On the Upper Cape, Sandwich is an historic town facing Cape Cod Bay and first settled in 1637.
From the 1820s, Sandwich established a reputation as New England’s premier glassmaking center, and this history is presented in vivid detail at the Sandwich Glass Museum, where you can watch live demonstrations in front of the furnace.
Along Route 6A, the Old King’s Highway passes through the town, and as is typical for this famous artery, there’s a series of historic house museums along the road in Sandwich, or close by.
Sandwich has some lovely public beaches, one of which can be reached by an iconic boardwalk first built in 1875, while the eastern entrance of the spectacular intracoastal waterway, the Cape Cod Canal, is in the north end of the town.
1. Heritage Museums & Gardens
One of Cape Cod’s top visitor attractions is the 100-acre estate of Charles O. Dexter (1862-1943), who is remembered for his work hybridizing rhododendrons. From 1921 to 1943 he developed up to 10,000 rhododendron seedlings here each year.
Now you can tour the astonishing gardens, with a nationally significant collection of thousands of rhododendron bushes, representing most of the known Dexter cultivars.
There are also more than 1,000 varieties of daylilies, and a noteworthy hosta collection, all complemented by indoor museum galleries.
There’s no shortage of wonder inside, where you can view the extraordinary American Automobile Collection (1890s-1960s), browse wonderful displays of American art and artifacts, and ride on the functioning 1908 Charles Looff Carousel.
2. Sandwich Glass Museum
Sandwich’s historic glassmaking industry has been revived at this top-notch museum, charting the history of the town and its famous trade.
What makes this attraction so special is that it has a glass furnace where you can watch an expert glassblower plying their craft close enough to feel the heat on your face. During this 20-minute demonstration the glassblower will pick someone to press a piece of glass.
In its static galleries, the museum presents thousands of works of glassware, many made at Deming Jarves’ factory, and some crafted using state-of-the-art technology.
Naturally the gift shop is a big part of the experience, with a rich assortment of art glass, jewelry, paperweights, vases, bowls, perfume bottles and more.
3. Sandwich Boardwalk and Town Neck Beach
An emblem for Sandwich since 1875, this 1350-foot wooden structure is a matter of minutes from the historic center of the town, and carries you over a wide open expanse of estuarine marshland on Mill Creek to Town Neck Beach.
When we wrote this article the boardwalk was undergoing a renovation to protect it from decay and a possible storm surge.
This is one of many updates that have taken place over the last 150 years as the boardwalk has constantly been impacted by storms.
The point where the boardwalk crosses Mill Creek is a popular place for people to jump off at high tide. On the shore, the sandy Town Neck Beach is one of the best in the town, with a clear view north to the entrance of the Cape Cod Canal.
4. The Old King’s Highway
Granted National Scenic Byway status in 2021, Route 6A in Sandwich is on the Old King’s Highway, which runs for 62 miles along the north coast of Cape Cod.
In lush scenery of salt marsh, cranberry bogs, old growth woods and preserved farmlands, this meandering road connects a chain of venerable communities between Bourne in the west and Orleans in the east, with sections in Truro and Provincetown in the Outer Cape.
The way is flanked with historic architecture in every New England style from the 17th to the 20th century.
The Captains’ Mile, a two mile stretch just down the road in Yarmouth does not have a single building newer than the 19th century, and was once the home of many a sea captain.
There are bed & breakfasts and intriguing visitor attractions by the road in every town, and this also applies to Sandwich: The Nye House, Sandwich Glass Museum, Sandwich State Fish Hatchery, Green Briar Nature Center and Jam Kitchen and Wing Fort House are all on or near the Old King’s Highway.
5. Cape Cod Canal
As soon as Cape Cod was settled in the 17th century, there had been a dream of building a safe, navigable waterway to connect Buzzards Bay with Cape Cod Bay.
This dream was finally realized with the opening of the seven mile Cape Cod Canal in 1914. Controlled by the US Army of Engineers, this waterway is a recreation magnet in the summer.
There are multi-use trails on both banks, seven miles long on the north side and 6.5 miles long on the south side, as well as a clutch of visitor attractions, public recreation areas and campgrounds.
In Sandwich, at the eastern entrance, you’ll find the official visitor center and Scusset Beach State Reservation, and as you head west the epic Sagamore Bridge, Bourne Bridge and Cape Cod Canal Railroad Bridge dominate the skyline.
The latter, opened in 1935, is still the second-longest lift bridge in the United States.
6. Hoxie House
One of the oldest buildings on Cape Cod, Hoxie House has a gorgeous spot, backing onto Shawme Lake in the historic center of Sandwich.
The origins of this salbox aren’t quite clear, but by 1675 it was home to Rev. John Smith, pastor of the Separatist First Church of Sandwich between 1673 and 1689, along with his wife Susanna and their 13 children.
Later, in the mid-1800s the house was purchased by the whaling captain Abraham Hoxie. The town of Sandwich took over in the 1950s, restoring the building to its 17th-century appearance and opening it up as a museum with informative guided tours.
Admission to the Hoxie House also includes the Dexter Grist Mill, a short walk away at the north end of Shawme Lake.
7. Dexter Grist Mill
In an idyllic setting in the Town Hall Square Historic District there’s a working grist mill with a story that goes back to the mid-17th century.
The Dexter Grist Mill was built where Shawme Lake is drained by Mill Creek, and has a charming stone-walled millrace powering its water wheel.
The original mill was driven by water until the mid-19th century when it was fitted with an iron turbine.
When Sandwich’s industrial days came to an end the mill closed, but was restored to its early 19th-century appearance in the 1960s. During this work it was equipped with historic grinding wheels from the 1800s, brought over from France.
In the summer months you can enter the Dexter Grist Mill to see the mechanism in action, and purchase a bag of cornmeal, paired with recipes that would be familiar to Sandwich’s early inhabitants.
8. Nye Museum
In a similar story to the Fort Wing House, the Benjamin Nye Homestead has belonged to the Nye family for almost its entire history.
The earliest section of this 2.5-story timber framed house was raised around 1678 by Benjamin Nye, and the rear of the house was enlarged some time in the 19th century.
The property was sold to the state in 1924, but fell into disrepair, so the Nye Family Association took over in the early 1960s and restored the house.
This is now a history house museum endowed with 18th-century furnishings, and open for tours, June through October.
On arrival you’ll be greeted by the Grange Hall, built in 1889 as a meeting place for farmers, and now housing the museum’s visitor center, with info, a shop for local crafts, special exhibits, and a space for community events and lectures.
9. Scusset Beach State Reservation
For a public beach in Sandwich a fine pick is this public recreation area at the eastern entrance of the Cape Cod Canal. Scusset Beach State Reservation is on the north side of this waterway, and, as well as a stretch of canalfront, has 1.5 miles of sandy beach on Cape Cod Bay.
You can watch the ships passing by along a stone jetty, shooting out for several hundred feet, with a beacon at the tip.
Lifeguards are on duty, Juneteenth though Labor Day, and as with all the beaches in the area, Scusset Beach is subject to tides, with miles of sand when the tide is out and just a narrow belt when it’s up.
Even so, there’s enough room for everyone to spread out with the added advantage of 98 bookable RV campsites and 5 tent-only sites.
10. Sandy Neck Beach Park
A long barrier beach running eastwards into Cape Cod Bay for six miles, Sandy Neck Beach is in neighboring Barnstable, but, because of the geography, is more easily reached from Sandwich.
Fringed by some 4,700 acres of tall dunes, marshes and maritime forest, this is one of the most beautiful and most popular beaches on the cape, bringing in thousands of visitors each year to swim, play in the surf, beachcomb and bask in the sunshine.
You can explore the breathtaking coastal habitats along the 7.5-mile Sandy Neck Nature Trail, running along the marshes and then looping back along the oceanfront.
The area with lifeguards on duty is in front of the parking lot off Sandy Neck Rd and has a snack shack, which is useful given the remote location.
11. Wing Fort House
In Sandwich you can visit the oldest home in New England continuously occupied by the same family.
The Wing Fort House (1641) possibly got its name as a safe haven from Native American attacks, although the cape’s people were soon found to be friendly.
By 1646 this was the home of Stephen Wing, one of Sandwich’s early settlers. His descendants resided here until 1942, when it was sold to the Wing Family of America, Inc., which maintains the house as a museum, open Tuesday through Saturday, mid-June to the end of September.
The interior is furnished almost completely with Wing family possessions, and reflects the changing tastes over the course of almost 400 years of history.
12. Green Briar Nature Center and Jam Kitchen
The Thornton W. Burgess Society, dedicated to the namesake children’s author and conservationist, runs this attraction in East Sandwich.
Burgess (1874-1965) wrote 170 books, and Peter Rabbit was among the many characters that he created. The Green Briar Nature Center is inspired by Briar Patch that appears in his stories, and is a wonderful natural space next to Smiling Pond.
There are interpretive trails here, and exquisite wildflower gardens, and there’s a wealth of educational programs here, from guided walks to workshops, field trips and classes.
The Jam Kitchen meanwhile dates back to 1903 and is a kind of living museum, where you can watch a variety of jams, jellies, pickles, and relishes being made the traditional way in an early 19th-century kitchen.
This is also the oldest commercial solar-cooking kitchen in the world, with preserves being prepared gently in the sun.
13. Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center
For the background on the Cape Cod Canal, the visitor center, run by the federal government, can be found on the south side of the canal in Sandwich.
This attraction is open to the public free of charge, early May through late October, and is essential for anyone curious about the waterway.
Through interactive exhibits and multimedia presentations, you’ll find out how the US Army Corps of Engineers manages traffic through the canal, and you can view live radar and camera feeds to see the ships approaching.
A central exhibit is the 40-foot Renier patrol boat, which patrolled the canal, providing assistance and enforcing regulations for 25 years.
14. Sandwich State Fish Hatchery
For something a little different, one of the five Massachusetts state fish hatcheries is on The Old King’s Highway, within a short walk of Sandwich’s historic center.
This fish farm raises some of the 500,000+ rainbow, brown, brook and tiger trout stocked into the state’s waterways every spring and fall.
Free to enter, the hatchery is an educational visit, where you can see the fish in their various growth stages and feed them. There are dispensers here, so don’t forget to bring quarters and snack bags to hold the food
15. Shawme-Crowell State Forest
There’s more protected nature at this 624-acre state forest, composed of pitch pine and scrub oak woods set not far from the canal.
People come to Shawme-Crowell State Forest for hiking, bicycling, horseback riding and cross-country skiing on 15 miles of trails.
Early summer through fall this is also a place for camping, with close to 285 sites in peaceful woodlands.
A few of the facilities attached to the campgrounds are picnic areas, showers, restrooms, basketball courts and a playground, with access to the nearby Scusset Beach State Reservation on the other side of the canal.