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Best Things to Do on Cape Cod in the Summer

Table of Contents

1. Must-Visit Beaches and Lighthouses

2. Water Sports and Outdoor Adventures

3. Festivals and Events

4. Dining and Nightlife

5. Planning Your Summer Visit to Cape Cod

6. Conclusion

If you had to use a single attribute to sum up a Cape Cod, Massachusetts, summer, you'd be truly spoiled for choice. From seashells, sundrenched dunes, hydrangeas, and sunsets, to ice creams, lighthouses, and salty breezes, to golf courses and the Cape Cod Baseball League, a Cape Cod summer is many things, and some would say all things.

It’s truly the perfect mix of serenity, culture, and adventure. Iconic beaches, lively festivals, and an array of water activities draw visitors from all over to experience long, sun-filled days amid the beauty and charm of Cape Cod.

The fact is, it’s one of those rare places where you could do absolutely nothing and come away having spent the time of your life. But in today’s post, we’ll provide you with the best things you can do on the Cape to ensure that you get the most out of your summer vacation here.

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Must-Visit Beaches and Lighthouses

Cape Cod's beaches and lighthouses are iconic features of its stunning coastlines, and like so many other things on the Cape, there's something for everybody.

Seeking tidal pools for rewarding beach explorations? Head to Skaket Beach in Orleans, or to Nauset Beach on the other side of the Cape Cod "forearm," for a sprawling stretch of pristine sand that’s perfect for tidal pools … and swimming, and sunbathing, and building sandcastles ...

For calmer waters, families flock to Seagull Beach in Yarmouth, while surfers and birdwatchers alike head over to Coast Guard Beach to face off with the Atlantic Ocean. Adventurous types can explore the tidepools and boardwalk at Wellfleet's Marconi Beach, a haven for seashells and marine life. And of course, Race Point Beach in Provincetown is a wild, dune-filled spot that's truly one of the world’s great experiences.

No Cape Cod experience is truly complete, however, without a lighthouse encounter - and there’s no shortage of them on the Cape. Chatham Lighthouse, perched on a dramatic bluff, offers breathtaking panoramic views. History buffs can climb the spiral staircase of the iconic Nauset Lighthouse, the inspiration for the Cape Cod Potato Chips logo.

A visit to Race Point Lighthouse at the tip of the Cape provides a glimpse of a more remote and rugged coastline, while Highland Light in North Truro, with its black and white stripes, is a photographer's favorite, especially at sunset when the sky explodes with color.

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Chatham Light
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Nauset Light
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Race Point Lighthouse

 

Water Sports and Outdoor Adventures

Cape Cod's a playground for water lovers! Kayak or paddleboard through the calm waters of Nantucket Sound, or simply take in the views in Chatham's Pleasant Bay. Guided kayaking tours are another great way to spot Cape Cod's birds and other wildlife. 

Boating enthusiasts can choose from relaxing day sails or sunset cruises, soaking up the stunning coastline. Feeling adventurous? Learn the ropes with sailing lessons or embark on an unforgettable whale-watching expedition, where majestic humpback whales and playful dolphins may well steal the show utterly.

Lace up your hiking boots or hop on a bike for a unique perspective of the Cape's landscapes. Guided nature walks will take you through diverse ecosystems, from pristine forests to hidden beaches, with knowledgeable guides sharing the secrets of the Cape's unique flora and fauna. It will be well worth your while to explore the Cape Cod National Seashore or Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. 

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Another great location to enjoy the outdoors is Nickerson State Park in Brewster, a 1,900-acre park with ponds for swimming and fishing, and miles of trails for hiking and biking. 

The Cape Cod Rail Trail is a scenic bike path stretching from Yarmouth to Wellfleet, and takes you through charming villages, cranberry bogs, and salt marshes. The National Seashore also offers designated bike paths for a quieter adventure through rolling sand dunes. Whether you're actively nature-spotting or seeking secluded ocean views, Cape Cod's bike trails and nature walks are simply unforgettable experiences.

Festivals and Events

Although the call of the beach is well-nigh irresistible no matter where you're staying in Cape Cod, the call of the festival beckons loud as well! There are enough festivals and events to fill your summer calendar many times over. Here's just a sampling:

Provincetown Jazz Festival: Immerse yourself in the world of jazz during this renowned festival held in late July. World-class musicians take center stage, captivating audiences with their soulful sounds. From electrifying performances to intimate jazz club settings, the festival offers a celebration of this timeless musical genre.

Falmouth ArtMarket: Every Saturday throughout the summer, the charming town of Falmouth transforms into an open-air art gallery. Local artists showcase their creations, offering a chance to meet the talent behind the work and discover unique pieces to add a touch of Cape Cod charm to your home.

The Harwich Cranberry Arts & Music Festival: This festival is one of Harwich’s signature events, and features over 150 juried crafters, food trucks, live music, and dancing. 

Annual Father’s Day Car Show: One of the largest yearly car shows in New England, this parade of over 350 vintage cars rolls down Hyannis Main Street and features free admission to the public.

Sandcastle and Sculpture Contest in Nantucket: Witness the artistic talents take a sandy turn at the Nantucket Sandcastle Competition held in late July. Teams of sculptors transform the beach into a wonderland of intricate sand creations, a testament to human imagination and the ever-changing canvas of the seashore. 

Art Shanties in Hyannis: Every Saturday throughout the summer, Hyannis Harbor comes alive with the "Art Shanties." Local artists transform their studios into pop-up gallery boutiques, showcasing paintings, jewelry, pottery, and more.  This is a delightful opportunity to find one-of-a-kind pieces directly from the artists themselves.

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Beyond these events, many art galleries across the Cape Cod villages hold opening receptions, artist talks, and workshops throughout the summer season. 

Looking for more?

  1. Yarmouth's Cape Cod Pirate Festival is held in June, and features shanties, shifty pirates, and more.
  2. Arts Alive, Falmouth’s festive three-day celebration of the arts, is an exuberant marketplace of handcrafted wares and an extravaganza of performances
  3. Brewster's By the Bay Art and Craft Show features art and craftwork ranging from photography and painting to leather, pottery, glass jewelry, and fabrics.
  4. A little later in the summer, Brewster also hosts an Annual Open-Air Antiques & Vintage Fair, as well as an Antique and Classic Car and Truck Show.
  5. The Provincetown Portuguese Festival & Blessing of the Fleet pays homage to Cape Cod's Portuguese heritage, and culminates with blessings of good fortune by clergy on fishing vessels and leisure craft.
  6. The Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival is an annual celebration of the region's blue, pink, and white signature flowers! This ten-day festival's main attractions are the daily tours of private gardens.
  7. The annual Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Pow Wow is a celebration of Mashpee Wampanoag culture, featuring three days of spiritual and festive events including traditional ceremonies, tribal drumming, dance performances, crafts, food, and live music.
  8. Over the course of a week in late July, the annual Barnstable County Fair spotlights animal shows, monster trucks, carnival rides, demolition derby, arts and crafts, and tons of good old-fashioned American fair food!
  9. The Cape Cod Food Truck and Craft Beer Festival in Eastham is where 30 of New England's most popular food trucks meet over 50 craft beers from breweries across the USA, as well as games, music, and family fun.
  10. The summer officially (and literally!) draws to a close with the Annual Labor Day Weekend Festival of the Arts in Brewster.

Dining and Nightlife

With its charming villages and quintessential New England atmosphere, Cape Cod boasts a delightful dining scene that perfectly complements its summer ambiance. Here's a glimpse into what awaits your tastebuds:

 

  • For waterfront dining, stop at the Ocean House Restaurant in Dennis Port. It's an upscale experience offering beautiful Nantucket Sound views, alongside a fusion of New England coastal cuisine and Pan-Asian flavors. 
  • If seafood shacks are more your speed, head to Spanky's Clam Shack on Hyannis Harbor. This casual spot offers delicious fried clams, lobster rolls, and other seafood specialties, perfect for a relaxed lunch or dinner.  
  • If you're looking for a lively spot place to unwind and soak up the summer nights, The Mews in Provincetown is a great option. This lively bar is perfect for enjoying refreshing cocktails with friends. 
  • The Mayflower is a venerable and friendly Provincetown restaurant featuring pizza, seafood, and Portuguese classics.
  • For a unique perspective, visit an oyster farm in Wellfleet and enjoy a fresh-shucked delicacy.  

These are just a few examples, and Cape Cod has something for every taste and budget. With fresh catches, harbor views, and a relaxed atmosphere, you're sure to find the perfect spot to enjoy a memorable summer meal.

 

Planning Your Summer Visit to Cape Cod

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Cape Cod truly bursts to life in the summer months (June-August). While this brings sunshine and vibrant energy, it also means peak crowds and higher prices. Consider visiting in the shoulder seasons (May-June or September) for a more relaxed pace and better deals on accommodations. Traffic congestion is also a reality in summer, especially on weekends and around "turnover day" (Saturday), when many rentals switch guests.

Avoid arriving or departing during peak hours (Friday afternoon-Sunday evening) if possible. When crossing the Cape Cod Canal, the Bourne Bridge is generally less crowded than the Sagamore Bridge. Note that the Outer Cape (Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet) tends to be less busy in summer than the Mid Cape (Hyannis, Dennis, Yarmouth). 

To make the most out of your experience, be sure to explore both the calmer waters of Cape Cod Bay and the dramatic waves of the Atlantic Ocean on the outer Cape. As far as potential day trips are concerned, Cape Cod offers a wealth of explorations. Consider exploring charming towns like Sandwich with its historic buildings and shops, or venture further to Martha's Vineyard for a taste of island life (ferries depart from Hyannis and Woods Hole in Falmouth, and take you to either Oak Bluffs or Edgartown).

History buffs will enjoy exploring the Plimoth Patuxet complex of living museums in Plymouth (near the base of the Cape) which offers a living history experience of early America. On rainy days, head over to Boston for a bounty of other historical explorations.

 

Above all, enjoy! A Cape Cod vacation is the perfect opportunity to unwind and soak up the charm of coastal New England. Disconnect from the daily grind, savor the fresh air, and create lasting memories on your summer adventure!

Conclusion

From lazy beach days to lively celebrations, Cape Cod promises an unforgettable summer experience. Our recommendation: Simply dive into our summer splendor! Sink your toes into warm sand, savor the bounty of the sea, and vibe with the summer energy of Cape Cod's festivals!

 

 

 

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