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Woods Hole, Massachusetts, might be most famous for the Oceanographic Institute that bears its name, but it’s also a lovely spot for a family vacation and a terrific base for exploring Cape Cod. Here, a New England TravelingMom and regular visitor to this charming Cape Cod village shares her favorite memories and the best things to do in Woods Hole with her kids and grandkids.
I love Woods Hole. And when the charms of this little Cape Cod village were touted in a recent issue of Town & Country magazine, well, it inspired me to opine a bit.
Way back when my kids were sand-pail-and-shovel age, we would share a beach house in Falmouth with another family. Falmouth is a quintessential—and delightful—Cape Cod town. Like most New Englanders, I adore Massachusetts’ crooked-arm peninsula and how it reaches out into the mighty Atlantic. Woods Hole Village is part-and-parcel of Falmouth.
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Rainy days called for a road trip with the kids to visit the Woods Hole Science Aquarium. This little gem, the very first aquarium in the United States, is operated by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Marine Biological Laboratory. Each summer, at least a few sunny days would find us back in Woods Hole to board the ferry for day trips to Martha’s Vineyard.
Kids, well, they grow up, and hockey camps and summer jobs back in Boston curtailed our extended family Cape Cod vacations. But Woods Hole always beckoned. It’s an easy drive from our home in Boston, and we returned year after year. Now we visit with our grandkids.
Cape Cod’s Woods Hole – What’s to Love? A Lot
There’s lots to love about Woods Hole, and historical ambiance tops the list.
The village played a significant role in the fabled era of American whaling, and generations made their living by shipbuilding and fishing these waters. You can feel the history in the salty air, see it in the stately 19th century Captains’ homes, and hear it in the plaintive sound of the foghorns.
An eclectic artists’ colony, Woods Hole’s landscape, and stunning views have long inspired poets, photographers, and artists. The works of Edward Hopper, considered to be 20th century America’s most important realist painter, include its iconic Nobska Point Lighthouse.
A flourishing cultural scene offers art galleries to browse and events ranging from plays to poetry readings to concerts and an annual summer film festival.
TravelingMom Tip: Woods Hole offers budding artists a wealth of inspiration. Pack those sketch pads, colored pencils, and paints. Instagram-worthy scenes abound for teens.
Woods Hole, the Epicenter of Marine Biology
Interestingly, quaint little Woods Hole is home to the most famous marine sciences research institutions in the world.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), the think tank Woodwell Climate Research Center, and their assorted buildings – many historic — form a meandering campus on the other side of the Woods Hole Drawbridge. I suspect a childhood trip here inspired at least a few of today’s marine biologists—one more reason to go.
We love the statue of Rachel Carson (author of Silent Spring) that sits on a bench in a pocket-sized waterfront park. This early environmentalist was passionate about the sea and Woods Hole. Science IS for girls! Go for the photo-op.
TravelingMom Tip: Spark interest for little ones with The Woods Hole Seal Pup by Elizabeth Donnelly-Gross and for kids a bit older (ages 6-9) Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor.
Where to Stay in Woods Hole
For years, our go-to Woods Hole digs has been the Sands of Time Inn and Harbor House. Built in the 60s, it’s lovingly maintained and sits on a gentle bluff with an Instagram-worthy view of the harbor and Vineyard Sound.
The spacious, pretty rooms have either patios or balconies and are comfortably furnished. Up a level, the Harbor House − a former home of an Atlantic sea captain — keeps the faith. Every room is different, each with its own special features.
We love the secluded heated pool. Beautiful Nobska Beach is within walking distance, but parking passes are available at the front desk if you don’t want to lug your beach chairs and gear.
The heart of the village with its terrific collection of cafes, restaurants, and boutiques is just a short stroll. All-in-all, it’s a perfect spot for a multi-generational family vacation and can serve as an ideal base to enjoy all Woods Hole, and the surrounding Cape Cod towns offer. The staff is happy to help with information on bike and kayak rentals, ferry tickets, sailing and such.
Other Woods Hole Hotels
Use these interactive maps to help you find a place to stay in the area.
Fun Things to Do in Woods Hole
Integral to a Cape Cod vacation, water temperatures average 70 degrees in the summer. Put these on your swim list:
- Nobska Beach—This classic beauty comes with a view of Vineyard Sound and lots of nautical activity. It’s fun to watch the ferries ply their way back and forth from Martha’s Vineyard.
- Stony Beach—A bit of a misnomer as it’s quite sandy. Between two jetties, it’s ideal for beginning snorkelers. The warm, shallow waters are perfect for little ones and kids love observing hermit crabs and other sea critters. Tucked away its just a short walk from the village.
- Old Silver Beach—Located in North Falmouth (about a 15-minute drive from Woods Hole) this is considered one of Cape Cod’s best beaches. Concessions serve up standard fare for quick lunches.
TravelingMom Tip: The above and other area beaches may require passes and/or parking fees in season. Ice cream trucks make regular visits.
The Shining Sea Bikeway connects Woods Hole and North Falmouth and offers one of Cape Cod’s primo biking experiences. This 11-mile paved bike path is flat and super-scenic and encompasses the Buzzards Bay shoreline, marshes, ponds, and cranberry bogs.
It’s great for rollerblading as well – and walkers.
Nearby Walking & Hiking
- Woods Hole village is ideal for walking—particularly with an ice cream cone. You’ll find it charming and atmospheric.
- The Knob, located at the end of Quissett Harbor Road in Woods Hole, is considered to be one of the most beautiful spots on Cape Cod. A 12-acre-sanctuary with spectacular ocean views, colorful wildflowers, over 100 species of birds, there are trails for hiking and beaches for swimming. Very special. Parking in limited, so go early.
- Beebe Woods sits atop the rocky (glacier created) hills that run from Woods Hole to the Cape Cod Canal. Its 3.1-mile loop trail is fun, and the trees keep things cool.
Don’t-Miss Things to Do in Woods Hole
- Woods Hole Science Aquarium – Local fish and fauna, touch tanks, and blue lobsters. One hour is plenty. It’s free, and kids love it.
- Nobska Point Lighthouse. Take a tour, and a picture, of this iconic landmark. Kids find lighthouses fascinating. Minimum age to climb to the top – 6 years. And yup, that’s the lighthouse that’s pictured on the Cape Cod Potato Chips bag.
Woods Hole Restaurants
Pie in the Sky
Best baked goods EVAH. You’ll dream about the bear claws on long winter nights. Breakfast sandwiches are served on house-made popovers and bagels.
Go for the linguica (a type of Portuguese smoke-cured pork sausage seasoned with garlic and paprika), egg & cheddar on an everything bagel and pair it with one of the creatively concocted smoothies. This restaurants has got it all going on. Eat in the courtyard or take the goods to the beach.
A favorite of the locals and budding marine biologists. No badly behaving baristas here! (The Coffee O supports local artists, and their work is on display) Good java, good food. I’d go more often if I didn’t love Pie in the Sky so much.
Quicks Hole Taqueria
Get your Cod and Lobster tacos here. Yum. Two thumbs up on the Margueritas.
As “Old Cape Cod” as you’d find anywhere. It opened in 1947, and is the ultimate in the category of waterfront restaurants. Truth be told, the atmosphere is better than the food. Here’s where you go for a Fisherman’s Platter or broiled scrod.
I think the last time I was there they were still serving baked potatoes wrapped in foil. Good wine list though, and a good job on classic cocktails. Stop in for a drink.
Water Street Kitchen
Utterly charming and although they source local foods, the menu is decidedly non-Cape Cod-y and just the ticket for when your chowda’d-out. Think Lentils, kimchi pancakes, short ribs…
This authentic tavern has been around for 100 years – literally. With its 40 ft. Mahogany bar and seafaring vibe, it has been utilized as a movie set. They mainly serve what they call “seafood-centric pub grub” and there’s a raw bar. You can dine outdoors on piers that stretch out into Eel Pond Harbor.
Traveling Mom Tip: Pop into Woods Hole Market & Provisions (on Water Street in the heart of the village) for grab & go snacks, goodies galore, and terrific hand-crafted sandwiches. You’ll find all the fixins’ for a beach picnic, but you have the option of dining alfresco on the deck.
Best Day Trips from Woods Hole
The ferry to this storied island departs right from the terminal at Woods Hole. Easy peasy. Three nautical miles and 45 minutes later, you have arrived. Getting there and back is half the fun.
The Vineyard’s Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs is a must. It’s the oldest carousel in America and it even put a smile on the face of our too-cool-for-school tween.
If you are up for some island-hopping you can also visit Nantucket via a high-speed ferry out of Hyannis.
TravelingMom Tip: Check out the Steamship Authority’s website for updated information, schedules, and advance ticketing.
Save an afternoon to “go into town.” It’s just a 10-minute drive.
Falmouth’s village green is right out of a Norman Rockwell painting, it has a proper village-vibe, and the shopping is to die for. Browse The Eight Cousins Bookstore with its terrific inventory of children’s books and local authors. Stop in at the Black Dog for a sweatshirt with its iconic logo – a must take home for kids of all ages.
Stay on for an early dinner. Falmouth’s center has an impressive restaurant row. There’s lots of New England fare to be had but dining options include sophisticated French and Italian bistros, Mexican, Thai and there’s an Irish Pub, natch.
Last stop, Ben and Bills Chocolate Emporium. It’s a chocoholic’s dream but also THE spot to get an ice cream cone. Lines are long but they move quickly.
Beyond Woods Hole – Exploring Cape Cod
Cape Cod’s oldest town is utterly charming and worth a visit. Highlights include the Sandwich Glass Museum with its expansive collection of historic glass and its Boardwalk, named one of the top 10 in the U.S. by National Geographic.
The salt marshes here are evocative as are the views of Cape Cod Bay, and the sunsets are glorious.
Poised at the very tip of Cape Cod, 60 miles out into the mighty Atlantic, this colorful little town is well worth a visit. Provincetown started as a little Portuguese fishing village, became one of the first artist colonies, and is a haven for the LGBT community.
P-town celebrates diversity. Strolling down its picturesque Commercial Street one encounters galleries, cabarets, tea dances, and shops galore. History buffs should not miss the 252 foot Pilgrim Monument celebrating where the Mayflower first landed.
Traveling Mom Tip: Provincetown offers some terrific whale watching excursions.
Take a Drive
Turn up the oldies and go cruisin’ on Route 6a, (AKA Old King’s Highway), It’s one of the World’s Most Scenic Drives – “iconic and timeless” says Yankee Magazine. There’s plenty of kitch too, mini-golf and clam shacks. Fun!
More Biking on Cape Cod
The Cape Cod Rail Trail is an amazing “repurpose” of the old railway. This 25 + mile paved bike trail can take you through six towns from Yarmouth to Wellfleet and boasts stunning scenery.
The Cape Cod National Seashore – 40 miles worth−awaits with half a dozen of the country’s best sandy beaches: Coast Guard and Nauset Light (Eastham) Marconi (Wellfleet), Head of the Meadow Truro, Herring Cove and Race Point Beach (Provincetown), each with its own personality. A wealth of history and Instagram-worth lighthouses are bonuses.
Traveling Mom Tip: Truro’s sand dunes are a great place for kids to blow off steam.
Cape Cod Museums
This museum in Brewster honors the Cape’s ecology and offer trails through protected woodlands and salt marshes. There’s a resident beekeeper!
This museum in Dennis celebrates the work of the Cape’s finest artists, and the artistic identity of the Cape and its Islands.
This museum is, of course, in Hyannis. It’s the place to learn more about President Kennedy and his passion for Cape Cod. He’s the father of the Cape Cod National Seashore