Inflatable water parks and mini-golf? Bring them on. We’ve got nothing against those foolproof kiddie amusements, but you can easily find them on your own: It’s hard to miss, say, a giant skull with lighted eye sockets (as seen at Skull Island Adventure Golf & Sports World, in South Yarmouth). In this story, we’ll share some of the less obvious ways to have big fun with the little ones on the Cape this summer — including some new entries on the funscape.
Down on the farm
You don’t expect to find farms on the Cape, except maybe oyster farms, so Taylor-Bray Farm is a fun find. While its annual Sheep Fest has already happened, and the Fall Fest won’t take place until October, it’s always a good time to visit this property with small fry. Commune with goats Henry, George, and Dusty. Meet Chloe, the Scottish Highland cow, and donkeys Sam and Nestor, along with sheep, and assorted chickens. Wander the boardwalk into Black Flats Marsh to take in views of the Chapin Beach dunes and Cape Cod Bay; you might even spy an osprey in the nesting platform in the marsh. You’ll notice the c. 1782 farmhouse on the property; that’s currently closed. But the kids will be too engrossed by the antics of the goats to notice. Free; donations accepted. 108 Bray Farm Road North, Yarmouth Port; 774-251-1869; www.taylorbrayfarm.org.
Picking and grinning
A local granddad tipped us off to this one. What’s more fun than picking strawberries, and sneakily eating a couple of sun-warmed specimens? Um, nothing. Twenty-acre Coonamessett Farm in East Falmouth is a great place to pick-your-own berries, rhubarb, zucchini, you-name-it, produce-wise, depending on which crop is ready to pick. (Check online to see the current PYO lineup.) Bonus points for the lively collection of residents on hand, including alpacas, goats, miniature donkeys, sheep, ducks, geese, and chickens. 27 Hatchville Road, East Falmouth; 508-563-2560; www.coonamessettfarm.com.
One that adults will really dig, too
Launched during the summer of 2020, the pop-up Front Lawn Experience at the Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club was a bright spot. So, they’ve hit “repeat” this summer on their lawn party, open to the public. Each afternoon, all summer long, The Mansion’s expansive front lawn will transform into an open-air hangout with lawn games, space for the little ones to run around, a wood-fired brick oven with food for purchase, fire pits, shaded seating, local craft brews, and live music (on weekends). So festive! Open daily, 4-9 p.m.; music on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday only. We’d come just for the food: think lobster pizza and s’mores nachos (a genius idea). 2907 Main St., Brewster; 508-896-9000; www.oceanedge.com.
Happy (new) trails to you
The Cape Cod Rail Trail is a wonderful way to go on two wheels, but not so mellow for walking with kids, unless you like dodging speedy cyclists. For a woodsy ramble, the Harwich Conservation Trust trails (www.harwichconservationtrust.org) are lovely, and a new one just opened this year: Pleasant Bay Woodlands. This 50-acre property, located 1,000 feet west of Round Cove on Pleasant Bay, offers a mile-long trail through pine oak forest, overlooking a cranberry bog. Before its acquisition by the HCT, the land was owned by seven generations of the Kendrick family, whose members included whalers, fishermen, salt makers, and cranberry growers. Part of the Pleasant Bay watershed, this landscape is dotted with vernal pools and his home to a variety of bird species. Park at 75 Kendrick Road, East Harwich.
Babes in the (Beebe) Woods
Owned by the Town of Falmouth, this 388-acre woodland sits atop a glacial moraine that stretches from Woods Hole to the Cape Cod Canal. Dotted with boulders that date to the Ice Age, the property is laced with seven miles of hiking trails that trace wooded ridges and steep-sided hollows; you’ll expect to see Hobbits at every turn. Venture into the woods to discover the Punch Bowl, a deep kettle pond that locals use as a swimming hole.
Highfield Hall and Gardens (www.highfieldhallandgardens.org) is right next door, offering more diversion, including an outdoor “music garden” and Patrick Dougherty’s intriguing “Passing Fancy” stickwork sculpture. Stroll the ADA-accessible Beech Tree Path while reading a StoryWalk® book — a new story is posted every Monday through Labor Day — or pick up a scavenger hunt guide at the front desk and use it as a basis for exploring the grounds. This is a family fun zone that doesn’t boast a single inflatable unicorn — but it’s still awesome. 60 Highfield Drive, 508-495-1878; www.300committee.org.
At this writing, the cute little Woods Hole Science Aquarium has not yet reopened. So, if your kids want to get a look at all of their favorite local marine critters, the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History is the go-to zone. You’ve got your baby horseshoe crabs, your Eastern box turtle, your spiky purple sea urchin (or some combination of these), even a rare bi-colored lobster — plenty, in short, to keep the little ones enthralled. The museum has other exhibits as well (plus an add-on butterfly feeding activity), but if it’s a nice day, plan to spend some time outdoors: the museum is steward of 400-plus acres of adjacent land, laced with nature trails. Adults, $10; ages 3-12, $5; 869 Main St., Brewster; 508-896-3867; www.ccmnh.org.
Getting out on the water is always a treat, and a cruise aboard the Gypsy Sea VIII with Cape Cod Pirate Adventures is a lively way to go. This interactive pirate voyage in Hyannis Harbor has all the elements: underwater treasure, maps, sea chanteys, story-telling, and little urchins done up in face paint and pirate garb. Led by grown-up captains and deckhands, the kiddie crew fends off pirates to bring the vessel home to the harbor — with shareable booty. Adults come too (and pay for a ticket), and mostly try to avoid the mayhem. This won’t be the least-expensive thing you do on the Cape but it will definitely be memorable. Sails daily, June to Labor Day. Ages 3 plus, $32; ages 1-2, $22; reservations required. 180 Ocean St., Hyannis; www.capecodpirateadventures.com. Older kids will appreciate the real-life pirate artifacts culled from the Whydah at the Whydah Pirate Museum in West Yarmouth; www.discoverpirates.com.
Now that’s a treehouse
Thanks to its exquisite plantings of rhododendrons and hydrangeas, Heritage Museums & Gardens is quite well-known in these parts. But this 100-acre Sandwich landmark, set on the banks of Shawme Pond, has a secret that families with young kids (2-10) will adore: Hidden Hollow. Within a two-acre kettle hole-cum-certified Nature Explore Classroom, small fry can construct forts, climb stepping stairs, dig holes in the sand, navigate log balance beams, make music, and generally have a swell time. The eye-popping centerpiece: A super-cool treehouse designed by Pete Nelson, star of Animal Planet’s “Treehouse Masters,” and built by students from Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School’s carpentry program in 2011. We should all be so handy! The wildly popular splash area was expanded in 2018. You’ll have to pay museum admission to access Hidden Hollow, but there’s plenty of other stuff to see, including three galleries of American-made automobiles from 1899 to 1965. (The American Art & Carousel Gallery is currently closed.) On exhibit now is Let’s Play: New England Toy Stories, along with a full-scale reproduction of a Wampanoag wetu (domed shelter). Adults, $20; ages 3-17, $10; 67 Grove St., Sandwich; 508-888-3300; www.heritagemuseumsandgardens.org.
… and of course, the beach
Selecting the best family beach on the Cape is like picking the best ice cream; everyone has a favorite. We look for shallow entry points, soft sand, protected coves, and lifeguard stations when choosing beaches for the water-wing set. Nearby snack shacks are also a plus. Beaches recommended by Cape Cod families include Cockle Cove Beach, Chatham; Corporation Beach, Dennis; Mayflower Beach, Dennis; Old Silver Beach, Falmouth; and Skaket Beach, Orleans. For more, check out www.capecodchamber.org.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com