Cape Cod is truly a spectacular destination to visit, and it’s home to not only some of the best beach towns in New England, but is packed with culture, stunning scenery, amazing shopping, incredible seafood and so many things to do for everyone.
If you’re looking to visit Cape Cod for the first time, it may seem overwhelming with 15 towns to choose from and endless possibilities for things to see and do. This post will answer all your questions about visiting “The Cape,” as we usually call it, and help you narrow down the best beaches, restaurants and places to visit for the ultimate Cape Cod vacation.
🚙 First thing’s first – you will definitely need a car to explore Cape Cod!
Click here to check out the best prices at Discover Cars!
How Many Days Do You Need on Cape Cod?
You can spend as little as a day, or longer than a month, but most visitors usually spend about a week on Cape Cod. Especially in peak season, which is July and August, week-long stays are common with house or apartment rentals, and most hotels, resorts and campgrounds will have a 2-4 minimum night stay requirement for reservations.
Even in summer, many people will also stay for 2-4 nights, or a long weekend. For this amount of time, a hotel is the best choice.
During shoulder season (May, June, September, and October), it’s much easier to find places to stay without a minimum stay required.
The great thing about Cape Cod is that if you’re short on time and only have a day or two, you can easily pick one or two towns to visit, and feel like you’ve had a real vacation. But since this region is also decently large, there’s more than enough to do to keep you busy for a month. A week-long stay hits the sweet spot, and allows you time to relax at the beaches, visit some of the famous sites and explore a few different areas.
To drive from the start and end of Cape Cod, it only takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes (but plan for longer in the summer months because of traffic). So even if you decide to visit for just a few days and you’re feeling adventurous, you could still cover a lot of ground and see most of Cape Cod.
What Is The Best Town to Stay In When Visiting Cape Cod For The First Time?
I really don’t think there’s a bad town to stay on Cape Cod, but if this is your first time visiting, it may help you to pick a town that’s centrally located so you can easily access as much of the area as possible. Centrally-located towns would be Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster, Harwich, Chatham and Orleans. These towns all have plenty of shops and restaurants to visit, beautiful town beaches, and are only 30-60 minutes from the Cape Cod National Seashore beaches.
Areas I suggest you avoid if it’s your first visit would be Bourne, Hyannis, Falmouth, Mashpee and maybe Provincetown. Falmouth and Provincetown are absolutely beautiful, and you’ll see later in this post that I highly suggest visiting Provincetown during your first visit to the Cape. But, they’re both pretty far from the rest of the Cape. If you want to stay in the most exciting town on Cape Cod, then Provincetown will fit the bill perfectly.
For more detailed info on where to stay on Cape Cod, definitely check out the link below!
This post shares what towns are best for you, and all my favorite hotels & vacation rentals.
Click here to read my guide on the best towns to stay in on Cape Cod!
15 Best Things To See & Do When Visiting Cape Cod For The First Time
While there are hundreds of things to do on Cape Cod for all different kinds of experiences, there are most definitely things everyone should see to appreciate this region’s natural beauty. If you’re visiting Cape Cod for the first time, these are the can’t-miss things to see and do.
1. The Cape Cod National Seashore
This is personally my absolute favorite thing to do, and an absolute must if visiting Cape Cod for the first time. The Cape Cod National Seashore is home to 40 miles of sandy beaches, marshes and salt ponds, as well as six lighthouses and miles of walking trails. It was designated as official protected land in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, and as far back as the 1840s, Henry David Thoreau even predicted that the National Seashore area of the Cape would become “a place of resort for those New-Englanders who really want to visit the sea-side.”
The highlight of this area is definitely the beaches, and the six beaches that make up the National Seashore on Cape Cod are Race Point, Coast Guard, Nauset Light (not to be confused with Nauset Beach, which is a separate beach that’s not part of the National Seashore), Marconi, Head of the Meadow, and Herring Cove. These are often the beaches you’ll see in stock images when looking up Cape Cod, and each one is just as beautiful as the other.
While I love them all, my suggestions for first-timers would be either Coast Guard or Race Point.
Tip: There is an entrance fee to the Cape Cod National Seashore between Memorial Day Weekend and mid-September. Standard vehicle daily fees are $25 per day, and are valid for the entire park all day, or you can pay $60 for an annual pass. If you plan to visit for 3 days or more, an annual pass is the most cost-effective option, and good for the entire season.
2. Explore Provincetown
Provincetown is the town that’s furthest north, and located at the very tip of the Cape, and it’s also the most unique. Over the years, Provincetown has become a haven for the artist and LGTBQ+ community, and the sense of freedom, individuality, creativity and liveliness in the air here is such an amazing experience.
It’s common to find drag queens and cabaret entertainers on the streets handing out flyers for their evening shows and witness a flash mob on the sidewalks of Commercial Street. But it’s also still a quiet coastal village that somehow manages to balance all of that pretty well, offering something for everyone. It’s so fun and exhilarating, and everyone always seems happy.
The main attraction in Provincetown is Commercial Street, which is a three-mile long street running through the center of town where most of the art galleries, shops and restaurants are located. I always tell people that if you’re visiting Cape Cod for the first time, Provincetown can’t be missed.
3. Walk Bass Hole Boardwalk
Located in Yarmouth Port at Gray’s Beach, this beautiful boardwalk takes you a quarter of a mile across the salt marshes and offers incredible sunset views. But even if it’s a cloudy day, it’s still worth visiting just for the tranquility of the marsh, and spotting wildlife. There are benches at the very end of the boardwalk, so you can sit and linger for as long as you want to enjoy the views before walking back to your car.
Tip: You may want to consider bringing bug spray with you. Some years, the mosquitos have been really bad, and other years, they were barely noticeable. But if bugs tend to like you, bug spray is probably a good idea.
4. Watch The Sunset At Race Point Beach
Race Point Beach is located in the Cape Cod National Seashore, and offers one of the best sunsets in the area. If you arrive after 4:30p, you won’t need to pay to park, and you can also combine this visit with the Old Life Saving Station, which is right by the parking area for the beach.
Race Point is also one of the dog-friendly beaches on the Cape (dogs are permitted outside of lifeguarded areas in-season), so if there are no restrictions, you may be able to bring your pup along with you! Seals can often be spotted swimming along the shoreline here, so be sure to bring a zoom lens or binoculars if you want to see them up close.
Tip: During shore bird nesting season, the Cape Cod National Park Service will prohibit dogs from visiting any dog-friendly area, so be sure to visit the National Park Service website for the most up-to-date information. They post regularly with any updates. If Race Point is off-limits to dogs because of nesting season, we sometimes have luck at the nearby Herring Cove Beach, which also offers a great sunset over the water.
5. Get Homemade Ice Cream
There are so many places to get amazing homemade ice cream on Cape Cod, and this is a must if visiting for the first time! My favorite, and probably one of the most popular places, is Sundae School. They have two locations, one in Harwich Port, and one in Dennis Port. I also really love Cape Cod Creamery (locations in South Yarmouth, Hyannis and Dennis), Schoolhouse in Harwich Port and Ice Cream Cafe in Orleans.
Tip: Parking at Sundae School and Schoolhouse can be a bit crazy in July and August, especially on weekends, so plan to arrive with some patience. Sundae School often has people in their lots directing traffic flow, but the lines to park usually move quickly, and the ice cream is worth it.
6. Visit Chatham
Chatham is probably the most picturesque town on Cape Cod, and also has one of the more distinctive downtown or Main Street areas. If you’re looking to do some shopping, this is a great place to spend your afternoon. There’s a great mix of mostly independent stores that offer everything from souvenirs to home decor and gifts to clothing, and also some franchises like Lily Pulitzer, Black Dog and FatFace.
My two favorite stores in Chatham that I have to visit every time I go are The Fisherman’s Daughter for clothing, jewelry and unique finds, and The Mayflower for nautical, rustic and farmhouse-inspired home goods and gifts.
To round out your day of shopping, consider popping into The Chatham Squire tavern for a casual lunch, or do call-head seating at The Wild Goose for a slightly more upscale lunch and cocktails on the covered outdoor patio overlooking Main Street. Call-ahead seating is not a reservation system, as this restaurant doesn’t take them, but calling ahead does help you to find out how long the wait is, and put your name on the list.
7. Ride the Cape Cod Rail Trail
This 25-mile paved path goes through 6 towns, and is a great experience if visiting Cape Cod for the first time to cover a lot of ground and introduce yourself to the region. This path is mostly flat, with some small hills closer to Orleans and Wellfleet, and runs from Yarmouth, all the way to Wellfleet, so you have a lot of options on where to begin and end your Rail Trail adventure.
To decide which part of the Rail Trail you’d like to ride, I really love this guide. I also suggest starting in Dennis, and working you way to Brewster, since you’ll pass some really pretty ponds along that stretch, and end in Nickerson State Park. From there, you can always decide to keep going, or reverse course back to your car. That route will be about 10 miles one-way.
If you need to rent bikes, I suggest Dennis Cycle Center or Barb’s Bike Shop. Both these shops are located in Dennis near the start of the trail, and they both offer direct trail access, so it’s a true park-and-ride experience.
Tip: The Cape Cod Rail Trail does not currently allow e-bikes, so be sure not to rent an e-bike if you’re looking to explore the Rail Trail! Walking is permitted on the trail, and leashed dogs are also welcome.
8. Spot Seals at Coast Guard Beach
If you’re really hoping to spot some seals in the open waters, Coast Guard Beach is one of the best spots. I’ve been to this beach more times than I can count, and I’ve seen seals every single time. Sometimes, they swim close to the shoreline, and sometimes, they’re a bit further out. But chances are very high that you’ll see at least a few of them during your visit here.
Coast Guard Beach is located in the National Seashore, so a daily parking fee of $25 will apply. In peak season, you have to park in the shuttle lot (look for signs as you approach), and take the complimentary open-air shuttle to the beach. The driver will announce when the last shuttle back to the lot is that day, so be sure to remember, or set a timer on your phone so you don’t miss it. This beach is absolutely worth all the effort to get there, and the shuttle ride is very short and kind of fun.
9. Take a Day Trip to Nantucket
Nantucket Island makes for a wonderful day trip, and if you’re visiting Cape Cod for the first time, getting out to one of the islands is a great way to explore a different part of the region. Nantucket is very distinctive in that it feels very modern, but also like you stepped back in time. And with the ferries dropping you off right in the middle of the island’s main town, it’s very easy to get around without a car (although, I do suggest either renting a bike or a moped to see other parts of the island!).
To take a ferry to Nantucket, you have two options. The Freedom Ferry departs from Harwich Port, and takes 1 hour and 20 minutes. The Steamship Authority ferry departs from Hyannis, and you can choose between the traditional ferry service, which is less expensive, and takes 2 hours and 15 minutes, or the fast ferry, which takes 1 hour.
For day trips, I always suggest either the Freedom Ferry because the location is very convenient to where most people choose to stay, or the fast ferry from Hyannis because the ride is just 1 hour. The traditional ferry service is usually not worth it for a day trip, as it will take up a large portion of your day just traveling back and forth.
I do suggest a day trip to Nantucket over Martha’s Vineyard simply because Nantucket is easier to visit in a day, whereas Martha’s Vineyard is more spread out. That’s not to say that you can’t do Martha’s Vineyard in a day (I have, and I enjoyed it), I just think Nantucket is much easier with more to do in a concentrated area. Both are beautiful islands and worth your time, but I also slightly prefer Nantucket.
Ferry Pricing For Freedom Ferry: Round trip tickets are $85 per adult, $55 per child 2-12, and $15 per child under 2, as well as bicycles. Parking is free and easy at the ferry lot for all day-trippers.
Ferry Pricing for Steamship Authority: Round trip tickets for high speed service are $75 per adult, $38 for children 5-12, children under 5 are free and bicycles are $14. They also offer discounts if you travel mid-week – click here for details. Round trip tickets for the traditional ferry are $39 per adult, $20 per child 5-12, and free for children under 5. Bicycles are still $14 on traditional ferries.
Parking At The Ferry: Parking at the Freedom Ferry is very easy (located right at the ferry terminal) and free. With the Steamship Authority, parking is a bit tricky. You can make reservations for parking when you reserve your tickets online, and it will cost you $15-$25 per day. Depending on which lot you pick, you’ll have to take a van-shuttle to and from the parking lot and the ferry terminal, so plan for extra time before you board.
You may find these posts helpful for island day trips:
- Is Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard Better For A Day Trip?
- The Ultimate Martha’s Vineyard Day Trip Guide
- The Ultimate Nantucket Day Trip Guide
- How To See Martha’s Vineyard Without A Car
10. Walk Around Sandwich
Sandwich is the oldest town on Cape Cod and really fun and relaxing to walk around. While there, you can visit the oldest house on the Cape, Hoxie House, explore the Glass Museum for a live glass-blowing demonstration, walk around the Dexter Grist Mill and pop into the shops. Sandwich doesn’t have a strong downtown or Main Street feel, but it has lots of character, and moves at a slightly slower pace than the other Cape towns.
Outside of town, you can also walk the Sandwich Boardwalk, which connects the salt marshes with Town Neck Beach. In-season, you’ll have to pay $25 to park at one of the two lots that offer access to the boardwalk, so it would be worthwhile to spend some time at the beach if you wanted to walk the boardwalk (which I suggest you do!).
Update: Parts of the Sandwich Boardwalk were destroyed during a nor’easter storm in 2022 and it’s currently closed for repairs. Be sure to check back here with updates on when it will be open to the public again.
11. Explore The Brewster Flats At Low Tide
Some experts have claimed that the Brewster Flats are some of the largest in all of North America, and it’s definitely a site to see if visiting Cape Cod for the first time. At low-tide, up to a mile of sandbars are exposed, allowing you to walk out onto the ocean floor and look for sea life and clam beds. Even if spotting ocean life isn’t your thing, the walk on the ocean floor is stunning, especially at sunset.
Tip: To check the tide schedule, visit TidesChart and see if you can plan your visit during both low tide and sunset on a clear day for the ultimate experience.
12. Have a BYOB Lunch or Dinner at Sesuit Harbor Cafe
My absolute favorite lobster roll of all time is here at Sesuit Harbor Cafe. Overlooking the harbor where you can watch fishing boats come and go, the casual restaurant has picnic tables set-up on their uncovered patio, as well as a raw bar, and you’re able to bring your own drinks with you. Many people make a night of it and bring a table cloth, coolers of beer and wine, and really enjoy the scenery. The seafood here is excellent, and this is one of the best seafood experiences you can have on Cape Cod.
Tip: Because of its popularity, Sesuit Harbor gets very crowded, and wait times just to place your order can be up to 45 minutes to an hour during prime times (think anywhere from 4-8p most days of the week). And that’s just to place your order, not even grab an available table. If you’re visiting Cape Cod for the first time, this may seem a bit stressful if you’re not prepared, and you’ll need a lot of patience if you plan to visit. But the food and atmosphere are worth it if you’re up for the challenge!
To avoid as many crowds as possible, I suggest doing a late lunch around 2-3p on a weekday. You’ll still likely have to wait, but it won’t be as bad as prime dinner time. Or, you may get lucky and not have to wait at all. In my experience, Sundays for dinner also tend to be less crowded.
13. Get An Official Cape Cod Sweatshirt At Cuffy’s
No matter where you are in New England, you’ve probably seen someone wearing the iconic Cape Cod sweatshirts from Cuffy’s, and you’ll see even more people wearing them when you’re actually on the Cape. For that reason, you may think it’s a huge tourist trap, and while some people may agree, most people love wearing things from Cuffy’s. You can’t leave the Cape without getting a Cuffy’s Cape Cod sweatshirt.
Cuffy’s has everything from sweatshirts to t-shirts to souvenirs like baseball caps and keychains – all printed with Cape Cod on them somewhere. And the quality of their clothes is actually awesome. The very first hoodie I bought from them over 10 years ago still looks brand new, and I’ve worn it a ton. Prices are also very fair, and I’ve seen some other sweatshirt/tourist shops across the Cape charge way more for lesser quality.
Tip: In Summer 2022, they plan to complete renovation of their Dennis location, which includes a huge expansion to allow for a general store, penny candy store and so much more. It’ll soon be a treat just to visit. Cuffy’s also has one other location in Provincetown on Commercial Street.
14. Go On A Whale Watch Tour
Cape Cod is said to be one of the top destinations in the U.S. for whale watching, so taking a tour while visiting is a great way to round out your Cape experience. During tours, you’re likely to see humpbacks, pilots, finbacks, minkes and possibly some dolphins.
There are a few companies that offer private whale watch tours that average about $600 for up to 6 people. These boats are often smaller and the tours more personalized. Sea Salt Charters out of Provincetown also offers both private and split-private tours. So, if you’re a party less than 6, and still wanted a smaller, more personalized tour, this is a great option to join another private tour, and share the cost.
For a traditional group whale watch tour on a larger boat, Whale Watch Dolphin Fleet out of Provincetown is a great option. They guarantee whale sightings, or refund your tour ticket in the form of a voucher. If you would rather depart out of Barnstable, Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises is another great option, and also guarantees whale sightings, or refunds in the form of a voucher.
15. Explore The Town Beaches
I could go on and on about how beautiful the National Seashore beaches are, but that’s not to say that the town beaches aren’t worth your time because they absolutely are! In fact, when I visit the Cape, I usually do the National Seashore beaches about two times, and then stick to the town beaches beyond that. Many of the town beaches are equally as beautiful as the National Seashore beaches, and if you’re visiting Cape Cod to spend as much time at the beach as possible, I recommended trying a few town beaches to claim your favorites (because everyone has their favorites!).
My favorite town beaches to visit are:
- Mayflower Beach in Dennis: Great for families because of the calm waters.
- West Dennis Beach in West Dennis: Amazing, 2-mile stretch of sandy coastline, great sunset spot.
- Nauset Beach in Orleans: Different from Nauset Light Beach, usually has big waves for boogie boarding, and long stretches of gorgeous, sandy coastline to walk on.
- Newcomb Hollow Beach in Wellfleet looks like the National Seashore, and is surrounded by sand dunes. Good for seal spotting.
- Sea Street Beach in Dennis Port is small, but has super soft sand and some scenic rock jettys. Very close to Sundae School in Dennis Port, too.
- Cahoon Hollow Beach in Wellfleet is home to The Beachcomber, a restaurant and bar right on the beach, and is an awesome destination for both a beach day and visiting the restaurant. Because of the popularity of The Beachcomber, parking here in the summer can be really tough, so I suggest you arrive early.
Tip: Each town beach has its own rules and fees when it comes to parking in-season. Some require weekly beach stickers, and some may require a daily fee to park. It’s best to look up each beach individually before deciding to visit.
How To Get to Cape Cod?
To get to the Cape, you can either drive, which will require crossing either the Sagamore or Bourne bridge into Cape Cod, fly directly to the Cape or to a nearby airport (see below for your flight options), or take a ferry from Plymouth or Boston directly to Provincetown.
I highly suggest that you drive to the Cape, or rent a car from the airport and then drive, as it’s difficult to get around without a car (see more on that below).
Ferries to Provincetown:
There are two ferry options to Provincetown that are very convenient: one departs from Boston, and the other departs from Plymouth. These are great options if you plan on staying in Provincetown and don’t have a need to explore outside of town. These are also perfect for day trips!
If you plan to explore Cape Cod beyond Provincetown, I don’t usually suggest the ferry as a way to get to Cape Cod. The only car rental company on the Cape is Enterprise, and there is not a pick-up location at the ferry terminal in Provincetown. I’ve heard from some people that you can call them, and ask for a ferry pick-up, but that’s not always reliable.
Flying Directly to Cape Cod:
CapeAir services both the Cape Cod Gateway Airport in Hyannis and the Provincetown Municipal Airport in Provincetown. Round trip tickets from Boston average about $200. You will then also run into the same issues with the rental car, but Enterprise does offer pick-ups from the Provincetown airport.
Tip: Traffic driving into Cape Cod can be rough, I’m not going to sugar coat it! As you approach either the Bourne or Sagamore bridges, you’ll start to see major slow downs, especially during rush hour, and Fridays and Saturdays. To avoid as much traffic as possible, I suggest you plan to arrive to the bridges before 9-10a or after 8p on weekends. If you plan to drive to the Cape on a weekday, you’ll likely see less traffic because most people come for the weekend, or do a Saturday-Saturday vacation rental.
Also, just embrace the traffic! No one likes to sit in traffic, but it’s actually a part of your Cape Cod experience. You’ll overhear a lot of conversations from people saying things like, “When did you get in? How long did you wait at the bridge?” Crossing the bridges is actually a big part of small talk on the Cape!
What is the Closest Major Airport to Cape Cod?
I’ve already mentioned the two airports located on Cape Cod, but the closest major airports would be Boston, MA and Providence, RI. From those two airports, you can easily rent a car, and then drive to the Cape.
The drive from Boston Airport is about an hour (not factoring in any traffic), and the drive from Providence Airport is about 1 hour and 15 minutes (again, not factoring in any traffic).
Can You Get Around Cape Cod Without A Car?
It’s possible, but I don’t recommend it, and you’ll really hinder your opportunities to see the best pars of Cape Cod because they will either be inaccessible via public transportation, or take a long time to get to.
The Cape Cod Region Transportation Authority does have a bus system all over Cape Cod, but it’s not the best way to get around. If you really want to visit a lot of beaches and maximize your time while on the Cape, I highly suggest you have a car.
There is one exception! The one town on Cape Cod that will be easy to get around without a car is Provincetown.
If having a car is not an option for your trip, you can absolutely take the ferry from Plymouth or Boston, and then get everywhere by foot in Provincetown. Provincetown is very walkable and easy to navigate without a car. During peak season, there are also shuttles from MacMillan Pier in downtown Provincetown to Herring Cove Beach and Race Point Beach. Both these beaches are part of the National Seashore.
Does Cape Cod Have Uber?
Yes, mainland Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard all have Uber. I have used it in all three destinations. On Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, you may have to wait a bit longer for a ride than you’re used to if you’re coming from a bigger city where Uber is very popular. But overall, Uber is reliable on Cape Cod.
That said, I don’t necessarily recommend relying on Uber for your entire trip. While it’s available, wait times can be longer than what you may be used to, and it’s also more expensive. It really depends on what you plan to use it for. I wouldn’t rely on it to get to beaches and attractions, but for a night out, and to drink responsibly, it’s perfect for that.
Overall, I recommend having a car for your Cape Cod trip, which allows the most freedom.
What Is The Best Time of Year to Visit Cape Cod?
Peak season on Cape Cod is July and August, and that’s when it will be the most crowded. I usually prefer to visit destinations in shoulder season, but I will say, I love the Cape in July because that’s when hydrangeas will be at their best (they begin to bloom at the end of June, and continue through early to mid-July). The Cape really comes to life in July and August, too, and while it can be challenging to navigate the crowds, I love this time of year for the buzz in the air, nicest weather and warmest waters.
If you really don’t want to visit during peak season, I suggest June and September. While these months are also gaining popularity, they will be quieter, less expensive and you’ll likely have nice weather. The water in June might be too cold for swimming, but in mid-September, it may actually be at its warmest, depending on that particular season. I’ve spent a week on the Cape in September, and during the week, I had entire beaches to myself. Weekends in September were lively, but not packed, and it was mostly locals.
Here are some seasonal guides for Cape Cod that you may find helpful:
- Best Months To Visit Cape Cod
- Best Things To Do On Cape Cod In The Fall
- Best Things To Do On Cape Cod In The Winter
Things To Know Before Visiting Cape Cod For The First Time
The Cape is a pretty easy destination to visit, but here are a few things that may be helpful to know if visiting Cape Cod for the first time.
- You’re on Cape Cod, not in Cape Cod. Saying you’re in Cape Cod is a dead giveaway that you’re not a local (which isn’t a bad thing!). Just something to note 🙂 This also goes for the islands (for example, on Nantucket, not in Nantucket).
- You should carry some cash around with you. Most places will take cards just like anywhere else in the U.S., but some ice cream places, seafood shacks and town beaches are still cash only. Sundae School Ice Cream, Schoolhouse Ice Cream and Sesuit Harbor Cafe (all popular places to go) are cash only (as of 2022). They will have ATM’s on-site, so also consider packing a card that reimburses you for ATM fees. Gates at the Cape Cod National Seashore will take credit cards for beach entrance fees.
- Yes, you do need to be aware of sharks, but you shouldn’t let it ruin your trip. Shark sightings happen most frequently on the Atlantic beaches (Cape Cod National Seashore included), and are less frequently spotted along the Nantucket Sound or Cape Cod Bay. There is a small chance that a beach will close if there is a shark sighting, and Cape Cod officials and lifeguards do a great job at monitoring the waters to keep everyone safe. Have awareness, but also have fun and enjoy yourself.
- Stay away from the seals in the water. One of the most fun things to do on Cape Cod is to spot seals in their natural habitat swimming along the coastline at the beaches. Definitely take some time to observe them, but also stay away from them to respect their space. Also, where there are seals, there are sharks. This doesn’t means that if you see seals, sharks will definitely follow, but there’s a small chance. If you’re in the water when you spot a seal, swim toward the shore and enjoy the moment from a distance. This happens often at Coast Guard beach!
- Like anywhere you go, practice Leave No Trace at beaches and parks. When you leave the beach, be sure to check your surroundings and pick up any garbage that may have blown away or fallen out of your bags/coolers. If possible, pack a reusable water bottle and use that during your trip to reduce plastic waste. If you don’t see recycle bins at the beaches, consider bringing home your recyclables with you (we do this all the time to ensure we continue to do our part).
- New England weather can vary, so even if you visit in the summer, you’re not guaranteed good weather (although, it’s likely!). We’ve experienced days in the 60s and even a serious tornado during our July trips, so always be sure to check the forecast before packing. But usually in the summer, the weather is at its best.
What Is Cape Cod Named After?
Believe it or not, it’s as simple as an explorer just noting how many cod fish were swimming in the waters at Cape Cod. English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold first visited Cape Cod in 1602, and it was then he named the Massachusetts Peninsula Cape Cod, after the plentiful cod populations.
Where To Eat On Cape Cod
It’s really hard to narrow down my absolute favorite places, but if visiting Cape Cod for the first time, I suggest adding these restaurants to your itinerary:
- Ocean House in Dennis Port is right on the waters of the Nantucket Sound, and has incredible food and an outdoor beach bar next door, also overlooking the ocean. I go here every time I visit the Cape for a special dinner out, or date night with my husband.
- Sesuit Harbor Cafe for casual, outdoor seafood. I know I’ve already mentioned it, but it’s worth saying again!
- Skipper Chowder House in Yarmouth has some of the best chowder, food, and also has an open-air deck overlooking the beach across the street.
- Fisherman’s View in Sandwich has awesome seafood and other casual American menu items, and has a few table options such as indoors, an open-air enclosed deck and an outdoor patio. They also take reservations for all table options online about 10 days in advance on Resy.com.
- Mad Minnow in Harwich Port is a newer restaurant that has quickly become one of my favorites. They recently began offering outdoor seating under a tent, but don’t take reservations. I love their cornflake-encrusted filet-o-fish sandwich.
Should You Rent A House or Get a Hotel For Your Cape Cod Vacation?
This is a very personal decision, but I can offer a few suggestions to help you decide if a house rental or a hotel is right for you when visiting Cape Cod for the first time.
First, most house rentals on Cape Cod in-season are for specific time frames (some are Saturday to Saturday, or Friday to Friday, for example), so if you planned on a shorter visit, that may rule out a house rental for you. If you’re a family, and you want to save a bit of money by making some meals at home, a house rental may be a good option so you have more space, and a full kitchen. Some hotels will offer efficiency kitchens, which also may work for you.
If you’re a couple, traveling with just one other person or are a solo traveler, and don’t plan to stay for a full week, you’ll likely find that hotels will be your only option. And keep in mind, in July and August, some hotels will also have a minimum night stay requirement of two or more nights.
I’ve done both hotels and house/apartment rentals for my Cape Cod vacations, and I always explore my options for both, and see what works into my budget the best during the dates I plan to travel.
You may also find these Cape Cod posts helpful:
- Unique Things To Do On Cape Cod
- Best Scenic Walking & Hiking Trails On Cape Cod
- Best Cape Cod Lobster Rolls
- Best Things To Do On Cape Cod For Adults
- Best New England Gifts & Souvenirs To Look For During Your Trip
- Best Waterfront Restaurants On Cape Cod
- Best Shopping on Cape Cod
- What To Pack For Cape Cod
- Best Places To See Seals On Cape Cod
And here are my guides to Cape Cod towns you may also enjoy:
- Best Things To Do In Wellfleet, MA
- Best Things To Do In Harwich, MA
- Best Things To Do In Dennis, MA
- Best Things To Do In Falmouth, MA
- Best Things To Do In Brewster, MA
- Best Things To Do In Provincetown, MA
- Best Things To Do In Chatham, MA
- Best Things To Do In Sandwich, MA
That’s A Wrap on Visiting Cape Cod For The First Time
Hopefully this answers all your questions about visiting Cape Cod for the first time, what to expect, where to stay and everything you can do. Remember, the important thing is to relax and enjoy the Cape’s naturally beautiful scenery, so try to balance free time with seeing the sites that interest you most. You can always come back, and hopefully you’ll plan to after your first visit!