch a drag show at the Crown & Anchor or end the night at A-House.

Slurp oysters on the half-shell

The sweet scent, the salty taste, the smooth texture and ice-cold temperature, the tantalizing sound of the slurp… eating raw oysters is an undeniably sensual experience that embodies the entire ocean in one bite. 

And Cape Cod is one of the best places on the east coast to experience it, thanks to the celebrated merroir of Cape Cod Bay. Order a dozen and slurp them down at the Naked Oyster in Hyannis or Mac’s Shack in Wellfleet.

Play golf at the seaside Highland Links

Founded in 1892, this is one of Cape Cod’s oldest and most scenic golf courses, laid out on bluffs overlooking the Truro coastline. The unique course and gorgeous setting make Highland Links one of the best places to play golf in Cape Cod. The nine-hole course is a traditional links-style course, with natural rough, coarse grasses and spectacular scenery, capped off by the picturesque Highland Lighthouse.

A group of people in a boat watch the large tail of a whale descend into the sea.
Whale watching is a popular activity in Cape Cod © Sam Chad / Getty Images

Watch for whales and dolphins at Stellwagen Bank

There’s nothing like the thrill of seeing a majestic whale launch its massive body out of the water and into the air, or flip its tail as if greeting its fans.

These types of sightings are (almost) guaranteed on a cruise to Stellwagen Bank, a national marine sanctuary that is one of the world’s richest feeding grounds for marine mammals and birds. Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch cruises depart from Provincetown.

Explore the Cape Cod National Seashore by bike or truck

Stretching along the outer edge of the Outer Cape, the Cape Cod National Seashore is 40 miles of paradise – pristine beaches, sand dunes, pine forests and kettle ponds, with a few lighthouses for effect. 

It’s impossible to see it all in one visit, but the Province Lands bike trail offers an excellent sampler along the surprisingly rigorous 5.45-mile loop — one of the top things to do on Cape Cod. End your ride at wild and wonderfulRace Point Beach to cool off in the waves.

The formidable sandscape of the Cape Cod National Seashore is also accessible by 4WD (with a permit). If you don’t have the right vehicle, the knowledgeable guides at Art’s Dune Tours showcase the history and geology of this place – all in the comfort of an all-terrain suburban – an informative tour and a unique Cape Cod activity.  

Go to the beach (obviously)

This is what you came for, right? No matter what your game – swimming, sunbathing or even surfing – Cape Cod has a perfect beach for you. The summer is ideal for sun and fun. In the off-season, the crowds disperse, creating ideal conditions for beachcombing, wildlife watching and romantic rendezvous.

Even in winter, the spectacular seascape and changing scenery beckon for long walks on the beach (preferably followed by hot chocolate). No matter when you go to Cape Cod, life’s a beach. As it should be.

Explore related stories

man in the Grand Canyon at sunrise. tourist in America; Shutterstock ID 395657515; GL: 65050; netsuite: Lonely Planet Online Editorial; full: Best things to do in the USA; name: Brian Healy
active, adult, adventure, america, american, arizona, arms, back, backpack, backpacker, backpacking, beautiful, canyon, cliff, desert, destination, geology, grand, hike, hiker, hiking, hold, landmark, landscape, man, monument, mountain, national, nature, orange, outdoors, park, rim, rucksack, scenic, stand, tourism, tourist, trail, travel, trekking, us, usa, valley, view, young


11 amazing experiences in the USA, from sea to shining sea

Mar 15, 2024 • 10 min read