Guide to Summertime in Cape Cod with Kids

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Looking for ideas of what you can do in Cape Cod with kids?  


Believe it or not, you can actually…time travel! 


Cape Cod has long been a favorite summer destination for families.  It’s been Googled.  It’s been thoroughly researched.  It’s been photographed from every angle.  Yet, no one seems to mention that the best part of vacationing there, is the feeling that you're stepping back in time!  


Along the Cape you'll find drive-in theaters, vintage cars, and experience small town parades only seen in the movies.  It's a place where the locals go "way back" with one another, and a destination where summer actually does seem to move a little slower.  Screen time isn't the kid favorite, mini golf is.  Foodies replace the fancy 5-star dinners they may seek on other vacations with picnic tables, fried food, and drippy ice cream.  It reminded me of my own summer days as a kid -- carefree and fun.


So if you’re looking to take your family to Cape Cod, you should know this important fact:  While there are plenty of activities to see and do, Cape Cod is best experienced slowwwlyyy.


A New England summer is more about the lazy hours lounging in the sand, the old-time neighborhood feel of the towns, and savoring each bite of that famous fresh seafood.  So, with that in mind, this article will give you some ideas of  what to do in Cape Cod with kids – how to enjoy your summer stepping back in time -- with  your toddlers and teenagers. 

dinner table at beach house grill
two kids lounging in chairs Chatham Bars Inn
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    Where is Cape Cod located?

    Cape Cod refers to the section of Massachutsetts that looks like Captain Hook’s…hook!  The outstretched extension of the state contains almost 600 miles of beautiful beaches, as well as small sleepy towns dotting its shores.  


    There are 3 parts of the Cape: Upper Cape, Lower Cape, and Outer Cape.  Some of the favorite towns include Chatham, Provincetown, Brewster, Falmouth, Mashpee, Yarmouth, and Dennis.  


    We chose Chatham as our "base camp."  The historic town has plenty of shopping, beautiful beaches nearby, and is a hot-spot if you're looking for highly rated restaurants.  

    google maps cape cod
    Photo Credit: Google Maps

    Need Help Planning Your Trips?

    When is the best time to visit Cape Cod?

    Cape Cod comes alive in summertime.  Families play all day on the beach, restaurants are busy making lobster rolls, and stores stay open late -- c'mon, we know you want that Cape Cod sweatshirt!  

    The fall/winter off-season is a sleepier experience in Cape Cod.  While you may snag a discounted hotel rate, keep in mind that many stores and restaurants may not be open year round (or will have limited hours).  

    Things to Do in Cape Cod with Kids

    Here are a few family-friendly activities to do in Cape Cod with kids.  There are plenty of options close to Chatham, as well as ideas a short drive away too. 

    Explore Local Beaches

    The beach is a way of life in Cape Cod, and there’s many to choose from!  Here were some of our favorites, as well as other recommendations that we'll check out on a future trip.  


    Near Chatham: If you’re staying in the Chatham Bars Inn, you’ll have access to the calm waters of  Aunt Lydia’s Cove.  This beach has natural barrier protection from the Cape Cod National Seashore; therefore, the waves are gentle and its common to spot seals seeking safety in the shallow waters.  Other popular options in Chatham include Lighthouse Beach, and Jackknife Cove.


    Other recommendations:  Breakwater Beach and Chapin Memorial Beach are known for beautiful tide pools for kids to explore.  There’s also Mayflower Beach, Skaket Beach and Townneck.  

    Along the Cape Cod National Seashore, the popular beaches include Marconi, Coast Guard, Nauset, Race Point and Herring Cove.  Herring Cove has a calmer surf for younger kids. 

    cape cod national seashore - cape cod with kids
    Aeriel view of Cape Cod National Seashore
    kids playing aunt Lydias cove - cape cod with kids
    boy smiling on aunt Lydias cove - cape cod with kids

    Parking Tip

    If you plan to visit any of the beaches along Cape Cod National Seashore, you need to arrive early.  The parking lots fill up, and the town limits the number of visitors to prevent overcrowding.  It costs approx $20 for the day.   

    Other beaches may require a beach pass or car sticker instead. You can find the necessary info on beach parking in Cape Cod here.

    Ride the Cape Cod Trail

    The Cape Cod Rail Trail is a 25-mile paved path used by hikers, bikers, and even horseback riders!  It runs from South Dennis to Wellfleet, with stunning views along the coastline.


    If you're looking to bike the trail, you can find bike rentals at Rail Trail Bike Shop in Brewster or WheelHouse Rentals in Chatham.  For more information on the trail, check out this page: Cape Cod Rail Trail.  

    Explore downtown chatham

    With the first settlers landing on the shores of Chatham in the 1600’s, this quaint fishing village has grown from a small rural community, to a busy and vibrant summer hot spot.  


    Take your time strolling down the tree-lined sidewalks, and poking in and out of bright, white historic shops.  You’ll find everything on Main Street from iconic Cape Cod sweatshirts, to home goods, to high-quality boutiques, and plenty of toy stores.  It’s the type of town where all the locals seem to know one another, and by the time you leave, you'll feel like one too!  

    girl standing in entrance of shop in chatham
    little girl shopping for belts - cape cod with kids
    girl staring at house in chatham
    family outside chatham cookware - cape cod with kids

    Whale Watching

    Summertime is whale watching season along the Cape, and Humpback whales are the main star!  If you're planning to spend the day on the water, then both Dolphin Fleet and Hyannis Whale Watcher receive excellent reviews.  Keep in mind these expeditions last about 4 hours.  Bring dramamine if needed, and snacks/water for the little ones.

    4th of July Parade in Chatham

    Chatham really does roll out the red carpet for America the Beautiful on the 4th of July.  The town hosts a parade where locals participate in float-making, and singing and dancing down Main Street.  There’s also a fireworks display and family activities throughout the entire holiday weekend. This year ~30,000 people showed up for the tiny's town parade down Main Street!

    mom and daughter watching parade - cape cod with kids
    parade down Main Street chatham - cape cod with kids


    Mini golf was a summer highlight of my childhood, and we played all over the New England region.  So, anytime I can challenge my husband to a round, I do so.  I still think I'm better than him, even though I'm not sure I've won in awhile... 


    If you're also a mini-golf fan, then you'll love going to Cape Cod, where they have pirate themed, and spooky themed, and just plain ol' fun themed courses.  The most popular is the decked out Pirates Cove Adventure Golf.  Kids can practice their putting skills while ducking in and out of waterfalls and pirate ships.  There's also Skull Island and Cape Escape Adventure Golf.

    Wellfleet drive in theater

    Since the 1950’s Wellfleet Cinema has played classics for beach-busy families.  You can drive in, stretch your legs before the movie begins with a quick game of mini golf, and then cozy up in the car to enjoy a feature film.  Cape Cod may be a fully modernized beach town, but this is a way to enjoy the nostalgia of the past with your family.  As an added bonus: kids under 3 are free!

    Wake Up Early for a Sunrise

    Waking up early may not sound like "vacation," but the sunrises that peek across the sky in Chatham are sure worth the early alarm bells.  I chose to embark on this adventure as a mom-only-morning, but if you have any early-risers in the family, they may want to tag along.  We stayed at Chatham Bars Inn, which had front row seats to some unforgettable sunrises.

    Sunrise Photography Tip

    Check the time of sunrise the day before.  During the summer months, this is an early wake up!  First light in July was around 5:15 am, so I was on the beach by 4:30 am so I could set up my gear.

    sailboat at sunrise - cape cod with kids
    sunrise at Chatham Bars Inn - cape cod family vacation

    Have Ice Cream Every Night

    Is it really even a summer night without ice cream at the end of the day?  The scoops served at Emack and Bolio's are some of the best homemade ice cream I’ve ever tasted!  There are plenty of flavors to choose from and the creamy flavors are addicting.  There’s only one problem…the ice cream is so good that you’ll find yourself wandering back every night.


    If you're up for it, you can do a little ice cream tasting competition.  Other popular spots include Short n' Sweet in Chatham, and Schoolhouse in Harwich Point.

    girl looking at ice cream cones - cape cod with kids

    Stroll through provincetown

    Provincetown is a charming and quirky seaside town located on the northernmost section of the Cape.  It's about an hour drive from the lower Cape, so would make for a good day trip.  There are restaurants and shops along Commercial Street selling souvenirs and salt water taffy.  The Canteen is a popular spot for lobster rolls that you won't want to miss.  

    Cool Off At A Waterpark

    Remember the antsy anticipation we all experienced as a kid as we walked into a waterpark?  Well, your kids will get to feel that same excitement as they set eyes on Cape Codder Water Park or Cape Cod Inflatable Park.  Cape Codder Water Park is a 30,000 square foot indoor/outdoor aquatic center, filled with waterslides, pirate themed playgrounds, a giant wave pool, and more!  As another option, Cape Cod Inflatable Park has bounce houses, waterslides and other activities for the family to enjoy.  There are rides and activities for younger kids too.

    Visit An Interactive Museum

    Are you looking for an indoor activity in Cape Cod with kids?  The Cape Cod Children's Museum has interactive exhibits and is best for kids aged 6 months to 8 years old.  The Whydah Pirate Museum showcases the largest collection of pirate artifacts from a single sunken ship.  The exhibits are interactive, but best suited for kids older than 5.  Lastly, you can check out the Chatham Shark Center, where you can learn all about Great White Sharks.

    Need Help Planning Your Trips?

    Where to Stay in Cape Cod with Kids?

    There are a few luxury properties located in Cape Cod which are perfect for families.  Each has its own advantages -- some are close to town, some have beach access, and others are well known for their kids' clubs.  We stayed at Chatham Bars Inn for this visit and really enjoyed our experience. 


    • Chatham Bars Inn - This hotel is known as one of the premiere luxury properties along the Cape.  New England style cottages overlook Cape Cod National Seashore, Adorindack chairs invite you to get lost in a good book, and the smell of lobster rolls wafts through the air.  There is also private beach access, a hotel pool, tennis and golf, a wellness center and spa, and 5 dining options.


    Chatham Bars Inn beach entrance - cape cod family vacation
    Adirondack chairs Chatham Bars Inn - cape cod family vacation
    view of beach and cabanas at Chatham Bars Inn - cape cod family vacation
    • Wequassett Resort and Golf - Wequassett is another 5 star luxury property popular with families.  The hotel overlooks Pleasant Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, providing guests with beautiful views all from the comfort of their spacious cottages.  Also, there is an pirate themed playground and award-winning kids center that kids you'll want to check out.


    • Chatham Inn-  This hotel may be better suited for older kids, or would be my romantic getaway pick.  Chatham Inn was built in the 1800s, but is now a Relais and Chateaux property.  It has an intimate and more quiet setting, but is located along the lively Main Street of Chatham.  It's easy to stroll the shops, or walk to some nearby beaches.  Foodies may want to stop by and try the highly-recommended tasting menu at Cuvée.


    Want to Learn More about the Chatham Bars Inn?

    Check out this hotel guide to learn more details about Chatham Bars Inn, and what's it like to experience as a family. 

    Family Friendly Restaurants in Cape Cod

    Whether you're searching for that perfect lobster roll, or in the mood for something with a little more finesse, you'll find some excellent restaurant options for families in Cape Cod.  This is an area that's used to kids rolling in hungry, and parents rolling in...even hungrier.  We experienced excellent service, lively atmospheres, and most importantly, tasty dishes!  Here are some of our personal favorites if you're visiting Cape Cod with kids. 

    • Viera on Main - Viera on Main highlights New England seafood classics.  Even though I'm not clam-lover, the waitress convinced me to try the linguine with clams, and I did not regret it.  Every bite was devoured and ounce of sauce soaked up with my bread.  The mussels in a coconut pineapple curry sauce were also delicious.  Additionally, the chefs make all the pasta in house, which always wins me over.  The kids kept it simple with pasta and sauce and safe to say they were also fans.  


    • Beach House Grill Order a drink, have the kids run around on the beach, and take in the views of the Cape Cod National Seashore.  Some of our favorite dishes of the trip came from here, including lobster nachos, fried calamari, and blistered shisito peppers.
    drink with beach in background - cape cod with kids
    lobster nachos beach house grill - cape cod family vacation


    • Chatham Cookware - This neighborhood cafe serves warm breakfast sandwiches, freshly baked pastries, and gourmet  salads.  It's one of the most popular breakfast spots in town.  We loved the spinach/feta croissant, and "French Breakfast," -- a doughy ball rolled in cinnamon and cooked to perfection.


    • Mac’s Chatham Fish and Lobster - I love the casual “grab-your-dinner-and-plop-by-a-picnic-table” feel of this place.  You can tell it’s a local favorite because the line flows out the door!  On the menu, there’s everything from lobster rolls, to sushi, to clam chowder and fish tacos.  I highly recommend the clam chowder (pescatarians, this one does not have bacon!).

    Other resturant recommendations:

    Some other places we had on our list but didn’t have time to try were: 

    • Del Mar Bar and Bistro - Known for bistro cuisine and thin crust pizza.
    • Pates Restaurant - New England modern cuisine with a more elevated twist.
    • Hanger B. Eatery - Head here for breakfast and enjoy your meal overlooking a small private air-field.  It's a great way to keep the kids entertained while eating.  Note, they are closed on Tuesdays...which we learned the hard way.
    • Cuvée, at Chatham Inn - Two words: Date. Night.  With its well-known 7 course tasting menu, you may want to save this culinary experience for a night you have a baby-sitter booked. 

    Day Trips from Cape Cod

    If you’re just in town for a few days, then I recommend exploring all that Cape Cod has to offer, instead of embarking on a day trip.  There is so much Cape Cod itself has to offer -- lay on all those gorgeous beaches and take it slow.  However, if you’re going to be spending an extended time in Cape Cod, then you may want to consider visiting Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard as an all-day expedition (note: each one would require a separate day).


    From Cape Cod, you can catch the Steamship Authority.   You’ll want to plan this ahead of time because ferries book out far in advance!  One of the perks of visiting Nantucket by ferry is that a car really isn’t necessary to explore this island.  The main town is located adjacent to the ferry landing, and the public transportation across the small island can take you just about anywhere you need to go.  We visited the previous summer and can't wait to go "ack!"

    nantucket harbor

    That's a Wrap

    A visit to Cape Cod with kids may have a funny way of making you leave feeling like a kid.  The relics of the past that dot the everyday life across the Cape brought me back to a less "go go go" way of life that I remember from my childhood summers.  Maybe it was the small town parades, or fun-packed hours of family-time on the beach, or mini-golf moments that popped back into my mind; there's just something about this place that is memorable to both seasoned spectators and virgin visitors.  A vacation to Cape Cod with kids is one you won't forget!  

    family running at entrance of Chatham Bars Inn - cape cod family vacation

    I hope this article has inspired your own family getaway to Cape Cod, MA.  If you have any questions, or your own travel tips, please leave them in the comments below.  Also, don't forget to sign up for the monthly newsletter, packed with travel tips, upcoming news, and access to FREE destination itineraries.

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