Things to do in Cape Cod:
Cape Cod is fantastic! It’s a 65-mile long peninsula off of Massachusetts filled with northeastern rugged beauty – sandy beaches, piney trees, small and winding lanes, mom-and-pop shops, fishing, boating, weathered shingled siding homes, historical stone fences, and an abundance of laid back charm. Fun fact: Cape Cod actually has cod fish off of its coast! The cod population was almost fished out, but now there are blocked off areas where the fish can thrive and rejuvenate themselves.
My favorite area in Cape Cod is Falmouth as it has all the alluring aspects of The Cape right there including the National Seashore, lighthouses, historical homes and buildings, a well-kept and thriving downtown full of shops and local restaurants! Plus the proximity to the scientific community of Woods Hole with an aquarium and tours of the oceanographic institute, as well as ferries to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, are other bonuses.
Wood Neck Beach
My favorite beach is in Falmouth also – Wood Neck Beach. It’s a warm water beach with a salt water river that runs perpendicular to it. In the furthest area from the ocean, during low tide, there are tide pools for discovering the littlest crabs, minnows and barnacles. There is also a natural lazy river that pushes you along from the marsh to the beach. The beach and river area are rocky, so wear water shoes.
A nice day in Falmouth includes a visit to the 1756 city center “village green” to hit the local shops and restaurants (I recommend Pickle Jar Kitchen for lunch) and a walk by/in the historical homes (including stately former captain’s homes) at the eastern end of Main Street. The Falmouth main public library has free parking, and it’s located right smack in the middle of the village green.
Cape Cod National Seashore
Next take a 1/2 mile lovely drive (or walk) from the center of Falmouth, to the south, on Shore Street which leads right to the seashore. There will be several beaches where you can enjoy the sand and surf with rocky piers and views of Martha’s Vineyard.
Continue south for 3 miles on Shore St/Surf Dr/Beach Rd/Oyster Pond Rd (road name changes) to the beautiful and iconic Nobska Lighthouse. Park right at the lighthouse, but if parking is full then park along the road just south of the lighthouse. Don’t forget to walk across the street for views of the Vineyard Sound! Fun fact: Nobska Light has helped ships navigate through treacherous waters for 192 years. If a ship is near a shoal, the crew will see a red light from Nobska. When the ship is correctly navigating, the crew will see a white light.
Continue 1.5 miles south to Woods Hole which is a very cool village known as the world center for marine, biomedical, and environmental science. It is the home of the Marine Biological Laboratory and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The Woods Hole Aquarium provides insight about all the marine animals right there in local waters. If you need a pit stop, Pie in the Sky is an adorable coffee/breakfast/lunch location right in Woods Hole. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is all about ocean research and has a visitor center and free informative walking tours during the summer.
Cape Cod Winery. Time to try local wine tasting (they have “flights”) with outdoor seating in a woodsy setting at the Cape Cod Winery. Sometimes they have yoga in the vineyards too!
Worked up an appetite for the “best of” pizzeria on Cape Cod? Lucky that it’s right in Falmouth! It’s the friendliest, tastiest, little pizza joint around. Seriously, it is THE BEST PIZZA ANYWHERE. The secret? I know it, but I can’t tell. Family secret. I highly recommended dining in, as there is a lively and fun atmosphere, a wood bar, table shuffle board, a little fun shopping section, and a dough making viewing area. Plus they have a small bar and serve wine, beer and some fun, canned, fancy cocktails. Here’s a quick look at the menu as there are more options like wings, subs and salads. But, really, try the pizza: menu here.
Not only is this place a historic location, but it has beautiful, free, and well-maintained hiking trails around the property that includes majestic Beech trees. If you’re into mushroom foraging (it’s a new and exciting thing for me) then you’ll be blown away by the enormous species found here. However, if you frown upon mushrooms and all that fungi stuff, then never fear as you will not even notice them as you hike along the beautiful trails. There are many cool events at Highfield Hall also.
Love biking through history? Then the 10.7 mile paved Shining Sea Bikeway will be right up your alley and you can go from North Falmouth right down to Woods Hole on a former railway line! The flat trail meanders along the seaside, wooded areas, cedar swamps, a cranberry bog, and farms. Bike rentals at the northern starting point are: Art’s Bike Shop and Bike Zone of Cape Cod. Start your ride in North Falmouth (set your navigator to Depot Road in North Falmouth for the starting point. The location is at the corner of County Road and Depot Road (also called Pine Street). Then bike to Woods Hole and back! Note that you can also walk along this bikeway.
This 3.5-4 hour cruise is about a 40 minute drive from the center of Falmouth. In the summer months and shoulder seasons they cruise out to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and into Cape Cod Bay. There are a large variety of whales waiting to see you out there: Humpback, Fin/Finback, Minke, North Atlantic Right, Sei, Long Finned Pilot. Also many types of dolphin!
This is a quick, inexpensive and easy way to be out on Nantucket Sound and learn the history and landmarks of the area with live commentary (which I so enjoy). Some interesting tid bits about the Kennedys and the Kennedy compound also. Get tickets for the cruise online ahead of time as cruises get canceled or times change. The location of the cruise is at the Hyannis Harbor which is part of the Kennedy Heritage Trail – it goes past a number of local sights connected to JFK. There are some nice seaside restaurants at the harbor as well as artist shanties – small colorful houses with local artists in attendance. There are also large boats docked on the wharf with charters available.
Duke’s Donut Worx, Mashpee
For the most delicious and creative donuts on all of Cape Cod – hit up Duke’s Donuts in Mashpee Commons – an open air shopping center that’s all New England-y style. Duke’s has a delightful proprietary blend of smooth coffee and mouth-watering artistic donuts that will work for everyone. New flavors each month!
**Falmouth is on the southern side of Cape Cod, about an hour and 1/2 from two major airports: Providence, Rhode Island and Boston Logan. From Logan, the Peter Pan Bus Line offers direct service to Falmouth and Woods Hole. Note that many attractions, restaurants and accommodations are only open during the summer and shoulder seasons.
Things to do in Martha’s Vineyard
Martha’s Vineyard is a pretty big island (26 miles long/9 miles wide) right off the coast of Cape Cod. There are no chain anythings on the island – restaurants, stores, etc. so it maintains that local flavor. Martha’s Vineyard has woods, fields, hillsides, and the beautiful Aquinnah cliffs. Plus 5 lighthouses! Spoiler alert: there are no vineyards and thus no wineries. But there are breweries to ease your pain.
How to get to Martha’s Vineyard:
Getting to Martha’s Vineyard is a quick 30-45 minute ferry from Woods Hole. No reservation needed unless you are taking a car. Bikes can also be transported. Note that you have to park at the designated location and take a free bus to the ferry. Arrive at the parking lot area an hour before your planned ferry departure. Don’t try to park in downtown Woods Hole, because it’s a 3 hour limit on the meters. The ferry will bring you to either Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs. There is a bit more to do/see in Oak Bluffs vs. Vineyard Haven, but it’s easy to move around on the Vineyard, so this is not a make/break factor. When you depart the ferry onto Martha’s Vineyard there will be a small visitor’s center booth with a live person to help you figure out where to go.
Getting around on Martha’s Vineyard:
On Martha’s Vineyard, there are some options for getting around. The ferry will let you off in a large town and you can always meander around there for a while, but for a larger perspective of the island you can rent bikes, rent a moped, take a tour bus, take a public bus or rent a car.
Bike rentals are seemingly everywhere. For some good tips on bike trails and routes- see here. I can attest to the absolute beauty of the route on the barrier island from Edgartown to Oak Bluffs and how fun it is to cross the “Jaws’ bridge.”
The public bus system (Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority) is a reliable way to see a good part of the island. They have put together a how-to get-around-in-one-day link. I found that it wasn’t quite as easy as they make it sound, but you really do get to see the major areas. Some drawbacks are that you are on the bus. A lot. For example, from Vineyard Haven to Aquinnah is 50 minutes and Aquinnah to Edgartown is about an hour. Plus you need exact change for the bus (but you only pay once) – no credit cards. And if you miss a bus then you have to wait quite a while for the next one (at some stops). However, this bus may be your only option (vs. a tour bus) if you arrive on a shoulder season.
Edgartown is my favorite village on the Vineyard. There are picket fenced homes with covered and pleasant front porches. Brick sidewalks leading to many seafood restaurants near the water and high-end but inviting shops. Plus there are large, older churches (including the Old Whaling Church) with unique styles and character.
Oak Bluffs boasts the cute “gingerbread cottages” which are whimsical pastel-colored Victorian cottages built around 1864 on several winding streets throughout the town. Inkwell Beach is a quick walk from the ferry, and a nice destination to relax. Circuit Avenue includes many boutiques, restaurants, ice cream shops and more, and right down the road is the historic Flying Horses Carousel (for all ages!). Oak Bluffs is known to have more of a nightlife than the other towns on the Vineyard.
Be sure to have an up-to-date ferry schedule. Ferries typically run into the evening but only from certain ports.