Cape Cod: Finding The Perfect Spot

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Photo by Chris Martino/Flickr

Cape Cod is a gorgeous family destination. With tons of activities that appeal to every age, rustic beauty, and an easy-to-get-to location, the Cape is perfect for summer getaways.

Finding ideal accommodations, though, can be tricky. “The Cape” actually refers to a very large and diverse area. Understanding the layout and caveats is essential to finding a place that suits your needs. The Cape offers something for every budget, from very modest cottages and motels, to privately owned islands.

There are many moderately priced properties that are very family-oriented — the only downside is that quite a few of these options are dated. Interestingly, there are only a handful of upscale, oceanfront resorts on the Cape and as a consequence, these properties are very expensive.

Moreover, many beaches are private, which means that beach visits require packing up the kids, loading, and unpacking. Given this setup, understanding what you are booking is key and will help ensure that you don’t end up disappointed and exhausted at the end of what is supposed to be a vacation.

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Best Tips for a Cape Cod Family Vacation

Lay of the Land

The Cape is divided into three sections: Upper Cape (closest to Boston), Mid Cape, and Outer Cape (furthest towards the tip).

Things to Consider

Water. Do you prefer the calmer, warmer waters of the bays (Cape Cod Bay and Buzzards Bay), which can be great for younger children, or more active waters with waves found at the ocean beaches?

Drive time. Is anyone going to be commuting?  From Boston to the Bridges (Sagamore and Bourne), the drive is 1 hour without traffic. The drive from Bridge to Provincetown also takes just over 1 hour without traffic.

Sunsets. Maybe it’s the Californian in me, but something about watching the sun set over the ocean equates to vacation in my mind. Remember that you have to be facing the west to get those sunsets!

Ambiance. The most common Cape accommodations are motels, B&Bs and private home rentals. Many of these sit right on a main road and are centered around a parking lot pool — something I don’t find appealing.

Each area has different pros and cons — some are more commercial, some have nice town centers, while others are more remote and secluded. Private home rentals are abundant on the cape. Sites like VRBO offer many choices (see our VRBO post for tips and caveats).

Favorite Cape Cod Towns

Here’s a list of my favorite towns for families:

Falmouth. Close for commuting from Boston and a cute town to walk around. Mild waters and sunsets on the West side. There is a terrific bike trail here that links to Woods Hole, as well as ferries to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. I’ve investigated the Beach Breeze Inn for our portfolio; it’s a great, moderately priced option.

Mashpee/New Seabury. An all-villa beachside community that offers tons of activities. Not as quaint as some areas, but what you give up in charm, you gain in convenience. It’s packed with activities like tennis, biking, beach and golf, and has a cute market area with live music on the weekends. This is a family favorite!

Dennis. I love this area for its gorgeous beaches, calm waters, laid-back attitude and sunsets! When the tide goes out, miles of tidepools keep the kids delighted for hours.  Great public beaches, but beware of the long weekend lines to the parking lots. Rt. 6A is loaded with antique and art shops. The Lighthouse Inn in our portfolio is in Dennis.

Chatham. Quintessential Cape: Sand dunes that stretch for miles, loads of boats, very preppy. Great town to walk around. Fantastic beaches, restaurants and the only real luxury resorts on The Cape: Wequassett Resort and Golf Club and Chatham Bars Inn.

Truro. More secluded and less developed, Truro offers calm waters, sunsets and a very quiet beach area.

Cape Cod Travel Tips

Avoiding traffic is KEY! A 2-hour drive can become a 6-hour drive if you go at the wrong time. Avoid heading south from Boston between 4:30-7p on weekdays and north to Boston between 7-9a on weekdays. Also, Saturday’s traffic between 9a-1p is tough because it’s “switchover” day, when rentals change hands. On Sundays from 3-7p, try to avoid all the people going home.

Cape Cod Beach Guides

Top Cape Activities. Far and away, the best lists of activities are found on Kids on the Cape and Cape Cod Kids Guide.

Relevant Links:

Browse all ideas for family beach vacations on Ciao Bambino

3 Comments

  1. I’ve never been to Cape Cod but have been very curious lately. This is a helpful read for anyone heading out there with kids for the first time.

  2. Great post, Nancy! This is very helpful info, especially for West-Coasters like me. I tried to plan a trip to the Cape last year and finally gave up for the time being. 😉 Good friends are in Truro right now though–wish I were, too!

  3. I’m heading to Cape Cod in September. Never been before so will definitely refer to this as we’re taking our 3 year old. Great post!

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