Cape Cod With Kids: Stay, Play and Chill
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 a child, of course my husband and son 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. (Read about where to Eat on Cape Cod and about Newport, RI.)
Top Things To Do on Cape Cod With Kids
There is nothing better for kids than Grand Slam on Route 28 in Harwich. Our son adores this place for its batting cages (with wiffle balls for little ones) and bumper boats with water ammunition.
Note: Bring towels and mosquito repellent 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. You’ll you’ll find one of a few outdoor trampoline places. Count on ten minutes of bouncing for about $5. After months of gymnastics classes our son is something of a champion jumper. Needless to say he enjoys this place and we enjoy watching him burn up energy.
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 son enjoyed the petting zoo, the tidal pool and the tarantula. Probably best for the preschool set.
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 son’s favorite pastime last year.
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 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, who might not find seeing a whale as exciting as you hope they will. And the choppy water might not be fun for kids who have motion sickness.
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. The town is not as crowded as some others, but this is because it’s out of the way. Aside from this store, a very nice playground and the water, it doesn’t have much for kids to do.
The drive-in movie theater in Wellfleet always shows at least one kid’s flick 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 at the end of Shore Road outside of Chatham in the evening, as my husband and son like to do.
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.
Aside from taking older kids to the intimate and moving John F. Kennedy Museum, we see no reason to go to Hyannis.
*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 Yarmouth is your best bet 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.
We like *Three Seasons Hotel in Denis Port or the *Inn at the Beach in Harwichport (try to snag one of the private seaside cottages). When we want a suite we opt for the simple but clean Cape Cod Irish Village or the Red Jacket Beach Resort, both in Yarmouth. When we’re really living it up, it’s the Chatham Bars Inn or the Wequasset, near Orleans, both conjuring classic, upscale New England. 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.
Note: Even clean and simple doesn’t come cheaply in season in Cape Cod. Prices for all these places vary anywhere from $250- $1,500 a night; book well ahead.
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.
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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.