Quaint fishing villages, kitschy tourist traps and genteel towns – the Cape has many faces. Each attracts a different crowd. Families seeking calm waters perfect for little tykes favor Cape Cod Bay on the peninsula's quieter north side. College students looking to play hard in the day and let loose after the sun goes down set out for Falmouth or Wellfleet. Provincetown is a paradise for art lovers, whale-watchers, LGBTIQ+ travelers and…well, just about everyone.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Cape Cod.
Founded in 1914 to celebrate the town’s thriving art community, this vibrant museum showcases the works of hundreds of artists who have found their inspiration on the Lower Cape. Chief among them are Charles Hawthorne, who led the early Provincetown art movement, and Edward Hopper, who had a home and gallery in the Truro dunes. If you’re feeling inspired yourself, PAAM offers a full agenda of workshops in painting, drawing, printmaking, photography and other mediums throughout the year, from single sessions to multiweek workshops. There are also drop-in life drawing classes ($10) on Tuesday and Friday mornings, year-round.
Climb to the top of the country's tallest all-granite structure (253ft) for a sweeping view of town, the beaches and the spine of the Lower Cape. The climb is 116 steps plus 60 ramps and takes about 10 minutes at a leisurely pace. At the base of the c 1910 tower is an evocative, but quite Eurocentric, museum depicting the landing of the Mayflower Pilgrims and other Provincetown history.
Swimmers favor the relatively calm (though certainly brisk) waters of Herring Cove Beach, part of the Cape Cod National Seashore. The long, sandy beach is popular with everyone. Though technically illegal, nude sunbathers head left to the south section of the beach; families usually break out the picnic baskets closer to the parking lot. The entire beach faces west, making it a spectacular place to be at sunset. Parking costs $20 in summer (the National Seashore fee).
Provincetown is the perfect launch point for whale-watching, since it's the closest port to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, the summer feeding ground for humpback whales. Some 17 species have been seen at one time or another; many of the estimated 350 remaining North Atlantic right whales, one of the world's most endangered whale species, frequent these waters. Take a whale-watching boat tour to scour the sanctuary waters for life.
On the wild tip of the Cape, this Cape Cod National Seashore beach is a breathtaking stretch of sand, crashing surf and undulating dunes as far as the eye can see. Kick off your sandals, kids – the soft, grainy sand makes for a fun run. This is the kind of beach where you could walk for miles and see no one but the occasional angler casting for bluefish. Parking costs $20 in summer (the National Seashore fee).
Overlooking Race Point Beach, this Cape Cod National Seashore visitor center has displays on dune ecology and a rooftop observation deck with an eye-popping 360-degree view of the outermost reaches of Cape Cod. The park stays open to midnight, so even after the visitor center closes you can still climb to the deck for sunset views and unobstructed stargazing. Inside are exhibits and short films covering the park's flora, fauna and history. Ask about the daily schedule of guided tours, ranging from dune walks and forays across the tidal flats to open houses at historic buildings. Most tours last one to two hours; many are free, and others have a nominal fee. Reservations are often required. Don't forget the National Seashore visitor fees (pedestrians/cyclists/car $3/3/20), which are collected only in summer, ie from late June through early September (when lifeguards are on duty), and on weekends and holidays from Memorial Day (late May) to the end of September. Outside these times, beach parking is free.
Home to the Cape's most remote grains of sand, Long Point Beach is reached by a two-hour walk (each way) along the stone dike at the western end of Commercial St. There are no facilities, so bring water. Be sure to time your walk carefully, as the dike is submerged at extreme high tide. Or do it the easy way and hop on the Long Point Shuttle (www.flyersboats.com), which ferries sunbathers across the bay from June to September ($10).
Erected in 1860 as a church, this building was turned into a museum a century later, complete with a half-size replica of Provincetown's famed race-winning schooner Rose Dorothea. When the museum went bust, the town converted the building to a library. One catch: the boat, which occupies the building's upper deck, was too big to remove – so it's still there, with bookshelves built around it. Pop upstairs and take a look.
The central town wharf is the hub of water-going traffic, like passenger ferries to and from Boston, whale-watching cruises, fishing charters and schooners taking passengers on a sunset sail.