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Lined and dotted with coves, a harbor, ponds, Nantucket Sound, and the Atlantic Ocean, Chatham, Massachusetts is a community defined by its proximity to water. Its beaches offer great variety, some with calm and warm waters and others with colder and stronger currents, depending on which seaside site you select.
Besides the beach, there are countless things to do in Chatham MA, whether you’re seeking a serene escape or a more invigorating pursuit.
This Outer Cape Community is situated on the “elbow” of Cape Cod; it’s an excellent place to visit, either for the duration of your vacation or just for a daytrip. Start making an itinerary by choosing some or all of these can’t-miss things to do in Chatham MA.
Can’t Miss Things to Do in Chatham MA
Enjoy the Sights at Lighthouse Beach & Chatham Lighthouse
A short walk from downtown, Chatham Lighthouse Beach has the largest expanse of sand in town. Its eye-catching views include the lighthouse for which it’s named, a sandbar, Monomoy Island, seals, and boats in the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
The current can be very intense here and there are no lifeguards on duty, so use caution when swimming. If you decide to stay on land, you’ll enjoy clean and soft sand for laying and walking upon.
Once you’re done in the sand and sea, walk across the street to the classic lighthouse for a scene straight out of a postcard. The Chatham Lighthouse Station has been in operation since the early 1800s, and the current lighthouse has stood since the mid-1800s.
Tours are offered on Wednesday, but even if you can’t visit inside, the walk around this historic and scenic site is well worth a visit! As a bonus, Lighthouse Beach offers pristine views for catching sunrise or sunset! Consider walking or riding a bike here, as parking is very limited.
Read Next: 21 Best Beaches on Cape Cod
Experience an Oyster Harvest with a Chatham Shellfish Company Tour
For a story you’ll be sharing for ages to come, book an oyster tour with Chatham Shellfish Company. Oyster farming is an important piece of the maritime community’s culture, ecology, and economy. On a tour, you’ll learn about the operation, then take a tour on an oyster barge, during which you’ll have the opportunity to participate in the harvest.
Once you return to land, you’ll enjoy some of your harvest at a private raw bar. The tour is scenic, educative, and interactive, leaving you with a new appreciation and loads of stories.
Take in the Views at Chatham Fish Pier and Fishermen’s Monument
From the visitor’s balcony at Chatham Fish Pier, you can take in the sight of fishing vessels returning to port in Aunt Lydia’s Cove, with Tern Island and the Atlantic Ocean as a backdrop.
Arrive in the early afternoon for the most plentiful views from the scenic pier. Nearby, visit the Fishermen’s monument, “The Provider,” which symbolizes the importance of the sea to this maritime community and honors those who venture into it. Both sites are picture-perfect spots to snap a photo!
See What’s Happening at Kate Gould Park
Kate Gould Park is a lovely greenspace in Chatham that often hosts community events. Known in particular for being where you can listen to the local Chatham Band perform at Whit Tileston Band Stand!
Spend a classy day at the Chatham Bars Inn
One of the choicest spots you’ll find on Cape Cod is the Chatham Bars Inn. This 100+ year old resort has gorgeous rooms, a spa, farm-to-table dining, hydrangea-rich gardens, and beachfront cabanas. You don’t need to stay overnight to enjoy its ambiance and hospitality either.
Book a table and enjoy a cocktail on the veranda or order a meal at one of the property’s several oceanview locations. Once you’re done dining, go for a stroll along the garden paths, which overlook the water and are adorned with gorgeous flowers.
Get to know Chatham’s Wild Side at Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge
Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge in Chatham is a preservation area of over 7000 acres, consisting of barrier islands and water maintained by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Although its purpose is to preserve wildlife and habitats, limited areas are open to the public for hiking and recreation.
Starting from the visitors center at Morris Island, take the one-mile Morris Island Trail. This breathtaking walk will take you through sand dunes, salt marshes, beach, and forest.
It is home to seals, migratory shorebirds, horseshoe crabs, wildflowers, seagrass, and more, making it the perfect walk for budding naturalists. Along the way, you’ll have a chance to glimpse wildlife and plants, plus the ocean and vessels passing by.
Wilderness hiking is also possible on North Monomoy, South Monomoy, and Minimoy Islands, which are part of the national wildlife refuge, but access is only possible by boat.
Take an Excursion out on the Water
If you want to get closer to the Monomoy barrier islands adjacent to Chatham, try out a tour with Monomoy Island Excursions. While boating through Nantucket Sound and the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll have a chance to see three lighthouses, countless seabirds, fish, seals, and possibly even whales or a shark.
Besides wildlife, you’ll pass other vessels large and small, and learn about Cape Cod history by your naturalist tour guide.
The high-speed catamaran seats 35 passengers, so you’ll enjoy a small tour aboard a steady boat. Tours last about 1.5 hours, and run throughout the day, beginning in late April.
Check out the Chatham Railroad Museum
Located in a restored train depot, the Chatham Railroad Museum offers exhibits and model trains to explore. You don’t have to be a train aficionado to appreciate how interesting this train museum is!
The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday and admission is donation-based.
Relax All Day at Harding’s Beach
Situated on a small peninsula between Nantucket Sound, Stage Harbor, and the Oyster Pond River, the waters of Harding’s Beach are warm and much calmer than those on the eastern side of town.
The beach is big, and it’s the perfect place to set up and play beach games. Calm waters make for good swimming conditions and even sea kayaking.
You can rent a kayak from nearby Chatham Kayak Company if you decide to voyage out onto the water. The beach is also a habitat for numerous seabirds, so don’t forget to bring binoculars for a better look at what’s hiding amongst the seagrasses!
Enjoy a Scoop from Short n Sweet Ice Cream
Visiting Chatham in the summer? You’re going to want to know where the best ice cream shop in town is!
Take a Hike and Explore Interior Chatham
The Chatham Conservation Foundation manages trails and natural areas across town.
While Chatham’s beaches could keep you outside all day, its woods will satisfy a yearning for even more serene time in a different outdoor atmosphere. At just over a mile long, the Frost Fish Creek Trail is a well-defined path covering hilly terrain.
The entire preservation area spans over 90 acres of wooded and wetland environment (including the site of a former cranberry bog operation) and is home to hundreds of species of birds and mammals.
For those more interested in flora than fauna, a visit to Sylvan Gardens Conservation Area will pay off. Formerly a nursery, the conservation area still has cultivated gardens as well as woods, fields, and a pond overlook.
With several trails, including an ADA-accessible path, over nearly ten acres, Sylvan Gardens is a beautiful place for a respite.
See Stage Harbor Lighthouse
Accessible by parking at Hardings Beach and then walking the trail along the coastline, this is a privately owned lighthouse, but as long as you can keep a respectful distance, it’s well worth a peek!
Most of the time it is called Stage Harbor Lighthouse, but you might also hear it referred to as Hardings Beach Lighthouse!
Visit Chatham Marconi Maritime Center
This is an especially fun Chatham attraction if you or your kiddos happen to love STEM!
The Marconi/RCA-Wireless Museum tells the story of wireless communication technology, and you’ll find hands on, interactive exhibits to help you better understand this incredible tech that most of us take for granted today!
Take a Step Back in Time at Godfrey’s Windmill
Godfrey’s Windmill is an important historic site to visit if you’re curious about coastal Cape Cod life in the past. The windmill was fully restored in 2012.
For an especially intriguing experience, try to make your visit coincide with one of the “Grinding Days” when the gristmill is in operation and corn grinding demonstrations take place.
Play a Round at Chatham Seaside Links
One of the prettiest golf courses on Cape Cod, Chatham Seaside Links is a great spot for those who love to golf during their Cape Cod vacation.
If you’re visiting Chatham during the summer months, this is just a classic Cape Cod thing to do!
Atlantic White Shark Conservancy’s Shark Center
While great white sharks may instill fear in you at first thought, a visit to the Shark Center at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (AWSC) will inspire awe and curiosity about these North Atlantic summer visitors.
Exhibits, displays, and videos educate visitors about sharks and their role in the ecosystem. AWSC’s research and conservation efforts are also shared, which will help visitors see beyond the creature’s status as a fear-inducing predator and more about its important role.
If you’re hoping for a chance to catch a glimpse of a great white shark, your best bet may just be on a trip with the AWSC. Reserve a ticket for an excursion or private tour during the summer and early fall months.
Stroll along the Beach
Nestled between Cockle Cove and Hardings Beach, Ridgevale Beach is a beautifully scenic spot for a walk on the beach! There are portable restrooms and lifeguards in season, as well.
Nearby Cockle Cove Beach is a popular Chatham beach for kids, with more protected waters and a beautiful walking bridge.
Explore the Atwood House & Museum
Aficionados of historic architecture and stories of days gone by will enjoy a visit to the Atwood Museum!
The Atwood House & Museum brings history to life through eleven collections featuring nautical art and artifacts. The original 1750s house illuminates everyday life in this maritime community in centuries past.
Where to Stay in Chatham MA
Now that you’ve discovered the best things to do on Chatham Cape Cod, you’ll need somewhere great to stay!
Luxurious Chatham Bars Inn was already mentioned above, and it’s certainly a great splurge worthy option for where to stay in Chatham, Massachusetts.
We personally recommend Captain’s House Inn. Read our full New England With Love review of the inn here.
Chatham is a great Cape Cod vacation destination! Have fun enjoying all the great Chatham, Massachusetts things to do.
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