Cape Cod is separated from mainland Massachusetts by the Cape Cod Canal. With a little imagination, a map of Cape Cod resembles a flexing arm, with the shoulder beginning at the Cape Cod Canal and the fist (Provincetown) jutting north into the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors to “the Cape” often land in Boston, pick up a rental car at the airport and proceed directly to Cape Cod National Seashore.
How to have an enjoyable experience:
- Flying into Boston (BOS) means heavy traffic on confusing, multi-lane highways and, unless one wants to add significant driving time, cashless tolls. Consider landing in Providence, RI (PVD) instead. From PVD, you are out of traffic in 15 minutes and there are no tolls for passenger vehicles.
- Rent at an off-airport location. The charge for the least expensive rental car at PVD was $443.05/week. By taking an $8.50 Lyft ride to an off-airport location less than 2 miles from the airport, our weekly rental dropped to $290.61!
- Immerse yourself in the rich history of the towns in the “bicep” of Cape Cod highlighted in this post rather than speeding by on the Mid-Cape Highway (clearly visible on the map above).
Miscellaneous but important tips:
- Reservations: Secure lodging ASAP; there is significant pent-up demand for domestic travel during the peak summer travel period. The same advice applies to peak dining times at popular restaurants.
- Driving: While there are often 2 unmarked lanes leading up to a stoplight or sign, the right lane disappears shortly after passing through the intersection.
- Parking in Hyannis: To accommodate outdoor dining, Main Street is reduced to 1 lane through the town center for the summer, making street parking difficult. Parking near the waterfront is metered ($2 for 1 hour, $16 for 6 hours). There is, however, free 6-hour parking in the Town Hall and North Street lots, one block north and south of Main Street.
- Save on admissions: We saved $144 in admissions to the attractions (*) in this post with our NARM membership — $19 more than the charitable contribution that triggered our membership – and we have 51 more weeks to enjoy free admission to more than 1,100 museums, gardens, zoos, etc. across the U.S.!
- Sign up for the Cape Cod Daily Deal to receive offers (usually 50% off) for restaurants, activities, shopping, etc.
Organizing your itinerary:
It’s less than 38 miles from Falmouth to Brewster but driving can be slow as most roads other than the Mid-Cape Highway (MA 6) are just 1 lane in each direction. So, it makes sense to organize your itinerary geographically. The focus of this post is on Mid-Cape activities, restaurants and lodging but will also cover some exceptional stops in the “East” and “West” sections of Cape Cod.
Mid-Cape (towns of Hyannis, Yarmouth, Barnstable, Dennis)
Lodging: We stayed at The Cove at Yarmouth in West Yarmouth for its central location. This property offers 500sf suites (1 floor) and townhouses (2 floors) and can be booked several ways: directly on its own website, through Booking.com or as a timeshare exchange with RCI. The Cove has an onsite restaurant, an indoor pool, fitness center, indoor tennis, pickleball, racquetball, basketball, ping pong, air hockey, billiards, and a spa (closed during our visit due to COVID-19). Strangely, the units do not have cooktops or convection ovens, so it is almost impossible to prepare even a hot breakfast!
- Flashback Retro Arcade/Bar and Grill, 294 Main Street, Hyannis: Classic arcade games (Donkey Kong, Mrs. PacMan, Tetris, Mortal Kombat, etc.) line one wall while vintage movie posters decorate the opposite wall. There’s even a model of “Doc” Brown’s DeLorean from Back to the Future. The menu is surprisingly extensive and reasonably priced; the sweet potato waffle fries are delicious. The bar offerings have fun names like “The Empress Strikes Back” and “Nintendo vs. Sega.”
- Yarmouth House (closed Tuesday and Wednesday), less than a mile east of The Cove on MA 28, offers a 3 course “Sunset Menu” that is an incredible value. Choose between 3 soups, 2 salads and 3 appetizers for your first course; for your entrée, you may select any of 16 dishes or any of the weekly chef’s specials; there are just 2 dessert options but by then you won’t really care!
- The Little Sandwich Shop, 428 Main Street, Hyannis, is open 6 days/week for breakfast and lunch. After your first visit, the restaurant will email a code for $5 off your second order.
- Tugboats on the Hyannis Marina is a nice setting – if you can be seated on their deck or enclosed porch (ask when you make your reservation). The PEI mussels appetizer can easily serve as an entrée. The mussels are large and tender and – at $16 – a bargain. Parking here is valet only; something not mentioned anywhere on their website.
- Alberto’s Ristorante, 360 Main Street, Hyannis, is a good fine dining option. We especially liked the Farcite Napoletana appetizer, the Shrimp & Scallops Fiorentina entrée and the (authentic) tiramisu for dessert from their prix fixe menu.
- Hearth ‘n’ Kettle, with 2 locations – in Hyannis at the Cape Codder Resort & Spa and on Main Street in South Yarmouth (where we ate) – makes a great choice for a hearty brunch. Two eggs prepared your way, 2 strips of bacon, pancakes, red bliss home fries, and a bottomless cup of coffee or glass of juice is just $9.99 Monday-Friday, from 7am-Noon.
- The Edward Gorey House in Yarmouth Port, the home of this aptly named author, illustrator, set and costume designer from 1986-200, is whimsically macabre. An introductory talk which, we were warned, is “not hampered by facts” is offered at the top of each hour before visitors begin a self-guided tour of the house. Even if his name doesn’t ring a bell, you are familiar with Gorey’s craft. His work on the 1977 Broadway revival of Dracula starring Frank Langella won a Tony for best costume design. A fun activity inspired by Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies is to set off on a “scavenger hunt” to find 26 – one for each letter in the alphabet – “hapless children” scattered throughout the house. The circled feet sticking out from beneath an area rug in the photo is “…George, smothered under a rug.”
- The John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum on Main Street in Hyannis currently has 3 exhibits: “Ripple of Hope” (focuses on the life and legacy of Robert F. Kennedy), “Creating Camelot” (on loan from the Newseum in Washington, D.C., features an extensive portfolio of intimate and iconic photographs taken by Jacques Lowe, JFK’s personal photographer) and “JFK at 100” (which celebrates the centennial of JFK’s birth and the place he loved and called home – Cape Cod). After touring the museum, follow the 1.6 mile “Kennedy Legacy Trail” which starts at the museum. Note: the final stop, the Kennedy Memorial, is opposite 431 Ocean Street, not 670 Ocean Street as printed in the booklet.
- The Cape Cod Museum of Art*, 60 Hope Lane, Dennis, one of the finest small art museums I have ever visited, currently has some exceptionally interesting exhibitions. “Visions/Revisions” features 21 female artists’ treatment of the same subject at 2 different times. A quote from Anais Nin, the French-Cuban writer, “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection,” provided the inspiration for this exhibit. “Enough” is a thought-provoking commentary on the epidemic of mass shootings in the U.S. in which the artist used a spike through paper to simulate bullets piercing metal. “Insight” is a collection of 65 works selected from the 523 submitted to represent each artist’s interpretation of the purposefully ambiguous (insight, in sight, and incite) theme for this exhibit. The museum’s great hall will be transformed June 24-October 3 for its upcoming exhibition of historical maps, “cARTography”.
East Cape (towns of Brewster, Chatham, Harwich, Orleans)
- Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, 869 Main Street (MA-6A) in Brewster has a remarkably interesting biomimicry exhibit, showing how products we take for granted were inspired by nature (in the case of Velcro, by the burrs that annoyingly cling to one’s socks!). There is also a wildflower garden and a butterfly pavilion, but the highlight of our visit was a 1½ hour walk (at low tide) to Wing Island, passing an osprey nest and a Native American Sachemus Field solar calendar.
- Sydenstricker Glass, 490 Main Street (MA-6A), Brewster is a gallery showcasing Egyptian fused glass. While we were admiring the works on display, we watched as several people came in to buy surprisingly affordable pieces to add to a family member’s collection.
The Wequassett Resort & Golf Club, 2173 MA-28, in Harwich is a 5-star resort named one of the top 20 best luxury kid-friendly hotels and resorts in the U.S. by Conde Nast. It came highly recommended by our server at Alberto’s Ristorante (see above).
West Cape (towns of Mashpee, Sandwich Falmouth, Woods Hole, Cotuit)
- Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), “the world’s leading, independent, non-profit organization dedicated to ocean research, exploration, and education”, will reopen 6 days/week (closed Sundays) starting May 28 from 11am-4pm. Visitors will check in for walking tours at the Visitor Center, 93 Water Street (see map). Visitors will also be able to tour exhibits at the Ocean Science Discovery Center and Gift Shop on the recently renamed Marie Tharp Lane (Maury Lane on the map). One of these exhibits documents the discovery of the Titanic by WHOI’s Dr. Robert Ballard and the French National Institute of Oceanography on September 1, 1985. Note: Parking in Woods Hole is extremely limited and metered ($0.25 for 15 minutes with a 2-hour maximum); it’s less stressful to ride the WHOOSH Trolley.
- Highfield Hall & Gardens*, 56 Highfield Drive, Falmouth, offers seasonal art exhibitions in Highfield Hall and a variety of gardens including a 5-instrument music garden, a sunken garden and “A Passing Fancy,” a monumental stickwork sculpture on the front lawn!
- Heritage Museums & Gardens* (HM&G), 67 Grove Street, Sandwich. A round barn on the left just after entering the grounds houses a large collection of vintage, lovingly restored automobiles. Here, in an exhibit titled “From Carriage to Classic: How Automobiles Transformed America,” HM&G answers questions like, “How did gasoline become the fuel of choice?” Something is always blooming on the extensive and carefully manicured gardens: rhododendrons (May), azaleas (June), hydrangeas (July), etc. A “Garden of the Senses” (pictured here) mixes color, fragrance, texture, and sound to engage the visitor’s senses on many levels. Hidden Hollow is an outdoor classroom dedicated to reconnecting children (of all ages!) with nature; a highlight is the massive 2-story treehouse.
- Sandwich is the oldest town on Cape Cod, having been settled in 1637. In 1825, Deming Jarves chose Sandwich as the location for a glass factory – not because of abundant beach sand (which is much too impure for making quality glass) but because of access to shipping, availability of timber to fire the furnaces and marsh grass for packing the finished product. Sandwich Glass Museum*, 129 Main Street, Sandwich, tells this story through its mostly chronological displays of glass produced here. Complimentary glass blowing demonstrations take place on the hour
- Cahoon Museum of American Art*, 4676 Falmouth Road (MA-28), Cotuit, was started to tell the story and showcase the works of Cape Cod artists Ralph and Martha Cahoon in the stately, Colonial building that served as their home and studio.
Sandwich Taverna, in the Tradewinds Plaza shopping center, 290 MA-130, Forestdale makes a great lunch stop on a day spent in Sandwich. This family restaurant offers an ambitious menu; we liked their pizza very much!