Lobsters and Lighthouses: A Family Guide to Cape Cod

Cape Cod, a peninsula kicking out of the east coast of the US, epitomises a glossy American beach break. It’s a sliver of the country with a proud maritime history and a buzzing sailing scene that’s high on typical Americana charm (think general stores and ice cream parlours) and low on big-business multinationals (not a Starbucks in sight). In summer, the Cape is flooded with wealthy Americans and their families escaping manic city life, retreating to their blue-grey mansions by the sea before venturing out to meander the high-end boutiques and indulge in lobster before jumping aboard a super yacht. And occasionally, British families get in on the action too, schlepping across the Atlantic to discover the appeal of this elegant corner of mainland USA and join in its outdoorsy lifestyle, experiencing whale-watching, exploring the pretty towns that pepper the Cape, and partaking in some boating and biking.  There are lighthouses to discover, rocks to clamber over, crabs to catch, and sandy beaches for master castle builders and paddling tots. And New England homes behind white picket fences along leafy streets for mummy and daddy to admire that are so impossibly perfect and so gloriously uniform that it sometimes feels you’re on holiday on a film set.

The Best Family Hotel On Cape Cod

Dusk at The Wequassett, overlooking the idyllic Pleasant Bay. Photo courtesy of The Wequassett.

Dusk at The Wequassett, overlooking the idyllic Pleasant Bay. Photo courtesy of The Wequassett.

The Wequassett Hotel & Resort is the kind of place parents would have enjoyed pre-kids. So the fact that it’s geared up for children too means it’s a winner off the bat. Set on the quiet and aptly named Pleasant Bay with a private beach, accommodation is typically pretty New England and the luxuriously appointed rooms and suites are dotted in clusters around painstakingly coiffed gardens. In fact, it’s so beautiful with views so Instagrammable that there is a steady stream of elegant, high society weddings taking place here all the time. In 2016, the hotel was deservedly awarded its fifth star by Forbes, officially making it one of the top resorts in the US. But despite fantastic facilities and variety of restaurants, room choices, children's programmes and sport and recreation, The Wequassett lacks a spa, a surprisingly hard amenity to find on Cape Cod. Perhaps the salty Atlantic air is enough to soothe away stresses in this part of the world.

The Wequassett Children's Centre. Photo courtesy of The Wequassett. 

The Wequassett Children's Centre. Photo courtesy of The Wequassett. 

The charming Wequassett Children’s Centre is home to organised activities for tots to teens, but its unparalleled facilities are open to all guests when a club is not in session, and that depends on what time of year you visit. The pirate themed playground is sure bet for hours of fun  playing in the water jets and shooting water cannons, whizzing down slides and a burning off energy in the treasure chest ball pit. When the playground is exhausted for the day (it’ll take a while, so grab a takeaway coffee from the hotel restaurant first), the beach and pool offer deep cushioned sun loungers, indulgent cabanas for parents and a chest of toys for kids. Happily, the beach is a few steps away from the pool so both can be enjoyed together. The beach, with the gently lapping water is perfect for paddling (no crashing waves here, surfers look elsewhere) and the sand couldn’t be more ideal for building sand castles.  Hop aboard the Wequassett’s sleek navy speedboat for a quick trip to Outer Beach, a strip of sand out at sea – your very own desert island, in fact – to enjoy a picnic and some exclusivity away from the crowds. The boats shuttles backwards and forwards from the hotel whenever you’re ready.

This is the type of the resort where staff glide around in Ralph Lauren uniforms, on hand to smooth your towel over your chosen sunbed and ask what factor suncream you’d like to select from their complimentary selection. Exemplary service is found throughout the resort, which is exactly what you need when holidaying with toddlers in tow. Even housekeeping is a treat not to be underestimated when travelling with little ones, but it’s the over-and-above thoughtfulness that makes the team at the Wequassett stand out: takeaway coffees and toddler snacks in a mini cool bag appear as if by magic at your breakfast table if they know you’re off on day trip; a movie night with freshly made popcorn and a great film selection arranged tout suite and selections of lovely toys and books in the room on demand. Concierge is as it should be: informative, knowledgeable and genuinely useful in activity planning. Nothing is too much trouble, and if it is, the smiling faces at the Wequassett sure don’t let on. And it would appear that staff are briefed to learn every guest’s name that they call out with a cheery “hello!” as they zoom past on golf buggies.

What To Do On A Cape Cod Holiday

Cape Cod has a lot that appeals to pre-schoolers that are too young to enjoy one of the region’s main draws – whale watching. But for older children, whale watching is a must-do activity to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat and learn how whales have shaped this region of the world so pertinently.

The Cape is dotted with idyllic towns, seemingly unchanged since the 1950s and with a notable and welcome absence of prolific high street brands, drawing you into the local way of life with their family run shops, cafes and restaurants housed in picturesque clapperboard and wooden shuttered buildings that are still perfect despite being weather-beaten from the crueller winter weather and bleached from summer sunshine. Ice cream parlours are abundant in these towns, offering scores of flavours, toppings and sauces in portions so enormous that a family could share one serving. All to be enjoyed on the painted benches outside, to watch ambling tourists pass-by indulging in a gentler pace of life away from the city. A hire car is a necessity to get out to explore these little towns - Chatham is particularly lovely, along with its lighthouse and pristine beach.

The Cape Cod Children’s Museum is a good option for little ones, especially for the odd overcast day that is not uncommon in amongst pleasantly warm (and sometimes hot) days. It’s more of a play centre than a museum, but has a deliberately educational tone, and a good couple of hours can be spent exploring the submarine, the train and the boat. Then there's shopping to be done in the play market, ball games to play, books to read and more. It’s small, but well thought-through, with varied activities for children, most suitable for one-year-olds and over.

Cape Cod is crisscrossed with long, smooth and easy bike trails and however old your children, there’s an option to take them along for the ride. Whether that’s an extra seat on the back, a pull-along trailer, a tandem or their own bike, bike rental shops are easy to find in towns near a bike trail. We hired bikes from the helpful staff at Orleans Cycle and cycled ten miles to the Cape Cod National Seashore for a picnic. It’s an ideal half or full day activity, but days on end could be spent exploring the Cape on these old railroad routes for more energetic families.

Day Trips to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket from Cape Cod

Brant Point Lighthouse, Nantucket

Brant Point Lighthouse, Nantucket

There are two islands south of Cape Cod – Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard – that are easy day trips by one-hour ferry from the Cape. The former is an uber-cool haven, known to locals as Ack, and draws celebrities and a well-heeled crowd that cruise around the cobbled street in Range Rovers. The latter, famed as a destination for vacationing US Presidents, attracts coach-trippers and retirees, although trendier spots are still abundant on this pretty island once you move away from the tourist traps. For day-tripping families, both islands boast child-friendly beaches and any-fool local buses to get around the islands to seek out pretty towns for shopping (try Vineyard Vines and Black Dog for some typical Islander gear), obligatory ice cream parlours (try Scoops in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard, or the Juice Bar in 'downtown' Nantucket), and harbours to admire sailing boats and super yachts and a glimpse into the wonderfully nautical way of life of these Islands.

The two main ferry operators, Hy-Line and Steamship Authority, offer frequent shuttles from Cape Cod to the Islands, especially during the busy summer season. 

Eating Out On Cape Cod

Despite its micro-culture, Cape Cod, much like the rest of the US outside the major cities, appears to exist on a diet of burgers, fries and macaroni cheese and ice cream. Except in the case of the Cape, lobster is part of a standard menu too. For more varied cuisine, seek out higher end restaurants, although we instinctively avoided these with our two noisy boys in tow. Fortunately, we benefitted from the fabulous food at the Wequassett’s Twenty-Eight Atlantic restaurant and its sister eatery, Thoreaus. So not to disturb unsuspecting diners, we decamped to the hotel lawn overlooking the bay for dinner, with the ever-obliging hotel and restaurant staff happy to accommodate our venue choice. This way, we could enjoy exceptional sea view in relative peace.  

When To Go To Cape Cod

There’s a definite 'season' on Cape Cod. Reportedly quiet and shuttered-up in the winter, this is a place that comes alive in late spring as the restaurants reopen and the season in full swing by July when the weather is almost guaranteed until early autumn. Some resorts are open year-round.

Getting To Cape Cod From The UK

Getting to Cape Cod from the UK is surprisingly straight forward. A reasonable six-and-a-half hour hop across the Atlantic to Boston is a do-able flight time with toddlers, especially when you consider pre-schooler holiday stalwarts of Tenerife or Cyprus are a four-and-a-half hour flight. And throwing in the bonus of complimentary meals and drinks (and ice cream with Virgin Atlantic) plus decent in-flight entertainment it’s an option worth weighing up. Hire an SUV for all the family and their luggage at Boston and then it’s only a 90-minute drive to get right to the heart of the Cape.

Useful Information 

To stay at the Wequassett, book directly with hotel by visiting www.wequassett.com. Or for a package holiday including flights and transfers, try www.scottdunn.co.uk. Virgin Atlantic and British Airways both fly direct to Boston. For car hire, www.hertz.co.uk were especially helpful sorting out the necessary car seats we required. And for more information about the region visit www.massholiday.co.uk. To really maximise your time in the region, consider spending a few nights on one of the Islands - Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket - with a pit stop in Boston to make the most of the fantastic children's facilities before returning to the UK.