Virtuoso Traveler 2019 June Cape Cod with Families: How to Avoid the Summer Crowds

Cape Cod with Families: How to Avoid the Summer Crowds

Harwich’s Wequassett Resort and Golf Club.
Harwich’s Wequassett Resort and Golf Club.
How to turn Cape Cod into your family’s own private playground – even in high summer.

Spectacular sand dunes, postcard towns, homemade ice cream at every turn. Summer in Cape Cod is the quintessential New England family getaway – which is why everyone wants to get there. Come Fridays from July 4 through Labor Day, you might sit in traffic for an hour just to cross the Bourne Bridge, which divides the Cape from the rest of Massachusetts. The trick during peak season is knowing where and when to go and what to avoid, or risk long waits at the local crab shack.

The good news: “Whether you’re a kid or a grandparent, you’re guaranteed to find something you love about Cape Cod,” says Cheryl MacPherson-Mahoney, a Virtuoso travel advisor who’s been vacationing there forever. What’s more, there’s plenty of Cape to go around. The coastline stretches for 560 miles along the Atlantic (Cape Cod National Seashore alone extends for 40 unspoiled miles). Each of the area’s 15 towns, from Hyannis to Provincetown, has its own distinctive shops, restaurants, and unplugged charms, and you’re never far from mini golf, a historic lighthouse, or a vintage marvel such as the Brewster General Store.

“The Cape exudes a real family-vacation feeling,” says Kacey Cunningham, a Virtuoso advisor. “It’s not pretentious, and you can spend a summer day riding bikes or building sandcastles with your children and still return to a beautifully appointed hotel room after enjoying a delicious dinner.” But you’ll need a plan. Here’s how to get the most from your family’s visit, even at the height of the season.

Indulging in homemade ice cream.
Indulging in homemade ice cream.
Photo by Ozgurdonmaz/Getty Images

Know When to Go

In the summer, creative scheduling can spell the difference between “Are we there yet?” and “Yay! We’re on vacay!” June is generally an excellent month to visit: The weather is salubrious, and even popular restaurants such as Chatham’s Impudent Oyster and Mac’s Shack in Wellfleet will take walk-ins. Once Independence Day comes, resourcefulness counts. Pro tip: Ideally, travel between Sunday night and midweek. The majority of visitors drive (generally, it’s two hours from Boston and four and a half from New York City), and Friday evenings see the most traffic, especially around the Fourth and Labor Day. Saturdays are busy too, because house rentals typically run from Saturday to Saturday. If Friday is the only option, “leave early or very late” – meaning before 10 am or after 10 pm – says MacPherson-Mahoney.

The off-hours approach also works during your stay. On a sunny day, you’ll have indoor attractions to yourself, such as the National Geographic Society-approved Whydah Pirate Museum in West Yarmouth, featuring real pirate weapons and treasure recovered offshore by underwater explorer Barry Clifford. North Chatham’s Marconi Maritime Center is another hidden gem, with engaging, hands-on displays on radio’s early years that even iPad-obsessed kids find mesmerizing.

Or get out early. “I try to rise by 8, grab coffee and pastries, and head to the water,” MacPherson-Mahoney says. “It can take some convincing to rally multiple generations, but as soon as you say, ‘Let’s have doughnuts on the beach for breakfast,’ you generally don’t get an argument from anyone.”

Beachside at Chatham Bars Inn.
Beachside at Chatham Bars Inn.

Seek Sanctuary

Two Virtuoso hotels on the Cape make it easy to enjoy everything that’s special about the area without having to stray very far from your pool chaise – or private beach. That’s helpful in avoiding the throngs.

Harwich’s Wequassett Resort and Golf Club is a breezy beach colony on Pleasant Bay with five restaurants, two pools, two beaches, boating and water activities, tennis courts, and 18 holes of golf. There’s a morning boat ride to visit seals and free daily ice cream at the pool. Children ages 4 to 12 have access to an acclaimed Children’s Center with its own pirate ship and water park. “There’s also an evening program so parents can enjoy dinner alone if they so choose,” says Cunningham. And why wouldn’t they? Twenty-Eight Atlantic, the resort’s signature restaurant, consistently ranks among the Cape’s best, with menu standouts that include local day-boat scallops with char-grilled tuna and New England Family Farms’ beef tenderloin. Virtuoso travelers receive a welcome amenity, breakfast daily, and a $100 resort credit. 

Around the bend on Chatham Harbor, Chatham Bars Inn combines old-school charm with conveniences such as hydro-therapy tubs and Bluetooth audio systems that came out of a recent $100 million renovation. The former hunting lodge, built in 1914 for wealthy Boston families, has a main lodge and cottages across an expanse of beachfront that makes the place feel like a village community rather than a hotel. Pools, bikes, tennis and croquet courts, an extensive spa – they’re all central to the Chatham Bars experience, though it’s tempting to do nothing, too, in one of the private beach cabanas or aboard the inn’s custom-designed 18-person Bar Tender boat. Via the inn’s partnership with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, guests can even join an Atlantic research expedition to observe and potentially tag great whites. Virtuoso travelers receive welcome amenities and breakfast daily. 

One of Chatham Bars Inn’s traditional lobster bakes.
One of Chatham Bars Inn’s traditional lobster bakes.

Find Your Happy Place

Cape Cod offers diverse diversions, so consider what you and your family most want. Picking a beach away from your hotel, for instance, is as personal as whether you go for espresso crunch, maple walnut, or straight-up pistachio at world-famous Sundae School ice cream shop.

Eastham’s First Encounter Beach is the classic white strip with tidal flats and sandbars. Ballston Beach in Truro, with its cliffs and dunes, somehow feels isolated even at peak times. Harwich’s Red River Beach is sensational for people-watching, Provincetown’s Race Point often serves up whale sightings, and Paine’s Creek Beach in Brewster has wading areas and sunset views plucked from a children’s book. For more-active pursuits, take a spin on the Shining Sea Bikeway, a 10.7-mile paved trail that runs along the seashore while also providing access to woodlands, ponds, and salt-marsh habitats unseen by most visitors.

Depending on your interests, your travel advisor can work with Virtuoso on-site connection American Excursionist to craft custom, crowd-free experiences on the Cape – think a private sunset dune dinner after an off-road adventure on Cape Cod National Seashore or a walking tour through Provincetown’s storied, literary streets.

Three More Summer Beach Destinations Fit for Families

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

The 61-room Inn & Club at Harbour Town at The Sea Pines Resort boasts three championship golf courses, miles of horse trails along the Atlantic coast, and a range of eco-experiences that include a wagon journey through Sea Pines Forest Preserve. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 hotel credit.

Amelia Island, Florida

Set along pristine Atlantic coastline, The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island abounds in kid-friendly activities such as indoor pirate campouts and exotic-fish feeding with Amelia, the 446-room resort’s macaw mascot. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 spa credit. 

San Diego, California

A San Diego icon for more than 130 years, the 757-room Hotel del Coronado (known affectionately as “The Del”) offers a laid-back, classic vibe and endless options for multigenerational guests, from surf camps to seaside yoga and painting classes. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 spa credit. 

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