Cape Cod Travel Guide
No matter how many times you visit Cape Cod, you'll continue to find new ways to be captivated by its beauty. Massachusetts' hook-shaped peninsula is special in so many ways, thanks to its abundance of charming towns and sandy, pitch-pine-dotted landscapes. In Chatham, for example, a lively Main Street beckons shoppers and diners. But further north, the towns of Wellfleet and Truro have a more laid-back vibe with quiet beaches and winding back roads. Provincetown — the crown jewel at the very tip of the Cape — is a haven for painters, photographers, and writers.
Just about every town on Cape Cod can lay claim to some of New England's most idyllic vacation rentals and bed-and-breakfasts — not to mention award-winning seafood shacks and restaurants. There's also the unspoiled beauty of the Cape Cod National Seashore, where seemingly endless stretches of sand invite you to sunbathe, hike, and sunbathe some more. And the Cape's countless other beaches are all treasures on their own, from Nauset Light Beach in Eastham to Mayflower Beach in Dennis.
A haven for those of us drawn to the sea, Cape Cod brims with nautical charm like no other. It's true: Nothing beats Cape Cod beaches or Cape Cod lighthouses, but in all honesty, we could do without the Cape Cod traffic.
Eastern Standard Time
Best Time to Go
While the height of summer (between June and late August) is the quintessential time to experience Cape Cod, it's a treat to visit in September and October, when the crowds have subsided. Prices tend to be lower in the fall, too. Don't miss the Provincetown Film Festival in June and Wellfleet OysterFest in October. Find flights here.
Things to Know
The Cape is famous for its traffic, and it has two bridges to thank for that: the Bourne Bridge and the Sagamore Bridge. They're the only entry and exit roads onto the hook-shaped chunk of land, and they almost always create a bottleneck effect on weekends in the summer.
Your best bet is to begin (and end) your stay on a weekday. If you absolutely must drive in or out on a weekend, expect to add over an hour to your driving time. (For reference, it takes about an hour and a half to drive from Provincetown to Bourne.) Visit Cape Cod Commission for real-time traffic updates.
Temperatures, much like traffic, vary wildly on the Cape. It's cooler than you might guess during summertime (thank you, sea breezes), and the ocean tends to hover around 67 degrees at the height of the season. It's also fairly mild in the winter — the salt air tends to minimize huge snowstorms. A word to the wise? Always bring a light jacket, no matter what the weatherman says, and keep a pair of flip-flops handy for spontaneous beach excursions.
How to Get Around
Google Maps might tell you Cape Cod is a little over an hour's drive from Boston, but in this case, the app is wrong. There's constantly bumper-to-bumper traffic in the summertime, especially on weekends. So, if you're driving, factor in another hour into your travel time to be safe.
There's the option to catch a short flight from Boston or Providence into Hyannis or Provincetown. You can also take a seasonal train called the CapeFlyer, which departs from Boston's South Station on Friday nights, Saturdays, and Sundays from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Tickets start at $22 one-way and $40 round-trip, and cover a two-hour scenic ride into Hyannis. (As an added bonus, kids 11 and under ride free when accompanied by a paying adult.)
The most fun way to get there is the fast ferry from Boston. Bay State Cruise Company and Boston Harbor Cruises offer 90-minute rides across the bay, where you can sip a cold beer from the onboard bar. Tickets start at $61 one-way or $93 round-trip. Once you arrive, you'll need to rent a car to see everything. There is a public bus system, but it doesn't reach every corner of the Cape (or every beach). It's most useful to travelers staying put in one or two towns, or for short trips. A CharlieCard, the form of payment used on Boston's subway system, is accepted on Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority buses.
Trains: CapeFlyer, capeflyer.com
Buses: Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority, capecodtransit.org
Things to Do
Towns to Know
Provincetown: Provincetown (better known as P-town) is quirky, quaint, and a lot of fun when the sun goes down. Situated at the very tip of the Cape, its population swells with artists — and plenty of talented drag queens — in the summertime. Spend the morning soaking up the sun at Race Point Beach, then explore all Commercial Street has to offer.
Wellfleet: Wellfleet shows off a sleepier side of the Cape, as gray-shingled cottages and old captains' houses dot leafy back roads. It's one of the towns that makes up the Cape Cod National Seashore, where wide-open stretches of sand blend into the Atlantic.
Chatham: As one of the Cape's tonier towns, Chatham has a lot to offer. Visitors here will find great shopping, luxurious hotels, and some of the area's most pristine beaches.
Hyannis: Hyannis is a major transportation hub for the Cape, as both trains and buses end their journeys from Boston here. Stopping to stroll down Main Street makes for an afternoon well spent.
Dennis: This single town boasts a whopping 16 beaches, thanks to coastlines on both its northern and southern borders. Eight of them are situated along the ocean side, while the other eight offer a calmer experience by the bay.
Falmouth: Tucked at Cape Cod's eastern end, the charming town of Falmouth sits across the sound from Martha's Vineyard. It's a good option for a weekend trip from elsewhere in New England, as it's not too far up the arm of the Cape.
Flocks of beachgoers descend upon Cape Cod between June and August. July is the peninsula's hottest month, with an average high of 78°F (25°C). Come wintertime, most towns are quiet. Snow is somewhat rare, thanks to salty sea air and more mild temperatures, but it's wise to be prepared anyway. January and December are the Cape's coldest months, with an average high of 40°F (4°C).
Average temperatures according to the U.S. Weather Bureau are as follows:
January: 25°F to 40°F
February: 26°F to 41°F
March: 28°F to 42°F
April: 40°F to 53°F
May: 48°F to 62°F
June: 56°F to 71°F
July: 63°F to 78°F
August: 62°F to 76°F
September: 56°F to 70°F
October: 57°F to 59°F
November: 37°F to 49°F
December: 26°F to 40°F