Exploring Hyannis

Hectic Hyannis is the commercial center of the cape, its roads lined with chain stores and mired with maddening traffic. Along routes 132 and 28, you could be visiting Anywhere, USA. And yet this overrun town still has plenty of pockets of charm, especially the waterfront area and Main Street, with a diverse selection of restaurants, shops, and entertainment of all stripes.

For a fun and informative introduction to the harbor, take a leisurely 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); call for a reservation and schedule. Tickets are $17 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. Parking is $5 per car. 

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Two local favorite products offer fun factory tours in Hyannis. Kids in particular will love the free 15-minute factory tours at Cape Cod Potato Chips, 100 Breed’s Hill Rd. (at Independence Way, off Route 132) (tel. 508/775-7253), which really are the world’s best—they’re chunkier than the norm. Tours run Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm in July and August. Call for off-season hours. Adults will appreciate the free brewery tours at Cape Cod Beer, 1336 Phinney’s Lane (tel. 508/790-4200), Monday through Saturday at 11am.

Exploring Barnstable & Barnstable Village

Just a couple of miles from Hyannis, the bucolic village of Barnstable houses the county courthouse, a line-up of well-kept Colonial houses, and some of the Cape’s most charming B&Bs. Barnstable’s beaches face onto Nantucket Sound, which means that they are fairly protected and thus not big in terms of surf. 

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One lovely way to explore the Sound-side coast is to visit the Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary at 345 Bone Hill Rd. in Barnstable Village (tel. 508/362-7475). On this 110-acre Audubon sanctuary, easy-to-walk trails lead out to a meadow with a view of Barnstable Harbor. Wildlife spottings are likely to include numerous butterflies, dragonflies, and red-tailed hawks. Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for children.

Barnstable’s maritime history is celebrated at the Coast Guard Heritage Museum, set in a former U.S. Customs House in the north side of Barnstable Village (3353 Main St.; tel. 508/362-8521). This engaging little museum houses displays of pre–Coast Guard groups, such as the lighthouse service, the lightship service, and the lifesaving service. The village blacksmith shop gives demonstrations daily. Also on the property is the oldest wooden jail in the country, built in the 1600s. Admission is $5; the museum is open from May through October, Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10am to 3pm. 

 

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Although Provincetown is closer to the whales’ preferred feeding grounds, if you don’t have time to drive all the way out there, from Barnstable Harbor you hop aboard Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises (tel. 800/287-0374 or 508/362-6088), for a 4-hour voyage on a 100-foot high-speed cruiser. Naturalists provide the narration, and if you fail to spot a whale, your next trek is free. Tickets cost $53 for adults, $45 for seniors (62 and older), and $33 for children 4 to 12 from April through mid-October.

Two Maritime Museums

The Cape Cod Maritime Museum, at 135 South St., in Hyannis, on the eastern end of Aselton Park (tel. 508/775-1723), is small but interesting. The museum displays artifacts from ships that wrecked off the shore of Cape Cod and exhibits a collection of items from the United States Lifesaving Service, the precursor to the Coast Guard. The museum is open mid-March to mid-December Tuesday through Saturday 10am to 4pm, Sunday noon to 4pm. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for students and seniors, and free for children 6 and under. On the north side of town, the Coast Guard Heritage Museum (tel. 508/362-8521) is located at a former U.S. Custom House, which is also the former Trayser Museum building (3353 Main St./Rte. 6A, Barnstable Village). The main museum building houses displays of pre-Coast Guard groups, such as the lighthouse service, the lightship service, and the lifesaving service. The village blacksmith shop gives demonstrations daily. Also on the property is the oldest wooden jail in the country, built in the 1600s. The museum is open May through October, Tuesday through Saturday 10am to 3pm. Admission is $5.

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A Celebration of African-American History

Displaying artwork and memorabilia reflecting the region's African-American and Cape Verdean heritage, the Zion Union Heritage Museum at 276 North St., Hyannis (tel. 508/790-9466), is located in the former Zion Union Church, a historic African-American church. People of color were the backbone of the whaling and cranberry industries on Cape Cod, and the museum contains a range of historic documents about well-known community leaders. There are revolving art shows and other exhibits that have in common a cultural significance to the African-American community. The hours from mid-April through October are Tuesday through Saturday 10am to 4pm, Sunday noon to 4pm; November, December, and February through mid-April, hours are Thursday through Saturday 10am to 4pm and Sunday noon to 4pm. Admission is $5 adults, $2 for ages 10 to 17.

Folk Art in Cotuit

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Some 9 miles west of Hyannis in the town of Cotuit, the Cahoon Museum of American Art at 4676 Falmouth Rd./Rte. 28 (just east of the intersection of Rte. 28 and Rte. 130), Cotuit (tel. 508/428-7581), has long been a popular site for art lovers. Located in an 18th-century red clapboard house, the museum is in the former home of Ralph and Martha Cahoon, whose whimsical folk-art paintings featuring mermaids remain popular years after the death of the artists (Ralph in 1982 and Martha in 1999). The museum sponsors frequent gallery talks and other special events. It is open Tuesday through Saturday 10am to 4pm and Sunday 1 to 4pm. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students.

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Camelot on Cape Cod: The Kennedys in Hyannis Port

It's been nearly 50 years since those days of Camelot, when JFK was in the White House and America seemed rejuvenated by the Kennedy style, but the Kennedy sites on Cape Cod still attract record numbers of visitors every summer.

Images of Jack Kennedy sailing his jaunty Wianno Senior on Nantucket Sound, off Hyannis Port, form part of this nation's collective memory. The vacationing JFK was all tousled hair, toothy grin, earthy charisma, and attractive joie de vivre. Remember Jackie sitting beside him, wearing a patterned silk scarf around her head and looking like she'd rather be in Newport, where no one had ever heard of touch football?

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The Kennedys always knew how to have fun, and they had it in Hyannis Port. And ever since Hyannis Port became JFK's summer White House, Cape Cod has been inextricably linked to the Kennedy clan. Although the Kennedys spend time elsewhere -- working in Washington or wintering in Palm Beach -- when they go home, they go to Cape Cod.

Meanwhile, much has changed since the early 1960s on Cape Cod, especially in the Mid Cape area. In those 40-plus years, the mall was built in Hyannis, and urban sprawl infested routes 132 and 28. Yet much, thankfully, remains the same. The Kennedy compound, with its large, gabled Dutch Colonial houses, still commands the end of Scudder Avenue in Hyannis Port.

It’s been more than half a century since those days of Camelot, when JFK was in the White House and America seemed rejuvenated by the Kennedy style, but the Kennedy sites on Cape Cod still attract record numbers of visitors every summer.

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The Kennedys always knew how to have fun, and they had it in Hyannis Port. And ever since Hyannis Port became JFK’s summer White House, Cape Cod has been inextricably linked to the Kennedy clan. Although the current Kennedys spend time elsewhere—working in Washington or wintering in Palm Beach—when they go home, they go to the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, with its large, gabled Dutch Colonial houses still commanding the end of Scudder Avenue.

To bask in the Kennedys’ Cape Cod experience, visit the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum, 397 Main St., Hyannis (tel. 508/790-3077). Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for children 8 to 17, and $10 for seniors. From June through October it’s open Monday to Saturday 9am to 5pm, Sunday noon to 5pm; in November and mid-April through May, hours are Monday to Saturday 10am to 4pm, Sunday noon to 4pm. The museum shows a documentary on Kennedy, narrated by Walter Cronkite, and contains several rooms featuring photos of the Kennedys on Cape Cod. (In the basement of the museum is the Cape Cod Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum, which is free with admission to JFK Museum.)

Busloads of tourists visit the Kennedy Memorial just above Veterans Beach on Ocean Avenue; it’s a moving tribute, beautifully maintained by the town, but crowds in season can be distracting. Finally, you may want to drive by the simple white clapboard church, St. Francis Xavier, on South Street; JFK’s mother, Rose, attended Mass there daily, and Caroline Kennedy and several other cousins got married here.

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As Rose once told a reporter, “Our family would rather be in Hyannis Port in the summer than anyplace else in the world.” And yours?

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.