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EssentialsHave lunch at a clam shack. These funky spots dot the entire Cape and serve some of New England's tastiest fried seafood.
Sign up for a whale-watch cruise. Outfits in Provincetown and Hyannis take passengers to the Stellwagen Bank, a favorite feeding ground for these awesome creatures.
Take a Provincetown dune tour in a Suburban vehicle and see the famed "dune shacks" made famous by writers and artists including Eugene O'Neill, Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer and Jackson Pollack.
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Ride the ferry to Martha's Vineyard . If you leave your car behind, shuttles will transport you between quaint havens adorned with charming cottages.
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Picnic at one of the designated spots along the Cape Cod National Seashore . You'll see salt marshes, dune shacks and a bevy of lighthouses along 40 miles of pristine beach.
Visit the small town of Chatham , off the Cape's beaten path. This upscale hamlet has the feel of an old-time New England fishing village.
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Grab your camera and take a snapshot of one of the area's 14 splendid lighthouses. You'll come across many of these photogenic structures on the Cape, all with their own distinctive features.
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Cape Cod in 3 DaysThree days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Cape Cod.
By Suzanne Lemon
It's best to rent a car when exploring Cape Cod so you can experience several of the charming small towns on the peninsula.
Day 1: MorningBegin your first day by heading to Woods Hole, just south of Falmouth. In-town parking is rather limited, so you may wish to take advantage of WHOOSH, a seasonal trolley service that transports passengers between Falmouth and Woods Hole.
Facilities in the town are devoted to the study of oceanography and marine biology, and you can visit a couple of fascinating attractions devoted to the denizens of the deep. At Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Exhibit Center , displays outline the various research efforts under way. You'll learn about the vessels and tools scientists use to secure data—for instance, you can watch a video about a deep submersible exploring the ocean depths and then actually stand inside a model of one.
The Woods Hole Science Aquarium is a kid-friendly option, with the seals providing plenty of laughs and entertainment. “Touch tanks”—where sea critters can be gently handled—serve as an interesting diversion along with a behind-the-scenes area where the public can observe staff members caring for marine animals.
Day 1: AfternoonEither drive or take the trolley back to Falmouth, where lunch spots are plentiful along Main Street—a good choice serving up hearty fare with New England flair is the Quarterdeck Restaurant .
After lunch, you'll enjoy poking into the charming shops along Main Street, or simply relaxing on the picturesque village green. If you prefer to extend your stay in Falmouth, you also can check out Falmouth Museums on the Green , where you can explore two 18th-century homes or wander through lovely Colonial gardens.
Next, travel east along SR 28 to arrive in Hyannis , a town closely associated with John F. Kennedy and his family. To learn why, visit the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum , featuring exhibits that offer insight into JFK's days on Cape Cod.
If you'd rather spend time outdoors, you can observe area marine life on a sightseeing voyage with Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises . Naturalists discuss conservation efforts and share information about the behavior of whales, which you will hopefully sight on your adventure aboard a high-speed vessel.
Day 1: EveningIf you're craving a traditional New England meal with such sea fare as lobster, steamers and clam chowder, try Spanky's Clam Shack , a local favorite.
After dinner, catch the sunset and savor the view of Hyannis Harbor from the deck at Tugboats , also a great spot to nurse an after-dinner libation—heated canopies keep the chill off on nippy evenings.
Day 2: MorningThe Egg & I on Main Street is a cozy place to grab some breakfast, ranging from fanciful fare like Swedish pancakes and Belgian waffles to good old-fashioned corned beef hash. From Hyannis, drive along US 6E northeast to Provincetown, where there is more than enough to keep you entertained for the day.
To learn about the area's rich history, stop at the Pilgrim Monument & Provincetown Museum , a soaring edifice gracing High Top Hill. It commemorates the Pilgrims' first landing in 1620 at Provincetown Harbor, where the Mayflower Compact was penned aboard the ship. Museum exhibits focus on this historic event as well as Native American artifacts, decorative arts, maritime life and the Provincetown Players' first theater.
Day 2: Afternoon
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If you didn't get a chance to go on a whale watch in Hyannis, Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch also provides the opportunity to view these magnificent creatures. If you're not lucky enough to view a humpback, minke or other whale species, chances are you'll see plentiful bird life and possibly other marine mammals like the harbor porpoise or white-sided dolphin.
Provincetown Art Association and Museum is a testament to this thriving art community's creativity and vision. Immerse yourself in the impressive collection of some 2,000 American art objects.
Day 2: Evening
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If you're searching for a laid-back setting perfect for sipping a cocktail, have a seat at the mahogany bar at The Mews , where you can gaze out at the bay while sampling an innovative martini or coffee drink. If you'd like to sharpen your people-watching skills, saunter along Commercial Street and join the nighttime pedestrian parade.
Day 3: MorningOn this day, it's really the drive that is the attraction. So, get an early start to ensure you'll have time to linger at all the intriguing little roadside haunts. Hit the highway—that is US 6W—and have some breakfast in Orleans at Hot Chocolate Sparrow .
From here, you'll want to take scenic SR 6A west along Cape Cod Bay. Also known as Old King's Highway, this AAA Scenic Byway was once a Native American footpath as well as a thoroughfare for Colonial settlers. As you travel the meandering route, you'll encounter views of the bay and marshland, old cemeteries, red-hued cranberry bogs, tranquil beaches and lovingly restored 18th-century homes.
You'll come across several quaint villages on your journey. In Brewster , refurbished sea captains' residences reflect the elegance of a bygone era, while the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History offers a peek into the cape's geologic formation and coastal inhabitants. Shoppers eagerly explore the Antiques Center of Cape Cod in Dennis , or make their way to Captain Frosty's for tasty lobster rolls, crispy deep-fried clams or soft-serve ice cream. Yarmouth Port, a few miles farther west, entices architecture buffs with styles ranging from Greek Revival to Georgian Colonial, while Barnstable touts one of America's oldest congregational churches, recognized by the rooster atop its stately white steeple.
Day 3: AfternoonSR 6A (Old King's Highway) eventually leads to the town of Sandwich , a quiet seaside hamlet with an enchanting village green. A water-powered gristmill dating from 1654 still grinds corn to this day, while a 1675 saltbox home—probably the cape's oldest—proudly stands nearby.
Interested in witnessing a craft that flourished during the 19th century? Then, you must visit the Sandwich Glass Museum , where you can observe glass blowers manipulating molten glass into gorgeous works of art. The natural light streaming into the facility only serves to accentuate the delicate creations displayed. In summer, guided walking tours depicting town history depart from the museum.
If it's natural beauty you seek, you'll find it on the landscaped grounds of Heritage Museums & Gardens . Those fortunate enough to be here from late May to early June will be treated to the sight of thousands of blooming rhododendrons bordering the wooded paths in a colorful blaze of glory.
Day 3: EveningSeveral restaurants in Sandwich fit the bill for hungry travelers. For a casual evening try The British Beer Company Restaurant & Pub or Bobby Byrne's Restaurant and Pub .
The Dan'l Webster Inn offers a more upscale dining experience with gracious service and a highly regarded wine list. An innovative chef puts a spin on locally caught seafood and tried-and-true favorites like veal Oscar and prime rib. Desserts are sinfully decadent.
AttractionsIn an area with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
By Suzanne Lemon
While you're on Cape Cod, a land of pristine white beaches and charming coastal villages, indulge in activities embracing the area's seafaring heritage. Start by visiting the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Exhibit Center , where you can explore Alvin, a deep submergence vehicle. Take a tour of one of the marine labs, where staff members are happy to answer questions about ongoing marine studies and the curious vessels used in the search.
After you've received an explanation about the science of what lies beneath, view some of the ocean's most popular residents. The antics of mischievous pinnipeds at Beachcomber Seal Watching in Chatham will put a smile on your face. You'll travel the waters of Pleasant Bay in search of harbor and gray seals, encountering numerous shore birds along the way.
Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises provides an opportunity to observe these graceful creatures feeding, diving, breaching out of the water with magnificent splashes—and sometimes lifting their heads above the water to see their watchers, a practice called spyhopping. Naturalists provide insight into the whales' behaviors as state-of-the-art vessels move to spots known for frequent sightings. Although you'll likely see dolphins frolicking in the waves off Provincetown on a cruise with Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch , their specialty is whale watching. In addition to observing such species as the harbor porpoise and white-sided dolphin, you may glimpse 40-ton behemoths such as humpback, finback, right and minke whales.
History adds to the mix of interesting places to visit on the cape. Explore two 18th-century homes and a hand-pegged barn at Falmouth Museums on the Green . Vintage clothes, period furnishings, an 1800s doctor's office and a Colonial kitchen provide insight into early Falmouth life. The restored Captain Jonathan Parker House, the Cammett House and four interconnecting boat sheds are the focus at Osterville Historical Museum . After perusing wooden catboats and other maritime artifacts, you can stroll through Colonial and herb gardens and learn about early boat-building techniques.
West Parish of Barnstable is said to be the country's oldest congregational church building. You'll recognize this landmark by the rooster atop its stately white steeple—legend has it that colonists evaded the king's taxes by shipping wine from England inside the ball of the weathercock. The Atwood House Museum rests in what may be Chatham's oldest house. During his hiatus from sea in 1752, Capt. Joseph Atwood built the house, typical of early Cape Cod structures except for its unique gambrel roof. Take a tour of the sink room where laundering was done, the “borning room” where births took place, a cooking kitchen and a formal parlor.
In need of a few kid-enticing endeavors? Head over to Cape Cod Children's Museum in Mashpee. A pirate ship, a puppet theater and a planetarium capture the imagination (and attention) of wee ones.
The Woods Hole Science Aquarium provides a fun learning environment, with the main gallery displaying 16 large tanks teeming with ocean life. Touch tanks provide a hands-on experience, while an outdoor seal pool never fails to impress, especially during feedings. You might get a chance to see endangered sea turtles held for rehabilitation in preparation for release. If you can, catch the weekly children's show at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis. This tent theater hosts many of the cape's concerts, but kids are king on Wednesday mornings for an array of captivating plays and circus events.
The cape is the perfect place to relish the great outdoors, and several sites provide that opportunity. East Sandwich's Green Briar Nature Center & Jam Kitchen offers a peaceful sanctuary on the shores of Smiling Pool. Amble along one of the interpretive nature trails, or visit a colorful wildflower garden bordered by a shady locust grove and a tranquil meadow. Scenic trails at Mass Audubon's Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary present an array of wildlife habitats ranging from salt marshes to pine groves. After your hike, you can take a break in the nature center's hummingbird and butterfly garden.
The 44,000-acre Cape Cod National Seashore , a AAA GEM attraction, offers pristine stretches of sand, freshwater kettle ponds, wild cranberry bogs and countless opportunities for wildlife viewing. Walk in the steps of Henry David Thoreau, who once wandered these 40 miles of unspoiled shoreline along the expansive outer beach. Go for a swim or simply take in the sights—rolling dunes, dramatic cliffs, white cedar swamps, garden cottages and lighthouses.
With 100 acres of landscaped beauty, the AAA GEM Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich has many delightful surprises in store. If you're visiting from Memorial Day weekend to early June, you'll see thousands of blooming rhododendrons along the wooded paths; the daylilies start to blossom in mid-July. Sign up for a horticulturist-guided tour of the grounds, which also include an intriguing labyrinth and a restored windmill.
An appealing assortment of Cape Cod museums may lure you indoors for a while. At Brewster's Cape Cod Museum of Natural History , you can peruse displays about marine life, learn how glaciers formed the cape some 20,000 years ago or gaze into tanks holding turtles, crustaceans, fish, frogs and other coastal inhabitants. Attend a lecture or workshop on selected natural history topics, or trek the museum's meandering nature trails for a little fresh air.
The John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum provides an inside perspective into the days JFK spent on the cape. Photographs record Kennedy relaxing with family, playing football and sailing. Walter Cronkite narrates a video about the 35th president's life at Hyannisport and his passion for the coastal environment.
Pilgrim Monument & Provincetown Museum focuses on the arrival of the Mayflower and explores the town's maritime and theatrical heritage. Museum displays allow you to envision a 19th-century sea captain's ship quarters and home parlor as well as the Provincetown Player's first theater. The monument itself, perched majestically atop High Top Hill, symbolizes the pilgrim's first landing in 1620.
Observe glass blowers in action at the Sandwich Glass Museum , a AAA GEM attraction. It's fascinating to watch molten glass blown and pressed into a work of art—you might even get to participate in this practice during a 20-minute demonstration that occurs on the half-hour. Sandwich is renowned for its status as a 19th-century glassmaking center, and the museum's 5,000 pieces aptly represent the most stunning creations the profession has to offer.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
RestaurantsOur favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
By Inspector 87
as told to Suzanne Lemon
Old driftwood posts support the sign at Captain Frosty's , so if you blink you might miss it—and if you do, turn around. For more than 30 years, this seasonal clam shack in Dennis has been dishing up lightly breaded, deep-fried clams and one of Cape Cod's best lobster rolls—plentiful chunks of meat packed into a buttery grilled bun with a dab of mayonnaise. Choose from a board above the counter, place your order with the pleasant staff and pay the cashier (there's no table service). Have some yummy soft-serve ice cream to top off your meal.
Family-owned The Ebb Tide Restaurant , originally a captain's home, has been serving fresh seafood since 1959. Dennisport residents eagerly anticipate its reopening every summer. Classic ocean-blue Naugahyde armchairs and an intimate setting allow guests to settle in comfortably and peruse the menu. Samplings include rich and creamy seafood fettuccini, lobster fritters and a cheesy baked crabmeat. Landlubbers savor roasted prime rib, apricot-almond chicken and other temptations.
Offering one of the cape's best waterside views, Ocean House in Dennisport presents a panorama of Nantucket Sound. New England meets Asia in such savory preparations as seared tuna sashimi with coriander, roasted teriyaki salmon and herb-grilled swordfish. Pan-broiled porterhouse steak, Peking duck tacos and Asian vegetable spring rolls entice those inclined to skip the seafood.
Hungry Eastham diners head to Arnold's Lobster & Clam Bar every summer. Diners order and pay at the counter, retrieving their food when the staff calls their number; presentation is informal with paper plates and plastic utensils. Since 1976, the family at Arnold's has been wowing locals and tourists alike with quality lobster, steamers, oysters, mussels, terrific fried clams, burgers, sandwiches, and another contender for the cape's best lobster roll.
Barley Neck Inn is in the original attached barn of a sea captain's 1868 house. Traditional New England fare includes fried whole clams, Cape steamers and baked stuffed lobster or cod; meat-and-potato aficionados delight in barbecue ribs, burgers, grilled marinated chicken and filet mignon. Fireplaces and wooden plank floors contribute to a cozy, intimate and casually elegant dining experience in East Orleans.
When in Falmouth, look no further than the silver and red dining car with the neon sign urging patrons to “EAT HEAVY.” Betsy's Diner , a gleaming reminder of the Fabulous '50s, serves breakfast all day, plenty of classic lunch plates and an assortment of home-style dinners. Order the meatloaf or the roast turkey meal (with a helping side of mashed potatoes, of course), then find a tune on your at-table jukebox while you wait.
You'll recognize Roadhouse Cafe in Hyannis by the bright yellow clapboard exterior accented with black awnings. The interior's rich dark woods and antiques set the tone for a relaxing meal. More than 30 appetizers are included on the menu, which focuses on pastas and other Italian fare plus an impressive medley of fresh seafood and landlubber options. Those intimidated by the large portions can select from a bistro menu with lighter choices. Homemade desserts, live weekend jazz and complimentary valet parking are nice touches.
Beachgoers in cover-ups sit alongside professionals in starched shirts during lunch at Tugboats , where the atmosphere is comfortable and casual. The second floor overlooks Hyannis harbor and has a popular outdoor dining section with awning-covered decks and a heated, glass-walled lounge. Tasty fresh seafood preparations include clam chowder, fried seafood, locally caught steamers and broiled scrod. Tugboats also offers burgers, sandwiches, steaks and pasta, along with free valet parking.
ABBA should be at the top of your Cape Cod must-do list. The Israeli chef-owner blends flavorsome Thai ingredients with a hint of the Mediterranean—creations may include Thai tuna salad, Thai steamed mussels, pad Thai of lobster and shrimp, or grilled filet mignon. Each item is thoughtfully prepared and elegantly presented. The Orleans location is off the beaten path, set in a quiet residential area. Guests may opt to dine al fresco during warmer months.
Since 1970, the Berig family has served just-off-the-boat seafood at The Lobster Claw . Fare at this bustling spot with a cozy nautical ambience includes oodles of fried items as well as a traditional clambake of lobster, steamers, corn on the cob, potatoes and cole slaw. Rest assured—chicken, pork or beef is yours for the asking. Work off the hearty portions by strolling along the Orleans waterfront afterward.
The Lobster Pot presents waterfront and terrace dining in addition to the Top of the Pot lounge, a lively spot for food and fun. Sample masterfully prepared lobster, a Cajun bouillabaisse, chowders or the pan-fried seafood cakes made from lobster, stone crab, shrimp and scallops. The atmosphere is casual with simple nautical decor, paneled walls and views of Provincetown's harbor. Parking is tricky, if not darn frustrating; be patient, it's worth the effort.
The Skipper Restaurant & Chowder House is within walking distance of South Yarmouth's seaside lodgings. Good menu choices include homemade soups, native steamers and littlenecks, grilled swordfish, fried seafood, lobster rolls, roasted herbed chicken and prime rib. Guests can take a stroll on the beach right across the street after lunch or dinner.
An institution since 1953, the Kream 'N Kone in West Dennis wins many local polls for its fried seafood, and the lobster rolls aren't too shabby either. Of course, burgers and hotdogs are on the menu, but the fried stuff is what draws summer crowds. As the name suggests, this also is a good place for ice cream. Diners may sit inside or outdoors on the patio, or order food to go. Don't let the lack of a beach or waterside view dissuade you—the fare is topnotch and well prepared.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
By Suzanne Lemon
When spring is in the air and the chilly cape warms up a bit, the event calendar bursts into action. In early May, Brewster in Bloom pays tribute to its profusion of tulips, daffodils and cherry blossoms with an antiques market, an old-fashioned ice cream social, a chowder contest and a parade. East Sandwich's Herb Festival also ushers in the season at the Green Briar Nature Center & Jam Kitchen in mid-May. After you've strolled the garden paths, watch a demonstration about using herbs or indulge in a delicious lunch seasoned with them.
With summer temperatures hovering in the pleasurable 70s during the day, it's a great time to be out and about, and Provincetown delivers. In mid-June, the town shows its appreciation for arts and culture with the Provincetown International Film Festival . At this event honoring independent filmmakers, you can mingle with directors, producers and other movie buffs at an opening night party and daily breakfasts. Late June brings the annual Blessing of the Fleet at the Provincetown Portuguese Festival , which celebrates the ocean and those who make their livelihood from it. Immerse yourself in the area's seafaring heritage by climbing aboard a whale-watch vessel, learning water-rescue techniques and filling your plate at the clam feed. Naturally, Portuguese food and wine are part of the mix.
The Mashpee Wampanoag native people descend from a clan that has lived on the cape's shores for more than 10,000 years, and they celebrate that heritage at the Mashpee Wampanoag Powwow in East Falmouth. In early July, tribes from all over the United States travel to the Barnstable County Fairgrounds to attend the public gathering, which includes drumming, dancing in traditional regalia and the thrilling ritual of fireball, a ceremonial game played with a flaming, oil-soaked ball.
Eastham Windmill Weekend is a charming affair on the weekend following Labor Day. As you might guess, the local gristmill is the place for a sand castle competition, tricycle races, square dancing and guided tours.
If you're on the cape in late September, be sure to catch Scallop Fest , which takes place at the Barnstable County Fairgrounds in East Falmouth. The savory mollusks are definitely on the menu, along with lobster rolls and clam chowder. If seafood isn't your thing, the Fest tent also offers an alternative chicken dinner, or you can grab a burger or hot dog on the way to the midway rides, arts and crafts show, home expo and live entertainment.
The crisp nip of fall brings Pumpkin Day at Bourne Farm in Falmouth in early October. This family-oriented event entices kids with face painting, a pumpkin patch and pony rides, while adults can work off yummy bake-sale goodies with a ride in a kayak or paddleboat. Throughout October, Fall for the Arts is a family-friendly festival in South Wellfleet showcasing local art and culture and includes live music, theater, museums and historical site open houses. There also are readings and lectures, art activities for children, guided art and heritage walks, plein air (outdoor) painters and art exhibitions.
The holiday season kicks off in late November with the Lighting of the Provincetown Pilgrim Monument atop High Pole Hill. Strung with thousands of bulbs, the 252-foot-high granite memorial becomes a towering Christmas tree—a sight to see as it glows above Provincetown Harbor. The quaint New England Falmouth Village hosts its Holidays-by-the Sea Weekend in early December. Happenings include caroling and hot chocolate at Nobska Lighthouse, Santa's arrival by boat, a Christmas parade and the annual lighting of the village green. Kris Kringle pays another visit aboard a lobster trawler at the Hyannis Harbor Lighting and Boat Parade in early December. Boats decked out in twinkling strands glide across the water, while landlubbers tour the holiday decorations of the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum and historic Main Street residences. Many of the cape's 15 towns offer their own seasonal strolls.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
Places in Vicinity