Cape Cod Guide 2010: The Ultimate Cape Beach Guide

Photograph by Christian Kozowyk

Photograph by Christian Kozowyk

Sand is big business on Cape Cod. Nearly six million people visit the area each year, after all, and they aren’t coming for the mall. They’re here to check out some of New England’s greatest beaches. But how do you know where to find the best swath of shoreline?

The first thing to understand is that Cape beaches tend to break down into three types: bay, sound, and ocean. Bay beaches are those that face Cape Cod Bay, and offer minimal waves and monumental tides. Sound beaches refer to those around Buzzards Bay, and the ones on the south side of the Cape between Woods Hole and Chatham; there, you’ll find gentle surf and warm water. Ocean beaches, of course, run along the Cape’s eastern shore, and provide unfettered access to the Atlantic, beautiful dunes, and oh-so-chilly water.

Even after you’ve learned the basics, though, it helps to have a guide, and that’s where we come in. Whether you’ve got the kids in tow or are just looking for a romantic spot to watch the sunset, these choice recommendations have it covered.

 

LOWER CAPE

Coast Guard Beach
Plan on spending the day: The prohibition on parking during the high season means you’ll have to take a shuttle from the Little Creek lot. But it’s worth it to linger a while, anyway. There’s the gleaming old Coast Guard station perched on top of the hill, clear water, exceptional views, and virtually guaranteed seal sightings.
Doane Road, Eastham.

 

OUTER CAPE

Ballston Beach
Ballston is managed by the town of Truro and located within the Cape Cod National Seashore, but it gets surprisingly little use for an ocean beach with a parking area. Spread out your towel and savor the quiet.
North Pamet Road, Truro.

Bound Brook Island Beach
Few people seem to know about this bayside beauty, the perfect spot for a mellow afternoon. To get there, find the small parking lot by the Atwood Higgins House and walk down the sandy trail for a hundred yards or so. Then: Relax.
Coles Neck Road to Bound Brook Island Road, Wellfleet.

Herring Cove Beach
Here you’ll find not only superb sunset-watching opportunities, but also vistas of the Cape on clear evenings.
Province Lands Road, Provincetown.

Marconi Beach
A viewing platform here allows you the rare opportunity to see the sun rising over the ocean and Cape Cod Bay lighting up behind you.
Marconi Beach Road, Wellfleet.

Snail Road Beach
Prepare for a major hike over mountainous dunes. This is for the physically fit only, but worth it for the striking panoramas of the surrounding area.
Snail Road, Provincetown.

Chatham Lighthouse Beach
No beach on the Cape has better surroundings than this one, with a Coast Guard lighthouse behind it, multimillion-dollar homes surrounding it, and even seals passing through.
Main Street, Chatham.

Hardings Beach
Located not far from downtown Chatham, Hardings is a stunner: beautiful, wide, with gorgeous houses dotting the shoreline. Thanks to its proximity to busy Stage Harbor, it’s also an ideal place to take a walk.
Hardings Beach Road, West Chatham.

Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge
Monomoy affords miles of glorious beach without the not-so-glorious crowds, plus views of Monomoy Island. Keep an eye on the tide or be prepared to get wet up to your ankles as you trek out to the shore and back.
30 Wikis Way, Chatham.

Nauset Beach

Nauset is the place to go for killer waves and awesome onion rings (at Liam’s, the on-site clam shack). Insider tip: Park at the far end of the lot and follow the path for some privacy.
Beach Road, Orleans.

Paine’s Creek

Tucked into a cove, Paine’s is another bayside beauty. The kids will dig the critter-filled creek that goes out with the tide, and you’ll dig the pure white sand and the expansive looks at the brilliantly lit-up coast on either side.
Paine’s Creek Road, Brewster.

Rock Harbor
The vistas are similar to those at nearby Skaket Beach, but with the added attraction of the town’s active fishing boats bobbing in their berths.
Rock Harbor Road, Orleans.

Skaket Beach
Wildly popular early in the day, this beach usually clears out by late afternoon. That’s when the locals show up, particularly when the weather’s fair, to watch the spectacular sunset dip over the Provincetown Monument far off in the distance.
Skaket Beach Road, Orleans.

 

MID-CAPE

Craigville Beach
Craigville is a big sound beach with little waves, which makes it perfect for a day with kids. Lifeguards and bathrooms also make it practical, while fried clams at the shack across the street make for a decadent lunch. Insider tip: The parking lot tends to fill early, so plan accordingly.
Craigville Beach Road, Centerville.

Kalmus Park Beach
“Kalmus,” as it’s referred to by Hyannis denizens, has some of the best people-watching on the Cape. Here you’ll spot windsurfers, massive yachts, and ferries shuttling passengers out to the islands.
Ocean Street and Hawes Avenue, Hyannis.

Long Beach
Located on the sound, Long Beach offers the same scenery as Craigville, but with far fewer people. Insider tip: Parking here is for residents only, so pay to park at Craigville, then walk up the beach about a quarter-mile.
Craigville Beach Road, Centerville.

MillWay Beach

Millway presents sunbathers with great glimpses of Sandy Neck Village, plus fried clams (at Osterville Fish Too just up the block). Insider tip: This is a residents-only beach, but the sticker checkers are off-duty by afternoon.
Millway, Barnstable Village.

Sandy Neck Beach
This is one of the Cape’s best bay beaches, as well as one of the longest in the area. There’s crisp water and, on a clear day, unbeatable vistas that stretch from Sandwich to P-town.
425 Sandy Neck Rd., West Barnstable.

 

UPPER CAPE

East Sandwich Beach
The view from the beach at this quiet little summer colony captures the entire Cape and Cape Cod Bay.
North Shore Boulevard, East Sandwich.

The Knob
Yes, the Knob is a bit of a hike, but it’s worth it. Often deserted, this crescent-shaped beach offers spectacular ogling of the Elizabeth Islands, as well as the towns of Wareham, Marion, Mattapoisett, and Fairhaven. Insider tip: If you’re lucky, you can score one of the limited free parking spots at Quissett Harbor in Woods Hole.
Quissett Harbor Road, Falmouth.

Old Silver Beach
The dearth of other options in the area can mean a lot of people packed onto one not-especially-large patch of sand, but once you’ve staked your claim, this beach has an unbeatable combo: wicked warm water and vistas that stretch across Buzzards Bay. Insider tip: There’s nothing to eat for miles (other than at the adjacent Sea Crest Resort), so come prepared.
Quaker Road off Route 28A, North Falmouth.

Surf Drive Beach
This Vineyard Sound beach is popular with older couples (all seemingly accessorized with paperback novels) and younger families, who enjoy the mellow vibe and great views of Martha’s Vineyard.
Surf Drive, Falmouth.

Town Neck/ Boardwalk Beach
This is technically one beach with two parking lots, though locals vehemently differentiate between the two. Park at the Town Neck Road lot and see where it all begins, “it” being Cape Cod itself (the mouth of the canal is just steps away). On the Boardwalk Beach side, enjoy a scenic walk along the long, narrow boardwalk that winds over a marsh. There the surest sign of summer is present: scads of deeply tanned locals jumping into the creek at high tide.
Wood Avenue, Sandwich.

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