Fall in Cape Cod: Driving Tour in New England

Written by Barbara Rogers

September 3, 2020
Home >> Destinations >> North America >> United States >> Massachusetts >> Fall in Cape Cod: Driving Tour in New England

Autumn is the time to visit Cape Cod because everything is easy-going, the weather is still pleasant, and the beaches uncrowded. Stretching out into the Atlantic Ocean like a curled human arm, Cape Cod is the end of a glacial moraine from the last ice age. It is a vast sand pile left as glaciers scraped away northern New England’s mountains.

The 65-mile Route 6 from Bourne (at the Cape Cod Canal) to Provincetown opens a world of attractive small towns, historic homes, gardens, museums, and beaches. You can find a variety of galleries, which are known for beautiful examples of local artistry and craftsmanship. At beach town boutiques, you’ll find end-of-the-season sales on summer clothing and accessories. Now is the ideal time for exploring Cape Cod in fall.

Touring Sandwich in the Fall

Approaching the Cape as you begin your fall driving tour of Cape Cod, you’ll cross the Cape Cod Canal on the Bourne or Sagamore Bridge. The first exit after either takes you to the town of Sandwich, a former glassblowing center.

The Sandwich Glass Museum tells the glassworks’ story and the history and science of glassmaking through its collections of antique glassware and contemporary glass art.

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cape cod in fall

Sandwich Glass Museum and Billy Mayer Glass Sculpture. Photo by Stillman Rogers

The hourly glassblowing demonstrations are fun because they give you a first-hand look at the craft.

cape cod in fall

Glassblower at the Sandwich Glass Museum, Sandwich, Massachusetts. Photo by Stillman Rogers

Also in Sandwich, the Heritage Museum and Gardens appeals to a variety of interests: antiques, gardening, and vintage automobiles.

cape cod in fall

1932 Boattail Speedster at the Heritage Museum in Sandwich. Photo by Stillman RogersMassachusetts

From the magnificently restored cars in the J.K. Lilly III Automobile Gallery, walkways wind through spacious grounds of flower beds, hydrangea gardens, and trees, to the American Art and Carousel Gallery. This museum of early Americana includes an antique carousel that you can ride.

cape cod in fall

Sandwich Heritage Museums and Gardens. Photo by Stillman Rogers

Sandwich is the Cape’s oldest town, settled in 1637, so this region has a lot of history. At the Dexter Grist Mill, watch corn being ground into cornmeal on water-driven grindstones. You can even take home a bag to sample.

The Belfry Inn occupies a former church, which has been repurposed without losing its fine architectural and artistic features, including beautiful stained glass windows.

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cape cod in fall

Sandwich MA Belfry Inn occupies a former church. Photo by Stillman Rogers

The Next Door Burger Bar, beside the Inn, serves plain and fancy burgers, with take-out and curbside service—perfect for a picnic lunch.

Touring Along Cape Cod Bay

Follow Route 6-A along the north shore through Barnstable, Dennis, and Brewster. Here, gently sloping beaches face the protected waters of Cape Cod Bay. Between Barnstable and Dennis, stop in pretty Yarmouthport to visit the Edward Gorey House, home and studio of the eccentric artist who created the introductory themes for Public Television’s Masterpiece Mystery. The house is filled with his quirky collections and exhibits of his often-macabre works.

cape cod in fall

Touring along Cape Cod takes you through picturesque towns and beautiful beaches tucked in small coves. Photo by Stillman Rogers

Corporation Beach in Dennis is in a small cove protected by a breakwater. You’ll find more beaches off Route 6A and Lower County Road in Dennis. While there, visit the Cape Cod Museum of Art. The museum, dedicated to the works of Cape artists, features works by Thomas Hart Benton, Childe Hassam, and others who have worked here.

Brewster has more beaches, and several art galleries and antique shops, plus the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, with an aquarium, butterfly house, and exhibits on the Wampanoag people.

Exploring the Outer Cape and Provincetown

At Orleans, Cape Cod curls north, through Wellfleet and Truro. Most of the eastern shore is in the Cape Cod National Seashore, and you can pick up maps and information at the Salt Pond Visitor Center. Sign up for ranger programs here that include hiking, canoeing, and visiting the park’s historic buildings. For the best look at the park’s hard-to-reach world of shifting sand, contorted trees, and lunar landscapes, join an excursion from Provincetown with Art’s Dune Tours.

Learn Provincetown’s history as a whaling and fishing port at the Provincetown Heritage Museum and see paintings by notable artists who have worked there; you’ll find more at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum.

For ship models and maritime artifacts visit the base of the 252-foot Pilgrim Monument, the nation’s tallest all-granite structure. It’s a long climb to the top; however, the views are spectacular.

cape cod in fall

View of Provincetown with the Pilgrim Monument standing tall. Photo by Different_Brian via iStockPhoto

More views stretch below the decks of Land’s End Inn, a luxurious early-20th century “cottage” filled with Art Nouveau décor, stained glass, and antiques.

cape cod in fall

Cape Cod Bay from the rooftop suite at Land's End Inn, Provincetown, Massachusetts. Photo by Stillman Rogers

On a hilltop at the very end of the Cape, the inn is a short walk from the shops, art galleries, restaurants, and characterful bars that make Provincetown the Cape’s liveliest town. Napi’s Restaurant serves internationally inspired dishes, and the Lobster Pot is a local favorite for seafood dinners or a lobster roll.

cape cod in fall

Provincetown is Cape Cod's liveliest town. Photo by Vadim Anvaer via iStockPhoto

Return south on Route 6, stopping in Wellfleet to follow a trail through the rare Atlantic White Cedar Swamp. This is an almost mystical low-lying forest filled with pools, mosses, rare wetland plants, and one of the few remaining stands of white cedar.

Touring Along the Atlantic Shore and Hyannis

In Orleans, follow Route 6-A south to Route 28, toward Chatham, where communications history comes to life at the Marconi-RCA Museum, on the site where Marconi built his huge antenna station in 1914. Some of the earliest ship-to-shore radio transmissions were received here. During World War II, intercepted messages from German submarines saved Allied shipping.

After stopping to see the Chatham Lighthouse and views from its bluffs, follow Route 28 along the south shore to Hyannis.

cape cod in fall

Chatham Bar Light and Coast Guard Station. Photo by Stillman Rogers

Home of President Kennedy’s Summer White House, Hyannis is best known for its Kennedy family connections. Start at the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum on Main Street to see a remarkable collection of family photographs, and then follow the Kennedy Legacy Trail to more sites.

cape cod in fall

Stop by the John F Kennedy Hyannis Museum on Main Street. Photo by CaptureLight via iStockPhoto

The town’s maritime and boat-building heritage is illustrated at the Cape Cod Maritime Museum, where you’ll see active boat building shops, maritime art, and scrimshaw. For a skillful fusion of Italian and Peruvian cuisines in a bright, cheerful setting, stop at Tumi Ceviche Bar Ristorante.

From Hyannis, you can continue on 28 around the southern coast to Falmouth, where two furnished 18th-century homes make up Falmouth Museums on the Green. Along with colonial-style flower and herb gardens is a gazebo where you can picnic. More restored gardens are at 1878 Highfield Hall & Gardens, where there are frequent indoor and outdoor art exhibitions.

From Falmouth, continue on Route 28 to the Bourne Bridge. You can also follow the Cape Cod Canal on Sandwich Road to the Sagamore Bridge.

When You Visit Cape Cod

Sandwich is about 58 miles south of Boston. Although fall is much quieter than in the height of the summer season, it can get busy, particularly on weekends. If you do plan your driving tour in Cape Cod over a fall weekend trip, be prepared for back-ups at either bridge.

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This driving tour shows you the best of fall in Cape Cod. Be sure to see Wander for more road trip ideas in the USA, great fall getaways, and other places to visit in New England.

Check out Wander With Wonder's recommendations of the best coolers for road trips.

Autumn is the time to visit Cape Cod—when everything is easy-going, the weather is still pleasant, and the beaches uncrowded. The 65-mile route from Bourne (at the Cape Cod Canal) to Provincetown opens a world of attractive small towns, historic homes, gardens, museums, and beaches, not to mention galleries selling beautiful examples of local artistry and craftsmanship. Now is the ideal time for exploring Cape Cod in fall.

Note: The writers were provided with admission to some of these attractions for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writers believe in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.

Written by Barbara Rogers

Barbara Radcliffe Rogers, along with her writer/photographer husband, is co-author of seven guidebooks to Italy, three to Spain and several others covering European cities, Atlantic Canada, and New England. She writes for Global Traveler Magazine, where she has also served as News Editor, and for several other magazines and websites. Her work reflects her love of finding the hidden corners and secret places that escape more traditional travel guides. Barbara travels in the firm belief that experiencing other cultures is the best way to change our perspective and develop respect for other traditions and ways of life. When she is not writing, she is likely to be found searching for prehistoric sites in Portugal or discovering new flavors for her blog, Worldbite.

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