Where Families Stay, Play & Chill On Cape Cod
To say I love Cape Cod is an understatement. My family has returned here more times than I can count. I have my favorite haunts, the places I need to return to every time we visit. And now, married with two children, of course my husband and sons have their must-do lists, too.
Here are the things my whole family recommends for any family looking to try their first or tenth Cape Cod vacation.
What To Do on Cape Cod With Kids
Play on Route 28
There is nothing better for kids than Grand Slam on Route 28 in Harwich. Our older son adores this place for its batting cages (with wiffle balls for my little one) and bumper boats with water ammunition.
Tip: Bring towels, sunscreen and mosquito repellent, especially in the late afternoon.
Also on Route 28: Bud’s Go-Karts is quite a thrill (littler kids can drive with an adult).
Pirate’s Cove is the grandest of the mini-golf places on Cape Cod and our absolute favorite.
Keep in mind the pirate theme is really well done, including periodic cannon blasts and evil pirate laughter. Little kids who don’t like loud noise might run crying from the third hole.
You’ll also find one of a few outdoor trampoline places nearby. Count on ten minutes of bouncing for about $5. Needless to our preschooler enjoys this place and we enjoy watching him burn up energy. It’s a good activity with kids of different ages.
Skull Island is our number two-mini-golf destination. It also has go-carts, an excellent driving range, batting and soccer cages, and an indoor arcade.
The ZooQuarium in Yarmouth seemed like a glorified pet shop to us, but my preschool enjoys the petting zoo, the tidal pool and the tarantula.
Save it for that rainy day when you really need to get your littlest ones out of the hotel room for a while.
The five-minute self-guided tour at the Cape Cod Potato Chip Factory is a low-risk adventure and the little guy was interested to see how muddy spuds make their way into those cute little bags. We didn’t mind the free samples, either, particularly the jalapeno cheddar.
One of the best and cheapest Cape Cod activities is to buy a bucket and one of those long-handled nets you’ll see outside all the cheesy beach stores. Fill it with some chicken or ham, stand on a rock jetty (make sure kids have water shoes; it’s slippery), lower the net into water, wait one minute and voila! You’ll have a net filled with crabs in no time. This was our older son’s favorite pastime when he was about 6.
On of our favorite things to do in Cape Cod in the summer is a whale-watching cruise.
We’ve taken good trips out of Barnstable, but our favorites are on the Portuguese Princess, part of the Dolp out of Provincetown. The captain is very knowledgeable and they have a high rate for sightings.
Just keep in mind that trips can be long for very little kids. They might not find seeing a whale as exciting as you hope they will. And since nature doesn’t run on scheduled there’s always a chance you’ll come back with nothing more than a long boat ride.
Tip: The choppy water might not be fun for kids or parents who have motion sickness.
Browse a book store
If you need to get out of the sun, Falmouth has a quaint Main Street and is home to one of our favorite children’s’ book stores, Eight Cousins. Check the website for kid-centered author events and the ocassional family game night during the summer.
The town is not as crowded as some others, mostly because it’s out of the way. It has a very nice playground and the water, but otherwise there are fewer things to do here with kids than on other parts of the Cape.
Watch movies and stars
The drive-in movie theater in Wellfleet always shows at least one kid’s flick during the summer and is a slice of Americana. There’s a super fairly large flea market on the grounds on weekends.
For a different kind of viewing, try stargazing. Bring a telescope and head to the Chatham lighthouse (top) at the end of Shore Road outside of Chatham in the evening, as my husband and son like to do.
Relax on the beach
Race Point Beach outside of Provincetown is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore and consistently ranked one of the top beaches in the world. We often head here for late-afternoon beach time on our way back from P-Town and rarely encounter crowds.
The beach at Chatham is the wide, long stretch of beach most people expect when they come to the Cape. It’s popular and busy and the reason so many families stay around Chatham. But it’s big enough that you’ll find room for your blanket, even on peak days.
Otherwise, many of the beaches on Cape Cod are small inlets and sandbars that are fun for getting out of the car and exploring. But perhaps not ideal for long days on the sand with the kids.
Aside from taking older kids to the intimate and moving John F. Kennedy Museum, we see no reason to go to over-hyped Hyannis.
Drive scenic route 6A
My parting piece of advice is don’t, don’t, don’t drive along route 6; it’s sterile and you’ll never get a feel for the Cape. Whenever you can opt instead for scenic route 6A.
Route 28 through Orleans, Chatham, Harwich and Yarmouth is the rustic Cape with lots of cranberry bogs, marshes and placid little lakes with rowboats. As you might have noticed, it’s also full of things to do and places to eat.
For the Cape Cod of glossy coffee table books take a quick drive out of Chatham down Shore Road (perpendicular to Main Street). The homes are unbelievable and even if you aren’t staying there, you pass the Chatham Bars Inn with its gorgeous beach cabanas.
Cape Cod Hotels
*Chatham is considered by most people to be quintessential Cape Cod, and I agree. It’s our favorite town, followed by Harwich and Yarmouth.
But South Yarmouth is the best place to stay if you’re traveling with children due to its proximity to everything fun.
Keep in mind that the Cape is small enough that no matter where you stay you’ll be able to explore most of it over the course of a week.
The Hawthorne Motel, right next to the Chatham Bars on one of the nicest stretches of Shore Road, is probably the best value on the Cape.
Tip: Even clean and simple isn’t come cheap in season in Cape Cod. Prices for all these places vary anywhere from $250- $1,500 a night; book well ahead.
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Lisa Antinore is a food writer from Queens, NY. Her family owned a motel in Truro, Cape Cod, for 30 years. You can read her food writing on Chow Hound.