Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is a popular weekend getaway spot on the East Coast, and with good reason. Just an hour from Boston, MA, the peninsula offers beautiful beaches, colorful sunsets, restaurants, a diverse choice of outdoor activities, picture-perfect lighthouses, and unique historic attractions. Kid-friendly bays beckon families to relax in the sun, play in the water and dine on fresh seafood caught in the local waters. Here are the best things to do in Cape Cod, Massachusetts on your weekend getaway or day trip. Certain attractions may be temporarily closed or require advance reservations. Hours/availability may have changed.
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Wellfleet Bay is a pristine 900-acre sanctuary along the coast of Cape Cod. The bay’s protected shoreline and waters are home to an array of marine flora and fauna. Overlooking Wellfleet Harbor, the sanctuary features an incredible diversity of landscapes from sandy beaches and salt marshes to dense pine woodlands.
Myriad nature trails make for ideal walking, hiking, and wildlife-watching while the sanctuary’s award-winning Eco Visitor’s Center presents informative aquarium exhibits.
Highlights of this magnificent sanctuary include salt marshes teeming with fiddler crabs and green herons fishing in Goose Pond. Wildlife cruises and tours in Nauset Marsh and the Wellfleet Harbor include hands-on activities. The sanctuary offers summer camp programs for all ages as well as year-round research and conservation projects focused on threatened species such as horseshoe crabs, terrapins, and sea turtles.
2.Cape Cod National Seashore
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Home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, the Cape Cod National Seashore stretches for 40 miles in the Outer Cape Cod region and features pristine sandy beaches, marshes and ponds, lighthouses, and stunning landscapes. Forming part of the 600-mile Cape Cod Coastline, this exquisite strip of shoreline offers an array of outdoor activities from swimming, sunbathing, and beachcombing to hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, and sailing. There are over 60 magnificent beaches to explore. Resting between the Wood End and Race Point Lighthouses is the gorgeous Herring Cove Beach, which provides ample parking, showers, restrooms, and food stalls. Beech Forest offers excellent walking and biking trails. Cape Cod National Seashore is one of the top Cape Cod attractions.
The Salt Pond Visitor Center is Cape Cod National Seashore's main visitor facility and features a comprehensive museum, a well-stocked bookstore and an indoor theatre showing orientation movies. The museum showcases the Cape's complex natural composition with realistic exhibits on the surrounding ecosystems and displays artwork by prominent artists. The center is conveniently located near the famous Nauset Bicycle Trail, the Nauset Marsh Trail and the multi-sensory Buttonbush Trail, complete with a guide rope and text panels. The Province Lands Visitor Center is located at the northern end of Cape Cod National Seashore in Provincetown and features an observation deck with breathtaking 360-degree views of the Province Lands dunes, the Outer Beach and the Atlantic Ocean. The center also features an indoor theater which screens short films on a daily basis.
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3.Nauset Lighthouse, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
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The Nauset Lighthouse is a historic lighthouse and landmark in Eastham on Cape Cod. The lighthouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in Chatham in 1877 and later moved to Eastham, where it was placed just 200 feet from the keeper's house.
Erosion proved to be a serious problem in that spot, and the lighthouse was recently rescued from the edge of a sixty-foot-high cliff and relocated to a new location 300 feet away. The lighthouse has been providing guidance to mariners traveling along the treacherous Cape Cod coastline for over 73 years, and public tours of the Nauset Lighthouse and the oil house take place on Sundays, May through late October. If you are wondering what to do in Cape Cod for couples, this is a great place to visit.
Nauset Lighthouse, Nauset Light Beach, Massachusetts, Phone: 508-240-2612
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4. Bay Spirit Tours, Cape Cod, MA
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The 63' catamaran Bay Spirit takes visitors on a variety of water excursions and sunset tours. Bay Spirit is captained by the Kohl's, a father (captain Bob) and son (Jake) team that provides vacationers with a safe and fantastic time out on the water. The 75-minute Lighthouse Harbor Tour takes visitors to the south end of Great Island to view Point Gammon, Bishops and Clerks lighthouses.
The next stop on the tour is Hyannisport where passengers hear about the history of Hyannis Harbor Light and the Kennedy Compound. Those looking for something a little different can watch the sunset and sip champagne on a romantic Sunset Cruise in Hyannisport. Wine Tasting Tours are another hit: guests sample a variety of wines while enjoying the calm waters of Lewis Bay.
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5.Barnstable Harbor Ecotours, Cape Cod, MA
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Barnstable Harbor supports a unique and thriving ecosystem. The harbor has an average ten-foot tide and is home to a variety of birds and wildlife. Barnstable Harbor Ecotours take place aboard The Horseshoe Crab, a tour boat equipped with a roof, mosquito netting, and a restroom. Tours include a fascinating glacial history and account of how Cape Cod, Barnstable Harbor, Sandy Neck, and the Great Marsh were formed.
They also explore the more recent history of the harbor: the salt works, nautical history, and Prohibition-era rum-running. Cruising past the Great Marsh, guests will learn why the salt marshes are one of the most important ecosystems on the planet and witness the marsh’s diverse plant and animal life. The tour also takes a close look at the Sandy Neck Cottage Colony and the history behind the recently restored Sandy Neck Lighthouse.
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6.Things to Do in Cape Cod: Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch
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Dolphin Fleet’s Whale Watch tours are an unforgettable experience with the giants of the deep. An adventure company like no other, Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch offers whale-watching trips that go beyond just watching the whales. They include a variety of educational tools designed not only to enhance the experience, but to educate visitors on the importance of marine conservation and the ecosystems in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
Specially designed for whale-watching and comfort, each Dolphin Fleet vessel seats over 100 passengers and has a centrally heated and air-cooled cabin, vast sundeck and walk-out platform for exceptional views off the bow. Tours begin with an introductory presentation and are guided by experienced naturalists who share their knowledge and answer questions (Phone: 508) 240-3636).
7.Cape Cod Lavender Farm
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Located on 20 acres overlooking Island Pond in Harwich and boasting over 14,000 lavender plants, Cape Cod Lavender Farm is one of the largest lavender farms on the East Coast. Home to owners Cynthia and Matthew Sutphin, the farm produces a variety of lavender-based products including home décor, culinary items, and mind-body-spirit goodies.
The farm welcomes more than 10,000 visitors per year who come not only to join in the harvest (late June through early July), but also to explore the beautiful grounds. The farm is surrounded by over 60 acres of dense woodlands with myriad walking trails. After a pleasant walk through the fragrant fields, visitors can stock up on a variety of lavender products such as bath salts, body butter, essential oils, soaps and lavender lemonade.
Off Weston Woods Rd, Harwich, Massachusetts 02645, Phone: 508-432-8397
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8.Gerardi's Cafe, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
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Gerardi's Cafe in South Yarmouth has been serving authentic Sicilian-Italian cuisine to Cape Cod for over 15 years. Owned by Diego & Sasha Gerardi, this authentic Sicilian restaurant boasts a beautiful 55-seat dining room with a cozy brick fireplace and an elegant full-service bar.
Gerardi’s menu features Italian favorites such as lasagna and meatballs, seafood marinara, pasta with piccata and marsala sauce, and chicken parmigiana. For dessert, Gerardi’s serves mouthwatering tiramisu and ice cream. Superb local and international wines, exotic cocktails, and a range of spirits complement the beautiful food.
902 Route 28, South Yarmouth, Massachusetts 02664, Phone: 508-394-3111
9.Things to Do in Cape Cod: Nickerson State Park
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The beauty of Nickerson State Park is a world away from the sand dunes and salt marshes of Cape Cod. The park is a landscape of undulating rolling hills, dense pine woodlands, and crystal-clear freshwater ponds. These ponds, known as kettle ponds, were formed by retreating glaciers over 10,000 years ago and are entirely dependent on precipitation and groundwater.
Spanning 1,900 acres, Nickerson features over 400 campsites, including yurt camping, as well as an open-air amphitheater and a network of roads, hiking trails and bike paths that connect to the renowned Cape Cod Rail Trail. Visitors can swim or kayak in Flax Pond, catch-and-release fish year-round in the trout-stocked ponds, or enjoy hours of bird- and wildlife- watching throughout the park.
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10.Crosby Mansion, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
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The Crosby Mansion, with its spectacular sweeping views over Cape Cod Bay, stands as a testament to a bygone era of opulence, grandeur and romance. Once the home of Albert Crosby, who made a fortune producing distilled alcohol and built the mansion for the love of his life, the three-story abode is a monument to unrivaled craftsmanship.
Built in the grand style of Chicago’s Gold Coast Mansions and completed in 1888, the 35-room estate features hand-carved mahogany and oak walls, 15 fireplaces decorated with imported tiles, marble sinks and floors in the bathrooms. The estate is open to the public and offers guided tours on certain dates during the year.
163 Crosby Lane, Brewster, Massachusetts 02631, Phone: 508-896-1744
More beach vacation ideas: Best Things to Do on Nantucket.
11.Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI)
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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) is the world's largest oceanographic research institution and has been a global leader in the study and exploration of the ocean for nearly a century. The WHOI features a variety of exhibits that educate visitors about the Institution's oceanographic research, the vessels and tools used for the research, and the importance of scientific study in the fight to save the environment.
Visitors can experience the discovery of the wreck of the Titanic, witness a day in the life of the deep submersible Alvin by stepping inside a full-size model of the inner sphere, and watch mind-boggling footage taken at deep-sea hydrothermal vent sites. Free walking tours through the WHOI dock area and other restricted village facilities are available during the summer months. Expert guides share the fascinating history of the WHOI and the important research done there.
86 Water St, Falmouth, MA 02543
12.Cape Cod Rail Trail, Cape Cod, MA
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The Cape Cod Rail Trail is an immaculate paved pathway that winds its way along a former railroad through several towns. Stretching for 22 miles, the paved trail is perfect for cycling and has a broad, unpaved shoulder on one side for walkers, runners, and horseback riders.
The trail offers many opportunities to explore the surrounding areas and provides access to various beaches as well as food and water facilities and plenty of rest stops. Nickerson State Park, Salt Pond Visitors Center at Cape Cod National Seashore, and the National Seashore Headquarters are along the way and have public restrooms. Bike rentals are available along the route.
Family getaways: 25 Best Family Beach Vacations on the East Coast.
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13.Pizza Barbone, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
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Pizza Barbone came from humble beginnings: owner Jason O’Toole took a mobile pizza oven to markets and festivals, serving delicious wood-fired pizzas. Pizza Barbone has since put down roots in Hyannis, but Jason and his wife Ali still take their mobile pizza oven to special events. Center stage at the Italian pizzeria is the custom-made Stefano Ferrara wood-fired oven, handcrafted out of rock and ash from Mt. Vesuvius in Naples.
Pizza Barbone’s menu features a variety of authentic Italian fare made from seasonal ingredients, sourced locally where possible and put together with passion and flair. Barbone makes its pizza dough with the high-quality Caputo 00 (double-zero) flour, widely used in Italy, which creates the superior super-thin crust for which Italian pizza is famous.
390 Main St, Hyannis, Massachusetts 02601, Phone: 508-957-2377
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Visitors can travel in style with a relaxing ferry trip aboard the Island Queen. The Island Queen sails daily from Falmouth to the island of Martha's Vineyard, taking just 35 minutes across the Vineyard Sound, and is the only cruise ship that regularly sails between Falmouth Harbor and Oak Bluffs.
The fast and reliable Island Queen sails from late May through mid-October and is fully equipped with comfortable seating, space to roam around, and state-of-the-art safety equipment. Travelers will find plenty of parking near the boarding area at Falmouth and can bring along their bikes to explore the beautiful island of Martha’s Vineyard on two wheels.
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15.Chatham Orpheum Theater
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The Chatham Orpheum Theater is a non-profit cinema housed in a state-of-the-art movie theater on Main Street in Chatham. When it opened in 1916, the Orpheum Theater was Chatham’s first and only movie house; however, after 72 years of business, the theater was bought out and had to close its doors. After a recent renovation, the Chatham Orpheum Theater is back with a bang and is now one of Chatham’s best-loved gems.
The beautiful interior is tastefully designed in traditional Cape Cod style, and the theater’s spectacular vaulted lobby houses a number of works by notable local artists, including Hans de Castellane’s signature mural The After Party. The cinema features two screens, 6.1 Surround Sound audio, 3-D capability, widely-spaced aisles, comfortable seating, and traditional concessions. Before the movie, patrons can enjoy a glass of wine or a light meal at Vers at the Orpheum. This satellite location of local Dutch restaurant Vers serves a delicious menu of contemporary seasonal dishes.
637 Main Street, Chatham, Massachusetts 02633, Phone: 508-945-0874
16.Far Land Provisions, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
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Far Land Provisions is a specialty foods store and deli/bakery in Provincetown. Rustic and charming, Far Lands offers delicious fare from freshly made sandwiches and picnic provisions to salmon cakes and creamy mac 'n' cheese. All of Far Land’s deli and bakery goods are made from scratch on the premises.
The deli also sells gourmet sauces, chutneys and salad dressings to add a unique touch to any meal. Fresh-baked brownies, cookies, and pies hot from the oven make a perfect treat paired with a cup of specialty coffee.
150 Bradford St, Provincetown, Massachusetts 02657, Phone: 508-487-0045
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17.The Edward Gorey House, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
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The Edward Gorey House, also known as the Elephant House, is a beautifully preserved 200-year-old home on Yarmouth Port Common. The house was once the home of American author, illustrator, playwright, and set and costume designer Edward Gorey. Today, the house is a public museum dedicated to Gorey’s life, work, and devotion to animal welfare. The museum introduces the public to Gorey and his distinct personality, which was so evident in his extraordinary work, as well as his passion and concern for animals.
The management aims to raise awareness about animal welfare among those who visit the museum. The Edward Gorey House participates in Fun Free Fridays, when museums are free to the public, and hosts the annual Fantastagorey, a special one-day children's event featuring fun activities all afternoon.
8 Strawberry Lane, Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts 02675, Phone: 508-362-3909
18.Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum
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Dating back to 1892, the Pilgrim Monument was built by the Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association to honor the Provincetown landing of the Mayflower Pilgrims in 1620. During their time on Cape Cod, the Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact, establishing laws for the new land. President Theodore Roosevelt laid the cornerstone for the monument in 1907. In 1910, President William Howard Taft dedicated the finished 252-foot tower.
A museum was built that year and opened at the base of the monument to inspire and educate the public about Provincetown’s role in American history. The Pilgrim Monument is the tallest granite structure in America. Walking up the 60 ramps and 116 steps to the apex takes about ten minutes and is worth it for the views from the top.
1 High Pole Hill Rd, Provincetown, Massachusetts 02657, Phone: 508-487-1310
19.Things to Do in Cape Cod: Highfield Hall and Gardens
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Highfield Hall and Gardens is an exquisitely restored historic estate in the heart of Falmouth. The estate has become a cultural center and community gathering place for Cape Cod. Once the home of the Beebe family, the 1878 mansion was saved from the wrecking ball in the early ‘90s and lovingly restored to become the renowned landmark and museum it is today.
Surrounded by acres of public woodlands and spectacular gardens, Highfield is home to a variety of cultural and artistic exhibitions, events and programs. Art exhibitions showcasing well-known artists are held throughout the year in addition to concerts, lectures, cooking classes, garden presentations, and guided tours and nature walks.
56 Highfield Dr, Falmouth, Massachusetts 02540, Phone: 508-495-1878
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20.Cape Cod Museum of Natural History
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A short drive west from the heart of Brewster, the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History is a spacious museum set on 80 acres of beautiful grounds. The museum was founded in 1954 and aims to inspire, educate and encourage an understanding of the natural environment through an array of outstanding exhibits. Permanent exhibits at the museum include a working beehive and a pond- and a sea-life room with live specimens.
There are several interactive exhibits specially designed for children and a small aquarium with turtles, fish, frogs, mollusks, and crustaceans. Educational programs for children, lectures, and workshops on natural history topics take place year-round. The museum also offers guided walks along the several nature trails that wind their way through the woodlands, salt marshes and coastline surrounding the museum grounds.
869 Route 6A, Brewster, Massachusetts 02631, Phone: 508-896-3867
21.Pirate's Cove, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
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Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf is the place to go for family fun. This award-winning theme park brings the adventures of infamous pirates and privateers to life. Mini-golfers travel over footbridges and under cascading waterfalls, around rocky outcrops and through caves on a fun-filled golfing pirate adventure.
Putting for Patriots, an annual fundraising event held each May, supports three pre-screened charities that serve American military service members wounded in combat.
22.Heritage Museums and Gardens, Cape Cod, MA
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Located in historic Sandwich, Massachusetts, Heritage Museums and Gardens is a collection of museums and gardens that are open to the public for exploration and education. The estate is made up of three museums and an expanse of beautiful gardens featuring spectacular rhododendron displays. The museum galleries feature an exhibit of American Folk Art with a still-working carousel from 1908, a Special Exhibitions Gallery whose traveling exhibitions feature local and international artists, and a collection of rare automobiles.
The American Folk Art collection includes a large selection of New England folk art, military miniatures, and other rare artifacts. The Automobile Gallery features an impressive collection of vehicles housed in a replica of the Shaker Round Barn. The Special Exhibitions Gallery is in a replica of the Temple of Virtue and features a variety of special exhibitions and displays.
67 Grove Street, Sandwich, Massachusetts 02563, Phone: 508-888-3300
22 Best Things to Do on Cape Cod, Massachusetts
- Wellfleet Bay, Photo: Courtesy of Yevgenia Gorbulsky - Fotolia.com
- Cape Cod National Seashore, Photo: Courtesy of Chee-Onn Leong/Fotolia
- Nauset Lighthouse, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Photo: Courtesy of CE Photography - Fotolia.com
- Bay Spirit Tours, Cape Cod, MA, Photo: Courtesy of Brian Scantlebury - Fotolia.com
- Barnstable Harbor Ecotours, Cape Cod, MA, Photo: Courtesy of Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in Cape Cod: Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch, Photo: Courtesy of niradj - Fotolia.com
- Cape Cod Lavender Farm, Photo: Courtesy of Laszlo - Fotolia.com
- Gerardi's Cafe, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Photo: Gerardi's Cafe
- Things to Do in Cape Cod: Nickerson State Park, Photo: Courtesy of Pakhnyushchyy - Fotolia.com
- Crosby Mansion, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Photo: Courtesy of florence110 - Fotolia.com
- Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Photo: Courtesy of Paul Brierley - Fotolia.com
- Cape Cod Rail Trail, Cape Cod, MA, Photo: Courtesy of mmphoto - Fotolia.com
- Pizza Barbone, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Photo: Pizza Barbone
- Island Queen, Photo: Courtesy of Christopher Seufert - Fotolia.com
- Chatham Orpheum Theater, Photo: Courtesy of davidsonlentz - Fotolia.com
- Far Land Provisions, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Photo: Far Land Provisions
- The Edward Gorey House, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Photo: The Edward Gorey House
- Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, Photo: Courtesy of haveseen - Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in Cape Cod: Highfield Hall and Gardens, Photo: Courtesy of YAROSHIK - Fotolia.com
- Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, Photo: Courtesy of Bettapoggi - Fotolia.com
- Pirate's Cove, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Photo: Courtesy of Christopher Nolan - Fotolia.com
- Heritage Museums and Gardens, Cape Cod, MA, Photo: Courtesy of onepony - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Chee-Onn Leong/Fotolia
Attraction Spotlight: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
The world's waters are of paramount importance to all life as we know it. The ocean covers over 2/3 of our planet's surface, and vast parts of it remain totally unexplored, but the world's waters are also being harmed and polluted, with estimations suggesting that by 2050, more plastic than fish could be found in the ocean.
Clearly, more needs to be done to educate people on the importance of the ocean and how vital it is to preserve and protect our waters for future generations. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution aims to do this.
What Does the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Do?
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution was founded back in 1930, so can boast of close to a century of existence as one of the world's leading non-profit organizations dedicated entirely to ocean research, exploration, and education.
Based out of the small Massachusetts town of Woods hole, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is 100% focused on studying the ocean, sharing its findings with the world at large, and generating positive change and meaningful action to protect and preserve the world's waters. Researchers, ocean science leaders, and experts from a wide range of additional fields make up the institution
The work of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is vast and varied, spread out across three main categories: Education, Exploration, and Understanding.
- Education - Education is a vital part of the efforts of the WHOI. The future of mankind and the fate of the world as we know it depends on the ocean, and it's absolutely vital for future generations and present generations alike to be aware of the ocean's importance. Offering a huge range of educational programs for everyone from young children and high school students to undergrads and postdoctoral researchers, WHOI is helping to pave the path towards a brighter future, inspiring countless people to learn and discover more about the ocean.
- Exploration - So much of the ocean has yet to be explored, but the WHOI is changing that, little by little. The institution strongly believes that in order to truly understand the ocean and work for its improvement, we have to explore it, getting out on the waves and beneath the surface, right down to the very depths, gathering data and pursuing research projects of all kinds. The WHOI provides ships and underwater vehicles for expeditions, as well as tools and instruments used by researchers and scientists in their explorations.
- Understanding - Research and discovery are key elements of what the WHOI stands for. The organization itself was founded out of a desire for mankind to develop a stronger and better understanding of the ocean, so constant research efforts are ongoing at the WHOI across a wide range of fields and areas. WHOI scientists and engineers are asking the big questions, tackling the major problems, and seeking out more and more knowledge and understanding of the ocean and the role it has to play in the modern world.
Getting Involved with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is doing vital work and wants as many people to get involved as possible. Here are just a few ways you can do so:
- Events and Tours - The WHOI constantly organizes a range of special events like science chats, talks, research seminars, interactive activity sessions for kids, and even walking tours around the WHOI dock in the summer months. You can visit the WHOI site to learn all about upcoming events and get involved today.
- The Visitor Center - To really see and understand what's going on at the WHOI, the best thing to do is visit the Visitor Center at 93 Water Street, Woods Hole, MA 02543. This center is where you'll learn all about the work of the institution, meeting the staff and volunteers, asking questions, reading through maps and brochures, or even grabbing a cope of the institution's in-house Oceanus magazine.
- Ocean Science Discovery Center & Gift Shop - Along with the visitor center, be sure to stop off at the Ocean Science Discovery Center & Gift Shop, located at 15 School St, just down the road from the visitor center. Here, you can learn about the WHOI's research projects and the various vessels and tools being used by its scientists and engineers every day, listen to recordings of real marine mammals, discover more about natural phenomena like red tide, and even learn all about the Titanic too, as well as being able to buy some great ocean-related items at the gift shop and show your support to the WHOI.
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