Located 60 miles out to sea at the tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown pretty much redefines the term “getaway.”
By Everett Potter
Jun 23 2020
A view of Provincetown from across the harbor at the tip of Cape Cod.Photo Credit : Courtesy of Provincetown Office of Tourism
Sponsored by the Provincetown Tourism Office
Located 60 miles out to sea at the tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown* pretty much redefines the term “getaway.” A visit to “Ptown” promises no ordinary day at the beach. Instead, it’s an immersion into a quirky New England seaside town, a haven for the LGBTQ+ community that flies the Pride flag year-round and has always marched to the beat of its own drummer. Noted as a welcoming and safe haven for tourists and locals, gays and lesbians, families, and friends, Provincetown offers pristine beaches, unique shops, and a bevy of restaurants and bars, not to mention world-class people-watching. It manages to marry small-town charm with big-city sophistication, set against a backdrop of sand dunes and quaint shingle-style seaside architecture.
In the summer, this artsy enclave is a beehive of activity, from a morning bike ride to beach time to fabulous culinary experiences. There’s usually a cluster of laid-back townies and visitors along Commercial Street, many of whom like to party late into the night. Return in the autumn and you’ll experience a quieter town, equally beautiful but far less frenetic, with more of a measured pace and chance to take in the natural beauty without the crowds.
The welcome acceptance and openness of Provincetown are unique not just in New England but arguably anywhere in the country. While the town encourages everyone to be themselves, that’s only part of its appeal. The artists who started flocking here more than a century ago were intrigued by the magical light, the interplay of ocean and land that continues to draw painters. Provincetown is the oldest continuous art colony in the United States, a place that attracted such disparate artists as Edward Hopper, Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner, and Jackson Pollock. The town has 60-plus art galleries, most of them clustered in the East End, offering a wide and eclectic range of artwork. Wander through the galleries on the weekly Friday Night Gallery Stroll when doors are open or pay a visit to the 100-year-old Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM). Artists still come to attend workshops at PAAM, as well as the Cape School of Art and the Fine Arts Works Center.
The town is also deeply infused with literary and theater culture. Provincetown is widely considered the birthplace of modern American theater, a place where the great playwright Eugene O’Neill came into his own with his play Bound East for Cardiff. Norman Mailer and John Dos Passos called it their summer home and today, it’s creatives like John Waters, Tony Kushner, and Michael Cunningham who can be spotted here. While serious theater continues at venues like The Provincetown Theater and the Peregrine Theater, its nightly entertainment, in the form of Street performers, big-name entertainers drag shows that attract today’s crowds. The Art House, The Crown & Anchor, and The Pilgrim House are venues worth checking out.
History is another aspect of the town’s DNA. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim landing in Provincetown, and these colonists spent five weeks exploring the outer reaches of Cape Cod before sailing on to Plymouth. You can take in the big picture by walking up the tallest structure in town, the 252-foot tall Pilgrim Monument, which offers spectacular views of the town, Cape Cod, and, on a clear day, the Boston skyline. You can delve into the history displays at the base of the monument in the Provincetown Museum. The maritime history is evident throughout the town and noting the town’s three lighthouses: Race Point, Long Point, and Wood End. Ascend the 41 steps of the 1816 Race Point Lighthouse and you stand a good chance of seeing whales as you look out from the lamp room, like a 19th-century lighthouse keeper. Or you can simply stroll inside the Provincetown Public Library, where a 66-foot long model of the Rose Dorothea schooner can be seen, along with great views of Provincetown harbor.
Provincetown is a base camp for adventures in the outdoors, from days spent on Herring Cove Beach and Race Point Beach to exploring the dramatic dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore. Encompassing a 40-mile stretch of dunes, beaches, marshland, and kettle ponds, it’s also a great place to explore on a fall excursion. Get a picnic lunch to go and then plan to linger on a beach, take a hike or go for a bike ride. The Province Lands Bike Trail in the Cape Cod National Seashore was opened in 1967, the very first bike trail built in a national park. If you didn’t bring your own wheels, there are a number of bike rental shops in town. There’s kayaking, boat rentals, and whale watching excursions as well. Summer and fall is the time to catch a glimpse of humpback, fin, and minke whales.
One of the hallmarks of Provincetown is dining that can seem as diverse as the town’s population. On the casual side, Provincetown is well known for its bakeries, cafes, and ice cream shops, as well as fudge and taffy makers. Many a morning begins with strong coffee and a Malassada, a Portuguese sweet fried dough. Naturally, there’s seafood aplenty, from lobster rolls and oysters to steamers and scallops. The town is famed for its traditional Portuguese food, thanks to the original families that settled here in the 19th century. Italian cuisine is also well represented, and in this town where food celebrity Anthony Bourdain got his start, there are fine dining restaurants aimed at satisfying discriminating urban palates. There are bars aplenty and when they close at 1 a.m., there’s always an impromptu gathering in front of Spiritus Pizza on Commercial Street.
Shopping is a major pastime in town and most of the town’s shops line Commercial Street. They are, for the most part, one-of-a-kind boutiques in a town that is virtually chain-free. While there’s a clutch of t-shirt and souvenir shops, the distinctive vision of independent shop owners sets the tone and you can find everything from clothing, shoes, and accessories to home goods, antiques, artisan crafts, jewelry, gifts, and books.
For a small town of just three-square-miles, Provincetown’s range of charming, quirky, and welcoming accommodations is also remarkable, encompassing more than 80 properties ranging from charming beachside guest cottages with front porch rockers to inns, guesthouses, bed & breakfasts, resorts and hotels that offer spa services. They offer a blissful escape for a carefree weekend, a week of sun and sand, or even multi-week stays to really get away from it all.
Provincetown is just a two-hour drive from Boston, while high-speed ferries make the trip from Beantown in just 90 minutes. There’s bus service as well, but for those in a hurry, it’s a quick 20-minute flight from Logan Airport.
*Due to Covid-19, some businesses and activities may be postponed