The Towns of Cape Cod

The Star of India makes its way through Stage Harbor in Chatham. There is so much to do and see on the Cape with each town offering something just a little different. Photo by John Fitts.

Cape Cod Towns from A to Z...actually, B[arnstable] to Y[armouth]

Upper, Mid, Lower and Outer Cape Cod

The Upper Cape is the first part of the Cape Cod visitors see, including towns near the Sagamore and Bourne Bridges, and the Cape Cod Canal. Bourne, Sandwich,  Falmouth and Mashpee are considered to be on the Upper Cape. The Upper Cape flavor is residential, historic and settled.

Mid Cape is the central part of Cape Cod, which includes the towns of Barnstable (and its many villages--Hyannis, Cotuit, Osterville, Centerville and Marstons Mills), Yarmouth and Dennis. The Mid-Cape is bustling and business-centered, but like all of Cape Cod, has lovely beaches and many activities.

The Lower Cape includes the towns at the “elbow” of the Cape--Chatham, Orleans, Brewster and Harwich and the Outer Cape includes the towns from its "forearm" to “fist”--Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown.

While Harwich, Brewster and Orleans are more mainstream in some ways, as you travel toward Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown, you’ll find more of the vast sand-duned beaches the Cape is known for, and residents who may be a bit more off-the-beaten-trail.

Barnstable

Barnstable Village maintains the historic feel of yesterday.  Historic buildings and old sea captains' homes--now private homes, inns and restaurants--stand along side historic churches and beautifully maintained landscapes.  Barnstable Village is home to Sturgis Library, the oldest library building in the United States, the Barnstable County Courthouse and Barnstable Harbor.

The village of Hyannis in the town of Barnstable is the commercial business hub of Cape Cod, home to the Cape Cod Mall, Cape Cod Hospital and the Hyannis Transportation Center. “We go from being a quaint Cape Cod village to having our HyArts Culture District Designation,” says Jessica Silver, Executive Director, Hyannis Chamber of Commerce. “Last year, Melissa Hersh (Arts and Culture Coordinator for Town of Barnstable) applied for the designation, and she and the Town pushed for us to get it,” says Silver. Hyannis Harbor provides steamship access to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Islands, and is home to the new Art Shanties, where visitors can enjoy and purchase the wares of local artists and artisans.

Take a walk on the Kennedy Legacy Trail, a 1.6-mile walking trail through Hyannis. “A lot of our visitors are looking for these walks,” continued Silver, referencing the Town of Barnstable Village’s walking tour.

Centerville is mostly residential, with a lovely beach on the south side of Cape Cod.

Osterville, also on the south side, is a favored spot for boating and fishing, with its little inlets and snug harbors. Marstons Mills, mostly residential with a small business center, winds through woodlands before turning onto its main location on Route 28. The village of Cotuit sits on a peninsula and features some smaller beaches, and is home to the highly acclaimed Cotuit Center for the Arts.

Bourne

Bourne is the gateway to Cape Cod, with three bridges –Bourne Bridge, Sagamore Bridge, and the smaller railroad bridge. A family destination, Bourne is known for sport fishing and shell fishing, Bourne’s Scenic Park campground is a nice spot for boating and swimming.

Brewster

Brewster sits on the bay side of the Cape, and features many large ponds, beaches and marshland, much of its acreage protected as conservation land. A landmark is Nickerson State Park with 400 acres of biking and hiking trails, camping areas, and freshwater ponds for swimming and fishing. Originally an historic sea captains’ town, Brewster’s shopping is diverse at Lemon Tree Shops  located on Route 6A, one of the loveliest drives in the spring, with daffodils blooming from the sides of the road throughout the marshes, fields and lawns. There are more than 30 antique shops, craft stores and art galleries in this tiny town of 8,400, which grows to 20,000 in peak summer season.

Chatham

Chatham fishermen and women are a vital source of the town's revenue. The quaint walking Main Street, which draws many international visitors, hosts both old fashioned shops, as well as the best in all things modern. Chatham’s Norman Rockwell-esque ambience includes the weekly band concerts in the Town gazebo, as well as its scenic Lighthouse Beach

Dennis

Dennis, including East Dennis, Dennis, South Dennis, West Dennis and Dennisport, boasts historic districts hailing back to whaling days. Dennis offers sixteen beaches and numerous hiking and biking trails, and is famous for the nation's oldest summer theater, the Cape Playhouse. Cited as an All-American Town in 1978, Dennis offers a wide variety of summer activities for families.

Eastham

Eastham is part of the Outer Cape, abutted on two sides by land, and the other two by the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Cod Bay. As you move towards the Outer Cape, towns are slightly more quiet and remote (excluding Provincetown). Full of salt marshes and harbors, Eastham is the gateway to the Cape Cod National Seashore and has some of the most beautiful hiking trails; check out Doane Rock and Fort Hill.

Falmouth

Falmouth has one of the longest coastlines in the State, and its villages feature woodlands and beautiful beaches. A mainstay of the arts is The College Light Opera Company. The village of Woods Hole is a scientific community boasting some of the best minds and research in the world. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Marine Biological Laboratory are in Woods Hole as are the Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England and Steamship Authority providing ferry service to Martha's Vineyard.

Harwich

Full of cranberry bogs and bike trails, Harwich has an extensive shoreline on Nantucket Sound. Harwich includes Harwich Center, Harwich, Harwichport, East Harwich, and West Harwich. Take a fragrant visit to the Lavender Farm.

Mashpee

Mashpee is a remaining touchstone of the Wampanoag Nation, the Native American tribe which met the Pilgrims at Plymouth. The Wampanoag influences the character of the community via the Indian Museum, the annual July Pow Wow and other activities of the Tribal Council. With over five miles of sandy beaches on Nantucket and Vineyard Sounds, and four of the largest freshwater ponds on Cape Cod, Mashpee is a relaxed place for residents, seasonal homeowners and visitors.

Orleans

Settlers bought Orleans from Manamoyick Indians, one of my favorite Cape towns, seamlessly marrying old Cape charm with a hip, forward-thinking vibe. It sits right on the “elbow” of Cape Cod. A mainstay haunt of this town is the Hot Chocolate Sparrow for youth and older folks alike.

Provincetown

A huge tourist favorite, Provincetown is still a fishing and maritime commercial center of the Cape, and sits on the tip of Cape Cod. The oldest artist colony in the nation, Provincetown is unique in its history and character. Full of lofts, warehouses, barns, galleries and studios, the rich cultural heritage sits alongside the thriving fishing industry. Top-name entertainment and dining makes this “San Francisco of the Northeast” a favorite of tourists from around the globe.

Sandwich

Last year, Sandwich, the oldest and first-settled town, earned the Cultural District Designation from the State of Massachusetts. “Sandwich has so much to offer in the arts, with the history of glass blowing in the early industrial age, now to contemporary artists glass blowing in open studios,” says Kate Bavelock, Executive Director, Sandwich Chamber of Commerce. “We’re a close-knit community. Our artists contribute so much, through the schools, First Night and in the community,” says Bavelock.

Besides the famed Sandwich Glass Museum, stop by a local studio, like the Sandwich Glass Studio or McDermott Glass Studio to talk to the artists while watching them blow glass.

Truro

Truro is small, rural and rich in history, where the Mayflower Pilgrims found a spring from which they drew their first drink of water. As well as Bay beaches, some of the most vast, stunning Atlantic Ocean beaches can be found in Truro. The dunes and rolling hills inspire artists, tourists and vacationers. Come view or climb Cape Cod Light, Cape Cod's oldest lighthouse. Over half of Truro’s land is within the Cape Cod National Seashore District.

Wellfleet

Wellfleet is rural, artsy and home to many galleries and fine restaurants. Most of the land is part of Cape Cod National Seashore Park. Miles of ocean and bay-side beaches, as well as clear, spring-fed, ponds dot the famous town whose residents refer to themselves as “Wellfleetians”. Visit the Massachusetts Audubon Society Wildlife Sanctuary, and you must try some of their famous Wellfleet oysters.

Yarmouth

Yarmouth extends from Cape Cod Bay to Nantucket Sound. An interesting physical feature is the result of glaciations; the low round hills on the north side of town were created by the leading edge of the glacier as it pushed the land before it. Yarmouth has five public schools and three libraries. The community enjoys a variety of recreational programs as well as the town's fifteen public saltwater beaches, five freshwater beaches and two municipal golf courses.

Visit the towns section of CapeCodTravel.com for more specifics on each of the Cape's towns and villages.

About the Author

Contributing Writer

Cheryl Kain has been a contract writer for Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health since 2006. She interviewed yoga legend Rod Stryker, and was featured on Good Morning America for how yoga changed her health and her life. She has written for The Cape Cod Times, The Cape Codder, Harwich Oracle, Cape Cod Travel Guide, and been entertainment editor for webzines EdgePtown, EdgeBoston, EdgeLosAngeles and EdgeNewYork. She recently finished her second book, a memoir. Visit www.cherylkainwrites.com.