Cape Cod is one of those timeless destinations that still has the charm of decades past. Most of the hotels on the Cape are independently owned mom & pop operations and you won’t find many chain hotels. If you ask locals on where to find the best lobster roll and seafood on the Cape, each person will likely give you a different answer as loyalties run deep. Whether you’re staying in Sandwich (the first town on the Cape), Provincetown (the last town on the Cape), or any other town in between, a beautiful beach and amazing seafood are right around the corner. Here is our itinerary for our stay in Cape Cod:
Day 1: West Dennis Beach and Nauset Light Beach
West Dennis Beach was the first place we decided to stop once we crossed into Cape Cod. Since the beach faces Nantucket Sound, the water temperature here is much warmer than the beaches that face Cape Cod Bay to the north or the Atlantic Ocean to the east.
If you come between 9am and 4pm, parking costs $25 for the day and $75 for the week. Since we showed up at 4:30, the parking lot attendant waved us in and we didn’t have to pay. The sand is very clean and the beach doesn’t get terribly crowded. Unlike many other beaches in Cape Cod, I did not see any seals or shark warnings here. I’d still be very vigilant as prior summers have seen shark activity around this beach. The only flaw with West Dennis Beach versus the others I had visited on Cape Cod was the seaweed. It is definitely noticeable (see video below) and it could diminish your experience if you’re getting tangled in it while going for a swim.
Once we were done with West Dennis Beach, we headed to the town of Orleans to check into Skaket Beach Motel. I’ll have a separate review of this motel but it was a comfortable stay and located approximately half-way through Cape Cod. This made it convenient to visit nearby sites such as Cape Cod National Seashore and the various beaches along its coastline. Since we still had plenty of daylight left, we decided to go to Nauset Light Beach which is a part of Cape Cod National Seashore and run by the National Park Service. There are also 5 other beaches on the Cape that are part of Cape Cod National Seashore.
If you park in the lot before 4pm, it’s $20 to park but free thereafter. This is one of the most popular beaches along the National Seashore and the parking lot gets full rather quickly in the morning. Right across the parking lot and a short walk away is the famous Nauset Lighthouse, the logo on the bag of Cape Cod Potato Chips.
Nauset Beach was clean, well maintained, and really spacious if you wanted to spread out. From the shore, we were able to see three humpback whales a few hundred yards away and plenty of seals close to shore. This beach had seen seal predation by a Great White Shark 2 days before we arrived and another predation which occurred about 30 minutes after we had left when we came the second time. Lifeguards were not allowing swimmers to go in water beyond waist-deep. If you do decide to swim here and you see seals, you should probably get out of the water as the threat of being bitten or killed by a shark increases.
For dinner, we went to Arnold’s Lobster and Clam Bar. I got their fried cod sandwich called the “Fishwich” and my wife got the Fried Native Chatham Fish and Chips. Both were excellent and the great reviews we saw on Yelp were very accurate. Their onion rings were so good and they are very generous with the portions.
This place is very popular for dinner and we had to wait about 15 minutes in line that went out the door to place an order. They have indoor and outdoor seating, an ice-cream shop adjacent to the restaurant, and mini-golf right behind the restaurant. They have a big gravel parking lot and parking is pretty easy to find.
Day 2: Provincetown
On our second day in Cape Cod, we made the 30-minute drive north to Provincetown, one of the most vibrant and eclectic towns in all of the U.S. It has great food, great beaches, unique art galleries, and many interesting shops. The people are very friendly and the vibe all around just makes you feel like you’re welcomed.
Provincetown is home to 3 lighthouses and all of them require somewhat of a hike to get to. Due to its location on the Cape, Provincetown has two beaches (Herring Cove Beach and Racepoint Beach) which face west and offer magnificent sunsets. Both of these beaches are part of Cape Cod National Seashore and the same parking rates apply. If you have a parking ticket for any of the 6 beaches that are part of the National Seashore, you can go to any of the other beaches and park within the same day. This is a nice way to beach hop if you get an early start to the day.
First thing I wanted to do was cross over the breakwater to get as close as possible to Wood End Lighthouse. Full disclosure, I was inadequately prepared and I hope you learn from my mistake. I had slippers on rather than shoes and this made walking on the jagged breakwater rocks more difficult than it should have been. I also underestimated the effort required to walk on sand for long stretches once crossing over. The breakwater is over a mile long and the best time to start trekking over is early afternoon in low tide. If you don’t make it back before high tide, you could get stranded.
The breakwater jetty is much longer than it seems at first glance. At high tide, these rocks get submerged underwater.
Once you cross over to the other side, poison ivy is everywhere (another reason to wear shoes) and I certainly stepped on it a couple of times and felt the effects of it later. Since I didn’t carry water or a granola bar, I decided not to take a chance and continue much further towards the lighthouse.
This hike is definitely not toddler-friendly so my wife and 11-month old son explored the town while I hiked the breakwater. If you are driving into town, there is metered parking nearby and meter regulations are strictly enforced. I saw two cars with the dreaded orange envelope stuck on their windshields. I used the Park Boston app (it works for parking in Provincetown) to pay for the meter.
Right near the entrance to the breakwater is an interesting little park with benches called Pilgrims’ First Landing Park. This was the spot where the Pilgrims first arrived in America. This spot really evoked memories of 4th-grade social studies.
For dinner, we went to a very popular seafood restaurant in Provincetown called Lobster Pot.
I got the Lobster Rueben Sandwich and it was just as good as it looks. Had I stayed the night in Provincetown, I would have came back the following day to have the same thing again. It was that good.
After dinner, we made the short drive to Herring Cove Beach hoping to catch the sunset on what was mostly an overcast day. To put it mildly, we were not disappointed.
Seeing the sunset from Herring Cove Beach is one of the must-do things when visiting Cape Cod. I have never seen a sunset so beautiful within the contiguous 48 states. This was the absolute perfect way to end the day in Provincetown. If you go in the summer, bring a lot of mosquito repellant. They are savage around sunset time.
Day 3: Salt Pond, Marconi Beach, and Chatham
On our final day in Cape Cod, we started off by having brunch at a place called Hole In One in the town of Orleans. I had a Benedict called ‘The Green Monster” while my wife opted for the veggie omelet.
We headed over to the Salt Pond Visitor Center which is run by the National Park Service. Since we had a baby in tow in a stroller, we decided to do the 1.3 mile Nauset Marsh Trail, a loop trail which starts and ends at the Salt Pond Visitor Center. If you’re planning to do this trail with a stroller, there are a few things to keep in mind. First off, if your stroller does not have shock-absorbing springs, your child will have a very unpleasant time. The trail does get muddy at various points and if you have a stroller with small wheels, it might be a better idea to go with a baby carrier instead. There are a few points along the trail that have steps and you will be required to physically lift the stroller. It’s a very easy trail without a stroller but with it, it becomes a little more arduous. It can be done though and it was well worth it. Parking at the Visitor Center was free.
The trail itself offers beautiful views of the Salt Pond and is excellent for bird watching.
One of the 6 beaches that’s part of Cape Cod National Seashore, we came here because the parking lot at Nauset Light Beach was completely filled and cars were being turned away. This beach was just as good as that one and not as crowded. The water here was a chilly 60 degrees but it didn’t stop people from taking a dip. There were shark warnings at this beach as well and I didn’t see many people swim beyond waist-deep water. The beach was very clean and well maintained. The sand was nice and soft and my son had a blast playing in it. You are allowed to bring dogs to the beach as long as you keep them leashed.
After we were done with Marconi Beach, we decided to go to Chatham to see the beautiful Chatham Lighthouse. On the way, we made a stop in Orleans to see the Jonathan Young Mill. This was originally constructed in 1720 and has been restored through the donations and labor of volunteers.
Chatham was our final stop in Cape Cod before we were on our way back home. We wanted to catch a glimpse of the Chatham Lighthouse and all its splendor. This lighthouse was actually constructed as a pair. The second lighthouse was moved to Eastham and is now the Nauset Beach Lighthouse (pictured under Day 1). The house next to Chatham Lighthouse is an active Coast Guard station and living quarters for on-duty personnel.
This marked the conclusion of our trip. By no means was this a comprehensive list of places to see in Cape Cod. There is so much more to see and many activities you can do. You would certainly need several more days to experience everything. The whale watching experience in nearby Plymouth is an activity we did a few years back and it allowed us to see humpback whales up close. If you’re into cycling, the Cape Cod Rail Trail is a paved bikeway that runs about 25 miles from South Dennis to Wellfleet. There are many points of interests along the way. There are other beaches which I have not listed that are also worth seeing. Cape Cod is very kid-friendly and family-friendly and a perfect destination to make a family trip. As always, thanks for reading.