Explore the shore: The essential Cape Cod guide

December 08, 2015                 5m read time
Nicole Wiegand

Cape Cod is famous for its windswept dunes and sandy shores, but insiders know there’s more to this area than “the beach.” We’ve got the scoop on the Cape’s best adventures.

Visitors head to Cape Cod each summer to experience a classic vacation at the shore. But picturesque beaches are just part of this area’s charm. The Cape is a nature lover’s paradise, with cranberry bogs, marshlands, dense forests, and freshwater ponds. Water activities are huge here: You can kayak, fish, jet-ski, swim, and even hang out with sharks. There’s a thriving food scene in many Cape towns, so you’ll have no trouble fueling up between adventures. Let’s check out some essential components of the Cape Cod experience.

1. Swim with the sharks

Swimming with the sharks with Cape Cod Shark Adventures Cape Cod Shark Adventures

Swimming with the sharks with Cape Cod Shark Adventures

Cape Cod Shark Adventures


From June to October, it’s always Shark Week on Cape Cod: Many species of shark migrate to the area during the warmer months of the year. Cross another item off your bucket list and get up close and personal with these predators on an epic shark cage dive. You’ll hop in a boat and ride about 15 miles to a dive site; that’s when you’ll suit up and get in the cage. Once you’re secured in the cage, you can watch as the sharks get closer and closer to your boat. This experience definitely delivers the thrills, but it’s actually completely safe—it’s impossible for a shark to get into the cage.

2. Have a whale of a time

Humpback whale in Cape Cod in July Chris Quinn

Humpback whale in Cape Cod in July

Chris Quinn

Not interested in a shark encounter? Try a whale-watching trip instead. You might spot a whale any time of the year, but the peak season runs from early spring until about September. Sightings are pretty reliable, so bring your camera and get ready for some awe-inspiring scenes. In addition to seeing pods of whales up close, you’ll probably spot Atlantic dolphins, seabirds and even a harbor seal or two. Whale watching is insanely popular on the Cape, so you’ll have no trouble finding a tour company that departs from a location near you.

3. Take a sunrise or sunset paddle


Get away from it all and take to the water with a sunrise kayak tour in Sandwich. You’ll spend three blissful hours on the water, surrounded by the Cape’s diverse plant life and birds. Check out gorgeous beach roses in bloom and keep an eye on the sky for and osprey along the way. The tours vary in length and difficulty, but there are plenty of options for both beginners and seasoned kayakers. Try the sunset paddle for a new take on date night.

4. Picnic by the seashore

The beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts |vv@ldzen|

The beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts



The National Seashore is a 40-mile stretch of sandy beaches, uplands, and marshes that runs along the Atlantic Ocean on the Cape. Pack a picnic and head to the shore for lunch and a swim. You’ll see cranberry bogs and lighthouses dotting the landscape, and you can walk the beach or bike on nearby trails. Up your picnic game by stopping at the Brown Jug in Sandwich. They’ll assemble a basket of artisanal cheese, foie gras, and other goodies for you and they’ll also throw in the ever-essential corkscrew.

5. Duke it out in a paintball battle

Ultimate Battleground paintballer shooting ZOZI

Ultimate Battleground paintballer shooting



Tired of the same old weekend routine? Grab some friends and launch an all-day paintball battle. Located just a bit west of Cape Cod in South Bourne, Ultimate Battleground Paintball will be the site of your epic duel. Plan your strategy and play grown-up versions of “Capture the Flag,” “Hide and Seek,” and “Cops and Robbers.” You’ll have time for up to eight games during your day-long adventure, so get ready to duck, run, roll, and shoot!

6. Jet-ski around Martha’s Vineyard

Jet skier at Martha's Vineyard in Cape Cod, Massachusetts Allison Richards

Jet skier at Martha's Vineyard in Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Allison Richards


Martha’s Vineyard is just a short ferry ride from the Cape, but you’ll feel like you’re worlds away. The Vineyard is actually less developed than the Cape, although the place gets packed with celebs during the summer season. Take a two-hour jet-ski tour with Martha’s Vineyard Ocean Sports. Your guide will give you plenty of information about the island, and you’ll be able to catch views of the Vineyard that no tour bus can provide. You’ll zip past popular spots like Edgartown and Cape Pogue, and you can chill out on the beach for a bit before you zoom back to your starting point at Oaks Bluff.

7. Dig into natural history

Salt marsh at Pleasant Bay on Cape Cod in Massachusetts Ethan Daniels

Salt marsh at Pleasant Bay on Cape Cod in Massachusetts

Ethan Daniels


Forget those memories of boring museum field trips. The Cape Cod Natural History Museum in Brewster has more than 80 acres of marshland and forest for visitors to explore. Take a guided walking tour along the museum’s trails, or sign up for “Tuesday Tweets,” a weekly bird-spotting tour. You can check out the three working beehives on the premises as well as a surprisingly large collection of preserved birds. In the summer, the popular Mudflat Mania program gives visitors a chance to wade through the flats and learn more about the critters who live there.

8. Blast off over Nantucket

Flyboarder over the water in Nantucket Flyboarding Nantucket

Flyboarder over the water in Nantucket

Flyboarding Nantucket


Remember how you dreamed of being able to fly when you were a kid? Channel your inner Iron Man and soar with a flyboarding adventure from Flyboarding Nantucket. You can choose a basic lesson that covers the fundamentals of hovering and propulsion control, or you can opt for a more advanced lesson that throws in a few tricky maneuvers. Either way, you’ll get a chance to strap on your jetpack and blast off over the water—just like George Jetson, but much cooler.

9. Bike the Rail Trail

The Rail trail in Cape Cod, Massachusetts Ornoth

The Rail trail in Cape Cod, Massachusetts



You really haven’t experienced Cape Cod until you’ve biked at least part of the Rail Trail. The trail used to be a railroad path, and it winds through Brewster, Eastham, Harwich, and other towns as it makes its way from South Dennis to South Wellfleet. You’ll see all the classic elements of the Cape along the way: cranberry bogs, salt marshes, beaches, and quaint little villages. Stop in the town of Orleans for a quick lunch or shopping break. Visiting Cape Cod in the winter? You can still experience the Rail Trail; it’s a popular place for cross-country skiing.

10. Taste your way through town

The town of Hyannis has a fantastic food scene, which can lead to some tough where-to-eat decisions. Sample a little bit of everything on the Hungry in Hyannis foodie tour. You’ll hit up several different local businesses, tasting everything from rodizio-style barbecue to Neapolitan pizza and award-winning clam chowder. Save room for some sweet-and-salty cookies and authentic Italian gelato. And be sure to pack a water bottle—the tour doesn’t include drinks.

Nicole Wiegand

Nicole Wiegand is a native New Yorker who writes about everything from travel to technology. She loves exploring the city, hiking with her family, knitting, and cooking.

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