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Where to Stay on Cape Cod: A Guide to the Towns and Regions of The Cape

You've decided to visit Cape Cod, and friends, you're in for a real treat. You're excited to walk the amazing coastlines, indulge in lobster rolls, take in beautiful scenery, stop to smell the hydrangeas and witness some stunning sunsets. But you have absolutely no idea where to even begin when it comes to selecting where to stay. I'm hoping to help you out with that today.

I know it can be daunting because the Cape is actually bigger than most people think. It could take you two hours if you base yourself in Falmouth and want to get to Provincetown, which are pretty much the two furthest destination from one another on the Cape. Not that two hours is a huge chunk of time, but when you want to maximize every second of your trip, it could be a bit of a hassle.

The good news is, there really isn't a bad town to stay in on the Cape. Each town has its own charm and atmosphere, and it's really all about deciding on your priorities. And, you really can drive to most places depending on where you stay, so you certainly won't be tied down to just your local surroundings once you settle in. 

Describing the general "sections" of the Cape is a little tough because to me because it's a bit counter-intuitive. It took me a while to really get it down because when I look at a map of the Cape, I want to call the tip, where Provincetown is, "Upper Cape" since, you know, it's all the way at the top. But it's actually the exact opposite. So don't let that confuse you when you're looking at descriptions of places.

One note I want to make before I begin as well. You'll hear me reference the National Seashore beaches quite a bit. For anyone new to the Cape region, the NS beaches are all part of the U.S. National Park Service. These beaches are all along the Atlantic Ocean side, and to me, are some of the most stunning beaches in the area. It's definitely worth it to visit at least one during your stay. 

And finally, before I begin, I have to warn you that you really do need a car on the Cape, with one exception - see the very end of this post. If you come from a distance and fly in, you'll want to fly into Boston, rent a car from there and drive in. 

Upper Cape: Convenience upon arrival, separated from rest of Cape, still great beaches and small town feel in Falmouth. History and relaxed atmosphere in Sandwich. Wood's Hole provides easy access to ferries going to Martha's Vineyard and Rhode Island.

Mid Cape: Great for families, small-town feel in Dennis and Yarmouth with both providing great beaches. Hyannis provides convenience for ferry access, but probably the least "Cape" feeling town. 

Lower Cape: Best towns for that perfect "small town" Cape feel with easier access to Provincetown and National Seashore beaches. A great all-around and accessible home base. 

Outer Cape: Best access to National Seashore, quieter towns that aren't as walkable, but incredibly scenic. Provincetown accessible from Boston and very lively with nightlife. 

Let's start from the true "Upper Cape," which will be the cluster of towns closest to the start of the Cape coming from the rest of Massachusetts, making your drive in a little shorter. These would be Falmouth, Sandwich, Mashpee, and Wood's Hole.

Falmouth & Wood's Hole are probably the most Southern towns in the Cape, and kind of separated from the rest of the towns in this cluster. We've been to Falmouth for a day trip, and it's so beautiful. It's a great town for walking around with cute shops and restaurants, a beautiful lighthouse and beaches. Old Silver Beach in Falmouth has made it onto some of the "Best Cape Cod Beaches" lists, although, we haven't been. 

Wood's Hole, to me, has a little bit more of that quieter fisherman's village feel to it, but it still bustles with activity because this is a big docking terminal for ferries to Martha's Vineyard and Rhode Island. It's also only about 10-15 mins from Falmouth, so if you're looking to base yourself somewhere for a few days before heading to MV or RI, either Falmouth or Wood's Hole would be a great option for you. Also, if you want to minimize driving time getting into the Cape, these locations are also ideal for that.

The main reason we choose not to stay here is because it's just so far from the rest of the Cape, and we like to be closer to the National Seashore beaches and Provincetown.

Sandwich is such a great town, and I plan to do a blog post about spending a day here. It's the oldest village in New England, and you can visit the oldest house on the Cape while here (Hoxie House), as well as a grist mill that dates back to the 1600s. Sandwich has a very relaxed atmosphere and is a bit more rooted in history. We've walked on Sandy Neck Beach in Sandwich and would love to spend a day there because it's beautiful, and there's also a really awesome boardwalk here. From Sandwich, you're still about 45 mins from the National Seashore, and about an hour from Ptown. That said, though, I love this little town and I'm really excited to get a blog post together about it.

Mashpee is a town we haven't spent a lot of time in (mostly just driven through it). It's more of a residential area with more traditional shopping centers with some franchised stores and neighborhoods. It still has access to beautiful beaches, but it's just not a place we like to stay because it is so residential. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. For a vacation, it's just not our style. 

This is more the area we almost always opt for. Towns in the Mid Cape would be Dennis, where we tend to stay, Yarmouth, Hyannis and Barnstable

Dennis tends to be very affordable because property taxes here are some of the lowest in all of the Cape. We stick to the Dennis Port area because of its easy access to Harwich, another favorite town of ours, as well as Chatham. Dennis is home to some of the most family-friendly beaches including Mayflower Beach and West Dennis Beach, and also provides great restaurants. It's not quite as walkable as some other towns, depending on your location, which is probably the only downside (although Dennis Port does have a small walkable Main Street). If you stay in Dennis Port, you're only about an 8-10 minute drive to the heart of Harwich Port, and about 20 mins to Chatham, so the location is great.

Hyannis is a place we pretty much go to just to catch a ferry, and that's about it. Don't get me wrong, it's beautiful, and also very walkable. And of course, very famous because of the Kennedy family. It's just a bit more hustle and bustle for me than I'd like on vacation. It also lacks that small town charm I'm looking for while staying on the Cape. But, it also has some great restaurants, and if you're looking to catch a ferry, you can't get a better location. 

Yarmouth is a great place to stay if you're traveling with children. The main road through Yarmouth is Route 28, and it's lined with so many kid-friendly parks and activities like mini golf, go karts, trampoline parks, inflatable bounce house things - your kids will never be bored! There are some beaches in Yarmouth, and we've heard great things about Seagull Beach. Bass Hole Boardwalk is also in Yarmouth, and many restaurants are very kid-friendly while still great for adults. You don't have to have kids with you stay in Yarmouth, of course, and there are some beautifully historic Inns to check out if in the area (some serving dinner if you don't want to stay overnight). 

The only town I don't have much insight into is Barnstable. Unfortunately, we haven't been here, but hopefully we'll change that in the next couple of years. What I can share, though, it that it's very close to Hyannis, and also encompasses Centerville and Osterville. I've heard wonderful things about beaches in Centerville.

This section consists of Harwich, Chatham, Orleans and Brewster.

Harwich is another one of my favorite towns on the Cape. I love its small-town feel, adorable shops, great restaurants and its town beaches are really nice. Harwich Port also been named one of the Happiest Seaside Towns, and I can definitely see why. If you can, stay as close to Harwich Port as you can, as that's where the main street (Route 28) is with most of the better restaurants and shops. You can also get to Provincetown in just about an hour, depending on traffic. National Seashore beaches can be reached in about 30 mins, depending on where you stay. 

Chatham is probably the most picturesque, Hallmark-movie town on the Cape. We love coming here for the afternoon because the restaurants are awesome, the shops can't be beat and there's quite a bit to do. You can just stroll down Main Street for a day of relaxed shopping and eating, or you can wander off to the beautiful beaches, pick up a boat ride to go seal spotting, visit the fish market to see the boats hauling in their catch of the day (and also spot more seals) and visit a cute little windmill. Prices tend to be higher in Chatham because it is so insanely charming and popular. We don't stay here for that reason, and also, it can be quite crowded. But we absolutely love visiting. 

Brewster has a bit more of a relaxed feel to it, and is also more spread out making it not super walkable. It's home to my favorite general store on the Cape, though, aptly named Brewster General Store. I know someone who goes to Brewster every year for their vacation, and they love it because it's more quiet, has some nice antique stores, nice beaches on the Bay and is still easy to get to Chatham and Orleans.

Orleans is a really great location if you want easy access to all the towns above, but also want to get to the National Seashore beaches and Provincetown easily. We really love visiting Orleans. While it's not always super walkable, you definitely have great shops and restaurants here, and are as accessible to the National Seashore you can be without staying in the Outer Cape area (but also only about 20 mins to Chatham). Orleans still also has a very Cape Cod feel to it, may just not be as quaint, but it's a great location.

This section consists of the "tail" of the Cape. In order from closest to Mid Cape to furthest are Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown. These towns all are the closest to National Seashore beaches. 

We haven't spent a lot of time in the town of Eastham itself. Mostly we've just visited the beaches. But, it's home to one of our absolute favorite Cape beaches, Coast Guard. It's very easy to spot seals from this beach, and you can walk on pristine sandy coastline for quite some time. To me, Eastham is also the start of the sleepier, quieter towns, which get moreso as you drive into Wellfleet and Truro. 

We've recently spent more time in Wellfleet and have loved it. It's definitely a little quieter than Mid Cape, but it has a cute, very small little Main Street with a few cute little shops, a market for groceries and some restaurants. They also have a pier with some great seafood restaurants (we really like going to Mac's on the Pier). Really great beaches in Wellfleet as well, and there are a few options to take a sailboat cruise/tour from the pier/harbor. 

Truro is where my mom would take my sister and I when we were younger, so I have great memories of Truro. It's the town you'll hit right before you get to Ptown, and it's known for its stunning beaches and landscapes. It's a very quiet place to stay, and not very walkable, but still has some nice restaurants. If you're looking to move at a slower pace, get away from a lot of the noise and spend most of your time at the beaches, a rental here would be perfect for you. It's a beautiful area (and also home to Truro Vineyards and South Hollow Distillery). 

Once you get through the quiet town of Truro, you're smacked in the face by Provincetown to wake you up (and I mean that in a very, very good way). People stay in Provincetown because of the nightlife, easy access to National Seashore beaches and walkability everywhere. This is a place you absolutely do not need a car if you don't plan to leave Ptown. It's a beautiful artists community, and you'll find art in all forms here from paintings to performance art (it's not uncommon to see a group just start doing a choreographed dance routine on the street). Commercial Street is so fun to walk down and you'll have no shortage of shopping there. It's such a unique place to see and experience because it's still a relaxing beach town, but it's also equally alive with energy. So, even if you don't stay, I highly recommend a day trip to spend the afternoon. You can also take a ferry from Boston to Ptown, so if you live in Boston, you really don't need a car to get to the Cape. The Mayflower Trolley runs in Ptown during peak season and can take you to some of the sites that aren't easily walkable, including some of the beaches.

So, overall, we choose mid-lower Cape because we like the location and the towns. We love staying in Dennis Port because of the price, the restaurants and accessibility to Harwich Port and Chatham, and a day trip to Ptown is easily doable. Plus, we're just about 30 mins from the start of the National Seashore beaches. We can get to Sandwich in about 30 mins as well. So for us, it's just all about accessibility while still giving is that small town Cape feel that we love.

I will say, though, we love staying in the Truro/Wellfleet area as well. A couple years ago we camped in Truro and it made me fall in love with that area all over again. Outer Cape is a very close second for me as far as my favorite areas.

Honestly, I think it's all about trial and error, and determining what kind of vacation you want. If you're looking to make this a yearly visit, maybe try the Outer Cape one year and see how you like it. If it's a little too peaceful for what you're looking for, and you want more walkability near your accommodation, pop on down to the Mid Cape next time and try that on for size. If this is a one-time trip for you because you don't live close by, really think about what you want out of your trip. Are you looking for rest and relaxation? Honestly, you'll get that everywhere, but maybe Ptown isn't the best choice for you. Do you need to entertain energetic kids, but don't want to spend every day at the beach? Yarmouth is probably a great location as your home base. Do you want a little bit of everything as far as beaches, small town charm and a good mix of restaurants? Mid to Lower Cape for sure. And remember, like I said, it's really hard to pick a bad spot. This area is beautiful, and there's a reason we come back year after year. Try not to stress too much about picking your location and just do your best. You'll still have a memorable time.

And that's everything I have for you! I hope this was somewhat helpful as you decide where on the Cape to stay, and if there's anything I haven't answered that you'd like some help with, please leave a comment and I'll be sure to get back to you. 

If you're looking for some itinerary ideas and plan to stay in the Mid/Lower Cape area, my Typical Week-Long Itinerary post may be of some help.

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Our Typical Cape Cod Itinerary: 1 Week in the Summer

Since starting to visit the Cape years ago, we've kept much of our week-long itinerary the same. When I first took Josh to the Cape after moving back to New York, he just fell in love with it like I did when I was a kid, and we created so many great memories during our first trip together. So we continue to repeat a lot of the same things each year.

My Solo Trip to Whistler, BC

After spending three nights in Vancouver, I was off to Whistler. While researching all the must-see things in Vancouver, taking a drive on the Sea to Sky highway popped up with a suggestion to spend the day in Whistler. The more I looked into Whistler, the more I knew I wanted to spend way more than just an afternoon here, so I decided to split my trip into two parts, and spend half of it in this amazing alpine town.

My Solo Trip to Vancouver, BC

Vancouver hasn't been a destination on my mind for very long, but a few years ago, I saw photos of the Capilano Suspension Bridge on Instagram and immediately had to know where it was. It just seemed magical. I, of course, quickly found out it was in Vancouver, and the more I researched the Canadian Pacific Northwest, the more I was drawn to it. I was so curious about this diverse city that also seemed to have endless possibilities for hiking, waterfalls and suspension bridges - I just had to see and experience it for myself. It all worked out so serendipitously because I wanted to go during off-peak season, and I happened to have a relatively slower schedule at work in early June. Before I knew it, I was booking flights to the other side of North America for my very first solo adventure. 

At Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Photo by Dylaina Gollub Photography

Day Trip to Charleston, SC (& How it Compares to Savannah)

On our very last day of our Bahamas/the South vacation, we spent a day wandering through Charleston. We debated quite a bit if we should have cut our time in Savannah short to spend at least a night (or two) in Charleston. But when it was all said and done, with the time we had for our trip, we planned everything perfectly. Three nights in Savannah was just what we needed for a more relaxing getaway, and tackling Charleston in one day made for the perfect end to a rather amazing vacation.

Tybee Island, GA Day Trip Travel Guide

With Tybee Island only being about 30 minutes from Savannah, we knew we wanted to spend an afternoon there since, you know, we love our coastal towns! The drive was a very easy 30 minutes from our hotel in Savannah, and we really enjoyed our time on Tybee. It was so nice to get a taste of a Southern East Coast destination because it felt a little more like home to us, while also giving us a taste of its own unique flair. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but I'd sum up Tybee by saying it's a mix of Eastern Coastal and the South with a touch of Atlantic City or Jersey Shore mixed it? I'm not even sure if I'm hitting the nail on the head, but we loved the bright colors, the serene shoreline and laid-back beach vibe. And the palm trees reminded us we weren't quite home. It was so fun to experience the atmosphere, and if you're in Savannah, it's definitely worth a visit.

Savannah, GA Travel Guide

It's no secret that I'm in love with New England, but I will tell you, Savannah gave it a run for its money. We immediately fell in love with it after a few minutes of walking around. Everything from the architecture, the Spanish moss trees, the little parks everywhere, the cobblestones, the restaurants, the vibe - it all amazed us so much, and we always had a smile on our faces. Our time in Savannah was nothing short of perfect, which is saying a lot because we had just come from the Bahamas!

Eleuthera, Bahamas Travel Guide

Even though we were staying on Spanish Wells, a smaller island off the coast of Eleuthera, we didn't want to miss out on the fun things to do on the main island. So we decided to take a water taxi over and rent a car for the day to explore the sites.

Eleuthera isn't exactly a small island - it's over 100 miles long, so there are quite a few beaches to choose from, sites to take in, restaurants to visit and so many things to explore. Packing it all into one day is impossible. We made a list of our "must-see" things, picked a local beach to visit, had a lovely lunch and spent a really nice day on this beautiful island.

Harbour Island, Bahamas: Day Trip Travel Guide

I will admit, another reason we chose to stay on Eleuthera during our Bahamas vacation was its proximity to Harbour Island. I had seen this little island pop up on travel guides for the Caribbean, and whenever I saw photos of the famous Pink Sand Beach, my heart fluttered. It seemed to be too good to be true, and I wanted to see it for myself. We couldn't afford to stay on Harbour Island (it tends to be pretty pricey with mostly upscale/luxury hotels), but we did head over for a day trip, and we really loved it.

Bahamas Travel Guide: Spanish Wells, Eleuthera

We're back from our stay in the Bahamas, and I kind of can't believe that I even got to type that. I never thought I'd get to see the bright turquoise ocean water of the Bahamas with my own eyes because honestly, this wasn't a destination that was on our radar for very long, nor was it a priority. But after a few pretty intense Northeast winters, we were ready for a tropical getaway somewhere that would be equal parts adventurous, colorful and relaxing, and Eleuthera in the Bahamas was the perfect fit.

Yes, I got badly burned on our first day (go me!). Josh called me a rock lobster the whole trip
because my shoulders were bright red. Friends, be smart and apply extra sunscreen when in the Caribbean
and closer to the equator. 

We ended up going to The Bahamas because we basically just said, "Let's find the most affordable AirBnB in the Caribbean that's closest to the beach in a place we haven't been to before," and we found it in the Bahamas. While beginning our research, we found a lot of places in the Bahamas that were actually rather affordable for being so close to the water. I quickly realized, too, that I had absolutely no idea just how many islands were in the Bahamas (700! Seriously!). So we picked a few listings that seemed ideal, and chose one on Eleuthera because we had read online that it was quieter, had a more chill vibe and wasn't quite as packed with tourists as Nassau/Paradise Island. Plus, the beautiful pink sand beaches were really hard to resist. But, we also wanted the option for a few excursions and access to some restaurants in case we felt like we needed a break from laying around the beach all day. Eleuthera just seemed to have everything we were looking for, and the listing we found also seemed perfect.

Our Farmhouse Pottery Wheel Workshop Experience

For Christmas, Josh got me such an amazing gift - a wheel workshop session for us both at Farmhouse Pottery. I've been so in love with this little special boutique for a few years, and their simple and clean aesthetic is something I really appreciate. On top of that, since everything is made in New England in one of my favorite Vermont towns, I especially love that I get to help support the business, which was started by a husband and wife team that felt passionate about creating beautiful pottery pieces.

I'm going to start by saying, if you're even just thinking about doing a wheel workshop at Farmhouse Pottery, just do it. It's not the most inexpensive thing you'll ever do, but you get to keep the pieces you make, share a great experience with someone, learn a few things about a new skill and also talk to true artisans. To me, it was more than worth it just for the experience alone.

How To Have the Perfect Winter Getaway in Woodstock, VT

One of my favorite Christmas gifts from Josh to date was a wheel workshop session at Farmhouse Pottery, which led us to Woodstock, VT for a winter weekend getaway. And even after more than a year, I still consider it to be one of the most storybook-perfect places we've visited.

If you're looking to escape to a quintessential small town with great restaurants, beautiful scenery, adorable shops and cafes, Woodstock should be high on your list. While we were walking around the town, we really got that Hallmark movie vibe, and also, felt a really strong sense of community. It quickly became one of our favorite places, if not our actual favorite, town in Vermont to visit, and we're itching to go back.

Until we can make it back, though, I'm so happy to share our recommendations for a perfect long weekend in Vermont.

Two Days in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Last summer, we visited Cape Breton Nova Scotia as part of our Prince Edward Island trip, which you can read about here, and we absolutely loved it. I said it in our PEI post, and I'll say it again, the Canadian Maritimes such an underrated part of the world. I'm shocked that it's not a more popular travel destination because there's so much natural beauty everywhere. Our biggest regret was not having more time to explore Nova Scotia, and we both hope to get back to experience the entire province, with our top wish list destinations being Halifax, Peggy's Cove and Luenburg.

Until then, the amazing memories from this trip will have to suffice! And it's a good thing we have so many. Here's our trip recap.