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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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