Provincetown, Cape Cod

Cape Cod Travel Guide

By Madeline Bilis
February 25, 2021

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. 

Time zone

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

Taxis: Town Taxi of Cape Cod, towntaxicapecod.com, Cape Cab, capecabtaxi.com

Rideshare: Uber, uber.com Lyft, lyft.com

Boats: Bay State Cruise Company, baystatecruisecompany.com, Boston Harbor Cruises, bostonharborcruises.com 

AWOL Hotel lobby in Cape Cod
Credit: Courtesy of AWOL

Best Hotels

Eben House

Address: 90 Bradford St., Provincetown, MA 02657
Phone: (508) 487-0386
Website

Eben House, one of Provincetown’s premier boutique hotels, harbors a whole lot of history. The building, which was once the home of captain Eben Snow, is one of only three colonial-era brick houses in town. Within its circa 1776 walls today are crisp, chic rooms that boast plush bedding and commissioned 18th-century portraits with contemporary twists. Outside, a new saltwater pool serves as a laid-back retreat from the buzz of nearby Commercial Street. 

Chatham Bars Inn

Address: 297 Shore Rd., Chatham, MA 02633
Phone: (508) 945-0096
Website

Behold the first-ever luxury hotel on Cape Cod. Built in 1914 as a hunting lodge for well-heeled Bostonians, the property has been dazzling guests for over a century. These days, historic details are balanced with more modern comforts, like a renovated spa with a hydrotherapy tub and four restaurants that source their fruits and veggies from the hotel’s own eight-acre farm. When it comes time to hit the beach, you can enjoy food and beverage service at your private cabana in the sand.

Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club

Address: 2907 Main St., Brewster, MA 02631
Phone: (508) 896-9000
Website

Spend a long weekend inside a turn-of-the-century mansion, or opt for a few days in a cozy coastal villa — the choice is yours at Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club. Situated on the Lower Cape in the town of Brewster, the award-winning resort is one of New England’s finest. There’s plenty to do on the 429-acre property, too, like kick back on a private bayside beach, rent a few stand-up paddleboards, or book an oyster bed tour. For a day in the woods, Nickerson State Park is just down the road. 

Salt House Inn

Address: 6 Conwell St., Provincetown, MA 02657
Phone: (508) 487-1911
Website

A sister property to Eben House, Salt House Inn exudes quirky seaside charm with doses of antique elegance and bright-white minimalism. It’s steps from Commercial Street, situated halfway between the Lobster Pot and Provincetown Art Association and Museum, yet still feels relatively quiet and cozy. The inn is topped off with an airy suite called The Loft, which comes with an in-room clawfoot tub, a writing desk, and a reading nook.

Wequassett Resort and Golf Club

Address: 2173 MA-28, Harwich, MA 02645
Phone: (508) 784-7961
Website

The Wequassett Resort and Golf Club is the only five-star resort on Cape Cod. This ultra-luxe destination is spread over 27 acres along the waters of Pleasant Bay, offering 120 guest rooms in addition to two pools, five restaurants, two beaches, four tennis courts, and a golf course. A long list of kid-friendly amenities includes a splash park anchored by a pirate ship, a ball pit, slides, a picnic area, an outdoor amphitheater, and a range of video gaming systems. 

AWOL Hotel lobby in Cape Cod
Credit: Courtesy of AWOL

AWOL Hotel

Address: 59 Province Lands Rd., Provincetown, MA 02657 
Phone: (508) 413-9820
Website

This new spot in Provincetown lies at the very tip of the Cape. Opened by Lark Hotels in 2018, the 30-room Awol is inspired by the palette of the surrounding sand dunes. Rooms flaunt a sort of understated elegance, with polished concrete floors, straw light fixtures, and natural fabrics. Each one comes with its own private outdoor space, not to mention Lather bath products. Outside, there’s a pool, three fire pits, and an open-air bar. 

Captain Freeman Inn

Address: 15 Breakwater Rd., Brewster, MA 02631
Phone: (508) 896-7481
Website

Like many of the Cape’s charming accommodations, the Captain Freeman Inn is carved from the former home of a sea captain. But the 10 guest rooms inside this 1866 manse are one-of-a-kind, thanks to a host of original details (hello, ornate ceiling medallions) and antique decorations. Captain Freeman would be glad to know each bed is made with 600-thread-count sheets, and if guests so choose, they can order facial and massage treatments straight to their rooms. 

The Platinum Pebble Boutique Inn

Address: 186 Belmont Rd., West Harwich, MA 02671
Phone: (508) 432-7766
Website

In a land of nautical throw pillows and lighthouse lamps, The Platinum Pebble Boutique Inn feels refreshingly modern. Rooms are bright, airy, and comfortable, and all but one feature king-size beds. This West Harwich gem sits near the Dennis Port border, where sandy shores are less than a five-minute drive down the road. Beach chairs, towels, and umbrellas are free to guests, as are bicycles for cruising down the Cape Cod Rail Trail.

Belfry Inn & Bistro

Address: 6 Jarves St., Sandwich, MA 02563
Phone: (508) 888-8550
Website

Rest your head under a huge, kaleidescopic stained-glass window at Belfry Inn & Bistro, a Catholic church-turned-inn in the town of Sandwich. Architecture lovers will delight in this stunning adaptive reuse project, where guest “chambers” have vaulted ceilings, skylight windows, balconies, and whirlpool bathtubs. Downstairs, soft piano music lends a glorious atmosphere to the church-like Bistro. Beyond its impressive seasonal menu, the restaurant showcases a vast wine selection in the confessional stand behind the bar. 

The Coonamessett

Address: 311 Gifford St., Falmouth, MA 02540
Phone: (508) 548-2300
Website

Another 2018 debut from Lark Hotels, the newly renovated Coonamessett brings modern coastal comfort to Falmouth. The Upper Cape inn is a popular wedding venue, boasting 29 stylish rooms and suites and several large event spaces. For casual beachgoers, the property lends beach bags, chairs, umbrellas, and Solé beach bikes to guests, and for some time in the shade, there are several hammocks on the lawn for lounging.

Outdoor bar at Canteen in Cape Cod
Credit: Christine Hochkeppel/Courtesy of Canteen

Best Restaurants

Blackfish

Address: 17 Truro Center Rd., Truro, MA 02666
Phone: (508) 349-3399
Website

For an elevated dining experience on the Outer Cape, hop in the car and head to Blackfish. The weathered-shingle restaurant, formerly a blacksmith shop, is tucked on a back road in Truro. Don’t let its unassuming exterior deter you — the New American spot serves out-of-this-world seafood, Wellfleet oysters, and natural beef burgers in an elegant setting. In the back, there’s a glass-walled dining area overlooking a lush garden.

Outdoor bar at Canteen in Cape Cod
Credit: Christine Hochkeppel/Courtesy of Canteen

The Canteen

Address: 225 Commercial St., Provincetown, MA 02657
Phone: (508) 487-3800
Website

High-quality, laid-back eats are the name of the game at the Canteen, a beachy counter-service spot along Commercial Street in Provincetown. Order a cold lobster roll, cod banh mi, and crispy brussels sprouts for the table, then head out back to enjoy it on the patio overlooking Cape Cod Bay.

Kream n’ Kone, Dennis

Address: 961 Main St., West Dennis, MA 02670
Phone: (508) 394-0808
Website

Kream ‘n Kone is the classic Cape Cod seafood shack. Dating back to 1953, the no-frills establishment offers the standard lineup of beer-battered fare: fried clam strips, scallop dinners, and the like — all served on paper plates, of course. Pull up a chair for a salt-sprinkled, nostalgia-inducing experience, then grab a vanilla frappe on your way out.

Brewster Fish House

Address: 2208 Main St., Brewster, MA 02631
Phone: (508) 896-7867
Website

Nestled inside a quaint little cottage, Brewster Fish House dazzles guests with a refreshingly contemporary menu. While the perennially packed place draws crowds with its famed lobster bisque, it’s the fresh takes on old classics, like seared cod with jasmine rice and lemon emulsion, that keep them coming back.

Mac’s Shack, Wellfleet

Address: 91 Commercial St., Wellfleet, MA 02667
Phone: (508) 349-6333
Website

Pure, simple, fresh — these three words underscore the mission of Mac’s Shack, which serves the daily catch alongside locally sourced ingredients. Located near the town’s pier, the beloved seafood spot is understated, yet sophisticated. Whitewashed walls and straightforward dishes such as cracker-crusted bluefish add to the austere appeal of the place.

The Pheasant

Address: 905 Main St., Dennis, MA 02638
Phone: (508) 385-2133
Website

Opened in 2018, The Pheasant is the creation of two ex-Brooklyners who fled the city for the Cape. They revamped the inside of a 200-year-old farmhouse, then created an unfussy menu that changes with the seasons. Dishes incorporate locally and sustainably harvested ingredients, like fresh-caught quahogs, littleneck clams, and Seawind Meadows farm grass-fed beef.

C Salt Wine Bar & Grille

Address: 75 Davis Straits, Falmouth
Phone: 774-763-2954
Website

This husband-and-wife-owned restaurant in Falmouth opened in 2013 with rave reviews. Its French and Asian influences result in artfully plated dishes like crispy Thai calamari, pork belly bites, and fried oyster steam buns. A cozy outdoor patio remains a favorite among locals and visitors alike.

Sunbird Kitchen

Address: 85 MA-6A, Orleans, MA 02653
Phone: (508) 237-0354
Website

A quirky, comfy hangout inside a pseudo strip mall, Sunbird is the Lower Cape’s haven for coffee lovers — they serve brews from Portland, Maine-based Tandem Coffee Roasters and New York’s Counter Culture Coffee. Fresh, local dishes like the grain and seed bowl mix in heirloom beans, seasonal veggies, and salsa verde, while triple-infused chocolate chip cookies satisfy sweet tooths. 

Spindler’s

Address: 386 Commercial St., Provincetown, MA 02657
Phone: (508) 487-6400
Website

A relatively new addition to P-town, Spindler’s comes from Boston-based, James Beard Award-winning chef Barbara Lynch. Its menu sits at the crossroads of French and Italian, and sources its ingredients from Cape Cod and greater New England. For a late afternoon pick-me-up, pull up a seat at one of the bar’s yellow stools and tuck into a swordfish kebab or corned beef slider.

Sesuit Harbor Cafe, Dennis

Address: 357 Sesuit Neck Rd., Dennis, MA 02638
Phone: (508) 385-6134
Website

One of the best raw bars on the Cape is inside a no-frills, buoy-clad shack on the shores of Sesuit Harbor. Order oysters, steamers, and mussels from the bar, then grab a lobster roll — the kind that’s lovingly placed in those red-and-white paper boats — from the main restaurant. Enjoy it all at a picnic table overlooking Dennis’ Northside Marina on one side, and Cape Cod bay to the other. 

Cape Cod National Seashore
Credit: Thomas Roche/Getty Images

Things to Do

Cape Cod National Seashore

Address: 99 Marconi Site Rd., Wellfleet, MA 02667
Website

Head to the Outer Cape to glimpse the sandy stretches of the Cape Cod National Seashore, a preserved swath of coastline established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. The seashore’s visitor center in Eastham offers a comprehensive overview of the area, and connects to several hiking trails. The crown jewel of hiking on the Cape, however, is the Great Island Trail, a nearly seven-mile hike along the National Seashore in Wellfleet. 

Monomoy Island Seal Cruise

Website

Jutting out into the Atlantic from Chatham, Monomoy Island is home to a National Wildlife Refuge, where migratory birds nest and seals linger on both land and sea. A Monomoy Island Seal Cruise showcases the area’s wildlife — board a catamaran-style boat to see hundreds of harbor and grey seals swimming in waters near historic lighthouses.

Sandwich Glass Museum

Address: 129 Main St., Sandwich, MA 02563
Phone: (508) 888-0251
Website

The town of Sandwich, Massachusetts, was once a hub for the American glass industry. From candlesticks and tableware to toys and lamps, companies like Boston & Sandwich Glass Factory and Cape Cod Glass Works churned out both intricately detailed and purely utilitarian pieces during the early 1800s. The Sandwich Glass Museum chronicles the history of the glass industry on the Cape, showcasing the company’s classic designs and hundreds of other colorful treasures. Live glass-blowing demonstrations round out a sparkling visit.

Highland Light

Address: 27 Highland Light Rd., North Truro, MA 02652
Website

Did you really visit Cape Cod if you didn’t climb to the top of an active lighthouse? Perched on the coast of Truro, Highland Lighthouse was commissioned by George Washington and erected in 1797 as the 20th light station in the newly formed United States. When the lighthouse isn’t undergoing structural repairs, visitors can mount all 69 twisting, turning steps to the top for sweeping views of the ocean. (Tours of the lighthouse are suspended through 2021, but the grounds are open, so you can take in those views.) Nearby, the Highland House Museum, once a hotel, presents the history of Truro’s earliest European settlers.

Provincetown Art Association and Museum

Address: 460 Commercial St., Provincetown, MA 02657
Phone: (508) 487-1750
Website

Provincetown is a haven for artists, so it’s no wonder its art museum is a treat for the eyes. Much of the museum’s collection represents artists from the Outer Cape, including the likes of Ross Moffett, Blanche Lazzell, and Robert Motherwell. Keep an eye out for exhibit openings — they’re free and open to the public.

Pilgrim Monument

Address: 1 High Pole Hill Rd., Provincetown, MA 02657
Website

Built in 1910 to commemorate the landing of the Pilgrims in Provincetown, the Pilgrim Monument is the town’s most recognizable landmark. The views atop it are unparalleled, displaying the dramatic curve of the Cape. The catch? It’s a bit of a workout to get there. After a spin through the monument’s history museum, climb the tower’s 116 steps to reach the top. It’s not so hard to catch your breath when you’re overlooking the Atlantic. 

Cape Cod Rail Trail

Website

This 22-mile-long bike trail traverses a huge section of the Cape. From Dennis all the way to Wellfleet, the trail meanders past kettle ponds and cranberry bogs, through a state park, and up to the National Seashore. Rent a bike in one of the towns along the trail, and trace a part (or all) of it.  

Whydah Pirate Museum

Address: 674 MA-28, West Yarmouth, MA 02673
Phone: (508) 534-9571
Website

The Whydah Pirate Museum is not Cape Cod’s only pirate museum, but it is its newest. Opened in 2016 in West Yarmouth, the building off of Route 28 contains a true-to-size model of the Whydah Gally, a pirate ship that sank off the coast of Wellfleet in the 1700s. Learn all about the artifacts recovered from the ship and the adventures of the museum’s owner, Barry Clifford, who unearthed the wreck in 1984. 

Provincetown, Cape Cod
Credit: Loop Images/Getty Images

Best Shopping

Commercial Street, Provincetown

Commercial Street is Provincetown’s main thoroughfare, lined with adorable shops, boutiques, and art galleries. From Marine Specialties, a quirky surplus store, to Packard Gallery, one of the Cape’s most famous art galleries, there’s plenty to browse at a range of price points. You could pop into the stores along the road that catch your eye, then sit down for a classic lobster dinner at the Lobster Pot

Downtown Chatham

The downtown area of Chatham appeals to upscale shoppers. Brands like Lilly Pulitzer, FatFace, and Jack Wills have set up along Main Street, but the road is mainly populated with locally owned spots. Boutiques like Mayflower Shop sell playful home goods in a centuries-old building, while Chatham Candy Manor doles out some of the most delectable fudge around.

Wicked Thrift & PopRock Vintage

Address: 1094 MA-28, South Yarmouth, MA 02664
Phone: (508) 648-5902
Website

Love shopping vintage? There’s no need to wade through racks to pluck out a winner — each and every piece from Wicked Thrift is a treasure. The South Yarmouth store sells both vintage and modern clothing for men and women, and is chock-full of one-of-a-kind accessories. 

Downtown Hyannis

Strolling Main Street Hyannis can feel like stepping back in time. Lined with ice cream shops, candy stores, and some standby T-shirt emporiums, it’s a family-friendly spot to bring the kids. If you stop for a ride on Wackenhammer's carousel, browse the Cape Cod bracelets at Cape Cod Jewelers, and grab a handful of penny candy at the Kandy Korner, you’ve checked off the boxes for a perfect Hyannis detour.

Cuffy’s

Address: Multiple Locations
Website

Cuffy’s is Cape Cod’s most iconic outfitter. You might recognize their apparel — it’s the wholesome shop that sells those classic pastel-colored sweatshirts with “Cape Cod” emblazoned on the front. With four locations across the Cape, it’s hard not to stop in — and too easy to walk out with a hoodie or three.

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.

Weather

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

Apps to Download

Sharktivity: The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy's map of sightings
iOS | Android

MBTA mTicket: Where to buy CapeFlyer train tickets virtually
iOS | Android

Chimani: A National Parks app to help you discover the Cape Cod National Seashore
iOS | Android