Barnstable Harbor makes an inviting destination for boaters who appreciate Cape Cod’s natural charms.

By Rob Duca • Photography by Tom Croke & Tom Richardson

Many boaters consider Barnstable Harbor to be the gateway to Cape Cod, as it’s the first major harbor east of the Cape Cod Canal. Tucked inside the protective arm of Sandy Neck, this snug little spot also serves as a portal to the natural wonders of the Great Marshes to the west, the sprawling sand flats to the east and the fertile fishing grounds of Cape Cod Bay and Stellwagen Bank. And if you’re looking for a bite to eat or some shops to peruse, Barnstable’s got that too!

Sandy Neck Light greets boaters as they arrive from Cape Cod Bay.
Sandy Neck Light greets boaters as they arrive from Cape Cod Bay.

The harbor is served by Millway Marina, Barnstable Marine Service and the town-managed Barnstable Harbor Marina. Launch ramps are located at Blish Point Landing on Millway Road, the resident-only Scudder Lane town landing off Route 6A and the Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary at the end of Bone Hill Road. From these access points, kayakers, paddleboarders and canoeists can explore the labyrinthine tidal creeks that wind through the beautiful Great Marshes in the western portion of Barnstable Harbor, behind Sandy Neck.

Channel Challenges

While Barnstable Harbor is inviting, newbie visitors arriving by boat should be aware that the narrow, winding channel from Cape Cod Bay is surrounded by extremely shallow flats, so it’s important to follow the buoys closely. Maraspin Creek Lighted Buoy 1, about two-tenths of a mile from Blish Point, marks the entrance to the inner harbor. The channel is marked from the buoy to Blish Point by a “picket fence” of privately maintained stakes. Once inside the point, it’s close quarters, as the harbor is narrow and jam-packed with vessels.

An old duck hunting shack sits among the dunes overlooking the Great Marshes. Photos on this page are by Tom Richardson.
An old duck-hunting shack sits among the dunes overlooking the Great Marshes.

Unfortunately, dockage is at a premium. If space is available, the Barnstable Town Marina allows boaters to tie up for an hour or so while they go ashore to explore or grab a bite to eat. The marina also rents overnight transient slips (reservations are recommended).

Speaking of eating, there are two dining options on the harbor. The Mattakeese Wharf Restaurant, which occupies a commanding view of the harbor, is a great place to enjoy lunch, dinner or a cocktail. Osterville Fish, Too, is also nearby. The restaurant is known for its creamy clam chowder, and serves up some of the best fried clams on the Cape. Fresh shellfish and fish can also be purchased at the restaurant’s on-site market.

While harborside dining options are limited, you’ll find more eateries and shops in the village center, roughly one mile from the harbor. The Barnstable Restaurant and Tavern and the Dolphin are two outstanding dining options in the village. Whimsical shops include Neutral Territory, Mosee’s and Barnstable Pottery, while boaters can stock up on provisions at the Barnstable Market.

Adventurous souls can sign up for a ghost tour through the center of Barnstable Village, and visit the supposedly haunted Old Jail (built in the 1600s), ancient Cobb’s Cemetery and the historic Barnstable Tavern, which is still in operation.

Watch Episodes of New England Boating Here.

Splendid Sandy Neck

Sand flats, Barnstable Harbor makes an inviting destination for boaters who appreciate Cape Cod’s natural charms.

A major destination for small-boaters and paddlers is Sandy Neck, a long barrier beach bordering West Barnstable and punctuated by the 189-year-old Sandy Neck Lighthouse. The beach is a popular spot for picnics, fishing and watching the sunset. Walking trails meander through the dunes and the 3,800-acre Sandy Neck salt marsh, offering visitors a quiet place to exercise and see various species of birds and other wildlife.

For an up-close look at the harbor’s rich estuarine habitat and birdlife, take a ride with Barnstable Harbor Ecotours, based at the Millway Marina. The narrated tours involve a scenic two-hour journey that explores the fertile salt marsh ecosystem—a nursery for myriad marine creatures—and the geological history of Cape Cod and Barnstable Harbor. They also offer sunset and group tours.

It’s just one more way to enjoy Barnstable’s natural beauty and aquatic resources, and you’ll never run out of new things to discover about this fascinating harbor and estuary.

Barnstable Harbor at a Glance

Harbormaster
(508) 790-6273

Dockage, Moorings & Service

  • Millway Marina 
    (508) 362-4904;
    Full-service facility specializing in engine repair.
    Gas, restrooms and water available.
  • Barnstable Harbor Marina
    (508) 790-6273
    Town-owned marina; occasionally has transient slips available. Contact harbormaster for availability. Offers pump-out and water.
  • Barnstable Marine Service
    (508) 362-3811
    Dockage, rack storage, repair, fuel dock, ice, bait, restrooms and showers.

Launch Ramps

  • Blish Point Landing
    Paved ramp with ample parking, tie-up float and attendant. This lot fills up early, especially in summer, so it’s recommended to arrive early. Note that some boats may be unable to use the ramp at low tide. Fees: $8 weekdays; $10 weekends; $100 season pass.
  • Kayakers can launch at the Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary at the end of Bone Hill Road (off Rte. 6A), at the east end of the harbor.

Boat Rental

Where to Eat

  • Mattakeese Wharf Restaurant
    (508) 362-4511
    Lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch on the harbor.
    Specializes in seafood and steaks.
  • Osterville Fish, Too
    (508) 362-2295
    Restaurant and market on Barnstable Harbor.
    Fresh seafood, soups, appetizers, salads, burgers and more.
  • Village Landing Restaurant
    (508) 362-2994
    Small but busy eatery near the harbor off Route 6A. Serves breakfast and lunch. Good selection of craft beers and wine.
  • Dolphin on Cape Cod
    (508) 362-6610
    Upscale dining in the heart of Barnstable Village.
  • Barnstable Restaurant & Tavern
    (508) 362-2355
    Creative Cape Cod cuisine on Main Street.

Provisions

  • Barnstable General Store
    (508) 362-4457
    Groceries, fine wines and beer, as well as an in-store breakfast bar and deli.

Cool Shops

  • Nirvana Coffee Company
    (508) 744-6983
    Fine coffee, cappuccino and tea to drink on-site or take home.
  • Barnstable Pottery
    (508) 362-1113
    Fine pottery made by local artists.
  • Mosee’s Gift Shop
    (508) 362-2232
    Variety of unique gift items, art, jewelry and crafts.
  • Neutral Territory
    (508) 744-7145
    Elegant home furnishings and furniture made with natural, eco-friendly materials.

Things to see & Do

  • Barnstable Harbor Ecotours
    (508) 221-6126
    Guided tours of the Great Marshes, birdwatching trips and sunset cruises on Barnstable Harbor aboard a 30-foot pontoon boat.
  • Sandy Neck Beach
    Six-mile-long Sandy Neck consists of a public beach and a camping area that allows off-road vehicles to access the various trails. Vehicle permits are available at the gatehouse at the entrance to Sandy Neck Beach.
  • Long Pasture Wildlife Sanctuary
    (508) 362-7475
    One hundred-acre wildlife preserve with walking and hiking trails abutting the harbor.
  • Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises
    (888) 942-5392
    Whale watch cruises to Stellwagen Bank.

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