15 Reasons Why We Love Cape Cod: Things to Do

Small-town band concerts, old-fashioned ballpark thrills, whale-watching adventures, and more. Here are some of our favorite things to do on Cape Cod.

By Yankee Magazine

Apr 10 2019


Humpback whales at sunset.

Photo Credit : Eric Kulin
There are so many reasons to make a summer escape to the Cape and Islands, in fact, that we filled more than two dozen pages of Yankee’s May/June issue with a selection of our favorites, including things to eat and things to see. Here’s a look at some of our favorite things to do on Cape Cod.

Favorite Things to Do on Cape Cod

Players for the Orleans Firebirds, one of the 10 teams of college stars in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
Photo Credit : Alex Gagne

Catching the Action on a Field of Dreams

As twilight descends, the glow of stadium lights marks the fields where teams from 10 towns play in the Cape Cod Baseball League, the country’s elite summer league for college players. They are the chosen ones, the best of the best, each athlete on the cusp of a dream to one day play under the lights at a major league park. And the drama is real: More than 300 current and former MLB players spent at least one summer on the Cape, including Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell and Carlton Fisk and current Red Sox stars Chris Sale, Jackie Bradley Jr., and last year’s World Series MVP, Steven Pearce. The games are free, and you may even end up sitting beside a scout whose judgment could determine a young man’s future. The players know each game is an audition, and you are close enough to see the dream play out on their faces. Best for families: Each team holds youth clinics throughout the summer where youngsters can begin their own dream. 


Cruising the Dunes

What Art Costa launched more than seven decades ago with a 1936 Ford Woody, son Rob still runs today (albeit with modern SUVs) as the only company permitted to give driving tours of the Cape Cod National Seashore. Based in Provincetown, Art’s Dune Tours offers a variety of outings with guides who are steeped in local history and ecology. Put another way: You’ll get your Instagram photos, but you’ll also come to appreciate what inspired Art Costa so many years ago.


Tours That Make a Big Splash

Six miles out to sea from Provincetown lies Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, a massive nutrient-rich mesa that offers a smorgasbord for humpbacks, finbacks, and minkes. From spring to fall you can see these gentle giants up close on a whale-watch tour departing from Nantucket, Hyannis, or P-town (home to Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch, which lays claim to being the originator of East Coast whale watching).

Humpback whales at sunset.
Photo Credit : Eric Kulin


There’s No Better Place to Dip a Paddle

Each of Cape Cod’s 15 towns has lovely and diverse places to kayak, but one spot rises to the top: the protected, calm waters of Pleasant Bay and Nauset Marsh. From swooping seabirds to vibrant green marsh grasses and endless barrier beaches, the view changes with each passing hour. (Pay attention to the tide, though—you don’t want to get caught too far out when it ebbs.) The experts at Goose Hummock in Orleans are a go-to for navigational advice, kayak rentals, and instruction. Parking is limited at the town landings in Orleans and Eastham, but it’s free.


The Gifts of the Glaciers

On a map of Cape Cod, blue swatches are everywhere you look. These are kettle ponds, the legacy of glaciers that scoured the land thousands of years ago. Clear and mostly shallow, these pleasingly warm respites from ocean waves are often tucked into woods and require a walk or a bike ride, or even a paddle, to reach. There are supposedly 365 kettle ponds—Nickerson State Park alone has eight, while Wellfleet and Truro claim nearly 20—but you need only discover your favorite. Ask for recommendations at town information booths, and you’ll soon see a whole new side to Cape Cod.

Kettle ponds inset like gems in the Cape landscape.
Photo Credit : Mark Fleming


A Supremely Snackable Tour

When backseat munchkins beg for bags of chips, you can give them something better: a whole factory filled with dancing potato slices. Monday through Friday year-round, self-guided tours of the Cape Cod Potato Chips factory in Hyannis demystify the process that transforms potatoes into all-natural, crunchable delights before they hip-hop along conveyor belts and into bags. Best of all for families on a budget, tours and samples are free.


Hanging at the Drive-in

Having first flickered to life in 1957, the Wellfleet Drive-in Theatre is a time capsule, yes, but still very much an essential part of summer. Finding the right parking spot is an art form, as is the proper beach chair and picnic setup. People mill around, tossing Frisbees and footballs, and hitting up the concession stand. Then dusk descends, and a community of strangers comes together to watch a very big screen against the night sky. Forget streaming services and multiplexes: The best moviegoing experience on the Cape still happens at the Wellfleet.


A Bike Trail as Beautiful as America’s Song

A 10.7-mile paved trail from Woods Hole to North Falmouth, the spectacular Shining Sea Bikeway traverses unspoiled beaches, cranberry bogs, harbors, marshes, and bird sanctuaries and offers spectacular views of Vineyard Sound. Named in honor of Falmouth native Katharine Lee Bates, composer of “America the Beautiful,” the trail evokes the last line of her song: “from sea to shining sea.” Park at the Falmouth trailhead at Depot Avenue, take a glorious spur trail from Woods Hole to Sippewissett, and make a tiny detour to Nobska Light, commanding a perfect picnicking perch.

A family biking moment on the Shining Sea Bikeway near Woods Hole.
Photo Credit : Dan Cutrona


It’s Even Prettier from Above

Take off from the grass runway of Cape Cod Airfield in Marstons Mills aboard a replica 1930s biplane, or if you prefer, depart from Provincetown Airport in a renovated original biplane from 1940. Either way, you are in for an unparalleled perspective on the Cape’s history and landscape—and with a little luck, you may even spy a whale or two amid the sparkling waves offshore. Tours range from 15 minutes to half an hour or more. For a special treat, schedule a sunset ride.


Watching the Catch Come In at the Chatham Fish Pier

Get a front seat to the hustle and bustle of the small-boat fishing industry—not to mention a sweeping harbor view—as the daily catch is unloaded at the Chatham Fish Pier. Seasoned fishermen called pier hosts” are usually stationed at the observation deck, ready to chat with visitors, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Fridays through Mondays. And talk about local flavor: Right next door is the Chatham Fish Pier Market, which serves some of the best chowder we’ve ever tasted.


Ah, Those Links to Childhood

Looking much the same today as it did in the 1950s or ’60s—or will do, years into the future—a summer day at a mini golf course is part sport, part performance art, as players of all ages do battle with kitschy windmills and lighthouses. Cape Cod is mini golf central, offering over a dozen courses that differ wildly in theme and scope. But at each, the heart of the game remains: children clutching little clubs, parents holding scorecards with a stubby pencil tucked behind an ear. And the magical moment when the ball disappears into a hole with a single stroke? A giddy joy that never gets old.

Among the Cape’s many mini-golf hot spots: Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf in South Yarmouth.
Photo Credit : Mark Fleming


Old-School Summer Band Concerts

It’s all about claiming a prime spot for Friday night concerts by the Chatham Band. At 5:15—nearly three hours before the music starts—we set our chairs on the rim of the grassy bowl in Kate Gould Park. Below us is a crazy quilt of beach blankets around a traditional white bandstand. Nobody’s here, because after you anchor your blanket or unfold your chairs, you’re all set till showtime. Time to grab dinner on Main Street.

Two hours later, the park is packed with families, and new arrivals are claiming their spaces on the far hillside. We see youngsters fencing with light sabers, and girls turning cartwheels on a strip of unblanketed grass. We see teenagers—yes, teenagers—unpacking their coolers, taking selfies, and eating to-go burgers and fries.

On town commons across New England, summer band concerts were once the ultimate in unplugged entertainment. On Cape Cod, they still are. If the weather holds, you can see six town bands—Harwich, Barnstable, Sandwich, Brewster, Chatham, and Falmouth—in just eight days. You’ll hear marches, Broadway showstoppers, pop tunes, classical hits, and big band spectaculars. All outdoors, accompanied by the setting sun, under the gaze of gliding great gulls. Many musicians, all volunteers, play in more than one band, and within each ensemble you’ll find musical families: couples, kids, parents, grandparents.

In Chatham, the crowds have been coming since the summer of 1932 (with a few years off, when many band members were serving in WWII). While most summer bands tend toward khakis and polo shirts, the Chatham Band dresses up in spiffy blue and gold peaked caps and crisp red jackets—a tribute to the Red Men’s Hall, where they were granted free rehearsal space in the late 1930s.

This most venerable of summer bands opens with its own theme song: “It’s Band Time in Chatham.” Conductor Tom Jahnke, sporting a deep blue jacket festooned with gold buttons—an homage to John Philip Sousa—strikes up the band. Some of the regulars sing along. There must be a thousand of us here, and there’s an electric energy in the air. When it’s time for the first march-around, a few hundred concertgoers join the parade. (A march-around is exactly what it sounds like: Holding the hands of any affiliated children, you high-step it around the bandstand.) Tonight, and every Friday, we can count on two march-arounds, two dance-arounds, and a bunny hop. The program changes weekly—everything from Mary Poppins to Bruno Mars. But wait, here’s a remarkable debut: “My Shot” from Hamilton, featuring rapper J.P. Sousa, aka Tom Jahnke.

The Chatham Band closes every concert with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” But just before the patriotic finale, Jahnke thanks everyone for coming. “That feeling you are feeling now is Chatham Band love,” he says, suggesting we hold on to it all week. Will it last that long? I’m not sure. But rising for the national anthem, I know this: To feel the love, you have to show up early. —Kate Whouley


Outside-the-Box Stores

Atlantic Spice Company, North Truro: Discover a literal world of herbs and spices (more than 250 in all, from Egyptian chamomile to Greek oregano) at wholesale prices. Bird Watcher’s General Store, Orleans: One of the first-ever birding specialty stores (c. 1983), this place has gear, gifts, guidance—and a great sense of humor. Cape Cod Beach Chair Company, Harwich: Outside: a selfie-ready 10-foot-tall beach chair. Inside: scaled-down but equally impressive handcrafted wood-framed seaside seating. Marine Specialties, Provincetown: This vast space isn’t so much stocked as encrusted with eclectic wares that span decades: military surplus, world flags, dishes, flip-flops…. Allow plenty of time to take it all in. Dr. Gravity’s Kite Shop, Harwich Port: Here’s your one-stop not only for every kind of kite—sport, parafoil, box, delta, diamond—but also for beach supplies and toys. (Plus: candy!)


Jam-Packed Summer Stages

From the birthplace of modern American theater (the Provincetown Playhouse), to the storied stage where Henry Fonda and Bette Davis first honed their acting chops (the Cape Playhouse in Dennis), to the nation’s only continuously operated theaters in the round (the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis and the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset), the Cape’s wealth of venues are just the ticket for visiting culture vultures.


There’s Always Something to Do

From the pounding drums of the Mashpee Wampanoag Powwow (July 5–7) to the pounding feet of the Falmouth Road Race (August 18), from the floral delights of the Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival (July 12–21) to the aural delights of Pops by the Sea (August 11), the Cape summer is chock-full of can’t-miss events. See our full list of 2019 calendar highlights:Top Summer Events on Cape Cod

More Yankee Cape & Islands Love: 63 Reasons Why We Love the Cape & Islands