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Gloucester, Massachusetts
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Foxboro, Massachusetts
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Bellingham, Massachusetts

Spotlight: Cape Cod

Set up camp in a perennial vacation destination

Stretching outward into the Atlantic from the easternmost end of Massachusetts, Cape Cod has been a popular summer getaway since the late 1800s. Its long coastline and favorable climate, which is less extreme than the rest of the surrounding areas, make it a perennial magnet for tourism. There are 15 towns in total, along with nearly 600 miles of coastline and around 60 public beaches.

The area known as Cape Cod is divided into multiple sections. The Upper Cape is the part closest to mainland Massachusetts and includes the towns of Bourne, Sandwich, Mashpee and Falmouth. Further east, the Mid-Cape has a warmer climate and is home to Barnstable, Yarmouth and Dennis. The beaches here are a little warmer, and there’s more commercial activity in the Mid-Cape than anywhere else. The rest of the Cape is called the Outer Cape, or Lower Cape, and includes the legendary islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Explore the region’s many trails, roads or bike paths, or find a quiet beach and relax in the sand.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Upper Cape

The Upper Cape town of Mashpee was predominantly a Wampanoag Indian town until the 1960s, and visitors interested in the tribe’s history won’t want to miss the Wampanoag Indian Museum. The town is also home to the Cape Cod Children’s Museum, which boasts a planetarium and other attractions for children of all ages. Outdoorsy folk can go hiking in the 2,000- acre Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve or go freshwater fishing at Lowell Holly, home to the Mashpee and Wakeby ponds and huge stands of holly. Falmouth is best known for its road race held every August. Within Falmouth, the village of Woods Hole has great sportfishing, cute old buildings, and a marvelous aquarium with an outdoor sea pool and free admission for all.

The Mid-Cape

The Mid-Cape is the commercial hub of Cape Cod and is a starting-off point for whale-watching cruises. The West Barnstable Train Station is open on Saturdays in spring through late fall and has numerous exhibits tracing the railroad history in the area. There are also plenty of beaches in the area, especially around the town of Dennis.

The Outer Cape

Sometimes called the Lower Cape, the Outer Cape boasts ample attractions. The town of Truro is home to Highland Light Station, the oldest lighthouse on the peninsula, and its adjacent museum features old relics from the Cape’s whaling industry. Eastham has many more lighthouses and is the start of many hiking and biking trails. Wellfleet contains plenty of old-time charm, from the town’s old drive-in theater to the Preservation Hall, a 1910 church that’s been restored and transformed into a community center.

Provincetown, at the very tip of the Cape, has long attracted artists who come here for its gorgeous views and bohemian atmosphere. Commercial Street is full of art galleries and history lovers will enjoy the Provincetown Museum, with exhibitions on Pilgrim history. Another fascinating attraction is the Provincetown Library, which houses a half-scale model of a fishing schooner. The 66-foot-long replica is based on the Rose Dorothea, a vessel built in 1905 that was known for its speed.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Martha’s Vineyard

Just seven miles off of peninsular Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard is a popular vacation spot for East Coasters during the summer months. The island was once inhabited only by the indigenous Wampanoag people, and many still live there today. In the 17th century, Europeans settled on the island, and it became a hub for the whaling industry in the 19th century. It would later become a popular spot for celebrities and well-heeled vacationers, who are drawn in by the island’s gorgeous beaches and quaint towns.

Nature lovers will love the colorful clay Gay Head Cliffs and the elegantly manicured Japanese-style Mytoi Garden. History buffs can learn more about the island at Martha’s Vineyard Museum or simply wander through the charming lanes of the colonial town of Edgartown. The quaint dollhouselike Gingerbread Cottages in Oaks Bluff are popular with kids and adults alike, and Riverhead Field is a great spot for families to try their hand at disc golfing. It’s worth the ferry ride to get to this charming getaway.


Nantucket’s population swells in the summer months when wealthy New Englanders descend en masse upon the quaint island 30 miles off the Massachusetts coast. Popular island activities include sunbathing, shopping, cycling and trying out the local cuisine. The island also has plenty of 19th-century buildings, many of which sprung up during Nantucket’s heyday as a center for the whaling industry. Popular attractions include the Brant Point Lighthouse, which was originally built back in 1746. The history of whaling is explained in depth at the Nantucket Whaling Museum, and those interested in shipwrecks may want to stop by the Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum. Children and adults can take advantage of the ecology education programs offered by the Maria Mitchell Association, and early risers won’t want to miss the glorious sunrises over the island’s eastern shore at Siasconset Beach.

See the island on a two wheeler. The many smooth bike paths found on Nantucket are safe for cyclists of all skill levels. Hiking trails also wind throughout the region. The Barn Walk Trail, a 3 mile round trip, takes walkers to panoramic vistas that overlook Cisco Beach. During your journey, keep an eye out for nesting Ospreys.

If you’re a fan of flowers, you can visit one of the local farms that cultivate colorful blooms. Check out Moors End Farm, a 28-acre property that sells flowers along with sweet corn, tomatoes and annuals.

Before you leave, don’t forget to pick up a pair of Nantucket Reds, the island’s famous rust-hued shorts, at Murray’s Toggery Shop.

For More Information

Cape Cod Convention & Visitors Bureau
Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism