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The Best Towns On Cape Cod For Every Type of Vacation

by Alex DiBacco
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towns on cape cod // towns in cape cod // cape cod towns and villages

As someone who grew up in Massachusetts, I’ve always known my favorite towns on Cape Cod. I go to Chatham for a classic preppy vacation and Provincetown for outdoor parades and a great lobster roll, but those of you who haven’t spent a lot of time on the Cape might not automatically know these things.

If you’ve never been to Cape Cod, then the first thing you should know is that you’ll 100% need a car. Many people have the misconception that the Cape is a small community. In actuality, it’s over 65 miles long.

Even though the Cape is huge, all of the towns on Cape Cod are technically a part of Barnstable County.

Each Cape Cod town is very distinct and has a specific flavor. You’ll want to plan where you’re going ahead of time, because you won’t necessarily get to see each of the towns in Cape Cod unless you plan on driving all day!

The more I’ve talked to friends outside of the state, the more I’ve realized that this misconception could put some serious strain on a vacation, especially if you haven’t read up on the towns and have no idea where to go.

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I also realized that there aren’t a lot of guides out there that actually lay out the differences between each town.

I’m sure you’re looking for more than  just a few sentences about the best beach in each town, so I’m hoping this will give you a specific idea of where you’ll want to go and what you’ll want to do there!

Bourne

At the very beginning of the Cape sits Bourne, a town best known for surrounding the Cape Cod Canal.

Buzzards Bay, Bournedale, and Sagamore Beach are on the north side of the Canal; a few more rural villages (Gray Gables, Monument Beach, Pocasset, and Cataumet) are on the south side.

While there aren’t many hotels or much of a downtown in Bourne, there are plenty of vacation rentals and a few beaches for those of you who don’t want to cross the bridge.

The Cape Cod Canal stretches for 7+ miles throughout Bourne and is great for running, biking, fishing, boating, and picnicing.

The Bourne Bridge and the Sagamore Bridge are how you’ll make it across to the rest of the towns on Cape Cod.

Highlights:

  • Bourne Bridge
  • Riverside/canal bike trail
  • Easier to get to without lots of traffic
  • The beginning of Cape Cod

Falmouth

towns on cape cod // towns in cape cod // cape cod towns and villages

My boyfriend grew up in Falmouth and is super partial to it (seriously, don’t get him going – he can talk about the town for hours!) but I have to agree that it’s one of the most well-rounded towns on Cape Cod.

First off, Falmouth is one of the easiest Cape Cod towns to get to. There isn’t usually a lot of traffic (with the exception of traffic on the bridges) because it’s right across the way.

Main Street is cute and historical without being over the top. You’ll definitely experience a New England vibe that doesn’t feel too elitist, unlike some other traditional New England towns.

Shopping is plentiful, and you’ll find preppier stores like Lilly Pulitzer and the Black Dog alongside trendy boutiques, high end galleries, knick-knack shops, and even fun activities for kids like candlepin bowling.

The Nobska Lighthouse is pretty famous and is worth a stop. Old Silver Beach is a super famous beach within Cape Cod towns as well.

Woods Hole is a separate area in Falmouth that’s right on the water and has a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard as well as a free aquarium, a big marina, and lots of restaurants and shops right on the water.

Overall, Falmouth is great for a little bit of everything. The nightlife is fun and there’s lots for young adults to do but there’s also many family-friendly activities. The vibe is upscale but approachable, and you can fit in whether you’re boho or preppy.

Highlights:

  • Super close to the bridge and easy to get to
  • Lots of waterfront areas for beaching, boating, and water activities
  • Multiple “downtown” areas
  • Upscale but very approachable
  • One of the most well-rounded towns on the Cape

Sandwich

Sandwich is a quiet but beautiful town with a small center. If you want to stroll quietly through nature, hit up antique shops, or check out the Sandwich boardwalk, then this is the best place to be.

A small and cozy town any time of the year, Sandwich is perfect for those of you who want a super peaceful Cape Cod experience. 

The Heritage Museums & Gardens are one of the main attractions in Sandwich, showcasing gorgeous blooms through the summer. There’s over 100 acres of grounds that you can walk!

Highlights:

  • Quiet and remote
  • The Heritage Museums & Gardens with colorful blooms
  • The Cape Cod Canal
  • Antique Shopping

Mashpee

Although Mashpee isn’t what visitors consider a typical Cape Cod vacation, the town does have a great shopping center.

There are well-known stores like Vineyard Vines (the first actual brick-and-mortar location), Talbots, and Williams Sonoma, as well as local brands such as Puritan Cape Cod and Setting the Space Interiors.

Cape Cod Coffee is also based in Mashpee and is definitely worth a visit! While I don’t recommend staying here, Mashpee is a great town to spend an afternoon on a rainy day.

Highlights:

  • Lots of amazing shopping
  • Well-known and loved Cape Cod coffee
  • Perfect for a rainy afternoon

Hyannis

Although Hyannis is probably the most well-known of the towns on Cape Cod, it isn’t a spot I’d really recommend.

Hyannis first became popular for hosting the Kennedy family, and still has a museum to commemorate, but other than that it’s basically a strip mall.

Main Street does have a lot of shops and restaurants, but it won’t have the classic Cape Cod feel that you’re probably hoping for. If you do stop by, Main Street is really the only attraction you’ll want to check out.

Hyannis is a type of center for all of Cape Cod, so it has some fun attractions like the Cape Cod Melody Tent, which offers live performances during the summer.

Highlights:

  • Historical with a museum dedicated to JFK
  • Lots of shopping and restaurants
  • The Cape Cod Melody Tent
  • A hot spot for visitors due to the information center and ferries

Dennis/Yarmouth

Dennis is known as one of the most traditional, All-American Cape Cod towns.

West Dennis and Dennisport have a more vacation-like feel that you probably imagine when you think of Cape Cod. There’s lots of seaside hotels, lobster shacks, and water-sports. 

Dennis Village and East Dennis are much more relaxed and well-suited for vacation rentals rather than hotels.

There are lots of fun dinner options in the area. Both of these towns especially bloom in the summer. There’s 16 beaches in Dennis alone, as well as two additional freshwater beaches!

Whether you want to hit the beach, go fishing, participate in some water spots, head to a vintage cinema, eat some fresh New England seafood, or just spend a family vacation exploring a traditional Cape Cod town, this is the best spot to do it.

Yarmouth is located right next to Dennis and is much more of a residential town, so if you stay in Yarmouth, you’re likely to spend a lot of your time in Dennis.

Highlights:

  • A bustling area with a lively waterfront
  • Tons of fresh seafood restaurants 
  • Over 16 beaches with many water activities available
  • The best place to stay for those wanting a lively vacation or families

Chatham/Harwich

towns on cape cod // towns in cape cod // cape cod towns and villages

Chatham is one of my favorite towns on the Cape. It’s bustling but small and quaint, and it has a distinctly old world preppy feel that I sometimes want to experience in the summer.

If you’re after true New England prep that’s reminiscent of the Kennedy family, head to Chatham, not Hyannis. Times have definitely changed and Chatham is the place to be for classic yuppies.

The community is small but super upscale.  Some popular landmarks include the Chatham lighthouse, the Fish Market, the Chatham Bars Inn, and the Wequassett (you can check out my full review of the resort here).

Chatham has a super cute downtown with really high end stores like Mahi Gold, Vineyard Vines, Lilly Pulitzer, and other preppy spots.

towns on cape cod // towns in cape cod // cape cod towns and villages

The Chatham Candy Manor is always fun for kids!

There are some cool events around Chatham in the summer, such as live music in the park on Friday nights and the Cape Cod Baseball League games, but there won’t be constant entertainment.

If you’re looking for the true classic Cape Cod vacation, Chatham is your spot.

Highlights:

  • Small but bustling
  • Quaint, old-time preppy feel
  • A modest downtown with classic boutiques and stores
  • Limited restaurants, but the ones that are available are well-known
  • Stunning hotels and plenty of homes for rent

Orleans

Orleans is one of the smallest towns in Cape Cod and is super quaint. It is mostly known for Nauset Beach, which stretches all along the town of Orleans.

There are exceptionally gorgeous beaches in Orleans (including Nauset Beach) as well as stunning forest areas. 

The small center has a bit of shopping and a few galleries as well as amazing fresh seafood. There are occasionally live performances in the super tiny but cute theater district. 

Orleans also boasts a good amount of World War II history for any of you who want to dive deeper.

Highlights:

  • Very small and quiet
  • Beautiful beaches and forests
  • Well-known for Nauset Beach
  • A little but sweet downtown
  • Known for residents, not tourists

Eastham

Eastham is also quieter and more residential, but it is known for Nauset Light, a gorgeous well-known Instagram spot and the inspiration for the Cape Cod Potato Chips logo!

Over 300 years ago, the Pilgrims actually had their first meeting with the Native American tribe in the area, so there’s definitely a good bit of old history in Eastham. 

There aren’t many lodging options besides AirBnB, so you’ll end up having more of a local experience if you stay here.

Highlights:

  • “Frozen in time”
  • Historical significance from the time of the Pilgrims
  • Nauset Light is a well-known landmark
  • Very residential and quiet
  • Not many hotels in the area

Wellfleet

Tranquil and beautiful, Wellfleet is one of the best Cape Cod towns for those who enjoy absolute solitude. 

There is a super small downtown area that has insanely fresh seafood, including some great raw dishes.

The biggest draw for tourists is the drive-in movie theater that’s located in Wellfleet. It’s a rare throwback to Grease that’s hard to find in other areas of New England!

Highlights:

  • A great vacation for a solo traveler in need of peace
  • A small downtown area
  • Fresh, raw seafood restaurants
  • The famous drive-in movie theater

Truro

Although Truro is quiet and remote, it’s also well-known for having the absolute best beaches on Cape Cod.

Truro is bordered by Provincetown and Wellfleet, meaning it’s far out on the arm of the Cape and will take a few hours to drive to from the bridge.

Truro is mostly known as the best place for a quiet, relaxing beach vacation. The town also offers a lot of other outdoor activities such as hiking. If you’re staying in Truro but want a little extra excitement for a night, it’s a quick jump to the next-door town, Provincetown.

Although Truro is on the quieter side, there are some activities available that are mostly fun for adults, such as a vineyard tour and wine tasting, galleries, sunsets on the Bay, and a few excellent restaurants.

Highlights:

  • The beaches!
  • Truro vineyards
  • A great spot for a quiet vacation with a few fun options
  • Right next door to Provincetown

Provincetown

towns on cape cod // towns in cape cod // cape cod towns and villages

Provincetown is a unique town that’s hard to describe. I grew up thinking it was called P-town (my dad is a fisherman) and it’s still nicknamed this.

It’s located at the far northern tip of Cape Cod. It’s about 63 miles from either the Bourne or Sagamore Bridge. While the drive takes a while to get all the way out there, it’s totally worth it!

There’s a huge LGTB community in Provincetown, but it’s really very inclusive and friendly towards everyone; Provincetown is great for kids as well. Everyone is welcome!

towns on cape cod // towns in cape cod // cape cod towns and villages

There are lots of daytime activities as well as super vibrant nightlife. The downtown is packed with cute, tiny shops, restaurants, and bars.

The vibe is very free-spirited and fun! It’s a totally different feel from many of the classic Cape Cod towns listed above.

There are lots of art galleries, interesting shops (I personally love the candy store and Puzzle Me This for a good game), constant parades, and absolutely amazing seafood.

Provincetown gets insanely packed in the summer but dies down in the winter to a huge extent. While it’s still beautiful and full of history, you won’t experience the same vibrant excitement.

towns on cape cod // towns in cape cod // cape cod towns and villages

Commercial Street is the main drag where you’ll find hotels, shops, restaurants, and all of the parades and festivals.

On the water, there’s tons of cute lobster and surf shacks that offer amazing views as well as the best seafood around.

towns on cape cod // towns in cape cod // cape cod towns and villages

towns on cape cod // towns in cape cod // cape cod towns and villages

I sometimes think that the vibe is Provincetown is the most vacation-like in New England. You’ll hear music or see an outdoor deck that looks like Key West, but the buildings will have shingles and sport quintessential New England Decor.

Highlights:

  • Inclusive for everyone!
  • Really alive and fun: lots of parades and festivals
  • It gets super packed in the summer
  • Lots of places to stay, restaurants, shops, bars, etc.
  • All the way out on the tip of Cape Cod

I hope this guide helps you figure out where you’ll enjoy visiting! Feel free to reach out with any additional questions before your travels!

xo, Alex

 

 

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