Cape Cod Travel

5 things to do when visiting Orleans

Tour a famous lifeboat, hit the beach, or shop a farmers' market.

Rock Harbor is a popular spot for viewing the sunset over Cape Cod Bay. Ron Driscoll

Kelly Darling, town clerk of Orleans, said the Cape Cod destination is full of natural beauty and bursting with activities.

The town’s population of 6,300 residents triples during the summer months, she said, but there is plenty to do year-round.

“It’s just a great little town,” she said. “We have a little bit of everything. We have history, beaches, shopping, restaurants.”

Ahead, Darling offers her picks for what to see and do in Orleans.

Motor lifeboat CG 36500 in Orleans. Courtesy of Richard Besciak and the Centers for Culture and History in Orleans

Tour a famous lifeboat

In Rock Harbor, visitors can step aboard a piece of history by taking a tour of motor lifeboat CG 36500, which was used to rescue survivors aboard the tanker Pendleton off the coast of Cape Cod during a 1952 storm and featured in the 2016 Disney film “The Finest Hours.”


“The boat was actually launched out of Chatham, which is a neighboring town, but the boat was restored by our Centers for Culture and History in Orleans, so it lives in Orleans now,” Darling said. “In the summertime, you can go to Rock Harbor, and it is right on the harbor. There’s a gift shop and volunteers who will tell you the whole story.”

The 36-foot wooden lifeboat, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is open for tours seasonally.

“Rock Harbor is a great area to check out anyway, but that’s just one more thing to make it really worthwhile,” she said.

Other things to do at Rock Harbor? Catch a sunset, charter a boat, or grab a lobster roll at Young’s Fish Market, she said.

Nauset Beach. Kelly Darling

Go to the beach

Darling loves Nauset Beach.

“It is the Atlantic Ocean, so it’s big waves and cold water and dunes and just everything one would expect with that experience,” she said.

She recommends watching a sunrise from the sand.

“It’s just lovely,” she said. “A great way to start the day.”

It’s also worth exploring the OSV [over sand vehicle] trails, she said.

“One of the unique things about Nauset Beach is that you can take a four-wheel drive out onto the beach,” Darling said.


Drivers trek through the sand while enjoying water views, dunes, and wildlife such as seals and shorebirds, she said. Visitors need a special permit to access the OSV trails, and must follow all rules and conservation restrictions.

“It is extremely unique to drive through the dunes,” Darling said. “The first time, I was just blown away by how beautiful it was.”

Hike a trail

It’s not hard to find a trail in Orleans, Darling said.

“We have a lot of great walking trails,” she said.

The Orleans Conservation Trust website details the town’s conservation areas and trails, she said. The trust leads a variety of guided walks in town as well.

“Orleans Conservation Trust maintains a lot of trails that are great for hiking and walks in the woods,” she said.

Darling likes to walk at Kenrick Woods because it’s conveniently located between her home and work.

“There’s a lot of different places that you can take a hike or nice nature walk, so I recommend people look up the Orleans Conservation Trust and get a list of them,” Darling said.

Strawberries at the Orleans Farmers Market. – Dana Sinerate / Boston Globe

Shop the Orleans Farmers’ Market

The year-round Orleans Farmers’ Market, which has been serving patrons for 28 years, offers everything from locally grown fruits and vegetables to meat to baked goods to plants.


“It’s a big farmer’s market,” said Darling, who likes to grab breakfast at the market with her husband before buying fresh vegetables for dinner.

The market also features live music on Saturday mornings.

For those at the market, it’s a short walk to the nearby Artist Cottages at Orleans Market Square, Darling said, which are small cottages brimming with items created by Cape Cod artists.

“It gives local artisans a place to show their wares and sell them without having a full storefront,” she said.

What readers recommend in Orleans:

For food and beverage:

Hog Island Beer Co.@brionkorn1, @emily.pereira17
Hole in One@jillbjasona, @rebecca.baturin
Homeport Restaurant@jessicaakentwriter
Hot Chocolate Sparrow@jennifergreene8877, @jessicaakentwriter, @theruthbradshaw, @pep_luv
Ice Cream Cafe@leahmproudfoot
Land Ho!@therealnicktuozzolo, @jessicaakentwriter, @mandersen_12
Mahoney’s Atlantic Bar & Grill@jlojulie, @pep_luv
The Beacon Room@meeghanrose63
The Knack@ahealy1986
Rock Harbor Grill@pep_luv

For activities:

Artist Cottages at Orleans Market Square@jennifergreene8877
Cape Cod Rail Trail@cathy_theresa, @pep_luv
Crystal Lake@debsc3
Earth House@jennifergreene8877, @alikearneyy
Eldredge Park, home of the Orleans Firebirdsvtccmaureenl, @lilalilyella, @pep_luv
Left Bank Gallery @oysterharborfarms
Pochet Island @michelafred18
Skaket Beach@jennifergreene8877, @jessicaakentwriter, vtccmaureenl, @candb81696, @jillbjasona, @pep_luv, @pauladoherty11
Nauset Beach @jennifergreene8877, @phulmai, @jessicaakentwriter, @dinofrommass, @michelafred18, @pep_luv, @captainfreemaninn
Rock Harbor vtccmaureenl, @jillbjasona
The Alley Bowling & BBQ@jennifergreene8877
Tree’s Place @leahmproudfoot

More Cape Cod Travel:


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