Barnstable's primary bay beach is Sandy Neck Beach, accessed through East Sandwich. Most of the Nantucket Sound beaches are fairly protected and thus not big in terms of surf. Beach parking costs $15 a day, usually payable at the lot; for a weeklong parking sticker ($50), visit the Recreation Department at 141 Bassett Lane, at the new Hyannis Youth & Community Center (tel. 508/790-6345). The sparkling center is open daily (Mon-Sat 7am-10pm, Sun noon-9pm) and includes an elevated walking track and an elaborate teen center, in addition to two skating rinks and basketball courts. Day passes cost $5. Note: There is a smoking ban on beaches in the town of Barnstable during the summer.
- Craigville Beach, off Craigville Beach Road, in Centerville: Once a magnet for Methodist "camp" meetings (conference centers still line the shore), this broad expanse of sand boasts lifeguards and restrooms. A destination for the bronzed and buffed, it's known as "Muscle Beach."
- Kalmus Beach, off Gosnold Street, in Hyannis Port: This 800-foot spit of sand stretching toward the mouth of the harbor makes an ideal launching site for windsurfing enthusiasts, who sometimes seem to play chicken with the steady parade of ferries. The surf is tame, the slope shallow, and the conditions ideal for little kids. There are lifeguards, a snack bar, and restrooms.
- Orrin Keyes Beach (also known as Sea Street Beach), at the end of Sea Street, in Hyannis: This little beach at the end of a residential road is popular with families.
- Veterans Beach, off Ocean Street, in Hyannis: A small stretch of harborside sand adjoining the John F. Kennedy Memorial (a moving tribute from the town), this spot is not tops for swimming, unless you're very young. Parking is usually easy though, and it's walkable from town. The snack bar, restrooms, and playground will see to a family's needs.
Although there are no paved bike paths in Barnstable (the Rail Trail in Dennis is the closest), the winding roads in Marstons Mills and Osterville make for pleasant scenic rides. There's free public parking near the Marstons Mills mill pond at the intersection of routes 28 and 149 or behind the stores in Osterville Center. For a scenic bike ride, from the intersection of routes 28 and 149, bear right on Route 149 onto Main Street. Main Street soon intersects with Route 28; cross Route 28 (carefully), and then cruise down South County Road into Osterville. Several roads here afford wonderful bay views. For the best views, bike to the ends of Bay Street, West Bay Road, and Eel River Road to Sea View Avenue. A leisurely bike ride through this area is perhaps the best way to see some of the most impressive seaside mansions on the Cape.
You can rent a kayak from Eastern Mountain Sports for $50 a day or $100 for 3 days and paddle around Scorton Creek, Sandy Neck, and Barnstable Harbor on the north side of the Cape. On the south side of the Cape, paddlers enjoy the waters around Great Island in Osterville. In Centerville you can navigate the Centerville River. For experienced paddlers, Barnstable's Great Marsh -- one of the largest in New England -- offers beautiful waterways out to Sandy Neck.
The township of Barnstable has 11 ponds for freshwater fishing; for information and permits, visit Town Hall, at 367 Main St., Hyannis (tel. 508/862-4044); or Sports Port, 149 W. Main St., Hyannis (tel. 508/775-3096). Shellfishing permits are available from the Department of Natural Resources, at 1189 Phinney's Lane, Centerville (tel. 508/790-6272). Surf-casting, which now requires a $10 license, is permitted on Sandy Neck.
Among the charter boats berthed in Barnstable Harbor is Capt. Justin Zacek's Drifter (tel. 774/836-7292; www.driftersportfishing.com), a 36-foot boat offering half- and full-day trips costing $550 to $775, depending on the length of the trip and the number of people. Hy-Line Cruises offers seasonal sonar-aided "bottom" or blues fishing from its Ocean Street dock in Hyannis (tel. 508/790-0696; www.hylinecruises.com). The cost for a half-day bottom-fishing trip is $35 to $38 per adult, $25 to $38 for kids ages 5 to 12 (children 4 and under are prohibited). Helen H Deep-Sea Fishing, at 137 Pleasant St., Hyannis (tel. 508/790-0660; www.helen-h.com), offers daily expeditions aboard a 100-foot boat with a heated cabin and full galley. Choose whether you want to fish for porgies and black sea bass or fluke and bluefish. Adults pay $35, children $24.
The Hyannis Golf Club, 1840 Rte. 132 (tel. 508/362-2606), offers a 46-station driving range, as well as an 18-hole championship course. High-season greens fees are $61. At the scenic 9-hole Cotuit High Ground Country Club, at 31 Crockers Neck Rd., Cotuit (tel. 508/428-9863; www.cotuithighground.com), an 18-hole round costs $20; it's $15 for juniors and seniors, and for all after 4pm.
For a fun and informative introduction to the harbor, take a leisurely, 1-hour, narrated tour aboard one of Hy-Line Cruises' 1911 steamer replicas, MV Patience or MV Prudence. There are five 1-hour family cruises a day in season, but for a real treat, take the Sunday 3pm "Ice Cream Float," which includes a design-your-own Ben & Jerry's ice cream sundae. Hy-Line Cruises depart from the Ocean Street Dock (tel. 508/790-0696; www.hy-linecruises.com), and you should call for a reservation and schedule. Tickets are $16 for adults and free to $8 for children 12 and under. (The ice cream cruises are $1 more.) There are 16 departures daily from late June to September; it's closed November to mid-April. Credit cards are accepted. Parking is $5 per car.
Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary, 345 Bone Hill Rd., Barnstable Village (tel. 508/362-7475; www.massaudubon.org), a 110-acre Audubon sanctuary, offers easy-to-walk trails out to a meadow with a view of Barnstable Harbor. Wildlife spottings are likely to include numerous butterflies, dragonflies, and red-tailed hawks. Admission $4 for adults, $3 children.
Eastern Mountain Sports, 1513 Iyannough Rd./Rte. 132 (tel. 508/362-8690; www.ems.com), offers rental kayaks -- tents and sleeping bags, too -- and sponsors free clinics and walks, such as a full-moon hike. Kayaks rent for $50 a day, $100 for 3 days.
Although Provincetown is about an hour closer to the whales' preferred feeding grounds, it would take you at least an hour (possibly hours on a summer weekend) to drive all the way down-Cape. If your time and itinerary are limited, hop aboard Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises, Barnstable Harbor (about 1/2 mile north of Rte. 6A, on Mill Way), Barnstable (tel. 800/287-0374 or 508/362-6088; fax 508/362-9739; www.whales.net), for a 4-hour voyage on a 100-foot high-speed cruiser. Naturalists provide the narration, and should you fail to spot a whale, your next trek is free. Tickets cost $47 for adults, $40 for seniors (62 and older), and $28 for children 4 to 12 from April through mid-October. No trips mid-October through March.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.