| Massachusetts: Cape Cod, Family Vacation Ideas - Tidepool Walks, Peter Rabbit, and a Family Supper Train. Sea air, sand dunes, miles of gorgeous beaches, soft clouds and natural beauty make the Chatham/Brewster area of the Cape the ideal place for making memories with the kids. Slightly off-the-beaten- path, the Cape provides visitors with quaint shops, cozy local museums, excellent eating options, art spaces and historic places to be enjoyed at an easy going vacation pace. Relax and rejuvenate; become recharged and inspired while having fun.
Walk in the woods. Nickerson State Park does not fit the picture most often associated with the Cape. No salt ponds or sand dunes, instead there are piney woods framing the banks of eight crystal-clear fresh water ponds. The mysteriously beautiful “kettle ponds,” are the remnants of the glaciers that carved out the Cape more than 10,000 years ago. Bonus points: The Cape Cod Rail Trail follows a former railroad right-of-way for 22 miles through the towns of Dennis, Harwich, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham and Wellfleet. The paved surface has few hills and well-marked automobile crossings making it ideal for cyclists. In addition, the trail has a wide unpaved shoulder on one side to accommodate horseback riding, walkers, and runners. (Nickerson State Park. Rte. 6A, Brewster, MA. (508) 896-3491 or www.mass.gov/dcr/parks).
Only for children. A cozy place for children to touch and discover, act and react, The Cape Cod Children’s Museum embraces the fun of childhood in a funky hands-on way. A pirate ship, an indoor planetarium, and a puppet theater meet the test with high marks. Toddlers have their own play area ideal for a rainy day on the Cape. (The Cape Cod Children’s Museum. 577 Great Neck Road Mashpee, MA 02649. (508)539-8788 or www.capecodchildrensmuseum.org).
Where’s the fire? Fire and History Museum in Brewster is an easy outing. Within the museum complex visitors will find more than 30 antique fire engines the best of which is a fancy French provincial style engine (circa 1837) from Philadelphia as well as a Mercedes Benz engine worth a million even in retirement. Bonus points: Stroll the grounds and enjoy a free demonstration by the town smithy or stop at the old-fashioned apothecary shop for tonic and powders. (Fire and History Museum. 1439 Main Street Brewster, MA. (508) 896-5711.)
Visit with the famous Peter Rabbit. Remember Reddy Fox and Chatterer the Red Squirrel, Jimmy Skunk, Grandfather Frog, Johnny Chuck, Sammy Jay, and Hooty Owl? Thornton Burgess, a Cape Cod native, created these enchanting characters and brought them to life in his storybook series, The Tales of Peter Rabbit. The Thornton Burgess Museum celebrates the essence of the tales and their still timely messages about humanity, conservation and love of wildlife. The spirit of the stories may be felt within the Green Briar Nature Center, located on Smiling Pool near the now famous 57-acre Briar Patch Conservation Area, home of Peter Rabbit and many of the other Thornton Burgess animal characters. Interpretive pathways are open to the public. Bonus points: The Green Briar Jam Kitchen is not-to-be-missed. And while the museum hours are seasonal the website offers stories to read and pages to color. ( The Thornton Burgess Museum. 6 Discovery Hill Road East Sandwich, MA 02537. (508)888-6870 or www.thortonburgess.org).
See how it’s all connected. Interactive, edgy and fun, The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History provides hours of hands-on time for all ages. This museum makes each visitor love the Cape and its connection to the sea. From “Living on the Edge” an interactive coastal exhibit and its compliment “Coastal Change” to fresh and salt water tanks with an assortment of indigenous residents and nature trails through wildflowers, woodlands, marsh, and fresh and saltwater habitats. Meet Myrtle-the-Turtle, a gregarious diamond-backed terrapin; go birding; try museum sponsored skywatching and nature hunts. Bonus points: Noteworthy is their innovative hands on KidSummer day program. (The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History. 869 Route 6A Brewster, 02631. (508)896-3867 or www.ccmnh.org).
Is it art? Child friendly and comfortable, the Cape Cod Museum of Art is a fine place to go with kids. To connect with young visitors the museum staff created “Treasure Hunt in the Galleries” so that families may enjoy the museum together while answering questions that take them through the exhibitions. It is even possible to draw in the galleries. At the end of the mini excursion children receive a small prize Bonus points: In addition to an extensive summer camp program, the museum also conducts workshops during popular school breaks. (The Cape Cod Museum of Art. Route 6A, Dennis, MA 02638. (508)385-4477 or www.ccmoa.org).
Where the wild things are. Located on the “elbow” Cape Cod is the 7,600-acre Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge stretching from Nantucket Sound to the North Atlantic is for the birds. The barrier island wilderness provides sanctuary for a wide variety of plants and animals living among the sand dunes, freshwater ponds, and salt and freshwater marshes. It is where the wild things are. What you take in you must take out. There are no picnic or camp sites on the refuge. Hike the nature trails; enjoy the natural beauty and quiet. Beach combing, shellfishing, and surf fishing are popular activities along the edge. North and South Monomoy Islands are accessible by boat only. Bonus points: The Monomoy Lighthouse in service from 1828 to 1923 is the only evidence of human occupation. The lighthouse complex on the south end of South Monomoy Island, includes a wooden lightkeeper's house, a cast iron light tower lined with brick, and an adjacent brick generator house. (Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge. Wikis Way, Morris Island Chatham, Massachusetts 02633. (508)945-0594, 443-4661 or www.fws.gov/northeast/monomoy).
Walk along the edge. The Cape Cod National Seashore is a must-see for anyone visiting the Cape. Majestically beautiful dunes, cliffs and tide pools frame beaches that embrace the sea. Within the park there are 10 self-guided nature trails and three paved bicycle trails. Ranger-guided canoe tours, surfcasting and shellfishing demonstrations are provided seasonally for a modest fee. The Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham and the Province Lands Visitor Center in Provincetown have orientation movies, exhibits, a bookstore and information services. Historic sites within the boundaries of the National Seashore, include the Old Schoolhouse Museum, the Edward Penniman House, the Doane Homestead Site, and the Marconi Wireless Station Site. (The Cape Cod National Seashore. 99 Marconi Station Site Road Wellfleet, MA 02667 Headquarters 1(508)349-3785, Salt Pond Visitor Information (508)255-3421 Province Lands, Seasonal Visitor Information 1(508)487-1256 or www.nps.gov/caco).
Get a good book. Every vacation deserves one if not two good books. Where the Sidewalk Ends on Main Street in Chatham is the bookstore to satisfy the need for a good read. Bonus points: From time to time they host unique reading events that include Lucy the Reading Dog. Lucy is a wonderful black lab who is trained as a READ dog. She loves children and looks forward to reading with children throughout the year. (Where the Sidewalk Ends. 432 Main Street Chatham, MA 02633. (508) 945-0499 or www.wherethesidewalkends.booksense.com).
The train, the train! At the Chatham Railroad Museum in Chatham of course time vignettes abound. The 1887 railroad station is a time-link with the area’s past. Vintage photos, treasured artifacts, model trains, and an old caboose from the New York Central System provide visitors with an idea about life on the Cape more than 100 years ago. (The Chatham Railroad Museum. Open seasonally. Depot Road, Chatham.)
Ride the rails. The Cape Cod Central Railroad offers excursion trains from Hyannis Station from May through late autumn. Named one of the top ten scenic train rides in the country by USA Today, the two-hour trip takes passengers along cranberry bogs, through natural woodlands and marshes. Bonus points: During the summer months they offer a “Family Supper Train.” (Cape Cod Central Railroad. 252 Main Street Hyannis, MA 02601. (508) 771-3800 or toll-free 1-888-797-RAIL or www.capetrain.com).
Content researched and posted by Nancy Nelson-Duac, Corator of the Good Stuuf for theFamilyTravelFiles.com with images provided by museums. Updated copyright 2014.