On the Upper Cape, Mashpee is a town known as the headquarters for the Wampanoag Mashpee Tribe, with hundreds of members continuing to live here.
The Wampanoag make up a large minority today, but up until the 1960s comprised the majority of the town’s population.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum, housed in an 18th-century homestead, is a compelling history lesson from the Wampanoag perspective.
Mashpee shines for its thousands of acres of protected nature, at barrier beaches, dunes, tidal rivers, freshwater and salt marsh, swamps, upland forest and bogs.
Many of the waterways are calm and shielded from the winds, so Mashpee is an ideal place for kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding, with a couple of local companies providing tours and rentals in the town.
1. South Cape Beach State Park
In the very south of Mashpee is a mile-long sandy beach with views to Martha’s Vineyard over Nantucket Sound.
South Cape Beach State Park is one of several properties belonging to the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and has a total absence of development, traced by nothing more than low dunes, salt marsh and coastal woods.
You’ll access the beach via a newly laid accessible boardwalk, which also leads to a scenic overlook deck. Lifeguards are on duty late June through Labor Day, daily parking fees apply throughout this time.
2. Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum
To get a handle on Mashpee’s unique story, make sure to stop at this museum and cultural center, telling the story of the Wampanoag, from the Stone Age to modern times.
The venue for the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum is significant, in one of the oldest homesteads in the town, dating back to 1793.
This is next to the Mashpee River and a fish ladder that allows herring to swim upriver to their spawning grounds.
Inside you’ll discover Wampanoag culture through archeological finds, and examples of tools, skills such as basket-making, and hunting and fishing implements.
A central exhibit here is a giant diorama depicting an everyday scene in a Wampanoag village.
When we compiled this list, the exhibit “400 Years Ago” marked the anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower, outlining the upheaval that this event had on the Wampanoag people.
3. Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge
On more than 5,000 acres of land in Mashpee and Falmouth, this national wildlife refuge was established in 1995 to preserve a tapestry of important habitats and their wildlife.
Visiting the Mashpee National Wildlife Refuge, you’ll be on the second-largest publicly accessible space on the Cape.
These freshwater and salt marshes, Atlantic white cedar swamps, cranberry bogs, and a vernal pool, are a haven for wild species, in particular migrating waterfowl, as well as raptors, resident shore birds and songbirds.
You can come for a hike on miles of blazed trails and fire roads, which also lead off into neighboring partner properties to Moody Pond, or along the banks of the Childs river.
4. Mashpee Commons
Dating back to the 1960s and redeveloped in the 80s, this popular outdoor shopping center and residential community could easily be mistaken for an organically developed New England village.
One of the big things in Mashpee Commons’ favor is the abundance of one-of-a-kind independent businesses, inviting you to spend a leisurely couple of hours exploring.
You’ll discover food markets, fitness studios, boutiques of all kinds, entertainment amenities like a Regal cinema, and dining for every palate.
5. Naukabout Beer Company
There can’t be many craft breweries with a better location than Naukabout Beer Company, in evergreen woods next to a beach on the south shore of Mashpee Pond.
The setting lends itself to unwinding or celebrating, and the taproom has an inviting, 10,000-square-foot patio.
As for the beer, the brewery puts an emphasis on hop-forward New England IPAs, but there are also malty ales, tropical fruit ales, and even an excellent non-alcoholic root beer that kids will love.
Naukabout Beer Company is hopping all year round, with live music, various food trucks, live comedy, sports events, movie nights, family events and tons more.
6. Popponesset Marketplace
Open for more than 40 years now, this versatile spot near South Cape Beach State Park is many things rolled into one.
For shopping, Popponesset Marketplace has an array of endearing small businesses, for unique gifts, clothing, fashion accessories, beach gear, toys, antiques, haircare, local art and crafts, along with handmade candies, saltwater taffy, fudge and the like.
There’s also a food market and several eateries, with everything from gourmet grocery items to smoothies, ice cream, burgers, fresh local seafood and pizza.
All summer long, Popponesset Marketplace is alive with live music and activities for kids, and there’s a schedule posted on the website.
7. Cape Cod Children’s Museum
The only museum on Cape Cod designed entirely for children is here in Mashpee, encouraging imagination, curiosity and creativity.
Founded in 1990 by a group of moms, the Cape Cod Children’s Museum has been based in Mashpee since the 2000s.
This is run by a nonprofit organization, and features a large indoor space filled with hands-on exhibits, and engaging attractions like a climbable pirate ship, a play area for littler visitors, a puppet theater and a planetarium.
The museum has a wealth of events and programs all year, from a Christmas visit with Rudolph to an Irish festival in the run up to St. Patrick’s Day.
8. Raw Bar
For many people, the big draw at Popponesset Marketplace is this laid-back joint, making New England classics like clam chowder and crab cakes.
What really puts this place on the map though is the lobster roll. With its generous heaps of tender, steamed lobster meat, this has been touted as the best lobster roll on the Cape. Alternatively you can get lobster as a dinner, served with lobster and coleslaw.
The Raw Bar is also known for its cocktails, especially an awesome rum punch mix—all you have to do is add a dash of your favorite white rum.
9. Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve
South Cape Beach State Park is part of this 2,700-acre reserve, made up of a number of individual sites around Mashpee and Falmouth.
At these properties you’ll encounter marshlands, open waters, barrier beaches, and uplands, ripe for exploration on foot or paddling on the water.
A good starting point is Waquoit Bay itself, home to the reserve’s headquarters and visitor center at the historic Sargent Estate. Inside are educational exhibits, and you can get acquainted with the reserve along short walking trails with interpretive signage.
Elsewhere, the barrier beach at Washburn Island is a crucial nesting place for shorebirds, the beautiful Quashnet River has several miles of trails, and the Great Flat Pond Trail Loop has boardwalks and view platforms over fragile freshwater and saltwater marshes.
10. Mashpee River Reservation
A Trustees of Reservations property in Mashpee protects a stretch of an unspoiled tidal river, draining Mashpee/Wakeby Pond and emptying into Pirate’s Cove on Popponesset Bay.
As with several reservations around the town, the two miles of trails at the Mashpee River Reservation are connected to neighboring properties, owned by the Town of Mashpee, for an extended hike in blissful nature.
The reservation has single-track trails along the river, but also into a restored pine barren habitat along the Cottontail Loop.
On the southeast side you can get onto the Long River Trail, tracing the east bank, taking you almost as far as the mouth on Popponesset Bay.
11. Rideaway Adventures
At Popponesset Marketplace there’s a location (one of five) for this Cape-based adventure company, offering all kinds of active experiences on land and on the water around Mashpee.
Essentially, Rideaway Adventures offers tours and rentals for biking, paddleboarding and kayaking.
From the Mashpee location you can set off on a brief paddling trip around Popponesset Island, or, for something longer, plan a full day trip along the spit across Popponesset Bay, stopping for an unforgettable picnic.
The ecologically rich bay and Mashpee River are perfect for kayaking and paddleboarding, as the slow-moving water is calm, mostly wind-free, and there’s little variation between high and low tide.
12. Quashnet Valley Country Club
If you’re up for a round of golf, one of Cape Cod’s best public courses is right here in Mashpee.
Quashnet Valley Country Club goes back to 1972, and reasonable green fees that might catch you by surprise, especially for Cape Cod.
The course blends with the natural topography and habitats, incorporating wetlands, ponds, streams and the Quashnet River on all but three of the 18 holes.
On your round, you can look out for great blue herons, swans, and red tail hawks. Facilities here include a putting green, driving range, pro shop, club rentals, and the Valley Grille with restorative views of the ninth fairway and green.
13. Peace Love SUP
Run by a certified SUP and yoga instructor, this roving stand-up paddleboard business offers several experiences around Mashpee.
With Peace Love SUP, you can take a tour or lesson next to Popponesset Spit, hanging out on the beach during breaks, or circumnavigating Popponesset Island.
Alternatively you could escape the crowds, paddling around Waquoit Bay and going ashore at Washburn Island. For another local adventure you can take a trip along the Great River, spotting herons, ospreys and wildfowl on your way to a remote salt marsh.
14. Lowell Holly Reservation
On these 135 acres, in the care of the Trustees of Reservations, you can enter a rare example of old growth forest on Cape Cod.
The land, set on a peninsula between Mashpee and Wakeby ponds, is named for the Harvard president Abbott Lawrence Lowell (1856-1943), who bequeathed it to the Trustees in 1943.
As well as natural stands of beech and around 250 American holly trees, there are also plenty of holdovers from Lowell’s day, among them rhododendron bushes and plantings of rosebay.
You can stroll to the top of knolls along the peninsula, for magnificent views and cool off with a dip in the shallow ponds on hot summer days.
15. Mashpee Mini Golf
Hidden in the pine woods next to Mashpee Commons is an 18-hole mini golf course that opened in 2017, and is also known for its affordable pricing.
Mashpee Mini Golf is a rustic experience, avoiding waterfalls and pirate ships, in favor of neatly designed, plank-edged greens, a wood chip surface between the holes and twinkle lights that create a lovely environment for rounds after sunset.
With each new year, Mashpee Mini Golf adds something new, and this attraction is already a treasured part of the community, hosting fundraisers for local causes throughout the season.