Vacation Science on Cape Cod

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When organizing family vacations, I have to keep in mind that half of the six of us are not beach people. That means wherever we go in the summer, I need to schedule activities both in and out of the water.

For the family vacation this summer to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, I contacted the local Chamber of Commerce for suggestions. They were incredibly helpful, pointing me to two local museums that everyone enjoyed: the Heritage Museum and Gardens in Sandwich, Massachusetts and the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster.

Cape Cod Bay Walk Cape Cod Bay Walk

Hikers along the nature walk from the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History to Cape Cod bay

We’d first visited the Heritage Museum over a decade ago, on a short trip to Cape Cod for a friend’s wedding. At the time, what most delighted me was a beautifully restored carousel. On this visit, the carousel was as I remembered but the museum had improved and updated their facilities, especially with children in mind.

The museum now boasts a place just for children called Hidden Hollow. The area has outdoor musical instruments and a stage, natural wooden blocks to construct toys, another area to dig in the dirt and even a secluded spot under a tree where my twins disappeared to hoe the soil.

It should be even more fun when the treehouse is finished next year.

I like walking tours, so we also spent time on the Heritage trails looking at the gardens. My two boys joined me in walking the outdoor labyrinth. I’ve walked a labyrinth in a church before but never one outside. I fear my youngest son had too much energy to quite get the point of using it as a spiritual centering device though he liked the concept. He had much more fun with his twin sister in a garden maze that was designed for kids.

On our way out of Heritage, we spent time admiring the cars in the JK Lilly, III Antique Automobile Museum. Despite the collection of classic cars, including one driven by Steve McQueen, the hands down favorite of my kids was the Ford Model T that they could climb on.

The Cape Code Museum of Natural History is located near the bay beaches on the Cape. While they have fascinating indoor exhibits, including blue and pumpkin colored lobsters, the main attractions are the nature trails through salt marshes, over the sand dunes, to the beaches and tidal pools and then back.

The day we were there, flooding has washed out one of the trails so we had to go the long way around. It was worth it. I saw kids on the trail with binoculars and butterfly nets. Alas, we were not quite as prepared.

Inside the museum is extremely kid-friendly. There’s a hands-on room with microscopes, various sea items like shells and large wooden puzzles that my younger ones liked putting together. Downstairs, the aquarium included the lobsters, moon jellies, several species of turtles, American eels, spider crabs, bullfrogs, and other fish. The museum also has an active honey bee observation hive and a well-stocked library. (Though I believe my teenage daughter’s use of the public computers there to check her email was not quite what museum officials had in mind as a learning experience.)

We would go back to both museums, especially to do some further hiking. My kids would likely vote for the Heritage Museum as their favorite because of the ice cream snack bar but I’d vote for the science museum so I can hike the other two trails.

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