15 Best Things to Do in Barnstable (MA)

Barnstable, a charming town nestled within Barnstable County, is the largest community in terms of both land area and population. This beautiful town is home to numerous villages, such as Barnstable Village, Centerville, Cotuit, Hyannis, Marstons Mills, Osterville, and West Barnstable.

Barnstable boasts a plethora of breathtaking beaches, exciting recreational activities, and historic landmarks, making it a popular tourist destination. You can visit Sandy Neck Beach, the Cape Cod Potato Chips Factory, the Barnstable Harbor, the Sturgis Library, or the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum to experience the town’s distinctive charm.

Barnstable is renowned for its maritime heritage, with many of its residents making a living through fishing, whaling, and boat building. The town’s economy today is primarily powered by tourism and service industries.

This guide aims to highlight the 15 best things to do in Barnstable, MA, so you can make the most of your visit, whether you’re with your family, and friends, or traveling alone. Get ready to explore Barnstable and make unforgettable memories!

1. Cahoon Museum of American Art

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The Cahoon Museum of American Art is a true gem tucked away in the quaint village of Cotuit, located in Barnstable, Massachusetts. This museum celebrates American artists, with a particular focus on those who hail from Cape Cod and its surrounding areas.

Established in 1983 and opened in 1984 in the historic Crocker House, the museum was named after Ralph and Martha Cahoon, two prominent artists from Cape Cod. Its primary mission is to preserve and promote American art with a special emphasis on the Cape Cod region.

The museum’s impressive collection comprises more than 2,000 works of art, including paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts spanning from the 1800s to the present day.

The museum seeks to inspire creativity and cultural awareness in the community through exhibitions, events, and education. Visitors can browse through the galleries and delight in masterpieces by renowned American artists such as Ralph Cahoon, William Bradford, and Edmund C. Tarbell.

In addition to its permanent collection, the Cahoon Museum of American Art frequently hosts temporary exhibitions that showcase the works of emerging and established artists. The museum also offers lectures, workshops, and educational events that provide visitors with a unique and enriching experience.

The museum boasts a charming outdoor space, complete with a sculpture garden and a historic house that offers insight into the area’s rich past. Visitors should also make a point to stop by the gift shop, which has an impressive selection of distinctive gifts and souvenirs.

Overall, the Cahoon Museum of American Art is a must-see destination for anyone who appreciates American art and history, especially those with an interest in the Cape Cod region.

2. John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum

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The John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum is located in Barnstable, Massachusetts, and is dedicated to preserving and promoting the legacy of President John F. Kennedy and his family. The museum is located in the town of Hyannis, which was a favorite vacation spot for the Kennedy family.

The museum features exhibits and displays that tell the story of President Kennedy’s life and his connection to Cape Cod. Visitors can explore a variety of exhibits that showcase Kennedy’s political career, his family life, and the impact he had on American society.

Some of the highlights of the museum include interactive exhibits that allow visitors to learn about Kennedy’s speeches, his famous PT-109 incident during World War II, and his role in the civil rights movement. The museum also features a collection of artifacts and memorabilia from the Kennedy family, including photographs, personal belongings, and gifts that were given to the family by world leaders and celebrities.

In addition to its exhibits, the museum offers educational programs and events for visitors of all ages. These programs include lectures, workshops, and tours that provide a deeper understanding of President Kennedy’s life and legacy.

3. Coast Guard Heritage Museum

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The Coast Guard Heritage Museum in Barnstable, Massachusetts is an engrossing spot that recounts the tale of the U.S. Coast Guard from a Cape Cod outlook. The museum is set inside the archaic Customs House, constructed in 1855, which served as a customs house and post office until 1913. Later, it was transformed into a museum in 1960 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

As a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, the museum aims to celebrate the history of the Coast Guard and educate visitors about its crucial role in protecting our shores, rescuing distressed seamen, and enforcing maritime laws. The Coast Guard has an extensive and deep-rooted heritage on Cape Cod, as it’s the birthplace of the organization, and both the Customs and Coast Guard have worked closely since the 18th century.

The museum boasts over 2700 square feet of exhibit space, adorned with historical artifacts, models, and stories that animate the Coast Guard’s history. Visitors can avail a handheld audio tour system to guide them through the exhibits, and admission is free. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM, and reservations aren’t necessary.

The Coast Guard Heritage Museum is an unmissable destination for anyone keen on the history of the Coast Guard, maritime law enforcement, or the rich cultural heritage of Cape Cod. Whether you’re a local resident or a tourist visiting the area, a trip to this museum is certain to be an unforgettable experience.

4. Main Street Hyannis

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Main Street Hyannis is a lively and busy shopping and dining area located in Barnstable, Massachusetts. It has old buildings and plenty of local shops, art galleries, and restaurants.

When you visit Main Street Hyannis, you can explore the town’s past by visiting landmarks such as the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum, which tells the story of the former President who spent many summers there. The Hyannis Harborfront is also a beautiful place to see boats come and go.

Besides the cultural attractions, Main Street Hyannis has many different shops that sell all kinds of things, from handmade crafts to fancy clothes. If you like food, you’ll enjoy trying out the many restaurants on the street, from casual seafood places to fancy restaurants that use fresh, local ingredients.

Overall, Main Street Hyannis is a great place to go if you’re visiting Cape Cod. You’ll get a unique mix of history, culture, shopping, and food experiences.

5. Veterans Park Beach

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Veterans Park Beach in Barnstable, Massachusetts is a well-known spot for beach enthusiasts. This beach is located in the northern region of the town and has sparkling waters, soft sand, and breathtaking views.

The beach was named after veterans of the US Armed Forces and is a peaceful and relaxing destination. Visitors can reach the beach easily from the parking lot as ample parking space is available.

Veterans Park Beach is famous for its broad white sand stretch, making it a perfect place for sunbathing, building sandcastles, and playing beach volleyball. The water is calm and refreshing, which is perfect for swimming and other water activities.

There are various facilities available at the beach, including showers, restrooms, and changing rooms. A playground for kids and a large picnic area for families and groups are also provided.

If you want to explore the surroundings, there are several walking trails nearby. Visitors can stroll along the beach or explore the area’s stunning natural beauty.

Overall, Veterans Park Beach is a great spot to enjoy the sun, sand, and sea. It is a perfect place for a fun day out with friends and family or a peaceful retreat to relax and rejuvenate.

6. Craigville Beach

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Craigville Beach, located in Centerville, Massachusetts, is a stunning beach on Cape Cod. The beach is situated on Nantucket Sound, and it is a popular tourist destination for both locals and visitors alike.

One of the things that make Craigville Beach so unique is that it is a public beach area. Unlike many private Cape Cod beaches, Craigville Beach is available to non-residents for a daily parking fee. This makes it an accessible location for tourists who are looking to explore the beauty of Cape Cod.

Craigville Beach is divided into two sections. The first is the public beach, which is open to everyone who pays the parking fee. The second is the resident beach, Covell’s Beach. This section is available only to Centerville residents and their guests.

During the summer months, Craigville Beach is a popular spot for kitesurfing. The combination of the wind and the waves makes it the perfect location for this thrilling activity. Visitors can watch as kite surfers soar through the air and perform impressive tricks on the water.

But even if you’re not interested in kite surfing, Craigville Beach has plenty to offer. The sand is soft and white, and the water is clear and refreshing. You can spend your day lounging on the beach, soaking up the sun, and taking a dip in the ocean.

There are also plenty of amenities available at Craigville Beach. You’ll find restrooms, showers, and changing rooms, making it easy to spend a whole day at the beach. There are also food vendors and picnic areas, so you can grab a bite to eat without having to leave the beach.

Overall, Craigville Beach is a beautiful location that should not be missed when visiting Cape Cod. With its accessible public beach area, stunning views, and exciting kite surfing opportunities, it is the perfect place to spend a day in the sun.

7. Cape Cod Central Railroad

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The Cape Cod Central Railroad is a beloved heritage railway situated in Barnstable, Massachusetts. It runs along the Cape Main Line, a track that has been in use for more than 100 years. This railway offers numerous excursion trains and special trips that cater to tourists all year round.

Established in 1999, the Cape Cod Central Railroad has become a popular tourist attraction for those visiting Cape Cod. Its daily sightseeing trains, such as the Shoreline Excursion, Family Supper Train, Brunch and Lunch trains, and the Elegant Dinner Train, are a huge hit. The Elegant Dinner Train stands out in particular as it was ranked as one of the top three in the United States by the Food Network.

Apart from its daily services, Cape Cod Central Railroad also provides special trips during festivities like Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. During the Scallop Festival and summer months, the railway increases its services with the Family Supper Train and Scenic Train departing from Buzzards Bay.

The Cape Cod Central Railroad has three locomotives and typically uses two on each train in a pull-pull arrangement as switching locations are not readily available. It also has eight cars in use, including a privately owned Budd RDC.

The Barnstable, Sandwich, and Bourne cars are all former Long Island Rail Road 2700 series commuter cars and are utilized for sightseeing tours. The kitchen/generator car is deployed on dining trains, and all meals served are freshly prepared onboard. The Cape Codder lounge car is a vintage train car originally from the Illinois Central Railroad. The Sandy Neck, Great Island, and Race Point dining cars were all built in the early 1940s and have undergone complete restoration.

All in all, the Cape Cod Central Railroad is a unique and enjoyable experience for tourists who visit Cape Cod. Its historic rail line and restored equipment provide an excellent opportunity to learn about the region’s history while taking in scenic views.

8. Cape Cod Children’s Museum

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Cape Cod Children’s Museum is a wonderful place for families to spend an afternoon filled with fun and learning. Located in Mashpee village, in the town of Barnstable, it is the only museum on Cape Cod that is exclusively dedicated to children.

The museum boasts a wide range of exhibits, programs, and play areas, all designed to engage children and help them learn about the world around them. Whether it’s exploring a mini-golf course, building with giant foam blocks, or playing in a pretend grocery store, kids will have a blast while also developing important skills such as problem-solving, communication, and creativity.

The museum was established in 1990 by a group of moms who wanted to create a space where children could play and learn together in a safe and stimulating environment. Since then, it has become a beloved destination for families from all over Cape Cod and beyond, welcoming more than 50,000 visitors every year.

One of the great things about the Cape Cod Children’s Museum is that it offers something for kids of all ages, from toddlers to tweens. Younger children will enjoy exploring the sensory play areas, while older kids can challenge themselves with more complex exhibits and activities.

But the museum isn’t just for kids – parents and caregivers will also find plenty to enjoy. The exhibits are designed to be interactive, so adults can join in the fun and learn alongside their children. And the museum hosts a variety of special events throughout the year, such as storytimes, science workshops, and cultural festivals, that offer opportunities for the whole family to come together and learn something new.

Overall, the Cape Cod Children’s Museum is a fantastic resource for families in the Barnstable area. It’s a place where kids can have fun, learn, and make memories that will last a lifetime. So if you’re looking for a great way to spend an afternoon with your family, be sure to check it out!

9. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church

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St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Barnstable, Massachusetts, is a testament to the power of faith and community. Originally a small, weather-stained house of prayer, the church has grown and expanded over the years, becoming one of the most distinctive and beautiful churches in the Northeast. Today, it serves a congregation of over 1,000 members and welcomes thousands of visitors each year.

The church was built in early rural English style in 1891, according to the plans of W.R. Emerson of Boston, on land given in memory of Mary Kearney Cobb. It was incorporated in 1888, but due to the deaths of local bishops, it was not consecrated until 1893. Most services were held only in the summer, with clergy imported from Boston. However, the church quickly became a center for missionary work in the area.

Since its humble beginnings, St. Mary’s has grown into a complex of buildings that includes a church, parish hall, gardens, educational building, and rectory. This growth was only possible thanks to the dedication and vision of the church’s members, who identified the needs of their community and worked tirelessly to meet them.

The church’s Book of Remembrance records the many memorials that have benefited St. Mary’s, including the finely carved doors by Quentin R. Muson and the bronze dolphins and shells adorning the baptismal font by sculptor William Bocgar.

Today, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church continues to be a vital part of the Barnstable community. Its beautiful architecture and rich history draw visitors from around the world, while its warm and welcoming congregation provides a place of worship and fellowship for all who seek it. Whether you are a longtime member or a first-time visitor, St. Mary’s is a place where the love, strength, grace, and beauty of Christianity can be experienced and shared.

10. Old Jail (Barnstable, Massachusetts)

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The Old Gaol in Barnstable, Massachusetts is a historic colonial jail that is famous for being the oldest wooden jail in the United States of America. Built-in 1690, the jail was used to hold prisoners until around 1820, when a new stone jail was constructed. The structure was originally attached to a barn and was rediscovered in 1968, separated from the barn, and moved onto the grounds of the Coast Guard Heritage Museum.

The Old Gaol played a significant role in history, imprisoning Goody Hallett, the lover of notorious pirate Samuel Bellamy, and the survivors of his wrecked ships Whydah Gally and Mary Anne in 1716. The building has since become a popular tourist attraction and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Despite its fascinating history, the Old Gaol is also famous for being one of the most haunted places in America. Ghost tours are available at certain times of the year, with many visitors reporting paranormal experiences and sightings of Goody Hallett’s ghost. Her spirit is also believed to haunt other areas of the region, including the Expedition Whydah in Provincetown and the Lucifer Land, which is a reference to the area of land at the top of the Wellfleet cliffs.

Overall, the Old Gaol in Barnstable, Massachusetts is a fascinating and unique piece of American history that offers visitors a glimpse into the past and a chance to experience the paranormal.

11. Barnstable County Courthouse

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The Barnstable County Courthouse is a historic landmark located at 3195 Main Street in Barnstable, Massachusetts. It was built in 1831, following the Greek Revival style, and was designed by the renowned architect Alexander Parris.

The courthouse features a front portico and fluted Doric columns made of wood finished to resemble stone. The building has undergone several expansions, all using Quincy granite to maintain its unified feel. The main courtroom has retained most of its original woodwork and trim, including some of its original furnishings.

The courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981 and included in the Old King’s Highway Historic District in 1987.

The building currently houses the Barnstable Superior Court and is part of a complex that houses administrative facilities for Barnstable County. The Barnstable County Courthouse is a testament to the rich history and architectural beauty of the area.

12. Barnstable Historical Society

The Barnstable Historical Society (BHS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the cultural heritage and maritime history of the Town of Barnstable. Founded in 1939, the society has played a leading role in documenting the history of the seven villages of the town, including Barnstable Village, Centerville, Cotuit, Hyannis, Marstons Mills, Osterville, and West Barnstable.

At the heart of the BHS is the Phinney-Jones House, which houses a virtual treasure chest of history. The collection dates from the 17th century to the 20th century and includes maritime paintings, portraits of sea captains and their wives, ships’ logs, ships’ models, a scrimshaw collection, vintage photographs, trade artifacts from around the world, Sandwich glass, a quilt collection, antique furniture, correspondence, diaries, and much more.

The BHS provides research assistance to schools, authors, researchers, and the public, ensuring that local history is approachable and accessible to everyone.

As a nonprofit organization, the BHS relies heavily on the support of the community. Donations are urgently needed to support museum operations, including exhibit enhancement, artifact storage, new acquisitions, artifact repairs, special programs, professional fees, information technology, building maintenance and improvement, and more.

The Phinney-Jones House is currently undergoing much-needed repairs, and the society is also working on exterior repairs and painting to restore the beautiful site.

In addition to the museum, the BHS also maintains the Lisa Blair Memorial Garden, which honors the memory of the long-time curator of the society. The garden is a labor of love and an artistic expression, featuring local native plant species and providing a peaceful place for visitors to enjoy.

The BHS relies on donations of artifacts and materials to continue its mission of preserving local history. The society carefully considers each donation offer to ensure that it is the best fit for the museum’s collection. Donations can include 3D objects, photographs, paintings, textual documents, manuscripts, ephemera, postcards, audiovisual materials, books, pamphlets, and more.

Overall, the Barnstable Historical Society is an integral part of the community, dedicated to preserving and promoting the cultural heritage and maritime history of the Town of Barnstable. Through its museum, gardens, and outreach programs, the society ensures that local history remains alive, approachable, and accessible to all. Donations and support from the community are essential to the society’s continued success in preserving the rich history of Barnstable.

13. Keyes Memorial Beach

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Keyes Memorial Beach is a picturesque beach located in Barnstable, Massachusetts. With its pristine white sand and crystal-clear water, it is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.

One of the main attractions of Keyes Memorial Beach is its peaceful and serene atmosphere. The beach is relatively quiet and not as crowded as some of the other beaches in the area, which makes it a great spot for families with young children or those who are looking for a more tranquil beach experience.

In addition to its stunning scenery, Keyes Memorial Beach offers plenty of amenities to visitors. There are restrooms and showers available, as well as picnic tables and grills for those who want to have a barbecue. The beach also has a playground for kids, which is a great way to keep them entertained while parents relax and soak up the sun.

Keyes Memorial Beach is also a great spot for water activities. The beach has calm waters, which makes it perfect for swimming and wading. It is also a popular spot for kayaking and paddleboarding, as the water is usually calm and peaceful.

Overall, Keyes Memorial Beach is a must-visit destination for anyone visiting the Barnstable area. Its stunning scenery, peaceful atmosphere, and abundance of amenities make it a great spot for families, couples, or anyone who wants to relax and enjoy a day at the beach.

14. The Barnstable Comedy Club

The Barnstable Comedy Club, nestled in the heart of Barnstable Village, is an authentic treasure of the community. With roots dating back to the early 1900s, when the Village Hall was erected as a communal gathering place, the club has a rich history.

A group of theater aficionados established The Barnstable Comedy Club in the early 1920s, and they started performing plays at the Village Hall.

As time passed, the club grew in size and popularity, transforming into a thriving theater organization that stages a diverse selection of plays and musicals annually. The club’s success is due to its devoted team of volunteers, who work tirelessly to keep the theater and the Village Hall in top condition while also ensuring the productions are of the highest quality.

When you visit the Barnstable Comedy Club, prepare to be entertained by exceptionally talented actors, singers, and musicians who bring the stage to life with their captivating performances. The productions range from timeless plays to modern musicals, catering to a wide range of tastes.

Moreover, the Barnstable Comedy Club hosts numerous events throughout the year, including concerts, lectures, and community gatherings. The Village Hall is a stunning and historic structure that serves as an ideal venue for any occasion, and you’ll undoubtedly be impressed by its charm and character.

What makes the Barnstable Comedy Club so exceptional is its sense of community. The club is a labor of love for all involved, where people of all ages and backgrounds can come together to share their passion for the arts.

If you’re in Barnstable, visiting the Barnstable Comedy Club is a must. Whether you’re a theater enthusiast or simply seeking a fun night out, you’ll relish the performances and the friendly atmosphere of the club. Why not catch a show and experience the magic of the Barnstable Comedy Club for yourself?

15. Cape Cod Maritime Museum

Cape Cod Maritime Museum is a hidden gem located in Hyannis, Massachusetts. It is a museum that celebrates the rich maritime history and culture of the Cape Cod region. The museum’s mission is to preserve and promote the maritime heritage of Cape Cod, educate visitors about the maritime history of the area, and inspire future generations to appreciate and protect the oceans and waterways.

The museum has a diverse collection of artifacts, exhibits, and programs that showcase the seafaring past of Cape Cod. Some of the most fascinating exhibits include the 36-foot wooden sailboat named Sarah, which was built in the 1940s and has been fully restored, and the figureheads of ships, which are intricately carved pieces of art that adorned the bows of sailing ships. Visitors can also see an authentic Fresnel lens from the Monomoy Point lighthouse, which was used to guide ships through the treacherous waters around Cape Cod.

One of the highlights of the museum is the interactive exhibits, which offer visitors a hands-on experience of what it was like to be a sailor or a fisherman in the past. The museum also offers educational programs, workshops, and events throughout the year, including boat building, sail-making, and marine conservation.

The Cape Cod Maritime Museum is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in maritime history, culture, and education. It is a place where visitors can learn about the lives and stories of the people who made a living on the sea, the technologies and tools they used, and the challenges they faced. The museum also highlights the importance of preserving and protecting the oceans and waterways for future generations.

15 Best Things to Do in Barnstable (MA)

  1. Cahoon Museum of American Art
  2. John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum
  3. Coast Guard Heritage Museum
  4. Main Street Hyannis
  5. Veterans Park Beach
  6. Craigville Beach
  7. Cape Cod Central Railroad
  8. Cape Cod Children’s Museum
  9. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
  10.  Old Jail (Barnstable, Massachusetts)
  11. Barnstable County Courthouse
  12. Barnstable Historical Society
  13. Keyes Memorial Beach
  14. The Barnstable Comedy Club
  15. Cape Cod Maritime Museum