Cape Cod is made of sand, so it's no surprise that its shores boast many long, broad beaches of fine light powdery silicon.
Surprise! Many of the glacial ponds on Cape Cod have fine sand beaches, allowing you to enjoy freshwater as well as salt-water swimming. Nickerson State Park in Brewster has eight ponds, Yarmouth has others.
About Beach Permits
Most Cape Cod towns reserve at least a few of their beaches for town residents (ie, local taxpayers) and renters only. Check beach permit rules in advance before heading to the beach.
Some beaches may be open to holders of non-resident beach permits, which may be purchased at the town office, or in a few cases, at the beach; or you may find the permit you want on the Cape Cod Beach Stickers website. Some permits are valid for a day or a few days; others may be for the entire summer season, and thus may be too expensive for a single beach visit.
Beaches in the Cape Cod National Seashore are open to national park visitors with a valid pass for entry into the park. They are not subject to town regulations.
This renowned national park stretches for 40 miles (63 km) along the northern shores of Cape Cod (map), preserving 44,600 acres (180 square kilometers) of beach, uplands, glacial ponds, and countless natural habitats.
Its four major visitor areas make its miles of beaches and dunes available to everyone. More...
Cape Cod's Best Beaches
Here's my shortlist of the best beaches on Cape Cod, with the reasons for my choices, and notes on other beaches in each town:
Barnstable - Sandy Neck Beach
Though narrow and stony, Sandy Neck Beach, 425 Sandy Neck Rd, West Barnstable (map), is a long (6 miles/10 km) barrier beach, the water is warm, it's usually uncrowded, the bird and wildlife watching is good, and facilities (bath house with toilets, snack stand, picnic area with grills) are quite adequate. You can enter from Barnstable or Sandwich.
Other Barnstable Beaches
Barnstable is the largest "town" on Cape Cod (legally, it's actually a city), extending from Cape Cod Bay in the north to Nantucket Sound in the south. Sandy Neck is the best Cape Cod Bay beach. In the south, Craigville Beach and Covell's Beach are long and good. Veterans Park Beach and Kalmus Park Beach in the Barnstable village of Hyannis (see below) are easily accessible from the center of Hyannis.
Brewster - Nickerson State Park
Okay, the beach in Nickerson State Park, 3488 Main Street, Brewster (map), is narrow—it's a freshwater pond beach, after all—but look what's around it: beautiful forest, clear glacial kettle ponds, hiking trails, nature talks, 400 campsites, the Cape Cod Rail Trail—a completely different Cape Cod experience. Remember that other Cape towns such as Yarmouth have freshwater pond beaches as well.
Other Brewster Beaches
Brewster has eleven saltwater beaches on Cape Cod Bay, and two freshwater beaches on ponds. Except for First Landing Beach, which is reserved for Brewster residents, all others are open to the public (parking permit necessary). Check out the Cape Cod Bay beaches at Ellis Landing, Lindell Landing and Crosby's Landing, and of course the freshwater town beaches at Sheep Pond, Long Pond .
Chatham - Lighthouse Beach
Yes, I chose Lighthouse Beach, 30 Main Street, Chatham (map), because of the Chatham lighthouse, but in fact all of Chatham's fine beaches share the advantage of being behind a barrier beach, shielded from the Atlantic. That means no surf, warm lagoon waters, and plenty of sand. If you want a surf thrill, head out to the barrier. Parking is tight at the beach, but shuttle buses run from the town center.
Other Chatham Beaches
Because of its sandy barrier islands, Chatham's beaches feature just about the warmest water you'll find on Cape Cod. Shallow lagoons are great for safe splashing by small children.
Dennis - West Dennis Beach
East across the Bass River from Yarmouth's Bass River Beach, West Dennis Beach (map) is a continuation of the same sand with similar advantages. Indeed, the entire Nantucket Sound shore of the Town of Dennis is one long, splendid beach. Parts are open to Dennis residents only, but West Dennis Beach is open to all, and the drive from many Dennis hotels is short.
Other Dennis Beaches
Beaches? Dennis has them, over a dozen, many of them splendid, along Nantucket Sound on the south shore of Cape Cod.
Henry David Thoreau called this "The Great Beach." Coast Guard Beach, 2 Ocean View Dr, Eastham (map), was the first land the Pilgrims saw 65 days after leaving Bristol, England in 1620. This broad swath of rough sand faces east to the Atlantic in the Cape Cod National Seashore. Reachable by bike path from the Salt Pond Visitor Center, the beach has all the advantages of being in a national park: great wildlife-watching, good facilities, handicap access. Nauset Light Beach is the northward continuation. Bring your surfboard!
Other Eastham Beaches
The little town of Eastham has big public beaches because of the Cape Cod National Seashore, but the few smaller town beaches are mostly for residents only.
Falmouth - Old Silver Beach
Because it faces Buzzards Bay, the sea at Falmouth's Old Silver Beach, 296 Quaker Road, Falmouth (map) is warmer and calmer than at Nantucket Sound beaches, the sand fine and soft, and the facilities (bath house with showers and toilets, snack stand) good. The slope from the beach into the sea is very gradual, making it great for families. Because it's near the mainland, the parking lot can fill up on hot days, so come early—especially on weekends.
Other Falmouth Beaches
Old Silver Beach is among Cape Cod's favorites, but Falmouth's Town Beach is fun as well.
Hyannis - Kalmus Park Beach
Hyannis, one of the seven "villages" in the town of Barnstable, is rich in beaches, but Kalmus Park Beach is my favorite. Yeah, Hyannis's Craigville Beach is bigger, but Kalmus Park Beach, less than 2 miles south of the center of Hyannis (map), is two beaches in one: a placid, warm-water beach on Lewis Bay, and a surfier ocean beach on Nantucket Sound. Good bath house with showers and toilets, lifeguards, snack stand, and the even warmer Veterans Park Beach and John F Kennedy Memorial are only 6/10 mile (1 km) to the north.
Other Hyannis (Barnstable) Beaches
Cape Cod's largest town has a good collection of beaches, some of which are within walking distance of the town center—convenient for those without cars.
Orleans - Nauset Town Beach
How can you argue with a 10-mile-long (16-km) beach? Orlean's Nauset Town Beach, 250 Beach Road (map), faces the Atlantic, meaning the surfing's good, and parts of the beach are set apart for it. There are off-road-vehicle areas. Concerts are held here. Facilities are fine. The fishing is great!
Other Orleans Beaches
At the southern end of the Cape Cod National Seashore, Orleans has some fine beaches.
Provincetown - Race Point Beach
Besides being a fine beach for sunning and swimming, Race Point Beach, 171 Race Point Road, four miles (6.4 km) northwest of Provincetown (map) in the Province Lands area of the Cape Cod National Seashore, has lifeguards, good surf, whales breaching in the offing, the Province Lands Visitor Center, the Race Point Lighthouse, and bike trails from Provincetown. For warmer water and less surf, Herring Cove Beach is just off to the west.
Other Provincetown Beaches
Because Provincetown is built on sand, every shore is a beach. You may find that your seaside hotel or inn has direct access to the water. But the favored beach-day spots are splendid Herring Cove Beach and Race Point Beach in Cape Cod National Seashore. Just across the town line in neighboring Truro, the Seashore's Head of the Meadow Beach is reachable by car or bike.
Sandwich has five saltwater and three freshwater beaches, all open to the public, but non-residents must buy a season beach permit at a price which is suitable for months of use, but high for a day-trip to the beach.
Yarmouth - Bass River Beach
What makes Bass River (or Smugglers) Beach, at the southern end of South Street in Yarmouth (map), preferable to the many other fine beaches in Yarmouth? Well, it's the very fine white sand, the fishing dock, the views, and the fact that it's two beaches in one: a small part of the beach faces the calm, warm Bass River, the larger part faces Nantucket Sound. Facilities are fine, and you're not far from all the hotels, motels and inns along MA Route 28.
Other Yarmouth Beaches
Perhaps the most and best collection of beaches on Cape Cod: salt water, fresh water, north, south, large and small.
Some Cape Cod towns reserve most or all of their beaches for town residents or renters, or make it difficult for visitors to park, thus keeping non-residents away.
Harwich keeps most of its beaches for town residents, allowing others to enter, but giving them no place to park, making Harwich's beaches all but inaccessible unless you own or rent property there.
Wellfleet's wonderful small beaches are mostly facing placid Wellfleet Harbor, with gentle grades and warm water—perfect for families. The challenge is that permits are issued only to residents or Wellfleet renters. No day-use passes are available.
Most beaches in Truro are reserved for residents or renters of cottages like these.
Like Wellfleet, Truro reserves most of its town beaches for residents and renters, but the Cape Cod National Seashore beaches such as Head of the Meadow are open to all.