Falmouth is Upper Cape Cod’s largest town, with the largest coastline and the most activities to keep visitors engaged. During the day, vacationers have a wide variety of things to do like visit one of the sandy beaches or pedal along Vineyard Sound on the Shining Sea Bikeway. Visiting Nobska Light is also a popular activity. This lighthouse is one of the most photographed on Cape Cod. See the Complete Cape Cod Lighthouse Guide for more details.
When evening comes, a vibrant restaurant scene takes care of your craving for New England seafood, ice cream, or specialty drinks. Falmouth has a lot going on, but it can be a crowded place during the peak of summer with limited parking and long waits at the most popular restaurants. And, if you are not renting a house in Falmouth that has provided you with a beach pass, then getting anywhere near the water is notoriously difficult. This guide will help you negotiate the obstacles and take some of the stressors out of your planning so you can relax and focus on having a great time.
Although Falmouth has quite a bit of coastline, much of it is inaccessible due to private ownership and town beaches that require a parking sticker from July 1 through Labor Day. If you are renting a home that provides you with a beach sticker, then you should have no problem accessing any of Falmouth’s beaches. If not, then a non-resident sticker for one week will run you $80. That’s a hefty price. So I decided to give the honor of best beaches to those locations that are not only public but free. The caveat is that you may have to hustle for a parking space.
- Trunk River Beach: Located between downtown Falmouth and Woods Hole, this is a rather small beach but makes a great place to hang out for the day. The beach is located on the Shining Sea Bikeway, so you can mix in a walk or bike ride in between swimming and beach lounging. If you happened to bring bikes along, then it’s about a 10-minute ride to Woods Hole where you can get lunch at Quick’s Hole Taqueria. They have the best fish tacos in town. Parking at Surf Drive Beach is a bit tricky. The entrance to the parking lot is unmarked and hidden amongst shrubs and beach grass. If the lot is full, then try parking just a bit north of the beach, at the intersection of Oyster Pond Road and the Shining Sea Bikeway, where there is parking space for about 6-7 more cars. Access to the beach requires walking over a boulder sea wall, so the beach is not handicapped accessible.
- The Knob: Most people know the Knob as a place to watch the sunset. While watching the sun dip below Buzzard’s Bay is a bit of Cape Cod magic, you can also enjoy a rather uncrowded beach during the daytime. The truth is that most people won’t venture more than 100 meters from their car, so if you don’t mind a short 5-7 minute walk, and it is a pretty nice walk at that, then you can reap the benefits. You should be able to carry a couple of folding beach chairs and a small cooler without much difficulty. There are several free parking spots at Quissett Harbor, but the closer you get to sunset, the more likely that they will be taken. Get here early.
You could hang out at the beach all week, but that gets old pretty fast. To keep from getting bored by day three, enlist the services of a local guide or shop to provide equipment and insider knowledge of some of the Cape’s active lifestyle activities. Vacations should be about relaxing and spending time with family and friends, but also about trying something new and different. The activities listed here will check all of those boxes. These operators get high marks on review sites and will be sure to give you some great memories of your time on Cape Cod.
- Stand-up Paddling with Peace Love SUP: Full disclosure – my darling wife Amy is the owner and operator of this service. One of the best ways to explore Cape Cod is by being on the water. Paddleboarding allows you to visit a location that you otherwise might not get to see, get some physical activity, and meet a few new people along the way. Peace Love SUP is totally mobile, meaning that she can provide a location near you so that you can spend your time enjoying your vacation rather than being stuck in traffic. Amy offers SUP tours, SUP yoga sessions, specialty sessions that involve socializing at a local brewery or winery afterward, and sunset tours. Of course, I’m biased, but she is the best.
- Little Island, West Falmouth: Often times, the guidebooks will talk of “hidden gems.” On Cape Cod, this term is synonymous with “no parking.” That’s what keeps the crowds away and to be sure, the neighborhood residents prefer it that way. One of these locations is located on the far side of West Falmouth Harbor overlooking Buzzard’s Bay. The town of Falmouth owns the land and it is managed by the 300 Committee, a non-profit that acts as land steward for several conservation parcels in town. Little Island is a great place to hike along the walking trails into the wooded interior of the island. Circumnavigating the perimeter along the rocky beach as the salt air fills your nostrils and the sun hangs low over Buzzard’s Bay is unbeatable. Just be warned: You may never want to go to a crowded, public beach again. But again, there’s no parking. Although the land has a conservation easement against it, meaning that you can rightfully pass through the neighborhood’s private roads to get there, the six parking spaces are private. You will need a bicycle. If you did not bring one, then rent one at Bike Zone in North Falmouth. It is located at the northern terminus of the Shining Sea Bikeway. The ride to Little Island in a bit under four miles (15 minutes), mostly along the bikeway. There is a section where you share the road with cars, but it is short (map).
First off, the best Lobster roll is the one you make at home, or in this case your rental cottage. It’s an easy dish to tweak along the way until you get it just the way you like. Add a bit more lemon or celery, butter grill the roll and there it is – a bit of summer perfection. That being said, there are a couple of places in town that serve up a tasty lobster roll without the hassle of food prep or dirty dishes.
- Quarterdeck: Tucked away on Main Street in downtown Falmouth is a unique eatery that feels like the inside of an 18th-century schooner. Much of the interior is composed of recovered wood from old sailing ships made in Falmouth and the dim lighting inside contributes to the feel of being below decks in the galley. With a few drinks, maybe you’ll start to feel the motion of the ocean, too. The lobster roll is actually a lobster sandwich on grilled Portuguese sweet bread. It’s much better than the standard hot dog roll. This recipe used to be available only at the incredibly crowded and seasonal Chart Room in Bourne, but when the owners bought the Quarterdeck, the sandwich became available in Falmouth all year long.
- Quick’s Hole Taqueria: Wood’s Hole may be a bit out of the way, but if you find yourself in the neighborhood, either cycling on the Shining Sea Bikeway or catching a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, then stop in at this Mexican inspired seafood eatery. This is counter service, no-frills dining for when you just want to come as you are – sandy toes and smelling like coconut sunscreen. The lobster roll is fairly traditional here, but you can opt for the lobster tacos or the lobster burrito to spice it up a bit. You may balk at the thought of commingling your lobster with pickled onions or black beans, but it’s a taste that just works. The taqueria is one of my favorite summertime restaurants. Even as a local, I always feel like I’m on a mini vacation here.
Lobster rolls are expensive, so why not give your wallet a break and just grab a couple of pies, either at the restaurant or take out. Falmouth has some quality pizza joints, as well as more upscale establishments with gourmet pies. Whatever your taste, you won’t go wrong with these pizzerias.
- Simply Devine: Thin crust, hand-tossed, Neapolitan style pies made in a stone oven. That’s a pretty good start right there. Sure, you can order a traditional pepperoni pizza, or something a bit more unique like the Shrimp Scampi pizza, or the Buffalo Chicken pizza. It is widely considered the best pizza on the Upper Cape (by one local magazine, anyway). I have to agree, it is competitive with the best pizza on Cape Cod. Take out orders are available, as is delivery within a five-mile radius of downtown Falmouth.
- British Beer Company: The entire menu is filled with comfort food, and the pizzas are no exception. Crispy, thin crust with all the traditional toppings, plus some specialty pies such as the Spinach & Wild Mushroom Pizza, and the Over 21 Pizza with a mist of Bourbon. I enjoy this place a lot. Great vibe, great food. There’s just one caveat. They do not have Sam Adams beer on tap. I know that Sam and the Brits didn’t get along very well, but it’s been nearly 250 years…
I’m not an ice cream snob. I like all of it. But these two scooperies have a bit more cream that rises to the top. Each place has something unique about it that makes going there with the kids a bit special. Just remember that going out for ice cream is a time to chill out and connect with family. So don’t stand in the huge line at Dairy Queen and eat it in the car because there’s no place else to sit. There’s nothing special about that.
- Smitty’s: There are a couple of ice cream kings around here, and Richard “Smitty” Smith is one of them. Known for his homemade treats, friendliness, and support to the Falmouth community, Smitty has been scooping ice cream for the past 28 years in East Falmouth. Smitty’s has a large lawn area for kids to run around and plenty of picnic tables where you can plan your next day of vacation, or just become pleasantly lost in reverie.
- Ben & Bills: It’s not only an ice cream parlor but a candy shop and homemade chocolate emporium as well. Located in the downtown section of Falmouth on Main Street, visitors can see the chocolate being made right before their eyes. Despite the attention on homemade chocolate, it’s the ice cream that draws the crowds in the summer. There is no seating inside, and not much outside either, but it doesn’t really matter. Either stroll along Main Street or head across the street to the Green in front of the public library.
- Eulinda’s: This tiny place in West Falmouth is one of our favorite places to get ice cream. It’s not homemade, but hey, it’s ice cream. It’s still delicious. The best part about Eulinda’s is the location. It’s not located on a busy road, so it’s quite relaxing without the constant background noise of traffic. The outdoor seating consists of picnic tables in a nicely landscaped grove of oak trees that offer protection from the beating sun. It is also located on the Shining Sea Bikeway, so you can grab a cone or a sundae and take a walk, or stop in as you ride by on your bike.
Knockabout Oak Bluffs Audio Tour
Take a self-paced walk through Martha’s Vineyard’s most popular town. Explore the historic gingerbread cottages, the initial rift between the religious worshippers and the commercial resort developers, where to grab the best drinks, and more. The tour includes 45 minutes of audio narration, an interactive map, and is completed in 60-90 minutes depending on your pace.
Looking for a picnic lunch to bring to the beach, or maybe you just want some quick grub without the time commitment of sitting at a restaurant. Falmouth has some pretty great General Stores that include made to order sandwich shops. Both of the locations below feature Boar’s Head meats and cheeses, which are the best. Throwing a couple of subs or wraps in your bag before heading out for an excursion is definitely the way to go.
- West Falmouth Market: With a large selection of specialty sandwiches, you won’t have to think too much about creating your own. In addition to subs and wraps, the market has pizza by the slice or whole pies to order, impressive wine selection for a small store, and fresh baked goods to complement your lunch. It’s also located across the street from Eulinda’s Ice Cream and the Shining Sea Bikeway. Suggestion: Grab sandwiches, a bottle of wine and some cups, and bike a couple of miles north to Bourne Farm where you can picnic under the arbor. There’s also outdoor seating at the market, in case you just want to sit and relax.
- Dean’s Market: Located near the northern terminus of the Shining Sea Bikeway in North Falmouth, Dean’s has a large selection of made-to-order deli sandwiches. If you are short on time or not too fussy, there is also a large cooler of pre-made sandwiches so you can grab and go.
Falmouth’s west side overlooks Buzzard’s Bay and each evening hundreds of folks head out to the beaches to watch the sun drop into the sea. Most people will pack into Old Silver Beach, mostly because it’s convenient to access. And to be sure, it is a nice place to go and watch the sunset. If you have kids in tow, then this may be the place to come as there is plenty of beach for them to run, toss a frisbee, and simply enjoy being young. But if you want to find someplace lesser known, then check out these two places. Wherever you go, don’t forget to pack bug spray. The mosquitos can be ferocious at this time of day.
- Wood Neck Beach: Same view as Old Silver Beach but less crowded. Also has ample parking. This is one of Falmouth’s public beaches. It’s just a bit off the beaten path, so fewer people know about it.
- Chappaquoit Beach: Also a great view with plenty of beach space. If the wind is blowing, you may see kitesurfers zipping up and down the beach. Located near Eulinda’s Ice Cream, so you can head there first, then get to the beach quickly for sunset.
Obviously, I can’t cover every category in a single blog article. Where to get breakfast, best bars/nightlife, rainy day activities and more may be of interest. If you have any other favorites, feel free to drop them in the comments section.
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