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four women in swimsuits laugh as they walk down a boardwalk on the beach on Cape Cod

Cape Cod 101: How to Summer on a Budget

Summer and Cape Cod: for many New Englanders, the two are synonymous. But even if Cape Cod, the most eastern stretch of Massachusetts, is not in your backyard, it’s still a summer wonderland worth the journey to get there. Jam-packed with pristine beaches, adorable small towns, great food, and opportunities for outdoor adventures, the Cape is the place to make the most of your summer. If you’re thinking of visiting for the first time and aren’t sure where to get started, this guide is for you.

a hand holds up a large lobster roll sandwich on Martha's Vineyard, with boats on the water in the background.

Layout of Cape Cod

Cape Cod is shaped like an arm flexing its bicep out from the rest of Massachusetts into the Atlantic Ocean. It’s loosely divided into four regions: the “Upper Cape” is the closest to the rest of the state; as you head east you get to the “Mid Cape,” and then on to the “Lower” and “Outer” Cape as you move further out along the peninsula.

The Islands

hyannis to martha's vineyard ferry

In addition to its mainland appeal, Cape Cod’s also got proximity to two gorgeous islands going for it. Hyannis, an adorable Mid-Cape town with a well connected harbor, is the place to catch ferries over to the little islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Both make for excellent summer daytrips, though you can always stay overnight at HI Martha’s Vineyard Hostel if you need a little more time there!

Getting to and around Cape Cod

trains leaving from Boston's south station

From Boston, you can reach Cape Cod by ferry, bus, plane, train, or car – just keep in mind that, while the distance between the city and the Cape isn’t huge, traffic getting to and around the Cape in the summer can be a headache. The rapid ferry from Boston to Provincetown will drop you about 20 minutes from HI Truro Hostel on the Outer Cape. To travel by train, hop on the MBTA commuter line at Boston’s South Station, then transfer at Middleborough for rail access to dozens of other locations across the Cape via the Cape Cod Railroad (aka the Cape Main Line).

If you’re car-less on the Cape, the Peter Pan and Greyhound bus lines are good bets for exploring more of the area. You can also explore other towns along the Cape Cod Main Line: the train station in Hyannis is a quick walk from HI Hyannis Hostel.

Hostels on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard

the exterior of HI Truro hostel

Where to base yourself on the Cape depends on the kind of experience you’re after. If you want convenience, like easy access to grocery stores, restaurants, and tours, your best bet is HI Hyannis Hostel: it’s walkable to many of the area’s services and is centrally located enough that day trips to other parts of the Cape are do-able. If you’re after a more secluded stay, definitely head out to HI Truro Hostel on the Outer Cape. This hostel’s located closer to beaches and hikes than to grocery stores and cafes, so you’ll want to stock up on provisions on your way there.

What to do on the Mid-Cape around Hyannis

a small lighthouse in Hyannis, Cape Cod, MA

Hyannis is more than just an easy jumping-off point for exploring Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and the rest of Cape Cod – it’s also a destination in its own right. The town’s charming Main Street is lined with cafes, bookshops, ice cream parlors, and restaurants with outdoor seating. You’ll find a thriving local arts scene around the harbor, cute beaches with gentle water for swimming walking distance from the center of town, and museums dedicated to the legacy of John F. Kennedy and the history of local maritime culture for when you need a break indoors. Once you’ve explored everything Hyannis itself has to offer, venture out on some of our favorite daytrips – you won’t even need a car!

What to do on Outer Cape Cod

an aerial view of the coastline of Provincetown, MA

The farthest stretch of Cape Cod, known as the “Outer Cape,” includes the towns of Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown. It’s also home to the Cape Cod National Seashore, comprising 40 miles of beaches, ponds, and marshes.

From baseball games to live music, lazy days at secluded beaches to the vibrant energy of Provincetown, the Outer Cape has enough going on that you’ll want to settle in for a while. Check out our complete guide to visiting the Outer Cape on a budget for more inspiration!

What to do on Martha’s Vineyard

a woman sits on a stand-up paddle board in the middle of a pond on Martha's Vineyard, MA

There’s so much history, culture, and natural beauty on this island that you may well find a day trip isn’t enough (if that’s the case, HI Martha’s Vineyard Hostel has got you covered). Go for a dip at one of the Vineyard’s legendary beaches; visit the Aquinnah Cultural Center to learn about the island’s native Wampanoag people and catch an epic sunset from the Aquinnah cliffs; make the rounds of local farm stands for fresh produce and other goodies; walk and shop the charming streets of Oak Bluffs; or follow the African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard. The most important thing is to make a plan before you get to the Vineyard — it’s easy to get overwhelmed, otherwise. Check out these nine fun things to do on Martha’s Vineyard to get started.