The town of Barnstable on Cape Cod is divided into 7 villages, the largest of which is Hyannis. Hyannis is the gateway to the area and, if arriving by plane, train, bus or boat, it is likely your first stop in town.
The town is best known as the presidential getaway for the Kennedy clan who spent any available downtime at the family compound in Hyannis Port. The best way to see their stately homes is from sea aboard the Prudence, an old-time Maine Coastal Steamer circa 1911. Hy-Line Cruises organizes a 1-hour sightseeing cruise past the Kennedy compound.
But you don't need political family ties to appreciate what drew this iconic American family to the region. The town of Barnstable, and Hyannis in particular, is beloved by travelers for its laid-back atmosphere and friendly vibe. And then there are the beaches.
In Hyannis, Kalmus Beach is a popular spot for windsurfers with a constant breeze and good waves coming in from Nantucket Sound. The large beach is divided into 2 sections to safely keep swimmers and windsurfers out of each other's way. Keyes Beach is a family-friendly spot with soft, clean sand. The picnic tables and snack bar make it easy to grab lunch and return to the beach for more sandcastle-building fun. Veterans Beach is another convenient family beach and also the home of historical shrines honoring John F. Kennedy and the Korean War Memorial. In West Barnstable, Sandy Neck Beach is the longest in the area with 6 miles of pebble sands including off-road vehicle trails. All of these spots boast full beach facilities and lifeguards for safe swimming.
The town maintains an old-fashioned vibe that is a pleasant reminder of slower times. Climb aboard the Cape Cod Trolley for a slow ride around town. There's plenty to keep the little ones entertained including mini golf and a carousel on Main Street and loads of places to stock up on ice cream, snacks and penny candy at the Kandy Korner. Mini buccaneers can indulge in some swashbuckling fun aboard an old-time pirate ship, the Sea Gypsy. You can also head out to sea for the ubiquitous New England whale-watching trip. Your guide will be happy to point out exactly what kind of whale you're looking at including humpbacks, finbacks or the North Atlantic Right whale.
Best in Town
Heritage House Hotel
Web Site: www.heritagehousehotel.com
With a convenient Main Street address, the Heritage House Hotel is the perfect spot for travelers looking to stay right in the center of things. The Village Green, with its many shops, restaurants, museums and galleries, is at the hotel's doorstep. It's a short walk to the harbor and the closest beaches are less than a mile away. The hotel has a solid no-frills approach with 143 plain but comfortable rooms. Kids will enjoy the dual indoor and outdoor pools, while golfers can customize their vacation with visits to one of the 50 fairways in the Cape Cod region.
Best on the Harbor
Web Site: www.anchorin.com
The Anchor In is the only waterfront hotel in town located on Hyannis Harbor. The location is ideal for getting around Hyannis. It's just a short walk to Bayview Beach as well as the ferry ports for a day-trip to Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard. Most of the 43 guest rooms take advantage of the prime views with decks overlooking the activity in the harbor below. If you don't splurge for a private deck, you can still enjoy the view from the Sunroom during breakfast or while lounging by the heated pool.
Best Family Resort
Cape Codder Resort
Web Site: www.capecodderresort.com
While most visitors had down Cape to enjoy the beaches, it's hard to get waylaid with the endless activities at the Cape Codder. Kids can catch a wave inside in the 8,200-square-foot indoor wave pool or take a spin on one of the 2 twisting water slides. The on-site kids' program gets back to basics with field games like capture the flag, tie-dying and lanyard creations during arts and crafts and outdoor movies and bonfires at night. Lodging options range from basic rooms to 3-bedroom residences where the whole family can spread out.
High Pointe Inn
Web Site: www.thehighpointeinn.com
Bask in the sun on the expansive deck or linger by the fire with a glass of wine at this exquisite inn in West Barnstable. Package deals are designed to pamper travelers with spa treatments, special meals or a blissful 'babymoon' with a couple's massage. Each of the 3 rooms is uniquely decorated and outfitted with top-notch amenities and the practical necessities for your stay including beach chairs, a beach bag and binoculars. If you're looking to spread out, the Alta Vista house is a 3-bedroom contemporary home on an acre of land and families are welcome.
The Daily Paper
Web Site: www.dailypapercapecod.com
Grab a stool at the counter for a cup of coffee and hearty breakfast at Hyannis' breakfast institution. Open 7 days a week, The Daily Paper starts serving breakfast at 6:00 a.m. (7:00 a.m. on Sundays) and finishes the lunch shift at 2:00 p.m. Fans rave about the house brew, the Nauset Blend breakfast blend made with coffee beans from The Beanstock Roasters of Wellfleet. And it's not just the coffee that has a local connection as the chefs are committed to stocking up on fish and produce from nearby providers.
Web Site: www.baxterscapecod.com
Baxter's is the quintessential Cape Cod fish shack jutting out over the water on Hyannis Harbor. Since 1957, the restaurant has been serving local specialties including fried clams, fish and chips, broiled scrod, native steamers and steamed lobster. Families can dine outside for an early dinner and take advantage of the kid's menu and free entertainment thanks to the seagulls overhead and fish swimming around the dock. At night, the Club caters to the over-21 crowd with live piano music and cold beers.
Web Site: www.albertos.net
Alberto's first brought its classic Northern Italian cuisine to Cape Cod in 1984, shaking up the seafood-centric dining scene. With its classy dining room atmosphere and fireside setting, it's the best spot in town to linger over a multicourse meal. The pasta is all homemade, from the wide ribbons of parpardelle tossed with a chunky tomato and basil sauce to succulent gnocchi with prosciutto and eggplant. Local star ingredients make an appearance with an Italian flair like fresh littleneck clams in a spicy marinara or scrod topped with artichokes and tomatoes over linguine. Save room for dessert -- a shot of espresso alongside a hunk of cheesecake or delicate tiramisu is an elegant way to end your meal.
Grand Cru Wine Bar & Grill
Web Site: http://www.capecodderresort.com/restaurants_grandcru.php
There are plenty of casual beach bars in town where you can throw back some cold ones, but Grand Cru makes a unique and sophisticated mark on the local nightlife scene. You can sample the best of the impressive wine list by the bottle, glass or perfectly-poured 2-ounce tastes. Ask the staff to 'enhance' your wine in the high-tech Wine Enhancer, a gadget that reduces the tannins, and hopefully the headaches, associated with red wine and brings out the best flavors. If you prefer to pass on the grapes, there's a lengthy martini list and plenty of beer. The bar is open from Wednesday through Sunday with live music on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Best Ice Cream
Web Site: www.fourseasicecream.com
Tucked away in an old blacksmith shop in downtown Centerville, the Four Seas has been serving summer scoops of ice cream since 1934. It's New England's third-oldest ice cream shop and a Cape Cod tradition. Local high-school kids serve the usual suspects like chocolate chip cookie dough, coffee and mint chip with decadent and gooey homemade toppings. For a flavor adventure, opt for one of the old-school classics like penuche, a decadent combo of cream and brown sugar caramel. For a lighter taste, there's ginger, lemon crisp, cantaloupe or a local cranberry sherbet.
John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum
Web Site: www.jfkhyannismuseum.org
Cape Cod's most famous son was most certainly John F. Kennedy who spent summers at Hyannis Port with his family and friends. The museum's collection of over 80 photographs highlights his time in Cape Cod. Images of football games, days on the beach and sailing excursions show the handsome president and his family enjoying their time at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. Accompanying the photos are oral histories from members of the Kennedys' inner circle and a video narrated by Walter Cronkite.
Best Kid Stuff
Cape Cod Potato Chips Factory
Web Site: www.capecodchips.com
Cape Cod has a spot on the food map with a number of tasty treats. There's the clam chowder, the clam fritters and the cranberries. For the purveyors of fine salty snacks, there's no better crunch than Cape Cod Potato Chips. On weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., visitors can take a factory tour and watch the magic happen as the potatoes are inspected, sliced and loaded into kettles where they are hand-stirred with love and drained to remove oil and retain that well-loved crunch. After this mouthwatering look at the factory line, a visit to the gift store is essential to stock up on your favorite flavors.
Cape Cod Melody Tent
Web Site: www.melodytent.com
Don't let the name fool you. The Melody Tent, located on West Main Street, sounds like a cheerful spot for casual entertainment. But there's no amateur hour at this tent theatre where big names like Aretha Franklin, B.B. King and the Beach Boys have performed. There's not a bad seat in the house as shows are presented 'in the round' and the stage rotates so the view is always changing. In addition to legendary performers, the tent hosts summer theater for the kids, bringing fairytales and childhood favorites like Snow White and the Three Little Pigs to stage.