City Guide: 11 Ways to Explore Cape Cod in the Winter
I was lucky enough to grow up less than 40 minutes from Cape Cod and spent many a summer day on the Cape’s iconic beaches. However, the Cape is a beautiful spot to visit anytime of year and the winter season offers a peaceful, calmer pace of relaxation. We recently spent part of our holiday on the Cape and we found plenty of family friendly attractions still open and offering special events and activities. Some of these attractions do close for a period in January or February, so we’ll suggest visiting for a holiday or after the February break, and always check online or call ahead of time to confirm hours.
Staying on the Cape: There are limited options available year round on the Cape, but luckily one of our favorite spots stays open (except for 24-26 December): Ocean Edge Resort and Spa in Brewster. We stayed at Ocean Edge during the summer a few years ago and loved the (seemingly) countless amenities and activities. Ocean Edge is magical during the summer and we highly recommend visiting the resort. However, winter at Ocean Edge is magical in its own way: the beach (especially at sunrise or sunset) is beautiful, the Frost Bar and igloos offer a super fun (and warm!) ambience for dining, the indoor pools offer a great way for kids to burn off energy, and there are plenty of other activities offered.
We chose to stay on the Mansion side of the 400+ acre property, which has two distinct resort areas. The Mansion and The Villages (separated by Main Street) have their own set of amenities, but during the winter months, the Mansion side has better accessibility to dining and pool options, and mansion rooms are only a short walk to the private beach. See more photos of the lodging options, dining options, and amenities at Ocean Edge in this post.
Dining on the Cape: We did find dining options much more limited during winter months, especially mid week. We will share a few links to indexes of dining on Cape Cod here, here, and here but we highly recommend checking online or calling ahead of time to confirm hours. If you’re into breweries, here is a good index of breweries on the Cape and islands.
Getting around Cape Cod: A good overview map of the Cape here and here and various town Visitor Centers (many open seasonally) here.
11 Places to Explore During the Winter on Cape Cod:
Cape Cod Children’s Museum in Mashpee offers one big space with tons of smaller vignettes for younger kids to explore. There’s a pirate ship, spaceship, treehouse, pet hospital, orchestra pit, and even a designated baby crawl space. It’s a great spot for the preschool and toddler crowd, and younger elementary aged children will surely use their imagination for independent and group play.
Winter bonus: The holiday light display (during the month of December) is another reason to visit Cape Cod in the winter.
Why you should return in the summer: The outdoor, grassy area has outdoor games and water fun
Travel Tips: The museum is open Monday through Saturday; information on admission rates and hours here; plenty of free parking in front; restroom and a gift shop located near the admission desk; handicap accessible, but leave the stroller in the car; plan on one hour for kids to explore all exhibits; best for ages 8 and under.
Highfield Hall in Falmouth was the summer “cottage home” of the prominent Beebe family of Boston in the 1870s. The property includes the two story home, four gardens, and walking trails. The second floor of the home includes an exhibit showcasing the history of the Beebe family and the history of the house. Make sure to leave time to walk the some of the six acres of gardens and walking trails. During peak summer season, the Hall hosts everything from cooking classes to weddings and lectures and family days.
Winter bonus: Annual Holiday Open House, from mid November through mid December, which includes special programs and crafts and classes. The walking trails are open year round.
Why you should return in the summer: The house is open for Estate Walks, kids will want to complete the StoryWalk (a new one each week!), there are culinary classes, lectures, and special events, and the four gardens are vibrant.
Travel Tips: Information on admission rates and hours here; the house is handicap accessible; restrooms located on the first floor; plenty of free parking in front; plan on 75 minutes for a tour and time to explore the gardens.
Cape Codder Water Park at the Cape Codder Resort in Hyannis is the only indoor water park on the Cape open year round! The 30,000 square foot park includes four slides, a lazy river, wave pool, toddler play area, and hot tub and sauna. Waterpark passes are included in resort stays, and day passes are available for visitors not staying on property. The resort also has an outdoor pool, outdoor recreational spaces, indoor spa, fitness room, and several dining options.
Winter bonus: Who wouldn’t want to spend a cold winter day at an indoor water park AND an outdoor heated pool, open year round?! Plus, the Enchanted Village is open all December. Add this to your list of places to visit in Cape Cod during the winter.
Why you should return in the summer: There’s the outdoor pool, sports courts, daily kids activities, and special themed weekends throughout the year.
Travel Tips: The waterpark offers day passes- rates and hours here; plenty of free parking at the resort; plenty of onsite dining options including the full service, all day Hearth’n Kettle restaurant and the Gazebo Cafe located inside the waterpark; changing rooms, restrooms, and lockers available inside the water park.
Whydah Pirate Museum in West Yarmouth showcases the ruins of the Whydah ship and the only full pirate treasure ever discovered in the world. The Whydah, a slave ship eventually overtaken by pirates, was built in 1715 in London and sailed to West Africa before heading to America. Captured by Sam Bellamy and fellow pirates, a Nor’Easter sank the ship off the shores of Cape Cod during the early morning hours of April 27, 1717. In 1984, Barry Clifford discovered the wreckage off the coast of Wellfleet, Massachusetts
Winter bonus: Various kids crafts (holiday themed!) on Saturday mornings and the chance to meet with an archaeologists on Sunday mornings.
Why you should return in the summer: Archaeologists and divers search through the wreckage between June and October each year searching for more treasures and bring artifacts back to the lab for cleaning, preservation, and display at the museum.
Travel Tips: The museum is open seven days a week April through October and then on weekend in the winter months; check here for hours and rates; visitors are able to leave and return same day; plenty of free parking; the museum is handicap and stroller accessible, although a stroller is not necessary; restrooms and a gift shop are located at the end of the self guided tour; the museum offers an audio, hand held tour for an additional cost; make sure each child grabs a treasure map and marker to find all the items listed- they can earn a prize at the end of the tour; plan on 60-90 minutes to fully explore the museum; guests may want to linger in the Sea Lab depending on the daily activities.
Read our full post here
Woods Hole Science Aquarium, part of the Woods Hole Oceanic Institute in Woods Hole, opened in 1875 and has over 80,000 visitors every year. The oldest public aquarium in America, the aquarium is home to 140 species of marine life who live in the Atlantic and Northeast waters, including harbor seals.
Winter bonus: Quieter crowds and plenty of touch tanks.
Why you should return in the summer: Daily seal feeding sessions.
Travel Tips: The aquarium is open Monday through Friday from 11am-4pm with free admission, but check here for updates on admission hours; very limited free parking in front of the building- better bet is metered street parking and public transportation; no strollers or food or drink allowed inside; there is one small flight of stairs to an upper level of touch tanks; restrooms located near the check in desk; kids will want to print out these activity sheets and bring them on their visit to the aquarium to complete; plan on 45-60 minutes to explore the exhibits.
Sandwich Glass Museum in Sandwich is home to the interactive history of the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company. The museum displays over 6,000 pieces from its collection, including threaded glass, glass paperweights, Christmas salts, glass lamps, pattern glass, lacy glass, pressed glass and portraits of prominent locals. Kids will enjoy the glass marble run, the replica “Hannah” Rebecca dining room from 1888, and the 15 minute video in the Hirschmann Theater that narrates the history of the area and company. Make sure to watch the hourly glass blowing demonstrations utilizing the glass furnace in the front of the museum.
Winter bonus: The Annual Glassblowers’ Christmas (held from November through the end of December) showcases local artists’ ornaments which are displayed on Christmas trees and available for purchase.
Why you should return in the summer: Rotating exhibits and special events.
Travel Tips: The museum is closed during January; information on admission rates and hours here; glass blowing demonstrations are usually held at the start of every hour; plenty of free parking; restrooms located near the gift shop; the entire museum is handicap accessible on one floor; plan on 60-90 minutes to explore the exhibits and watch a demonstration.
Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich is spread across 100 acres and includes three indoor gallery spaces; dozens of gardens; over 1,000 varieties of flowers, plants, trees, and shrubs; an outdoor discovery center kids will LOVE; a cafe and gift shop; and even a preschool through grade one school! The property was owned by the Lilly family who vacationed on the Cape during the 1950s and 1960s. J.K. Lilly wanted to showcase his late father’s collection of automobiles and other artifacts and created the museum and then added several gardens. Since 1969, when it first opened, gardens and additional buildings have been added to enhance the beauty of the complex.
Winter bonus: The wildly popular Gardens Aglow event, which includes light and seasonal decor displays throughout the gardens and family friendly activities, runs from October through December 23rd.
Why you should return in the summer: The gardens are their most vibrant, especially the hydrangeas. Kids will LOVE the McGraw Family Garden of the Senses.
Travel Tips: The complex is open from mid April through October, and in December for the Gardens Aglow event; guests are able to leave and return the same day: a helpful map of the complex can be found here; The Shop at Heritage gift shop is located near the entrance to the gardens; restrooms are located near the entrance, in the Lilly Automobile Gallery, and at the cafe; plenty of free parking available near the entrance; there is a trolley (large golf cart) that has several stops throughout the gardens; check here for an index of events and here for kid and family events; The Magnolia Cafe offers sandwiches, salads, snacks, ice cream, and drinks; plan on 2-3 hours to walk through the gardens and explore the two indoor museums.
Read our full post here
Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster includes 400 acres of land with salt marshes, a beach directly on Cape Cod Bay, a large indoor museum and aquarium, exhibition space, and educational spaces for camps and children’s programs. While the indoor spaces are closed during winter months, the hiking trails are accessible (look out for weather impacts).
Winter bonus: The peacefulness of walking the trails (view the map of the John Wing and Lee BaldwinTrails here) and seeing some of the wildlife.
Why you should return in the summer: The Butterfly House, Mud Kitchen, and tons of outdoor activities.
Travel Tips: The museum is open from late March through December and during winter school breaks; information on hours and fees here; plenty of free parking; restrooms and a gift shop are located near the admission desk; check out special programs here; plan on 2-3 hours to fully explore the museum and hike the nature trails.
Read our full post here.
Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum in Provincetown. Built from 1907-1910 to commemorate the first landing of the pilgrims on board the Mayflower on November 21, 1620, the 252 foot monument is the tallest all granite structure in America. Visitors can climb all 170 steps and 60 ramps to the top and be rewarded with views as far away as Boston (42 miles north). Today, the monument and adjacent museum are open to the public from early April through early November.
Winter highlights: The monument is lit for five weeks in November and December to honor the five weeks the Pilgrims stayed at Provincetown.
Why you should return in the summer: To explore the museum and climb the monument.
Travel Tips: Information on parking and admission rates and hours here; restrooms are located in a building in between the museum and monument; a small gift shop is located next to the admission desk in the museum; no dining facilities; the museum is handicap accessible; the grounds of the monument are handicap accessible via an elevator on Bradford Street, but the monument is not handicap accessible; wear sneakers to climb the monument; plan on 2 hours to explore the museum and climb the monument.
Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in Wellfleet includes a nature center and tons of preserved land and trails that overlook Wellfleet Harbor, with a salt marsh, barrier beach, and woodlands spread throughout the 1100+ acres. There are five miles of trails throughout the sanctuary, including boardwalks (check out the markers indicating future high tides as a result of climate change). and low tide pools.
Winter Highlights: Walk the well marked trails, check out the whale bones outside the center, and look out for wildlife.
Why you should return in the summer: Tons of hands-on activities and daily programs- check here– and the chance to see crabs on the boardwalk and birds visiting the bird feeders.
Travel Tips: The indoor nature center is open Tuesday through Saturday; information one hours and admission here; the nature trails are free and open year round; free parking (and an electric vehicle charging station) in front of the Nature Center; restrooms inside the nature center and outdoor portapotties; picnic tables outside the nature center; pets are not allowed on property; plan on an hour to explore the nature center and walk some of the shorter trails
Cape Cod National Seashore is one of the most popular organizations on the Cape, attracting 4.5 million visitors each year to its 43,608 acres spread out throughout the Cape. Overseen by the National Park Service and established in 1961, the National Seashore encompasses 12 self guided hiking trails, 6 beaches (Coast Guard, Nauset Light, Marconi, Head of the Meadow, Race Point, and Herring Cove), 3 biking trails, fishing and hunting, lighthouses, and 2 Visitor Centers (ProProvince Lands and Salt Marsh).
Winter Highlights: The Salt Marsh Visitor Center is open year round with short historical films, an indoor museum, and outdoor hiking trails. The beaches are much more accessible for walking during winter months, but no facilities or staff on site (except for Salt March VC).
Why you should return in the summer: Province Lands Visitor Center is also open and both Visitor Centers offer ranger led programs in the outdoor amphitheaters, some of the lighthouses are staffed, and nothing beats a summer day on a Cape Cod beach.
Travel Tips: Visitor Centers are free to visit but beaches and parks have in season parking fees; check here for hours and rates for all park related facilities; most restroom facilities are closed during the winter (except for Salt Marsh), but some locations have portapotties; Visitor Centers have gift shops; make sure to collect National Park passport stamps and have kids complete the Junior Ranger booklet and earn a badge.
Read our full post here
Bonuses: A few other indexes for exploring the Cape, both in and off season:
- Guide to lighthouses on Cape Cod here and here
- Guides and maps to the Cape Cod biking Rail Trail here and here and here
- Guides to public beaches on Cape Cod here and here and here
Looking for more of our City Guides? Check out our index here. And follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter.
Disclaimer: Our family was provided a media pass to some of these attractions; all opinions expressed are my own.
Wow. I didn’t know there was so much to do all year round at Cape Cod. Thanks for the post.
Cape Cod looks like a destination that has something for everyone to enjoy. You provided stunning photos and such helpful information, thanks!
Despite growing up on the east coast, I’ve never been to Cape Cod! It looks like y’all found a ton of fun things to do in the winter. I’d probably visit the Cape Cod National Seashore first or maybe go searching for lighthouses! Xx Sara
I would not have thought about Cape Cod for a winter getaway. But my kiddo would love the aquarium and we would both like exploring the trails at the wildlife sanctuary. Thank you so much for sharing!
Cape Cod looks amazing!! Thank you so much for sharing about going there in the winter it looks like just as much fun.
I love that they hang wreaths on the lighthouses. Looks like a really awesome place to visit any time of the year.
I have always wondered what it would be like to visit Cape Cod in the winter. Good tip about checking about schedules to make sure a place you want to visit is open in off-season. I love those fun igloos for dining outside. It would be fun to try out the heated outdoor pool at the Cape Fodder Water Park. It sure looks like there was more than enough to keep everyone busy and entertained on your winter visit.
Cape Cod sounds like such a fun spot to visit – in both the summer AND the winter! I love those igloos at Frost Bar, and I would love to explore the Natural History Museum and other museums and historical monuments in the area. Thanks for sharing this awesome guide!
Despite being half an hour from the bridge, there’s so much in this blog and prompts to all the other blogs that I didn’t know. Definitely making a reservation this year. I am so looking forward to it. Thank you.
I’ve never been to Cape Cod, but I’ve added it to my bucket list. Looks like such a lovely area to be in during the winter time; I’d love to see it in person.