Let’s face it. It’s been a long winter and an even longer spring. We don’t have to like it, but it’s something we do have to accept: Social Distancing will be with us for a bit longer, and that means into the summer season. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a great time while visiting Cape Cod. With plenty of open space and a large inventory of outdoor activities, Cape Cod is an ideal summer getaway in these circumstances. You just have to look beyond the usual tourist traps and invest a little time in preparing for your visit. This list of things to do in Cape Cod while social distancing will keep your family busy for your whole vacation.
Paddle Sports have always been a popular activity for the adventurous traveler to Cape Cod. It provides all the elements needed to have a great day in the outdoors. Over the past decade, stand-up paddleboarding has become wildly popular, offering a unique vantage point to seeing the Cape Cod landscape, while kayaking continues to be popular for those who prefer a seated experience. The Cape has a nearly limitless number of bays, creeks, and freshwater ponds to provide an easy introduction to the sport. Regardless of your prior experience, a guided tour can be tailored to your ability.
Social distancing while paddling is easy. Maintaining 10 feet between paddlers is normal, and paddlers can easily be spaced out during the launch and landing periods to maintain separation.
Peace Love SUP offers guided paddleboard and kayak tours as well as rentals for those who already have a bit of experience and want to venture out on their own.
The beaches on Cape Cod can be busy. There are hidden gems that offer some ability to spread out, but often you need a boat or a four-wheel-drive vehicle in order to access these special places. But not anymore. Fat-tire biking uses wheels that are 4-5 inches wide that allow the rider to float on the soft, sandy beaches and experience some of the coastline that was previously reserved for only those with skiffs and 4WD beach permits. Fat biking is also a great adventure activity that can be enjoyed by anyone who possesses a moderate amount of fitness. Take your bike and ride through tidepools, streams, and the water’s edge for a thrilling experience that is great for teens and active adults.
As far as social distancing goes, the riding beaches are wide open. You won’t find any beach on Cape Cod that offers more open space. The Brewster flats are the widest expanse of tidal flats in North America, with the beach extending up to a mile deep in some places at low tide. I know, because I run this tour myself. It’s offered through this website at Knockabout excursions, or at Peace Love SUP. Either way, I’m your guide.
All equipment is sanitized between uses using hospital-grade disinfectants.
There has always been a little something about drive-in theaters that makes you feel like you’re living in a movie from the 1950s. There are only around 300 of them left in the nation, having been replaced by megaplex cinemas with central air conditioning and stadium seating. But on a beautiful summer night, the Wellfleet Drive-In is a great family activity that the kids will enjoy and remember as a highlight of their Cape Cod vacation. My family has made the drive-in an annual summer tradition for many years, and we certainly won’t stop in 2020.
Wellfleet is located on the “outer-Cape,” which means that it could be a bit of a drive if you are staying in the Falmouth to Barnstable areas. However, it is worth the drive and you can tack it on to other daytime activities such as a visit to Cape Cod National Seashore or Provincetown, which you will probably want to do during your vacation, anyway.
The cinema themes itself as a traditional drive-in, with double features every night. The first film is usually family-friendly, while the second film is more adult-oriented. Younger families will often leave prior to the later show. A full snack bar is available, with burgers, fries, and pizza available along with the traditional cinema favorites like popcorn and candy. For a bit more nostalgia, there are even window speakers available from the 1950s, although these are not required for use. You can hear the audio much better through your car’s radio and speakers.
Needless to say, the drive-in offers more space between people than an indoor cinema along with plenty of open-air seating. If you pack in your own snacks, there is little need to be within 10 feet of any other party, bathrooms excepted.
Yarmouth and Falmouth Drive-In Entertainment
Amidst the many layers of suck that COVID-19 has brought upon us, there are a few bright spots. Drive-in theaters have popped up in Yarmouth and Falmouth, making an old pastime new again. The Yarmouth Drive-In is actually located on an old drive-in movie theater site that was in operation until about 1980, making it a perfect fit. Local food trucks will be on-site where guests can purchase food and beverage (non-alcoholic). The Falmouth Drive-In is located at the Barnstable County fairground. Both locations will feature films as well as live entertainment including concerts, comedy shows, and live sporting events.
Going out to eat is always a favorite activity while vacationing on Cape Cod. After all, who wants to spend time cooking, when you should be out having fun? However, even on a good year, finding a table at a restaurant often means nerve-wracking wait times, leaving you to wonder if it’s worth the hassle. With social distancing in effect, you can expect the frustration to continue. Although there may be fewer people vacationing this summer, you may find that securing a reservation might be a bit of a challenge with most restaurants operating at reduced capacity. Some restaurants that rely heavily on help from summer help from abroad could find themselves short-staffed as travel restrictions into the United States have eliminated hiring overseas workers.
In this case, it’s best to think like a local. Just grab take-out and head to the beach or a park where you can escape the chaos. You can phone in your order well ahead of time, pick up the grub and enjoy the evening. Everybody wins. You save time on the cooking and dishes, a local business gets the revenue, and nobody gets COVID anxiety. Most restaurants will be offering pick-up orders this year. Don’t forget to pack some lawn chairs and a cooler of drinks!
Here are a few favorite places where you can enjoy some open-air dining:
- Falmouth: The British Beer Company in Falmouth Heights has great pizza and a full menu packed with your favorite pub-style food. It is located directly across from Falmouth Heights Beach and adjacent to a large park with baseball and soccer fields, and a basketball court. Throw a blanket down on the grass and enjoy dinner before walking across the street to enjoy a short stroll on the beach.
- Sandwich: The east entrance to the Cape Cod Canal bike path is located at the Sandwich Manina and is a great place to pack out dinner. Three restaurants are located here. On the east side of the marina, the Pilot House is known for its lobster rolls, although it’s more of a lobster sandwich. Seafood Sam’s is a casual seafood eatery with fried and broiled options for a reasonable price. On the west side of the marina is Fisherman’s View, featuring both traditional and eclectic seafood and sushi dishes. Parks are located on both sides of the harbor, so there should be ample open space to maintain social distancing.
- Barnstable: Sandy Neck Beach is a popular destination for swimming and sunbathing, but in the evening the crowds dissipate and it’s even better. Bodfish Beach is the public area and has plenty of free parking after 6:00pm. The snack bar, closed in the evening, should have some picnic tables available for your takeout orders. Grab some gourmet pizza from nearby Amari, or grilled sandwiches from Father’s Kitchen & Taphouse (6 min drive). After dinner, take a walk on the beach and enjoy the golden light as the sun sinks low on the horizon.
A solitary fisherman enjoys sunrise at the Cape Cod Canal
A quintessential activity here on Cape Cod is fishing. Surfcasting from the beach or jetty requires little more than a rod, reel, and some bait or lures. It’s a great way to spend some time outdoors and practically requires you to maintain your social distance, lest you get your lines crossed with other fishermen. But don’t think that you can just show up to the closest body of water and throw your line in the water. Well, you can, but you probably won’t catch anything. There is a lot of nuance to the sport if you want to take home dinner at the end of your session. Tides and currents play an important role in whether fish will show up at your location while knowing what type of bait to use for your target species will also increase your odds at success.
If you are new to saltwater fishing and do not plan to learn the sport in-depth, then hiring a guide is probably your best at having a successful day. Cape Cod On The Fly provides half-day and full-day fly fishing excursions on foot, fishing the Brewster flats along Cape Cod Bay. Boat charter options are also available if you are not too worried about social distancing this summer.
One thing is for certain. Cape Cod has enough paved bike paths to keep a family busy for several days. Not only can you get a decent exercise session and enjoy being outside, but with a bit of planning, you can actually get to interesting places that include beaches, breweries, ice cream venues, and restaurants with outdoor seating. Whether you are vacationing on the upper cape near Falmouth or further “down-cape” near Brewster or Chatham, there is a bike road that can take you to some pretty scenic places.
Shining Sea Bikeway
Cyclists enjoy the ride from Falmouth to Woods Hole during the Massachusetts quarantine.
This 10-mile rail-trail starts in North Falmouth and travels south all the way to Woods Hole, where cyclists can dismount their bikes for a bit and walk around the village. Here, you will see the Steamship Authority ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, as well as the campus of the world-famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI). WHOI (rhymes with phooey) conducts marine science research across the globe and is the largest and most prestigious facility in the field of oceanography. Usually, visitors to Woods Hole can drop by the WHOI museum or the small aquarium; however, whether those public facilities will open in 2020 is still uncertain.
There are also several restaurants in Woods Hole, many offering a takeout option. Highly recommended is the Quick’s Hole Taqueria, where you can get fish tacos for curbside pickup and head over to the park on Water Street for a picnic. Please check their website for operating hours, which may vary as the season progresses.
There are also several places along the Shining Sea Bike Path where you can stop and take a break, grab ice cream or lunch, or take a dive in the ocean. Below is a list of options that make this bike path a great activity to add to your vacation itinerary.
- Bourne Farm: Walking trails, picnic tables, a scenic overlook, and some dirt riding if you want to get off the pavement for a bit.
- West Falmouth Harbor/Chappaquoit Beach: You won’t have to worry about finding a parking spot at one of Falmouth’s most popular beaches on Buzzard’s Bay. Just lock up the bikes and dive in.
- Eulinda’s Ice Cream: Located on the bike path in West Falmouth Village, this is one of my favorite places to get ice cream. There is plenty of shaded picnic tables and benches to escape the summer sun.
- West Falmouth Market: Across the street from Eulinda’s, this general store has everything from breakfast sandwiches and coffee to Boar’s Head deli subs, pizza, beer, and wine. Outdoor seating is available, or just throw some items in your pack and keep riding until you get to the next quiet park bench or beach along the bike path.
- Trunk River Beach: This small beach is located right on the path between Falmouth and Woods Hole, and is arguably the most scenic portion of the Shining Sea Bikeway. It can sometimes get crowded here, but there should still be ample wiggle room between people to maintain distancing guidelines. Here, you can sit on the rocks that make up the seawall, spread some towels on the beach, or just enjoy the scenery as you continue paddling to Woods Hole.
Bike rentals along the Shining Sea Bikeway:
- Bike Zone: Cyclists that choose to start at the bikeway's northern terminus can park and ride from here.
- Corner Cycle: Located near downtown Falmouth, cyclists that choose to start from here can ride either north on a less crowded section of trail, or south toward Woods Hole, which passes by Vineyard Sound but generally has more bike/pedestrian traffic. As of this writing, Corner Cycle was closed to bike rentals, so be sure to check their website HERE for updated information.
The park on Water Street in Woods Hole is perfect for a take-out picnic. Grab fish tacos from Quick's Hole or deli sandwiches from Woods Hole Market
Cape Cod Rail Trail
Totaling 25 miles in one direction, the Cape Cod Rail Trail is the longest bikeway on the Cape. It stretches from its western terminus in Dennis, all the way to the National Seashore in Eastham. Tackling the entire trail is a bit much for most visitors, but there are a few itineraries that will make for a great day in the outdoors.
Devil’s Purse to Hog Island:
For a couple of adults without kids in tow and some time to kill, try this 25 mile, round-trip stretch of the bikeway. Park at the eastern terminus located on Route 134 and begin riding east. After 1/2 mile of riding, depart the bikeway by turning right onto South Gages Way, then another quick right onto Great Western Road. Devils Purse Brewery is only 300 yards ahead on the right. Unfortunately, there is no direct access from the bikeway.
Once at the tasting room, enjoy a quick sampling of some locally crafted brew. Half pours are available so you can sample a couple of beers without getting too full or intoxicated. Drink responsibly. Remember, you just began your ride and you still have a long way to go. Alternatively, you can save this stop until the end of your ride.
After sampling, retrace your steps back to the bike path and continue heading east on the bikeway. It will take about an hour to pedal to Hog Island Beer Company in Orleans. It is located just off of the bikeway on West Road. There is a large lawn with outdoor seating, making this a good location to hang out for a while and enjoy a drink. The brewery also serves food including clam chowder, lobster rolls, wings, and pizza. Do yourself a favor and take a cable lock, just in case you need to lock up your bikes and Uber back home.
Bike Rentals are available from from Barb’s Bike Shop, located at the parking area.
Brewster and Nickerson State Park
Nickerson State Park is undoubtedly one of Cape Cod’s premier outdoor spaces. With access to hiking trails, paved bike paths, single-track mountain bike trails, a freshwater beach, and camping, this park is extremely popular with visitors. Parking at Nickerson requires a small day-use fee, but the cost is justified by quick access to a prime section of the Cape Cod Rail Trail, plus the use of the bike trails within the park itself, should you wish to explore.
Riders can travel east on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, quickly getting to the aforementioned Hog Island Beer Company within a 15-minute ride, then continuing on for as long as desirable. Westward riders can pedal 15 minutes in the other direction to Stone Love Pizza for some artisan pies. Some outdoor seating is available, or simply take your pizza to the adjacent lawn.
Cyclists that want to explore more varied terrain can forego the rail trail and use the extensive network of paved bike paths within the park. By combining these paths with some wide equestrian trails and some short sections of the park road, riders can complete a 7-mile loop around the park. While not terribly difficult, cyclists should be aware that there is some elevation change within the park, so it will require a stronger set of legs relative to the rail trail.
Bike Rentals are available from Rail Trail Bike and Kayak Shop, located on the bikeway three miles west of Nickerson State Park.
It's Your Summer
Remember that the summer season is short around here. While you should take the necessary precautions to keep yourself and others safe until COVID-19 is behind us, you should also try to enjoy it. There are plenty of activities to make your Cape Cod vacation just as fun as ever - maybe even with less traffic.
Of course, this list is not all-inclusive. Please tell us your suggestions for having a great Summer in 2020.
You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.