Planning a vacation to Cape Cod? In this post, I've outlined basic planning points in detail based on my insider knowledge of the area. I've lived in Massachusetts my entire life, spent my summers visiting the Cape and now we own a cottage there. Looking for quaint cottages, tasty seafood shacks and beautiful beaches? Come to Cape Cod!
Best Time to Visit
Cape Cod is primarily a summer destination due to its beaches and coastline. July is the busiest month with 4th of July week the busiest week of the summer season. The first two weeks in August are fairly crowded but then the crowds quickly fade away.
Many vacationers to Cape Cod are fairly local, meaning they live in Massachusetts and surrounding states. The school year in Massachusetts typically ends during the second to third week of June with kids returning to school either right before or right after Labor Day.
If you are able to plan your vacation for mid-June, the end of August or even September, you'd be able to bypass the weight of the summer crowds. Hotel rooms and rentals are also less expensive at these times. There is some trade-off though. If you want to see the hydrangeas and wild roses in bloom, you'll want to visit at the beginning of summer. By the end of August, all of those blooms will have faded. On a positive note, the later you visit - end of August into September - the ocean water will be warmer.
If you're interested in staying in Falmouth, keep in mind that the Falmouth Road Race takes place in mid-August. For 2018, the race is on August 19th. Rentals and hotels in Falmouth for that week fill up quickly, sometimes a year in advance. In addition, runners and spectators take over Falmouth that day, making traffic a nightmare. Basically, if you don't have plans to spectate or run, I'd avoid Falmouth that day.
Despite what some may think, the Cape doesn't close down during the winter. Much of the Cape is seasonal though, shutting down from early/mid fall to early spring/summer, but you can visit Cape Cod any time of the year.
Where to Stay
Cape Cod is not overrun with chain hotels, but you will find them scattered about. There are also independently owned hotels, motels and, of course, an abundance of rental properties. Where exactly on the Cape you decide to stay depends upon personal preference. No one location is better than the other. Let's look at what type of beaches are common in certain areas as that, along with budget, are usually the deciding factors.
The waters of Nantucket Sound tend to be warm, especially as the summer season rolls on, and while those beaches provide some waves, the water is typically not rough. We prefer these beaches for swimming. The tides here are not drastic either, meaning you'll still be able to swim during low tide.
I've heard some refer to the water on the bay side as warm but it always feels pretty chilly to me. These beaches tend to be popular with young families. There aren't big waves and the water is calm so it's perfect for the little ones. During low tide, the ocean recedes dramatically making swimming impossible. Not all is lost though. Wandering the tidal flats in search of critters and shells is a popular activity.
(Low tide at Skaket Beach in Orleans, bay side.)
As you move up the flexed arm, you'll find the beaches comprising Cape Cod National Seashore. These beaches are a must see! We typically enjoy the scenery from the shore as the water is freezing cold and the surf is typically rough.
Keep in mind that Cape Cod is not a large place, which gives you the ability to easily travel to other locations in a short amount of time. Your biggest enemy will be seasonal traffic. For example, on the map below, look at the distance between the ocean and bay sides of Dennis marked by the red line.
Assuming normal traffic, it will take you approximately 20-25 minutes to drive this distance. From the Sagamore Bridge, it's only 60 miles to Provincetown, the tip of Cape Cod.
If you're flying, keep in mind that there are two major airports in the area. It takes about an hour (with no traffic) to drive from Logan airport to the Sagamore Bridge. Cape Cod is separated from the mainland by a man-made canal and there are two bridges for traffic over the canal. If you fly into T.F. Green Airport in Providence, it's approximately an hour to drive to the Bourne Bridge. Again, assuming no traffic. Although there aren't as many flight options available in Providence, that airport tends to be far less congested than Logan.
There is small airport in Hyannis but you'll most likely change planes in Boston before arriving in Hyannis. And, yes, you'll need a vehicle to get around.
Where are the sharks?
The seal population around Cape Cod has dramatically increased during recent years, drawing great white sharks to the area. I just read that, last year, Orleans had the most radar hits on tagged sharks. Your best bet of catching a shark sighting is along the Cape Cod National Seashore down to Chatham. This doesn't mean that sharks aren't elsewhere. There have been sightings over on the bay side and in Falmouth. If you see seals, chances are high that sharks are also in the area. I don't recommend going into the water in search of sharks, especially if seals are present. There have been numerous shark sightings from beach-goers all over the Cape. If you're curious to know where shark sightings are taking place, download the Sharktivity app onto your phone.
Where to Eat?
There are a ton of restaurants on Cape Cod and I could write a completely separate post on food alone. Here I've included restaurants typically placed on "Best of" lists. We have eaten at all of this places. This isn't just a round-up pulled from the internet.
Best lobster roll
Sesuit Harbor Cafe (Dennis)
This is a counter service restaurant with outdoor seating (picnic tables) only. It's BYOB which adds to its popularity. Expect lines during prime time. I would avoid the chowders. They are overpriced and you can find better for less money elsewhere.
Best clam chowder
Best thick chowder - Captain Parker's Pub (Yarmouth)
Best broth-based chowder - The Seafood Shanty (Bourne)
We've never had a bad meal here. The fish and chips and fish sandwich are also very tasty.
Best bread bowl - The Lobster Pot (Provincetown)
Red Cottage (Dennis)
Joey's Pizzeria (Dennis Port) This place consistently tops the lists of best pizza on the Cape.
This is your view as you eat.
Counter service with dining areas overlooking the water. The food here is very good, but prices do keep increasing. The cost is in line with other similar restaurants though. This is one of my favorites.
Counter service. Popular with long lines. Good food, famous onion rings.
The Knack (Orleans):
This is a newer roadside burger joint with covered outdoor seating. Not a huge menu, but decent selection. Everything we've eaten here has been super tasty.
Skipper Chowder House (South Yarmouth):
Full service restaurant with tasty food. Lobster roll was delicious and priced on the lower end of the market.
What else can we do other than go to the beach?
There is so much to see and do on Cape Cod. Keep in mind, as well, that not all of the beaches are the same. You could have a new experience each day at a different beach. I am working on other posts detailing activities (including those that are free) and I'll link those here when finished.
My advice for rainy days: This is New England and the weather tends to be volatile. It's perfectly normal for us to experience cool and/or rainy days in the summer. When it rains, everyone tends to head out in search of indoor activities, such as an outing to the movie theater. Traffic can be an absolute nightmare on these days. I would suggest preparing ahead of time to wait out the rain at home with books, games, movies and puzzles.