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Cape Cod stretches some 65 miles into the Atlantic Ocean, giving travelers one more sliver of land to explore in Massachusetts before it disappears into the sea. Though relatively small, the landmass has more than 500 miles of coastline, each inch more memorable than the last. Beyond the beautiful beaches, though, Cape Cod is home to many towns with plenty of history and culture, too. Here are 10 of the best Cape Cod towns worth exploring this summer and beyond.
Provincetown is one of the most widely known Cape Cod beach communities. Located on the very edge of the Outer Cape, this town has become an LGBTQ+ haven, thanks to its welcoming atmosphere and events like the Provincetown Carnival. While here, make sure to visit the Provincetown Art Association and Museum and Race Point Lighthouse, as well as shop Commercial Street, before setting off for the sand (don’t miss Long Point Beach, Herring Cove, and Harbor Beach). Then, check into the Surfside Hotel & Suites or Breakwater for stellar views and easy beach access.
If spending each and every second on the beach is your vacation motivation, then Dennis is the town for you. The community is well-known for its wide sandy stretches, like Chapin Memorial Beach and Howes Beach, which provide visitors with plenty of space to sprawl out under the summer sun. Dennis comes with two distinct sides — the Nantucket Sound, with West Dennis and Dennisport, and Cape Cod Bay, which includes Dennis Village and East Dennis. The former has a much more New England village feel, while the latter is sparsely populated. The good news is you can bounce between the two with relative ease. Get a real sense of the area by checking into a local bed-and-breakfast — An English Garden and Isaiah Hall are great options.
Those wanting to mix up their summer beach vacation with verdant landscapes need not look further than Sandwich. While the community certainly has its own gorgeous coast, it’s also home to the 700-acre Shawme-Crowell State Forest, filled with oak trees and more than 15 miles of hiking and horseback riding trails. Campsites are available for overnights, too.
Visitors can also roam the Heritage Museums & Gardens, home to more than 100 acres of manicured gardens, along with a historic carousel and an American automobile collection featuring antique cars in pristine condition. Book the Dan’l Webster Inn & Spa for a relaxing stay.
Hyannis (which is technically a village inside the larger town of Barnstable) offers “big city” amenities on Cape Cod, including an airport, shopping malls, and world-renowned restaurants. Visitors here can easily float between the sand (check out Veterans Park Beach), shops on Main Street, and attractions like the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum and Cape Cod Maritime Museum. For luxury accommodations, book a few days at the Hyannis Harbor Hotel, or try the Sea Street Inn for a more charming New England stay.
Orleans is one of the smallest towns on the Cape, but it certainly packs a punch. Home to two popular beaches — Nauset and Skaket — it also offers a quaint downtown area with galleries, including Eastwind Gallery, which displays work by local artists, and Galley West Art Gallery, which features artists from the Lower and Outer Cape Cod towns. As for where to spend the night, book a stay at the Nauset Beach Inn, which, according to the site, provides a “view from every room.”
Located on the Outer Cape, Truro is another community filled with both lush, forested landscapes and rugged shorelines. But the real star of the show here is Truro Vineyards, where the winemakers are masters at maritime grape growing, yielding whites like sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, as well as reds like its zinfandel, cabernet franc, and even a rose for good measure. Come check out the wine tasting rooms or new South Hollow Spirits, Truro Vineyards’ on-site distillery, which produces Twenty Boat rum and Dry Line gin. Hotels are limited, but rentals are plentiful, including this beautiful three-bedroom beach house that’s ideal for group getaways.
Harwich is the spot to go for some summertime festival fun. The tiny town is home sandy spots such as Red River Beach and Pleasant Road Beach, but the main attraction here is its events, including the Cranberry Arts & Music Festival, which hosts more than 100 local vendors who sell goods, music, food, and more. (Note: this year’s date is still TBD). There’s also the Brooks Park Arts and Crafts Festival, which will be held in August this year. (See more festival artisan market options here.) Harwich is another excellent place for a bed-and-breakfast stay — check out Pelham on Earle and Handkerchief Shoals Inn.
Though Mashpee doesn’t have the same tourism appeal as other towns along the Cape, it’s both a charming and important stop to make. The community has been the home of the Wampanoag people for thousands of years, and their headquarters remain here to this day. Visitors can head to the Mashpee Commons for shopping and dining, or make their way to South Cape Beach, a mile-long stretch, to catch a little sun. Stay like you live in town by booking a few nights at New Seabury, which offers one- and two-bedroom condos.
The town of Brewster, located in the Lower Cape, is ideal for groups or multigenerational families as it has something for everyone. The whole crew can head out for a day at the beach (Breakwater Beach, Crosby Landing Beach, and Robbins Hill Beach are great picks), or break off and visit some of the local attractions, like the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History or Cape Cod Rail Trail, which runs from Dennis to Wellfleet and hits Brewster in between. There are also plenty of historic homes to explore, but the best way to experience one may be by spending the night. That includes the Candleberry Inn, a 1790s “sea farm” that was turned into a bed-and-breakfast, and The Captain Freeman Inn, a charming former sea captain’s home.
This one is a bit of a wild card for a list about Cape Cod towns. That’s because Woods Hole is technically a village inside the larger town of Falmouth, but it deserves its own shout-out, thanks to its beauty and massive contributions to science. Woods Hole is an aquatic paradise, home to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which is dedicated to “advancing knowledge of the ocean and its connection with the Earth system,” and the Woods Hole Science Aquarium, the nation’s oldest public aquarium. (Note: The aquarium is currently closed due to COVID, but check its website for potential opening dates.) Book a stay at the Woods Hole Inn, a contemporary bed-and-breakfast, or the Treehouse Lodge, a property packed with games, outdoor fire pits, and glamping setups for kids.