The joint-oldest settlement on Cape Cod, Yarmouth was incorporated in 1640, and is steeped in maritime history.
In the Golden Age of Sail, Yarmouth was the home of a long roll call of sea captains, commanding the clipper ships that helped open the world to international trade.
Many of their homes are preserved along the Captains’ Mile in Yarmouth Port, an unrivaled sequence of pre-20th century architecture and part of the Old King’s Highway, which spans the cape.
Yarmouth mixes this rich history with captivating and modern attractions, sites of breathtaking natural beauty and a southern shoreline of dune-lined sandy beaches.
1. Whydah Pirate Museum
When it was located in the mid-1980s, the Whydah Gally became the world’s first pirate shipwreck identified and authenticated beyond doubt.
Launched in London in 1716 and originally participating in the Transatlantic slave trade, the Whydah Gally was captured by pirate Captain Samuel “Black Sam” Bellamy in February, 1717 and participated in two months of plunder before being wrecked off Wellfleet off the east coast of Cape Cod in April, 1717.
The Whydah Pirate Museum is a first-rate interactive attraction, and the only one in the world to display authentic pirate treasure.
Retrieved from the sediment are silver coins, wax seal rings, pieces of dinnerware, muskets, cannons, tools and the very bell that proved the Whydah Gally’s authenticity.
In one section you can observe ongoing conservation work, and find out how the wreck’s treasures have been extracted from the natural concrete.
2. Seagull Beach
Yarmouth’s most popular beach is also its largest, with more than 2,000 feet of pale, soft sand on Nantucket Sound.
One of many things going for Seagull Beach is its sense of remoteness, with few signs of development save for some stately houses peeking over the dunes to the west.
Totally free of rocks, the beach is long and wide enough that there will always be plenty of room, while the absence of heavy surf makes this a good spot for a swim, and for activities like windsurfing and kiteboarding.
You can spend a whole day at Seagull Beach as there’s a surprisingly affordable snack bar and well-maintained bathrooms.
3. Bass Hole Boardwalk (Gray’s Beach)
One of the most beautiful settings, not just in Yarmouth, but on the entire cape, awaits you in the marshland on the shore in Yarmouth Port.
At Gray’s Beach you can walk a long stretch of boardwalk, taking you out over the salt marsh for 898 feet.
Pummeled over time by storms, the coastline here is constantly changing, and over the last century the boardwalk itself has been repeatedly rebuilt and repositioned, most recently in 2018.
Late on a sunny day, the sky here is unforgettable, set off by endless panoramas over the gleaming watery landscape around you.
4. Cape Cod Rail Trail (CCRT)
Yarmouth is at the western trailhead for a 25.5-mile rail trail curling around Cape Cod to Wellfleet.
The Cape Cod Rail Trail took shape in the 1970s, and is on the right-of-way of the Cape Cod Central Railroad, built in the 1860s and incorporated into a succession of larger railroads, ending with Penn Central in the 1960s.
The trail connects six Cape Cod towns, offering a safe and easy way for cyclists and walkers to get the best out of the Cape, visiting historic centers, kettle ponds and magnificent beaches that can be reached on spurs.
There’s a parking lot at the trailhead on Station Avenue in Yarmouth, and here the trail connects with the two-mile Yarmouth multi-use trail, running for two miles west along the old railbed to Higgins Crowell Rd.
5. Old King’s Highway
Running through the northern, bay side, of Yarmouth and Cape Cod, Route 6A comprises the largest contiguous historic district in the United States.
The Old King’s Highway has recently earned National Scenic Byway status, and by consensus is made up of the stretch between Bourne in the east and Orleans in the west.
This connects some of the oldest villages in the country, with an amazing array of unchanged architecture from the 17th to the 20th century.
Yarmouth Port is especially prominent along the byway, thanks to the Captains’ Mile, which we’ll cover in more detail below.
Also here, the Winslow Crocker House (c. 1780), with its sumptuous decorative arts collection, is run as a seasonal museum by Historic New England, while the Ancient Cemetery is a place of burial going back deep into the 17th century.
6. Captains’ Mile
You can travel along Route 6A for two miles in the village Yarmouth Port and never encounter a building newer than the 19th century.
This extraordinary stretch of road, in the shade of mature trees, offers a complete survey of architecture from the 1600s to the 1800s.
Between the intersection of Wharf Lane and Playground Lane, you can set off on a walking tour past a multitude of sea captains’ homes along the road, many linked to the Old China Trade and 19th-century packet lines.
A guide has been created by the Historical Society of Old Yarmouth, with detailed descriptions of more than 50 stops, labeled with a plaque with a schooner motif.
7. Bass River Beach (Smugglers Beach)
Near a number of hotels and many of the town’s big visitor attractions, this public beach is at the mouth of the Bass River in the very southeast of Yarmouth.
For 500+ feet there’s a large band of soft sand, edged by low dunes and sloping gently into Nantucket Sound.
The waves at Bass River Beach are gentle, and the water is warm from July, so this is an excellent place to bring children for an afternoon of fun by the ocean.
For amenities there’s a bathhouse, boat ramp, fishing deck, expansive parking area and mobile concessions in the summer season.
8. Yarmouth Sand Sculpture Trail
For well over a decade now, the Yarmouth Sand Sculpture Trail has been a fixture of the summer season in the town.
More than 30 eye-popping works of sand sculpture are installed throughout Yarmouth, and remain in situ between June and Columbus Day.
This one-of-a-kind exhibition grows by the year, and includes work by nationally renowned talent. Ranging from playful to thought-provoking, the sculptures can withstand more than four months of weather as they’re coated with a glue-like solution to fix them in place.
A new guide is published with each iteration of the trail, and you can pick up a map from the Visitor Center located at 424 Route 28, from July.
9. Edward Gorey House
The influential writer, artist and costume designer, Edward Gorey (1925-2000) moved to Yarmouth Port in 1986 after purchasing a 200-year-old sea captain’s home.
Gorey is remembered in particular for The Gashlycrumb Tinies alphabet book (1963), and for winning the Tony Award for best costume design in 1977.
Shortly after he passed away the historic house was turned into a museum, celebrating his remarkable career and also honoring his dedication to animal welfare.
The house is open to the public early April through December, and stages wonderfully curated exhibits diving into different aspects of Gorey’s life.
When we wrote this article there was a show covering his fascination with the New York City Ballet, and how it informed his illustrations.
10. Cultural Center of Cape Cod
In 2000 a group of concerned citizens was formed to rescue the Georgian Revival Bass River Savings Bank building (1930) in South Yarmouth and turn it into a multifaceted arts center.
This came to fruition in 2007, and the Cultural Center of Cape Cod stands as a haven of creativity, with five galleries, five resident artist studios, art classrooms, a pottery studio, a performance hall, a recording studio and even a culinary arts center.
It’s no exaggeration to say that there’s always something happening at the center, with some 400 classes each year and around 100 concerts. If you’re just passing through you can check out the wealth of concurrent themed and solo exhibitions.
11. Judah Baker Windmill
An iconic sight in South Yarmouth’s Historic District is this 18th-century windmill, next to a small beach and looking out over the estuary of the Bass River.
Built to grind corn in 1791, the Judah Baker Windmill was originally in North Dennis, before moving to East Dennis, then to South Yarmouth in 1886, and finally to its present location in the first half of the 20th century.
Still with much of its original mechanical equipment, the building was restored between 1973 and 1999, using hand-cut lumber where possible.
The town has taken care of this unique landmark since 1953, and opens it to the public on limited days in the summer months. At any time, it’s well worth stopping by for a photo of the windmill backdropped by the wide expanse of the river.
12. Captain Bangs Hallet House Museum
Close to Edward Gorey House is another historic sea captain’s home that can be visited along the Captains’ Mile. Dating to around 1840, the Bangs Hallet House is in the care of the Historical Society of Old Yarmouth, and is the society’s centerpiece.
Arranged as if Captain Hallet had just returned from one of his long voyages, the interior is adorned with period appropriate furnishings, as well as imported goods gathered in the Old China Trade, from porcelain to silks.
There’s also a large maritime collection to check out, as well as a show devoted to a different aspect of Yarmouth’s past in the exhibit room.
At the time of writing, this was a large display of Victorian baby clothing, accompanied by insights about raising children in the 19th century.
13. Cape Cod Inflatable Park
At 518 Main St in West Yarmouth you’ve got the largest inflatable park in the country, with more than 20 different attractions for kids to explore.
These are rotated with each season, and can vary in age suitability, with height restrictions on some.
For an idea of what’s in store there’s a bungee run, mechanical bull, Ninja Warrior-esque obstacle courses, an inflatable soccer field, a basketball court for high slam dunks, a cliff jump, a velcro wall and much more.
The Cape Cod Inflatable Park is part of a resort combined with the Wicked Waves Water Park, which opened in 2018 and has a wave pool, zero-depth pool, water slides, lazy river, a swim-up bar, a zero-depth pool for little ones, and a massive play structure with a tipping bucket.
14. Hallet’s Mill Pond Bridge
At the western end of the Captains’ Mile in Yarmouth Port you can turn off and head north on Mill Ln, which takes you to the line with Cummaquid.
This is the location for another place of uncommon beauty, where the road narrows to a single lane to cross the inlet at Hallet’s Mill Pond Bridge.
The stream here is tidal, so could be flowing in or out of the pond, which is ensconced in verdant salt marsh.
The bridge is occasionally submerged and is crusted with sand and clam shells. With quaint old houses tucked among the trees, and the sky reflected in the pond and stream, it’s not hard to see why this scene is popular with painters and photographers.
15. Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf
For some more light family fun among Yarmouth’s historical pursuits, there’s a theme park-style adventure golf course, part of a national chain.
This multiple award-winning attraction does have an educational side, thanks to a series of plaques telling the story of history’s most notorious pirates, from Blackbeard himself to Barbarossa.
There are two 18-hole courses here, set on a manicured little mountain with caves, rigging, cannons, barrels, shipwrecks and rocky outcrops, all with a waterfall rushing through the middle.