Close to home but still far enough to feel like an escape, Cape Cod is a quintessential Northeastern summer road trip. And with the warm weather upon us, there’s no better time to experience the quiet villages, fresh seafood shacks, scenic ocean outlooks and beaches of the hook-shaped Massachusetts peninsula.
Just four-and-a-half hours from NYC, it’s time to do as the Pilgrims did and discover “the Cape.” Nowadays it’s a lot more fun! See the monument where the Mayflower first landed in Provincetown, go whale watching, explore the town of Hyannis near JFK’s “summer White House” or venture off to the nearby resort islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. No matter what you choose to do, you’ll leave with plenty of memories to fill your photo albums.
So pack up the car, we’re going on a road trip to Cape Cod – figuratively, of course. We’re highlighting destinations that are found on the AAA TripTik Drive Trip planner, to help you scope out your trip before making it a reality. Here you can read about AAA-recommended restaurants and attractions and find hotel booking links, all in one place.
AAA-recommended Cape Cod attractions
After taking in the scenic views over Cape Cod Canal on the Bourne Bridge (and also, inevitably, some traffic) your Cape Cod adventure officially begins. From there, there’s something you’re sure to like in every direction, wherever your itinerary takes you.
John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum
Hyannis is Cape Cod’s commercial hub and is known for its proximity to the Kennedy family compound. Located in the Town Hall Building, the museum is dedicated to JFK’s connection with Cape Cod and the times spent there with his family and friends. From Hyannis, you can also take a ferry Nantucket Island or Martha’s Vineyard. AAA members save 10% on round-trip tickets on Hy-Line Cruises and kids under 4 ride free.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is among the world’s leaders in ocean research and exploration. At the Exhibit Center, visitors are invited to walk-through a full-size model of the interior of the research submersible Alvin and learn about the discovery and exploration of the Titanic. Guided tours are available in the summer.
Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch
Three- to four-hour whale-watching trips are guided by an experienced naturalist for a fully-immersive and educational experience. The boat ventures out to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in the Massachusetts Bay, where humpback whales and other marine animals are spotted.
Sandwich Glass Museum
The Sandwich Glass Museum collects, preserves and exhibits more than 5,000 pieces of glass manufactured in Sandwich, the oldest town in Cape Cod.
Pilgrim Monument & Provincetown Museum
This 252-foot tower was completed in 1910 to honor the first landing of the Mayflower Pilgrims, who spent five weeks exploring the tip of Cape Cod before sailing on to Plymouth. Visitors can climb the monument and visit the museum, which highlights the pilgrims’ arrival, the building of the monument and the history of Provincetown.
Heritage Museums & Gardens
Three gallery buildings featuring rotating and permanent exhibitions, an automobile gallery, a vintage carousel and over 100 acres of landscaped grounds make this a must-see attraction. Among the gardens and nature trails, there is a labyrinth made of native vines and an impressive rhododendron trail on which thousands of of rhododendrons and 140 varieties are displayed, including the world-renowned Dexter variety, hybridized by the estate’s one-time owner, Charles O. Dexter; typical bloom time is from Memorial Day to mid-June.
Hotels in & near Cape Cod
Crowne Pointe Historic Inn & Spa
At the tip of the Cape Cod “hook,” the adults-only Crowne Pointe Inn is located on a bluff in the heart of Provincetown, just minutes away from lighthouses, shopping, art galleries, whale watching and beach relaxation. Set in the restored buildings of a 19th century sea caption’s mansion, the historic property offers luxurious guest rooms and suites, a landscaped garden courtyard, pool, in-house spa and fine dining.
Ashley Manor Inn
This mid 1700’s bed and breakfast offers both charm and history, but with modern accommodations and amenities. Rooms are decorated with antiques and all suites include a hot tub bath and fireplace. Request the Queen Charlotte’s Suite, which features a hidden escape route, once used by British soldiers and was likely part of the Underground Railroad. In the summer, breakfast is served on the outdoor patio overlooking the backyard garden, and towels, chairs and umbrellas are provided for the beach. Conveniently within walking or driving distance of top Cape Cod beaches and attractions.
Mansion House Inn Health Club & Spa
Vineyard Haven, Mass.
Take a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard to stay at this relaxing beach retreat. Not only does every room have a balcony, there is also a wraparound cupola on the top of the inn where guests can enjoy overlooks of the harbor. Perfect for those with an active lifestyle, the Mansion House Inn has free fitness classes, indoor swimming pool and a bicycle shed for those who bring their own bikes. Allow the stresses of your drive to melt away at the full-service spa or on the beach.
Dining in Cape Cod
Serving stuffed Quahog, Cape Cod steamers, homemade clam chowder and lobster, traditional New England fare is what you’ll find at this hangout. Fun fact: the restaurant’s interior planking and paneling was salvaged from a local boatyard, some of which dates back to the 1600s. And the centerpiece stained-glass window comes from a church in Maine.
The Black Cat
Conveniently located across the street from the Hy-Line ferries, The Black Cat is a popular stop for those on their way to Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard. The tavern serves a casual menu of burgers, lobster rolls and fried and baked seafood with a cozy, nautical vibe. Seasonally, visitors can relax with a drink or homemade ice cream on the front patio overlooking the Hyannis Harbor or enjoy the raw bar and live entertainment at the Shack Out Back.
Arnold’s Lobster & Clam Bar
If you see a long line, don’t keep driving. This seasonal seafood shack is a must-try. The fried clams, onions rings, raw bar and hot and cold lobster rolls made with freshly locally-caught lobsters are worth the wait. And you can’t leave without trying the homemade ice cream. Next door, Arnold’s 18-hole mini golf course makes it a destination that’s fun for the whole family.
Sesuit Harbor Café
A classic Cape Cod clam shack with outdoor-only dining overlooking the Northside Marina and Cape Cod Bay; open for breakfast, lunch and dinner from May 1 to Columbus Day. Just before sunset is prime time when those hankering for a taste of their famous lobster rolls, fried scallops and raw bar platters start to line up. The café also has a full bakery with a variety of scones, turnovers and other made-fresh-daily desserts to choose from.
What are your favorite things to do on Cape Cod? Let us know in the comments.
This post was originally published in 2017 and has been updated.