Facing Nantucket Sound on the Lower Cape, Harwich has all the ingredients of a dream Cape Cod getaway.
The town has immaculate public beaches, rail trails, bucolic countryside, and Harwich Port, where much of the nightlife, culture and dining is concentrated.
Harwich Port is a gorgeous maritime village with three cute harbors and lots of beautiful residences built by sea captains.
Harwich’s interior is scattered with cranberry bogs, and it was here that the first commercial cranberry farm was founded in 1846.
The town celebrates being the birthplace of the Cranberry industry with the Harwich Cranberry Arts & Music Festival at harvest time in September.
1. Red River Beach
Open to the public with a day pass, the mid-sized Red River Beach has the feel of a neighborhood beach.
Despite the generous belt of soft white sand, level of maintenance and plentiful parking, the beach is never overcome with big crowds, although it’s a good idea to arrive early on warm summer weekends.
The scenery is fabulous, with dunes and salt marsh behind, and many miles of Nantucket Sound in front—keep an eye on the sea as you’re likely to spot seals playing in the surf.
As with the other public beaches in Harwich, Red River Beach is bathed by gentle, warm waters, which are safe for younger children. There’s a seasonal concession stand, as well as restrooms, and a kayak/canoe launch.
2. Harwich Port
Crossed by Route 128, lovable Harwich Port is understandably the town’s tourism honeypot.
You’ve got public beaches along the waterfront, and Main Street is flanked by restaurants, pubs, galleries, intriguing shops, and a lot of elegant old architecture.
Harwich Port was home to fishermen and mariners long before the American Revolution, and many of the fine residences in the village were built for sea captains.
Harwich Port’s sights are still set on Nantucket Sound, and the local motto is “Three Harbors, One Port”, referring to the quaint little harbors that break up the sandy shoreline.
One of these is Saquatucket Harbor, where you can catch a Freedom Cruise Line ferry to Nantucket. Every Wednesday night in July and August, Port Summer Nights brings free live music and extended opening hours for shops and galleries.
3. Bank Street Beach
West of Red River Beach, there’s an unbroken two miles of sandy shoreline bookended by Allen Harbor in the west and Wychmere Harbor in the east.
On the east side you’ve got the public Bank Street Beach, which is a little smaller than its neighbor but still spacious, with low dunes to the rear and splendid views of the bay as it curls round to the west.
The sand is soft, the surf is almost non-existent, and if you’re a parent this is a good place for children to play in the shallows.
Like Red River Beach, Bank Street Beach has all of Harwich Port’s local businesses close at hand, whether you want to grab lunch or a frozen treat.
4. Harwich Mariners
In summer you can see tomorrow’s baseball stars in action at Whitehouse Field, home of the Harwich Mariners. This is a collegiate summer baseball team, playing in the Cape Cod Baseball League (CCBL).
The league has a history going back to 1885, and was preceded by some of the earliest organized baseball in the United States.
More than 1,000 Major League Baseball stars have appeared for Cape Cod Baseball League teams, and a few Mariners alumni include Charles Nagy, Tim Lincecum, Trey Mancini, and Ian Happ.
Whitehouse Field holds 4,000 spectators, and the 40-game regular season kicks off around mid-June, with playoffs wrapped up by mid-August.
5. Cape Cod Rail Trail
Harwich is one of the seven towns on the course of this 25.5-mile rail trail, on the right-of-way of the Old Colony Railroad, laid down in the 1860s as the Cape Cod Central Railroad.
This is a fantastic, car-free highway for the cape, with light gradients, a wide surface and an endless chain of attractions and places to stop along the route.
After heading eastwards from Yarmouth, the trail starts to bend northwards in Harwich towards Brewster, passing through countryside dappled with cranberry bogs and ponds.
In North Harwich, the Cape Cod Rail Trail intersects with the Old Colony Rail Trail, at an unusual bicycle rotary. This is in a little park, with tall pines, benches and an information kiosk.
6. Cranberry Bog Tours
Surely the best way to connect with Harwich and its agriculture is by visiting a cranberry bog. This can be done at the largest organic cranberry bog on Cape Cod, inviting visitors for tours in spring, summer and fall.
During your tour you’ll find out the year-round operation of a cranberry bog, the unique conditions that allow these plants to thrive, and all of the knowhow that goes into producing the best berries.
Parents will pick up fascinating insights about cranberry production, while children will have a great time seeing the farm’s many barnyard animals, from friendly dogs to goats, chickens, sheep and cows.
7. Cape Cod Lavender Farm
On 11 acres, this adorable farm is a joy in summer when its thousands of lavender plants are in bloom.
Depending on the conditions, the Cape Cod Lavender Farm is at its fragrant and colorful best during the harvest, taking place between late June and mid-July.
The farm is free to visit during this time, but also throughout March to December, and is bordered by another 80 acres of conservation lands with woodland trails.
Don’t forget to stop at the gift shop, selling a variety of lavender infused items, including essential oils, candles, soaps, bug repellent, and shampoos.
8. Old Colony Rail Trail
The western trailhead for this 7.5-mile trail is at the Harwich Bicycle Rotary. The Old Colony Rail Trail is on the abandoned right-of-way of the Old Colony Railroad’s Chatham Branch, apart from where it diverts around Chatham Municipal Airport.
From the rotary the trail stays parallel to Main Street for some distance, passing close to attractions like the Cape Cod Lavender Farm and the Brooks Academy Museum.
Also on the route here is Brooks Park, which has a gorgeous little picnic grove by the trail, and is the setting for summer events like an arts & crafts festival in July.
9. Brooks Academy Museum
The outstanding landmark in the Harwich Historic District is a Greek Revival school building, home to the Harwich Historical Society and serving as a town museum.
The Brooks Academy is named for its founder, Sidney Brooks (1813-1887), and when it opened in 1844 it became the first place of higher education beyond elementary level in the town.
The school was open to men and women, and its most prestigious and expensive course was Higher Mathematics, which included navigation and surveying.
The museum’s temporary exhibits are refreshed with each new year, and deal with all facets of the town’s past, from education to art.
The permanent exhibition is Cranberry Culture, paying tribute to Harwich’s cranberry production with a large display of historic photos, artifacts, a diorama of a commercial bog and hands-on exhibits.
10. Bell’s Neck Conservation Lands
The colonial history of this 260-acre property goes all the way back to a purchase in 1668 by the settler John Bell.
After changing hands numerous times down the years Bell’s Neck was acquired by the town in the 1960s to protect a stretch of the Herring River, as well as West Reservoir and the woodlands that border them.
The trails give you beautiful vistas over salt marsh and open water, home to seldom seen black-crowned night herons and ospreys in spring and summer.
For wildlife, maybe the best time to be here is in April when thousands of herring make their way upriver and along a herring ladder into the West Reservoir.
11. Pleasant Road Beach
Another public beach to keep on your radar in Harwich, Pleasant Road Beach is further west, near the mouth of the Herring River.
Despite being open to non-residents and having good amenities, this beach stays remarkably quiet, even at the height of the season.
There’s a wide patch of soft white sand, and warm waters with knee-high waves. A lifeguard is on duty all summer, and you’ll find benches and restrooms by the sand.
At any other time this is also a lovely place to come for a walk or to contemplate Nantucket Sound at sunset.
12. Harwich Cranberry Arts & Music Festival
Harwich has a busy social calendar, but if there’s one free event you can’t afford to miss it’s this two-day event at the start of the cranberry harvest in mid-September.
This goes down on the fields by the Harwich Community Center, where there are more than 150 vendors selling a wealth of handmade craft items.
Also part of the fun is CranJam, with several hours of great live music on Saturday and Sunday, with fireworks show on the first night.
There are as many as ten different food trucks to choose from each year, as well as a range of wines and craft beer, provided by the Devil’s Purse Brewing Company in Dennis.
The Harwich Community Center is just a few hundred feet from the Old Colony Rail trail, and visitors are encouraged to come to the festival by bike.
13. Bud’s Go-Karts and Bud’s Mini Golf
The family-oriented karting attraction in Harwich Port has been on the scene since 1960.
Parents will be reassured that the karts at this track are responsive without being too overpowered for the minimum age, which is eight (or 54”). Bud’s Go-karts also has double karts, available to drivers over the age of 16.
Next door you’ve got the recently opened Bud’s Mini Golf, which has a CapeCod theme, with little saltbox houses, a lighthouse, water-powered mill, a fishing boat and water features throughout. The holes themselves are fun without being too crazy, so accurate putting will be rewarded.
14. First Crush Winery
There’s a winery in Harwich run by a retired local eye with more than three decades of amateur winemaking experience.
If you’re wondering how a winery on Cape Cod gets its grapes, First Crush Winery has partnerships with growers in California’s Suisun Valley AVA, and receives its Malbec, Merlot, Sangiovese, Riesling, Chardonnay, Petite Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon within four days of harvest.
First Crush’s range features varietal wines and carefully pitched blends, garnering a number of awards in the last few years.
There’s indoor and outdoor seating, and you can visit for sales, tastings, wine by the glass, cheese plates, and wine slushies.
15. Harwich Farmers’ Market
Mid-June through early October, Harwich has a farmers’ market in a beautiful spot at Brooks Academy.
This happens on Thursday afternoons rain or shine, and is sponsored by the Harwich Historical Society.
As the season progresses there’s an ever-changing choice of fruits and vegetables like raspberries, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, radishes and pumpkins, straight from local farms.
There are plenty of other vendors selling fresh baked bread, scones, honey, fresh seafood, olives, olive oil, preserves, and eggs.