Cape Cod is one of New England's biggest tourist destinations in the summer months. This historic cape in eastern Massachusetts boasts miles of beaches and unique seaside towns full of quaint cafes, art galleries and shops. The cape is 70 miles long and is divided into six regions. The four regions on the cape are the Upper-Cape, the Mid-Cape, the Lower-Cape, and the Outer-Cape. The last two regions are the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.
Map courtesy of VirtualCapeCod.com
Cape Cod has a long history, as evidence has been found of people living there for over 5,000 years. More recently, the cape also played an important role in the discovery of America. It is thought that Norse voyagers explored the cape as early as the 10th century. Later, many other explorers visited the cape, such as Giovanni de Verrazzano, Estevano Gomes, and Henry Hudson. Cape Cod was given its name by Bartholomew Gosnald who landed in Provincetown in 1602. Apparently he decided to name the area "Cape Cod" due to the large amount of cod his crew was able to catch.
Cape Cod is most famous due to its connection with the first Pilgrims. Contrary to popular belief, the Pilgrims and the Mayflower did not land at Plymouth Rock but actually in Provincetown on Cape Cod on November 11th 1620. The Pilgrims had originally planned to travel further south to the territory of Virginia where they had been given permission to settle. Unfortunately, when they tried to sail south they encountered harsh, shallow seas and risked the boat tipping over. Instead, they rerouted to land on Cape Cod and started their own settlement. Since Cape Cod was outside of the area they meant to arrive in, the Pilgrims decided to form their own government and wrote the Mayflower Agreement. Later, they traveled to Plymouth where they chose to build a permanent colony. When they arrived in Cape Cod, the Pilgrims encountered the Wampanoag people, a Native American tribe, who had lived in the area for many centuries. They helped the new settlers to learn to live off the land.
What to Do
Today, Cape Cod is a popular tourist destination. The summer is the best time to visit to take full advantage of all the beaches and outdoor activities you can do. To help plan your visit to the Cape, check out these suggestions for things to do and see:
- Heritage Museum and Gardens: This museum is located in the town of Sandwich. It is great for art and nature lovers. The museum consists of three art galleries and surrounding gardens. The grounds also include the Old East Mill, a 200-year-old windmill that has been restored.
- Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum: The Pilgrim Monument was founded in 1892 in order to commemorate the Mayflower's first landing in Cape Cod. Today, it shares its site with the Provincetown Museum, a great place to learn more about early American history in Cape Cod.
- Whale Watching: Historically, whaling was a huge industry in Cape Cod. However, now that these animals are endangered, people have chosen to admire whales instead of hunting them. There are plenty of different whale watching tours you can take on Cape Cod. Here are a few options in Provincetown.
- Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution: For anyone interested in marine life or ocean science, Woods Hole is a must see. WHOI is at the cutting edge of oceanographic research. For visitors, you can check out the Ocean Science Exhibit Center, take a free walking tour, or attend a free educational lecture.
- Visit a Lighthouse: There are many beautiful lighthouses throughout the Cape. While no longer used by sailors for navigation, today they are iconic and historic buildings. Find a map of all Cape Cod lighthouses here.
Image courtesy of the National Park Service
- Sandwich Glass Museum: This museum is devoted to all different kinds of glasswork. The glass industry was very important in Sandwich, MA up until the 1920s. The Sandwich Glass Museum seeks to honor the historical impact of the glass industry in the area.
- Cape Cod Rail Trail: Do you like biking? Then this is the perfect Cape Cod activity for you. This 22-mile trail weaves through many Cape Cod towns and follows a former railroad track. Along the way, there are plenty of beaches to stop at.
- Cape Cod Baseball League: In the summer, the Cape Cod Baseball League offers free games. Known as "America's League," this is where the best college players show off their skills for fans and Major League scouts. There are 10 different ballparks on the Cape, all within an hour drive of one another.
- Cape Cod Central Railroad: This is a heritage railroad that offers a variety of excursions between Hyannis and the Cape Cod Canal. You can take the train and enjoy Brunch, Lunch, or an elegant dinner.
- Go to the Beach: If you're not into sightseeing, there are miles of beaches in Cape Cod where you can sit, relax, and enjoy the summer sun. The whole Atlantic coastline of Cape Cod is a National Park. For a full list of all Cape Cod beaches, click here.
This is only a sampling of what you can do in Cape Cod! For more travel ideas, check out "52 Things to Do on the Cape and Islands" from Cape Cod Travel Guide.
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