Get tickets to a children's show at the Harwich Junior Theater (508/432-2002). Visit Snow Library in Orleans (508/240-3760) for story hour. Drop in at the Cape Cod Discovery Museum in Dennisport (508/398-1600) for a science workshop or a reptile show. Take a long, drizzly walk on the beach with your head bowed senatorially, then wash away your contemplations with a cappuccino and a peppermint stick ice cream cone at the hippy-dippy Chocolate Sparrow in Orleans (508/240-2230). Stop by the New England Fire & History Museum in Brewster (508/896-5711) and see more than 35 historic fire engines. Go to the Cape Cod Potato Chip Company in Hyannis (508/775-7253) to learn how potato chips are made, and scarf down free samples. While in Hyannis, give in: brave the crowds and go shopping.
Most restaurants reserve the right not to seat you if you're barefoot, wearing a wet bathing suit, or trailing a lasso of kelp, but if you look otherwise presentable, your table is waiting. Some good bets with the kids:
Kadee's Lobster & Clam Bar 212 Main St.,East Orleans; 508/255-6184; dinner for four $40. Indoor and outdoor dining, with great mussels and steamers, and picture books to amuse the kids while they wait for their foot-long hot dogs. Start things off with kale soup or the delectably creamy clam chowder. Kadee's also has an extensive take-out service, guest cottages, and a perfectly acceptable, if slightly weatherbeaten, miniature golf course.
Moby Dick's Gull Pond Rd., Wellfleet; 508/349-9795; dinner for four $60. No reservations. A relaxed, nautically themed seafood restaurant on Route 6, a mile south of the WellfleetTruro border. Crayons at each table, and a couple of boats out front to climb in and out of clinch the deal. BYOB.
Baxter's Fish-N-Chips 177 Pleasant St., Hyannis; 508/775-4490; dinner for four $40. Keep your kids entertained watching fishing boats unload their catch in Hyannis Harbor while you eat some of the best seafood around, either on the dock or at a table atop an old ferry. Baxter's is famous for its fried clams, lobster, and steamer lunches. Red Barn Rte. 6, North Eastham; 508/255-4500; dinner for four $35. A perfect meal for kids who are tired of seafood: the best pizza on the Cape, and ice cream— hard or soft— for dessert. You can get pasta, sandwiches, and salads, too.
The Beachcomber 1120 Cahoon Hollow Rd., Wellfleet; 508/349-6055; dinner for four $35. The children's menu is a favorite— especially the chicken fingers— and parents love the raw bar. Walk off your seafood lunch or dinner on the ocean beach just outside the door.
Impudent Oyster 15 Chatham Bars Ave., Chatham; 508/945-3545; dinner for four $100. A formal dining room (candlelight, linen) with some of the best fare on the lower Cape. Try the sole français while your kids check out the quahog clam chowder.
Chatham Bars Inn Shore Rd., Chatham; 800/527-4884 or 508/945-0096, fax 508/945-5491; doubles from $190. Not only an ideal site for your daughter's wedding to Charles "Chip" Webster IV, but a sophisticated and traditional 205-room hotel, whose cabanas face a private beach. There are complimentary children's programs (pirate's treasure hunts, for example), an outdoor heated pool, bike trails, and three restaurants, each with kids' menus and coloring books. Oh, and baby-sitting, too. Some canny families reserve a year in advance for August.
Captain's Quarters Motel Rte. 6, North Eastham; 800/327-7769 or 508/255-5686, fax 508/240-0280; doubles $64$106, including continental breakfast. Less than a mile from Nauset Light Beach, this family-run motel— with 75 no-frills rooms— is midway between Provincetown and Hyannis, abutting the bike trail. Heated pool, tennis, and free bicycles.
Belfry Inne & Bistro 8 Jarves St., Sandwich; 800/844-4542 or 508/888-8550; doubles $95$165. In the center of Sandwich village, the 14-room, 1882 house is a 12-minute drive to Nantucket Sound and a walk away from seven museums, including one devoted to dolls and another to Thornton Burgess. Here you'll find king-size beds, whirlpools, gas fireplaces, and Victorian armoires. Large families have been known to rent the whole place.
Provincetown Inn 1 Commercial St., Provincetown; 800/942-5388 or 508/487-9500, fax 508/487-2911; doubles $119$184. Open April 1December 18. The four large suites at this family-operated hotel book up very quickly. Your stay includes an excursion on a Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch boat. The best part?In season, kids under 12 stay and eat for free. Check out the outdoor heated swimming pool: a great example of New England kitsch, it's shaped like a pilgrim's hat.
Old Sea Pines Inn 2553 Main St., Brewster; 508/896-6114; doubles $65$145, including breakfast. A 1907 shingled manse on 31/2 acres with expansive lawns, a secret garden, and two bay-side beaches ideal for children.
Ocean Edge Resort 2907 Main St., Brewster; 800/343-6074 or 508/896-9000; doubles from $175. This private house turned seminary turned 320-room resort, stunningly located on 380 acres near Nickerson State Park, has numerous programs for children three and over, including a tennis and golf camp and a Teen Night for kids 14 to 17. For the entire family, Ocean Edge offers a summer concert series, four restaurants, golf, tennis, a private 600-foot beach, two indoor and four outdoor pools (three with snack bars and hot tubs), and a kids' pool.
By air: From La Guardia Airport in New York, the Barnstable Municipal Airport in Hyannis is served by US Airways Express and Colgan Airlines, a subsidiary of Continental. From Logan Airport in Boston, take one of Cape Air's nine-seater planes. By bus: The Bonanza and Plymouth/Brockton lines go to the Cape regularly from New York and Boston respectively. By car: Depending on your destination, count on at least two hours from Boston, 5 1/2 from New York.