Looking for the best things to do in Cape Cod Massachusetts?
Cape Cod is a popular tourist destination located in southeastern Massachusetts. Known for its quaint coastal towns, beautiful beaches, and abundant wildlife, Cape Cod attracts over 4 million visitors each year.
Geography and Climate
Cape Cod is a cape – a long, narrow peninsula of land that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. It extends 60 miles into the ocean and is approximately 20 miles wide at its widest point.
The climate of Cape Cod is considered humid continental, with warm summers and cold winters. However, the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean has a moderating effect on the weather. Summers are cooler than inland areas, with average highs in the 70s-80s°F. Winters are milder, with average highs in the 30s-40s°F.
Precipitation is evenly distributed throughout the year, with the Cape receiving about 46 inches annually. The weather is often windy, especially along the coast. Ocean breezes and sea spray contribute to the mild climate.
Towns and Regions
Cape Cod is made up of 15 towns covering about 512 square miles. The towns are often grouped into several regions:
Towns located closest to the Cape Cod Canal on the mainland side make up the Upper Cape. Towns here include Bourne, Sandwich, Falmouth, and Mashpee. This region contains significant maritime and industrial activity around the canal.
The Mid Cape region includes Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, and Harwich. Mid Cape has a high concentration of tourist attractions, shops, and restaurants. It also includes large stretches of beaches along Nantucket Sound.
The Lower Cape towns of Brewster, Chatham, Orleans, Eastham, and Wellfleet offer a more remote Outer Cape experience. There are fewer businesses and more protected natural areas. The Lower Cape features the National Seashore with its scenic beaches, marshes, and sand dunes.
At the very tip of the peninsula, the towns of Truro and Provincetown make up the Outer Cape. This region has an outermost feeling with its proximity to the open ocean. Provincetown is a popular LGBTQ-friendly destination. High sand dunes and the picturesque Race Point and Long Point beaches are found here.
History and Culture
Cape Cod has a long history beginning with the Native American tribes who lived in the area for thousands of years. European explorer Bartholomew Gosnold named the peninsula “Cape Cod” in 1602 due to the abundant codfish in the surrounding waters.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Cape Cod was an important fishing and whaling area. Sea captains built stately homes in the Cape’s towns with the fortunes they made at sea. By the 19th century, Cape Cod started to emerge as a tourist destination.
Many iconic Cape Cod lighthouses were constructed along the coastline to aid maritime navigation and protect ships from the dangerous shoals offshore. Wellfleet’s Mayo Beach is home to the Cape’s oldest windmill.
Culturally, Cape Cod is known for its small-town New England charm, seafood shacks, art galleries, and summer theatre scene. Many artists and writers have been inspired by the natural beauty and quaint waterfront landscapes.
Cape Cod sees its population swell during the summer as visitors flock to enjoy the beaches, boating, fishing, hiking, and cycling. Popular tourist draws include:
- Cape Cod National Seashore – Protected beaches, marshes, and dunes spread across nearly 44,000 acres. The Seashore features walking/hiking trails, swimming, sailing, and wildlife viewing.
- Lighthouses – Eleven lighthouses are located on the Cape, many of which are open for tours and offer sweeping ocean views.
- Whale watching – Many Cape Cod towns offer whale watching cruises to spot humpback, fin, and minke whales feeding offshore. Prime viewing is May-October.
- Beaches – There are over 100 public beaches on Cape Cod along both the calm bay side and ocean side. Coast Guard Beach and Marconi Beach frequently rank among the top beaches in the U.S.
- Fishing – Charter fishing excursions depart from many harbors to fish for striped bass, bluefish, tuna, and more. Surf-casting is also popular along the outer Cape.
- Biking – Bikers enjoy the scenic Cape Cod Rail Trail that spans 22 miles across the Cape’s midsection. Road cycling along the coast is also popular.
- Golf – Prestigious courses like the Ocean Edge Resort Golf Club and Cape Cod National Golf Club challenge golfers with scenic holes across the Cape.
- Shopping – Quaint villages like Chatham, Falmouth, and Provincetown offer abundant galleries, shops, and artisan boutiques.
No matter the season, Cape Cod offers endless options for enjoying natural beauty, quintessential New England charm, and seaside fun. From quaint villages to lighthouses, beaches, and whale watching, it’s easy to see why Cape Cod remains one of the most popular destinations in the Northeast.