There are capes all along the New England coast, but none quite as famous as Cape Cod. The appeal of Cape Cod is its old-world charm, the miles of beautiful beaches, and charming, relaxing resort towns. Of course, all the delicious lobster and clam shacks don’t hurt either!
However, this road trip along route 6A lets you enjoy the quieter side of Cape Cod while not missing out on the action. You can enjoy sleepy villages and the beautiful dunelands of the Cape’s national seashore, as well as soak in the buzz of the resorts that surround the Nantucket Sound and the exciting Provincetown.
Begin in Sagamore
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After crossing the Sagamore Bridge from the mainland to Cape Cod, you’ll reach Sagamore. This is the home of the Pairpoint Glass Company which is keeping the local tradition of hand blowing lead crystal into functional and decorative items.
Being able to watch the artisans blow, shape, and finish their glassware just endows these already gorgeous items with more beauty. This continuing glass-making tradition echoes through to the next step on your road trip.
Sagamore to Sandwich
Keep heading east until you reach Sandwich, the oldest town in Cape Cod. Sandwich was settled by the Puritans in 1637, and also prospered as a glass-making center in the 19th century.
The town produced many kinds of decorative and table glass that put Sandwich on the map. Glassworks from different eras are preserved in the Sandwich Glass Museum, and reproductions are available to purchase in the gift shop.
In Sandwich’s leafy village center you’ll find Hoxie House. This beautifully preserved house may be the oldest saltbox in Cape Cod, dating back to the 1600s.
Another beautifully preserved 17th century building is the water-powered Dexter Grist Mill not too far away, that is still producing organic, stone-ground cornmeal that you can purchase on site.
Sandwich to Yarmouth Port
Keep heading east from Sandwich along Sandy Neck beach. You can take a detour here along the 6.2 mile trail that leads to Sandy Neck Light. Head back onto Route 6A and you’ll come across Barnstable, which was settled in 1639 and found great prosperity in fishing in the Great Banks.
You’ll soon reach Yarmouth Port, which is part of greater Yarmouth. Here you can really get transported back in time thanks to the 17th, 18th, and 19th-century furniture bequeathed by local Mary Thacher to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.
Yarmouth Port to Nickerson State Park
Drive through Dennis and Brewster on Route 6A and perhaps take a detour to the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History before you reach Cape Cod’s most sweeping inland preserve, Nickerson State Park.
This state park encompasses almost 2,000 acres of abundant pine forests decorated with shimmering freshwater ponds. Here you can also bike ride, hike, swim or fish.
If you get hungry on your road trip, make sure to read my list of the best road trip sandwiches!
Nickerson State Park to Cape Cod National Seashore
Keep going through Orleans, home to some of Cape Cod’s best beaches like Skaket and Nauset on its fringes, and you’ll soon find yourself driving through the secluded beaches and dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore.
You can find a visitor center at Salt Pond in Eastham, and trails and boardwalks stretching for 1,100 acres of pine woods, marshes and tidal creeks. You can spot more than 200 species of birds here, including Yellowlegs and Whimbrels.
The Cape Cod National Seashore is also home to an outdoor exhibit at Marconi Station Site, where in 1903 radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the first message across the Atlantic. A Marconi station operated there until 1917 and in fact, one of the signals they picked up were distress calls from the R.M.S. Titanic in 1912.
Cape Cod National Seashore to Provincetown
Remaining on Route 6 will take you through the sleepy town of Truro, before you bear left onto Route 6A, and the scenic bayside welcomes you to the popular resort town of Provincetown.
The Pilgrims arrived here in 1620 moving onto their final destination of Plymouth where they eventually settled. This arrival is commemorated by the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum erected in 1910. At the top of the tower you get an incredible 360-degree view of the Cape Cod landscape and the sea.
The museum at the base of the tower is home to ship models, whaling equipment, and other maritime artifacts. But the history lessons don’t stop there, as Provincetown is also home to the Provincetown Heritage Heritage Museum where you can learn more about the town’s history.
Provincetown to Chatham
When you leave Provincetown, follow the U.S. 6 towards Orleans. From the traffic circle take Route 6A again and Mass. 28 north to Chatham, right on the elbow of the Cape.
Chatham is a smaller and sleepier alternative to Provincetown but there’s still plenty of shops to browse and galleries to visit. There are also gorgeous views of the sea from the Chatham Light.
Bringing Your Trip To A Close
When leaving Chatham head westward and take in views of the Nantucket Sound. The seaside quarter of Hyannis Port became famous in the 1960s as a favourite vacation spot for John F. Kennedy. You can find out more at the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum, an extensive gallery filled with photography that detail the 35th president’s love for Cape Cod.
Then head further west to the southwesternmost point of Cape Cod, Falmouth. This town was settled by Congregationalists in the 1660s, and flourished as a shipbuilding and whaling center in the 19th century.
On the village green you can find the 1796 First Congregational Church notable for its Paul Revere Bell and steeple. You can also find two historic-house museums, these are the 18th-century Julia Wood House and the Conant House Museum. There you can find mementos from Katharine Lee Bates, a Falmouth local who penned the patriotic song ‘America the Beautiful.’
When leaving Falmouth take the Woods Hole Road south to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution that was founded in the 1930s. The Exhibit Center there is home to various discoveries of its scientists like a full-size model of the inner sphere of the deep submersible Alvin.
This 160-mile circuit is best enjoyed over three to four days in spring through to fall. This is not only when most attractions will be open, but when the weather will be the most favorable. It’s also worth noting that traffic can be heavy in summer, especially during weekends.