Best Ways to Spend a Family Vacation in Cape Cod

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A Fun-Filled Family Adventure on Cape Cod

Cape Cod, MA, is a popular family summer getaway destination known for its historic maritime character and charm. Its harbor towns, beaches, lighthouses, resorts, waterfront dining, fresh seafood and ferry rides are just some of its major draws. There's so much to do and so much that's interesting—choosing how your family should spend time on the Cape can be a challenge.

Watch for Whales

Between mid-April and the end of October is whale-watching season in New England. If you're on Cape Cod during this window, take a three- to four-hour guided boat excursion with Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown Whale Watch (307 Commercial St. #1, Provincetown, MA). It's fun and highly educational, with hands-on activities and exhibits on the boat to keep everyone entertained. Among the many types of whales to look for, humpback whales are the most commonly sighted. Plus you'll see a variety of other avian and aquatic life along the coast.

All vessels have temperature-controlled cabins, but much of the time is spent out on the deck. Bring along sunglasses and sun protection, and don't forget binoculars for better views. It gets cold on the open ocean waters, especially early and late in the whale-watching season, so wear layers to keep warm on the deck that you can shed as needed in the cabin.

The number of daily tours varies throughout the season, and tours are sometimes added or canceled based on demand and weather-related considerations. At nearly $50 per adult and just over $30 per child aged 5 to 12, it's not the most budget-friendly family activity, but it's sure to be one of the most memorable parts of your trip.

See the Seashore

There's just no visiting Cape Cod without enjoying its beautiful coast and beaches. And Cape Cod National Seashore (99 Marconi Site Road, Wellfleet, MA) is an excellent place to do it. This national park offers 40 miles of gorgeous beaches, marshes, wild cranberry bogs, wildlife, lighthouses and nature trails.

Swimming, hiking, bicycling, fishing, birding, canoeing and kayaking are popular activities here. From May through August, there are also regular family-friendly activities led by rangers. Among these are guided hikes and canoe trips, lighthouse tours, nature education presentations and campfires. Most special offerings are free.

These same months offer good weather and warm water for swimming, but the park is open year-round from 6 a.m. to midnight. Be prepared for chilly beach weather in the spring and fall and frigid weather in the winter. Also, lifeguards are on duty only from late June through Labor Day.

Nurture Nature Curiosity

The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History (869 Main St., Brewster, MA) is an informative family attraction dedicated to inspiring an interest in—and concern for—the environment. Collections and exhibits cover local ecosystems and wildlife, regional archaeology, fossils, indigenous people, honeybees, butterflies and pollination and other natural history subjects. There are also nature trails and a small aquarium on the museum's surrounding conservation property.

Hours at the museum change seasonally, so check the museum's website for more information before visiting. The butterfly house is open to the public only from June 1 through the beginning of September. Admission isn't too expensive at $15 for adults, $6 for kids ages 3 to 12, and $10 for seniors 65 and older.

Seek Sanctuary

Wellfleet Bay is a serene, scenic 937-acre expanse alongside Wellfleet Harbor, where your family can enjoy barrier beach, salt marshes, pine woodlands and other beautiful natural scenery, as well as 5 miles of nature trails suitable for kids and novice trekkers.

The site includes the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (291 State Highway, Route 6, South Wellfleet, MA), where you'll see fiddler crabs, green heron and other indigenous creatures. It also hosts a variety of fun, educational programming focused on the area's wildlife.

Your travel budget won't be strained by admission prices: $5 per adult and $3 for seniors and children ages 2 to 12. From Memorial Day to Columbus Day, sanctuary hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The hours remain the same throughout the rest of the year, but it's closed on Mondays. The Wellfleet Bay trails are open from 8 a.m. to dusk year-round. Bundle up in layers against the cold waterfront air if you're visiting outside the summer season.

Immersion in Submersion Science

A nonprofit organization dedicated to ocean research, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution operates the Ocean Science Exhibit Center (15 School St., MS#45, Woods Hole, MA). Delve into the world of ocean research, including the vessels, tools and technology used in the field. You can even enter and explore a life-size reproduction of the inner sphere of a deep-submersion research vessel.

There's no admission fee, but there is a recommended donation of $3 per visitor aged 10 and up. It's an affordable way to get a look at unique material. Like a number of attractions and destinations on Cape Cod, the museum is closed from January to mid-April. For the rest of the year, the hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but days vary. It's open from mid-April up to Memorial Day weekend Monday through Friday; from Memorial Day weekend through October, Monday through Saturday; and in November and December, Tuesday through Friday.