The Cape is synonymous with sandy beaches, top-quality seafood, and luxurious vacations for wealthy New Englanders. There are fifteen towns on the arm-shaped peninsula and each has a distinctive character. Driving from Sandwich on the arm's shoulder to Provincetown, located on the fist, takes about an hour and 20 minutes- that means it's perfectly plausible for travelers to visit every single one of them. For people with limited time, though, here are three Cape Cod Towns worth visiting for their pirate treasures, beaches, lighthouses, and maritime history.
Where To Find The Best Beaches
Every town on the Cape has easy access to amazing beaches, but Cape Codders often recommend Eastham and Dennis. Here's a quick guide to the beaches in these two towns.
People regularly choose Coast Guard Beach in Eastham as one of the U.S.'s top beaches, but the town has many more beaches to explore nearby. To visit these areas, cars need to pay a daily parking fee or have a parking sticker. For municipal beaches, Eastham offers visitor permits for one week, two weeks, or the season. Vacationers can purchase them from Eastham's sticker office.
- Sticker Office Hours: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Sticker Office Phone: 508-240-5974
- Daily Access Fee: $25
- One-week Sticker: $100
- Two-week Sticker: $150
- Seasonal Sticker: $250
The National Park Service, not the City of Eastham, manages Coast Guard Beach and Nauset Light Beach, so visitors need to pay daily access fees or purchase annual passes from NPS beach fee booths. These passes do not allow access to City of Eastham beaches and vice-versa.
- Daily Access Fee: $25 for cars, $15 for pedestrians and cyclists
- Annual Pass: $60
- America the Beautiful Pass: $80, allows access to national parks across the country
Beach Activity Guide
- Coast Guard Beach - access with NPS sticker: Surfing
- Nauset Light Beach - access with NPS sticker: Surfing, beautiful sunrises, seals
- First Encounter Beach - access with daily fee or Eastham sticker: Good for kids, beautiful sunsets
- Cooks Brooks Beach - access with daily fee or Eastham sticker: Sunsets
- Campground Beach - access with daily fee or Eastham sticker
- Wiley Park Beach - access with daily fee or Eastham sticker
- Great Pond Beach - Eastham sticker only: Good for kids, kayaking, swimming
- Herring Pond Beach - Eastham sticker only: Not crowded, good for kids
- Thumpertown Beach - Eastham sticker only: Sunsets, crabs
- Sunken Meadow Beach - Eastham sticker only: Fishing
- Kingsbury Beach - Eastham sticker only: Fewer crowds
- Rock Harbor Beach - Eastham sticker only: Sunsets
- Daily Parking: $25 Monday - Friday, $30 weekends and holidays
- Seasonal Visitor Sticker: $360
Beach Activity Guide
- Corporation Beach: Good for kids
- Scargo Beach: Freshwater swimming
- Mayflower Beach: Tidepools
- Sesuit Beach: Sunsets
- Dennis Beach: Fishing
- West Dennis Beach: Windsurfing, kiting, playground
- Chapin Memorial Beach: Sunsets, soft sand
- Denis Pond Beach: Freshwater swimming
Chatham For Maritime Enthusiasts
The Cape's history intertwines closely with advances in ocean transport. Long before Columbus arrived on the shores of Hispanola, historians believe that Vikings sailed across the Atlantic visiting many parts of the east coast including Cape Cod. Sailing and fishing have always been common activities along the entire peninsula. Pirates frequented these waters and lighthouses along the Cape's shore have guided ships to safety for around 200 years. Visitors to any part of Cape Cod will easily see the marks that maritime activity has left on the island, but Chatham may be particularly interesting with its three lighthouses and the Marconi Maritime Center. Just a few minutes to the west, in Yarmouth, people can visit the Whydah Pirate Museum.
Whydah Pirate Museum, West Yarmouth
West Yarmouth is home to the only fully authenticated pirate shipwreck in the world. In 1716, the Whydah Gally made her maiden voyage as a slave ship with nearly 500 captive people onboard. Shortly after the captain sold these individuals into a lifetime of slavery in the Caribbean, the vessel was captured by "Black Sam" Bellamy. He sailed it up the coast, stealing more gold and goods along the way until getting stuck in a Nor'easter off the coast of the Cape in 1717. The Whydah Galley ran ashore and capsized. Only two of the nearly 150 people onboard survived.
The location of the Whydah's wreckage remained a mystery until 1984 when Barry Clifford discovered the gally under just a few feet of water and sand. He confirmed the identity of the ship upon finding a bell and plaque inscribed with her name. Today, visitors can see artifacts recovered from the wreck, walk through a reconstruction of the ship, and interact with actors dressed as pirates at the Whydah Pirate Museum.
Tim Sneath wrote this Google review of his visit to the Whydah Pirate Museum: "Even my skeptical mid-teenage son found it hard not to be enthusiastic about this visit. A museum like this could be awful -- either because of a lack of interesting artifacts or poor presentation. This museum combined some amazing examples of preserved items with genuinely interesting and educational content."
- Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The tour lasts one hour.
- Tickets: $17 for adults, $12 for children, only available through an online reservation
Chatham Marconi Maritime Center
Early in the 20th century, Guglielmo Marconi, a pioneer of long-distance radio communication, built the Chatham center but never used it because WWI interrupted his plans. RCA (the Radio Corporation of America) acquired Marconi's investment and used the station for transatlantic communication with Norway and Germany for a short period. Then, in 1921, they repurposed the Chatham center for maritime communication. It served this purpose until 1997. Visitors to the museum will learn about the history of wireless communication and how it is developing today. They can also take a short walk on the Antenna Field Trail behind the center.
Larry Krainson described his experience in the Chatham Marconi Maritime Museum on Google Review: "Excellent and fascinating museum...Did you know they received the Titanics SOS call way back when? Find out how the Enigma machine works and why it was nearly impossible to break the code. A place to spend a few hours learning about our amazing early wireless history."
- Hours: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday
- Tickets: $10, free for children under 12
Cape Cod is home to 14 lighthouses. Together with the islands, Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, the region is home to 22 of the structures. Few places have so many so close together.
- Race Point Lighthouse, historic with accommodations, Provincetown
- Long Pont Light Station, Provincetown
- Wood End Light, Provincetown
- Chatham Light, Chatham
- Monomoy Point Light, Chatham
- Stage Harbor Light, Chatham
- Nauset Beach Light, historic with tours, Eastham
- Three Sisters of Nauset, Eastham
- Highland Light Station, tours from May to October, North Truro
- Nobska Point Light Station, Woods Hole
- Sandy Neck Lighthouse, West Barnstable
- West Dennis Light, seasonal hotel, West Dennis
- Wings Neck Light, Bourne
- Lewis Bay Light/Hyannis Harbor Light, Hyannis