date published: June 18, 2007

Every year, tourists flood the small coastal town of Provincetown in search of a singular New England seaside experience, and they’re never disappointed. The former fishing village has long been famous as an arts colony—packed with wonderful galleries, shopping and restaurants—as well as for being home to one of the nation’s most thriving gay communities. Funkier than the rest of Cape Cod, yet quaint enough to bring grandma for a trip to the seashore, “P-Town” offers visitors the best of all possible worlds. Here’s Panorama’s suggestions for crafting your own perfect daytrip to this coastal jewel.

When planning your trip to Provincetown, first things first: you’ve heard that getting there is half the fun, right? Well, think how much fun it will be when you don’t have to wind your way through summer Cape Cod traffic behind the wheel of your car, all the while burning through $3.25 a gallon. Visitors to Provincetown can arrive via the skies (Cape Air flies from Boston to P-Town, just 35 minutes each way, a dozen times a day) or on the rails via Amtrak service. But by far the most appropriate way to journey to this traditional fishing community is over the sea itself. Two ferry services—Bay State Cruise Company and Boston Harbor Cruises—offer multiple daily departures to Provincetown, with each company boasting special “fast ferries” that can get visitors from the Boston mainland to P-Town in just 90 minutes. Refer to excursion listings.

To get your day in Provincetown started off on the right foot, you’ll want to grab something savory and/or sweet from one of Commercial Street’s delicious breakfast options. At Relish (93 Commercial St., 508-487-0488), you can choose from a selection of phenomenal baked goods, like their famous Marth’s Lemon Blueberry Coffee Cake, or enjoy an egg sandwich with a creative twist—like The Beach, which unites two eggs, black bean mash, tomato and Swiss cheese. Or, you can hit the much-beloved Provincetown Portuguese Bakery (299 Commercial St., 508-487-1803) to indulge in traditional Portuguese pastries like the sweet fried dough malassadas or the trutas, filled with sweet potato(!).

Now, there’s pretty much no point in coming to a seaside community if you’re not planning on hitting the beach—it’s like going to a four-star steakhouse and ordering the chicken. So, make a beeline for either of Provincetown’s two National Seashore beaches—Herring Cove Beach and Race Point—to gaze out at the Atlantic, or even dive in and enjoy a bracing morning swim, before they get too crowded. A word to the wise: the waters at Race Point can be a tad rougher than Herring Cove, but it’s also not unheard of to be able to spot whales from the beach en route to their “home” in Stellwagen Bank. (There are also a plethora of other beaches to be found on the other side of P-Town, also swimmable but not as picturesque, that face the bay rather than the ocean.)

The tip of the Cape is equally known for its seemingly endless rolling sand dunes, and racing across them in a dune buggy is the only way to really experience their beauty. Art’s Dune Tours (4 Standish St., 800-894-1951)—a family business started by Art Costa, P-Town’s “King of the Dunes,” and now run by his son, Rob—has been taking visitors on one-hour narrated tours of the dunes since 1946, giving participants great views of the seashore, as well as the dune shacks that have housed some of P-Town’s most famous residents. “You get out there in a Suburban, and they take you all across the dunes, and you’ll see shacks that were lived in by people like Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams when they came out to write in solitude,” says Provincetown Tourism Director Bill Schneider. “It’s really something else.”

All that tearing around in the fresh air is bound to work up a healthy appetite, and so it’s an excellent time to stop for lunch. Most would agree that a trip to Provincetown simply isn’t complete without a seaside meal at the world-famous Lobster Pot (321 Commercial St., 508-487-0842). Whether it’s lobsters, fried seafood, clam chowder or any other tasty delights from the deep, the Pot has been satisfying diners for years, and a visit is considered a P-Town dining tradition. For an eclectic alternative, look no further than Napi’s (7 Freeman St., 800-571-6274), a former auto garage-turned-salvaged materials sculpture gallery, popular for both its creative decorating and cuisine, including seafood, vegetarian dishes and international flavors.

What’s a day trip, you might ask, without a bit of souvenir shopping? Especially when you consider that the souvenirs you can bring back from P-Town go well beyond the average postcards and lobster shaped baseball caps to be found in your average Massachusetts tourist trap. Shopping in Provincetown is as eclectic an experience as everything else here, with options ranging from sublime antique shops like vintage jeweler Small Pleasures (359 Commercial St., 508-487-3712), to numerous art galleries like the Albert Merola Gallery (424 Commercial St., 508-487-4424), the Berta Walker Gallery (208 Bradford St., 508-487-6411) or the Packard Gallery (418 Commercial St., 508-487-4690)—just to name a few—that display and sell authentic pieces by the big art names from P-Town’s past and present.

And to get your hands on the freshest, most authentic home-grown goods, the town hosts a Saturday Farmers’ Market beginning June 30, located across from Town Hall on Ryder Street, where local farmers sell flowers, baked goods and fruits and vegetables of all sorts—giving you nutritious snacks to help sustain yourself throughout your full day of activity.

Just because you don’t have your car with you, don’t think that’s an obstacle to taking in everything P-Town has to offer. Plenty of visitors opt for the 45-minute Provincetown Trolley Tour, which departs hourly from Town Hall, and explores a three-mile stretch of shopping and cultural attractions. In fact, according to Schneider, you’re in the majority if you leave the wheels at home. “During the summer, bicycles are actually our primary mode of transport,” he says. Whether you brought a two-wheeler with you or not, your next stop should be Gale Force Bikes (144 Bradford St., 508-487-4849), where you can rent bicycles and helmets, pick up maps of the area, and get all the equipment and information you need to take your own personal bike tour of Provincetown.

Once you have your bike, there’s plenty of sights to see in P-Town. There’s the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum (1 High Pole Rd., 508-487-1310), which Schneider proudly proclaims is “the tallest all-granite structure in the United States.” (252 feet, incidentally, for those of you who fancy a climb.) This year marks the 100th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone for the monument.

Or, art lovers can explore the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (460 Commercial St., 508-487-1750), which celebrates members of the oldest art colony in the nation, and which recently completed an expansion—providing more space to display works by renowned talents like Robert Motherwell, Charles Heinz, Dorothy Gees Seckler and many more.

Not to be overlooked is P-Town’s tight-knit Portuguese community, who traditionally made up much of the fisherman corps. From June 22–24, P-Town’s annual Portuguese Festival will be in full swing—boasting live music and dance performances, storytelling and, of course, plenty of authentic ethnic food. The highlight of the festival for gourmets is the annual kale soup contest, which virtually every restaurant in town enters, looking to receive the coveted first place award.

If you’re still in P-Town come dinnertime, you’ll find any number of lovely and delicious restaurants to satisfy your stomach’s rumblings. In addition to great seafood options like the Bistro at Crowne Pointe (82 Bradford St., 508-487-6767) with its sumptuous lobster ravioli and seafood bouillabaisse, you’ll find plenty of spots specializing in Mediterranean-influenced cuisine, thanks to P-Town’s plentiful Portuguese and Italian population. Try Front Street (230 Commercial St., 508-487-9715) or the venerable Ciro & Sal’s (4 Kiley Court, 508-487-6444) for an abbondanza of delicious pastas, risottos and antipasti.

And it’s entirely possible you might decide to make your daytrip an overnight trip, and if that’s the case, you certainly don’t want to spend the night sitting in your room—not when P-Town has a plethora of nightclubs and cabarets boasting what Schneider calls “some of the most exciting, eclectic and colorful entertainment in the Commonwealth.” Try Club Euro (303 Commercial St., 508-487-2505) for a danceclub vibe, or check out the live drag and comedy shows at Post Office Café and Cabaret (300 Commercial St., 508-487-3892).

Sound like a lot to fit into one visit? No need to worry—by the time you hop that ferry home, you’ll doubtless be dreaming of a return visit to sample the unique charms of P-Town again.

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