Things To Do on Cape Cod in December
Most towns on the Cape have their own holiday celebrations, and what better place to see a tree lighting, grab a hot cocoa and do some Main Street shopping in some of the most picturesque seaside towns? Here are my suggestions for the best holiday celebrations on Cape Cod.
The Nantucket Christmas Stroll
Take a day trip to the island of Nantucket and experience the Nantucket Christmas Stroll. This is probably my most favorite way to celebrate Christmas on the Cape. Decorated Christmas trees line the main streets of town, houses and storefronts are perfectly decked out in their holiday best, and there are plenty of events such as craft fairs, Santa’s arrival and pop-up marketplaces to fill up a whole day, and then some.
To get to Nantucket for the Christmas Stroll, which usually takes place the first weekend in December each year, you’ll want to take the Hi-Line ferry from Hyannis. Ferry schedules can change each month in the winter, so it’s best to check the Hyline Nantucket route schedule here.
Gardens Aglow in Sandwich
Every December, the Sandwich Heritage Museum and Gardens puts on a light display throughout their gardens that has become one of the must-see activities during the holidays, and I guarantee it’ll bring you some holiday cheer.
Tip: It’s strongly encouraged by the museum to book your tickets ahead of time, as they have not been able to guarantee walk-ins at the door.
Visit the Provincetown Lobster Pot Christmas Tree
This Christmas tree, made entirely of lobster traps, began its tradition in 2004 as a way to celebrate all the fisherman in the region. It stands at the entrance of MacMillan Pier, just around the corner from The Lobster Pot restaurant. The tree has its own Facebook page so you can see when the first lighting is each year, and when it’ll be taken down. According to the past few year’s posts, it looks like its first lighting is the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and it’s taken down right around Valentine’s Day, weather dependent, of course.
Day Trip to Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard
Christmas in Edgartown is a yearly holiday event on Martha’s Vineyard typically held the second weekend in December. Events you can participate in include a teddy bear scavenger hunt, horse-drawn carriage rides around Edgartown, special sales at the local shops and the lighting of Edgartown Lighthouse. The best thing about Christmas in Edgartown is that these events help raise money for local non-profit organizations on the island, so it’s also a great way to give back to the community while getting into the festive spirit of the season.
Celebrate New Year’s Eve With Chatham First Night
To ring in the New Year, the town of Chatham hosts First Night, a celebration of the arts that perfect for the whole family. During the day on December 31st each year, guests can expect over 70 musical performances and events, a town photo at Chatham Lighthouse and end the day with fireworks at the stroke of midnight on Oyster Pond.
Board The Polar Express Train in Buzzards Bay
I can’t think of a more magical experience for the whole family than the Polar Express Train to the North Pole, which departs from Buzzards Bay. This experience lasts for an hour and half, and once on board, children are greeted by characters from the original book, as well as Santa and his elves. Each child gets to meet and spend time with Santa, and receive a special gift to take home, and everyone in the family can enjoy a reading of the book while sipping on hot cocoa and munching on delicious baked goods while riding to the North Pole.
Museums & Tours
Take a break from the colder weather outside, and head indoors for a tour, or to explore a museum. There are actually quite a few museums on the Cape, but here are my favorite places to visit.
See a Glass Blowing Demonstration at the Sandwich Glass Museum
Have you ever seen an in-person glass blowing demonstration? If not, you’re missing out! It’s actually a really intricate process that’s completely captivating to witness, and you can see one here at the Sandwich Glass Museum. In addition to the demonstrations, history buffs will enjoy walking through the museum to learn about how glass was introduced to Sandwich, the oldest town on the Cape.
Visit the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History
Located in Brewster on 80-acres of land, this museum has two floors of exhibits showcasing both human and ecological history of Cape Cod. The museum itself is small, and you’ll likely be able to visit all the exhibits in an hour or two, maybe less. But each exhibit is thoughtfully curated, interactive and packed with information. The museum is also surrounded by over 300 acres of nature and walking trails that are open to the public.
Taste Some Local Wine and Beer
Cape Cod is home to several wineries and breweries which make for great stops to warm up after a beach walk or nature hike, and definitely one of the best things to do on Cape Cod in the winter season. Here are my recommendations and tips for visiting the local wineries and breweries.
Sip On a Warm Drink at Truro Vineyards
You’ll also be able to do a wine tasting at the indoor bar at Truro Vineyards in the winter, but my favorite tip for enjoying this winery in the colder season is to keep an eye on their Instagram page and check for announcements on special winter drink offerings. They will often offer hot cider infused with their own rum from South Hollow Spirits, which is absolutely delicious, and can be enjoyed on their back patio surrounded by heat lamps. Be sure to grab a bottle of their signature wine in a lighthouse-shaped bottle for a lasting souvenir.
Cape Cod Winery, located in East Falmouth, is only open during pop-up events in the winter season. Be sure to check out their Instagram page for updates if planning a trip in the winter. First Crush Winery in Harwich is open, but has limited hours during the winter season. Pop on over to their website for the most up-to-date information.
Visit One of The Many Breweries
Cape Cod actually has quite a few breweries to choose from, and winter is the perfect excuse to pop in and go for a tasting. My personal favorite is Devil’s Purse, and I highly suggest you try their Stonehorse Citra IPA. You can also stop in for tastings or a pint at Barnstable Brewing, Tree House Brewing in Sandwich (after your visit to the Natural History Museum, of course), Hog Island Beer Co., and Cape Cod Beer Company.
Experience Cape Cod Without The Crowds
I love the lively buzz Cape Cod offers in the summer, but it can be challenging at times to navigate the crowds. My absolute favorite thing to do on Cape Cod in the winter is simply enjoy my favorite destinations and spots without any people. At most, you’ll maybe see a few other small groups, but you may get lucky and have entire places to yourself, especially on weekdays. Here are some of my favorite Cape Cod staples that are still amazing in the winter.
Go For a Quiet Beach Walk
With the chill of the wind hitting your face, and potentially a light snowfall around you, winter beach walks on Cape Cod are so invigorating. My suggestion is to visit the beaches that tend to be most crowded during the summer, and experience them in the off-season. My favorite winter beach walks are at Race Point in Provincetown, Coast Guard in Eastham and Nauset Beach in Orleans. Because the Cape has some of the most beautiful beaches in the entire Northeast, this is definitely at the very top of my list for best things to do in the winter on Cape Cod. Even in the cold, the National Seashore never disappoints.
Walk the Sandwich Boardwalk
During peak summer season, you’ll have to pay $20-$25 to park at the two lots where the 1350-foot long Sandwich Boardwalk is accessible. During the off season? It’s free! I suggest you park on the Boardwalk Road entrance (type Boardwalk Road, Sandwich, MA into Google Maps, and it’ll bring you right there), and then walk the boardwalk toward the beach. The Wood Ave parking area will have you start closer to the beach, and walk in the opposite direction. You can’t go wrong with either parking spot, and the boardwalk is easily accessible from either.
Tip: As of Winter 2022, a large section of the Sandwich Boardwalk has been damaged by nor’easter storms, and there are plans to start to re-build the boardwalk in Fall 2022. Please do research on the current status before making a special trip.
Experience Winter Sunrises and Sunsets
One of the few benefits to shorter winter days is that you can catch sunrise at a reasonable hour, and witness a sunset before your dinner plans. My favorite place for a Cape Cod winter sunrise is Chatham Lighthouse Beach because you can park your car in the lot, which directly faces the sun, and watch it from the comfort of your warm car.
For a sunset, I love visiting Race Point Beach, West Dennis Beach and Skaket Beach. But, my absolute favorite place for a sunset is The Knob in Woods Hole. It’s extremely challenging to find a parking spot for The Knob is the summer months because it’s become very popular, but in the winter, it’s much easier.
Use 48 Quisset Harbor Rd in Google Maps for parking at The Knob, and follow signs for The Knob Path. When you arrive at the information board at the start of the path, take a sharp right onto the quickest trail to the end of The Knob (going left will get you there, but it will take longer). The walk should take you less than 10 minutes if you take the path on the right.
Tip: Did you know that winter sunsets actually put on a different show than summer sunsets? Because the air is drier with less humidity and water vapor, the sky will display different colors. That’s why winter sunsets are something special, and will often paint the sky with pinks and lavenders. This is also why I highly recommend catching a winter sunset while visiting Cape Cod in the winter.
Visit The Lighthouses
I’ve personally never found the lighthouses to be super crowded in the summer, but in the winter, I’m usually the only one there. I would suggest visiting Nobska Lighthouse in Falmouth, to combine with The Knob for a perfect evening of sunsets. These two destinations are less than 10 mins from each other and both offer great sunset views. I also love visiting Nauset Light in Orleans (the lighthouse featured on the Cape Cod Chips bag), and Highland Light in Truro.
Bonus: Jump to number 17 for an off-the-beaten-path lighthouse you can visit that also combines a relaxing winter beach walk.
Hit The Trails
Cape Cod has so many nature trails to explore, and winter is a great time to peel yourself away from the ocean shores and discover a new trail. One of my favorite trails in winter is located on the grounds of the Cape Cod Natural History Museum in Brewster, and it’s called the John Wing Trail. You’ll start by walking on a long boardwalk through a salt marsh, and end with amazing views of Cape Cod Bay. I love this one for winter because it’s short at 2 miles round trip, but the pay-off is amazing, and it’s completely free.
Please don’t park at the museum to walk the trail, and instead, park at the nearby Drummer Boy Park down the road. Once you’ve parked, walk back to the road where you came from, stay on the side of the road closest to the park, and go left on the sidewalk toward the museum. Just before you hit the museum, you’ll see signs pointing you toward the Wing Trail Head on your left.
Tip: It’s very important to check the tide schedule before walking the John Wing trail, as the boardwalk will be flooded during high tide. I use TidesChart when walking this trail, and always plan my walks here around the tides. You just need to be mindful of the tide schedules when you plan to walk the boardwalk, which will be the very beginning, and the very end of this walk. It won’t matter for the rest of the trail.
Another wonderful and relaxing trail for a winter walk is the Stage Harbor Trail at Hardings Beach in Chatham. This trail is just under 2 miles on a completely flat, sand-packed path that takes you directly to Stage Harbor Lighthouse, and the nearby beach. To walk this trail, park at the Hardings Beach parking lot (in the winter, there will be tons of available parking, so skip the overflow lot, which you will arrive at first, and keep going to the main lot. Park as close to the sand dunes at the end as you can. Facing the water, you’ll want to walk left toward the sandy paths and walk for just under a mile until you get to the lighthouse. Reverse your course back to the parking lot.
Tip: Stage Harbor Lighthouse is privately owned, so please respect the “No Trespassing” signs once you reach the lighthouse, and admire it from a distance. There will also be signs right at the lighthouse directing you to the beach paths, and I highly recommend following them for some amazing views. You can walk the beach shoreline right back to the parking lot if you wanted a different perspective for your walk back.
Visit the Main Street Shops
My favorite shopping destinations on the Cape are Chatham, Harwich Port and Provincetown. All have shops that are open in the winter, and many of them are usually running off-season sales. I once scored a really nice sweatshirt at Cuffy’s for $11 total in the winter! You can easily spend an entire afternoon wandering the shops and stopping for a nice lunch (preferably with a warm cup of chowder) in the winter.
Tip: To grab a warm drink and treat to walk around with, stop at the Chatham Village Cafe & Bakery on your drive into Chatham before parking your car. They’re open during the winter season, and they have amazing baked goods, coffee and hot cocoa. They’re located about a 12-minute walk from the edge of the Main Street shops as well, so you could also walk there and back if you were feeling up for it.
Catch a Movie at the Chatham Orpheum
This theater dates back to 1915, and is a special and unique place to take in a movie. Not only is it a non-profit theater, but they offer both new release screenings, as well as the occasional older movie (they’ve been known to re-release Jaws). They also have an in-house cafe and bar area that serves food that’s actually good (think restaurant-style). While the actual building is historical, the theater itself was recently renovated to offer modern comforts and amenities, and they even serve candy made locally down the street from Candy Manor. I can’t think of a better place to take in a movie on a cold, winter night.
21. Cozy Up By a Fireplace or Heated Igloo
There are quite a few places on the Cape where you can grab a drink or meal by a warm fireplace, and some are now offering private greenhouse and igloo dining!
Scargo Cafe in Dennis offers both. Grab a drink at the bar by the fireplace, or reserve a private greenhouse for lunch or dinner that’ll keep you nice and warm while still feeling like you’re outdoors.
Ocean’s Edge Resort in Brewster is home of the Frost Bar in the winter to enjoy drinks and bites. You can even order special winter cocktails here like Mulled Winter Sangria, Ginger Hot Toddy or a Hot Cocoa Martini.