PROVINCETOWN — The idea of Cape Cod — its windswept expanses, old-money homes, nonchalant nautical vibe, and its light, that stunning, huge sky mixed with ocean light — is an attractive proposition at any time of year, any year. But never more so than now.
I was craving was an escape during these strange, restricted times. An escape to nature, and to nature on a grand scale. I needed to stay within driving distance of my home in New York City, and I needed good food (that I hadn’t cooked), and pretty architecture.
Enter Provincetown (Ptown, as it is lovingly referred to by the locals), a tiny village located at the northernmost tip of Cape Cod, a something-for-everyone kind of town. The oldest continuous arts community in the United States, Ptown has long been famously welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community. Come summer, it’s typically abuzz with a mix of fashionable creatives, local fishermen, a big art gallery crowd, and an abundance of drag queens. (The tea parties and drag shows around here are legendary — Provincetown Magazine is a good resource of events and performances.) This year attracted a calm mix of second-homeowners from New York and Boston, locals, families, couples on a break, nature lovers, birdwatchers, and us: my husband, me, and three energetic teenage boys, one of whom was ours.
Every single person in Ptown was wearing a mask — everywhere. When it came to Covid-related safety precautions and cleanliness guidelines, we noticed a tremendous amount of care being taken in every restaurant, store, gallery, and public space.
Here’s what we did and how we did it.
Plane, train, or automobile: Take your pick. I normally avail myself of the former two options, but given this year’s circumstances, we drove — an easy five-to-six hours trip. Cape Air flies from Provincetown (PVC) to Boston (BOS) and NYC’s Westchester County (HPN). Another easy option (with none of the check-in and security gate hassle) is the train from New York-Boston, followed by a beautiful 90-minute ferry ride from World Trade Center on Bay State Cruises or Long Wharf on Boston Harbor Cruises into MacMillan Wharf (one of the world’s deep water harbors), bang in the center of Ptown.
You won’t need a car. Bikes are the best way to get around, and, besides, miles of hiking and biking is what we came for. The feeling of riding down the coastal road towards the dunes with the wind in your hair, the endless sky above, and the beach calling your name — unmissable. If you drove, park your car on one of the side streets and rent bikes from the top two places in town: Arnold’s Bike Shop, an institution on the main drag of Commercial Street, or Provincetown Bike Rentals, which is also central.
Life’s a Beach
No matter where you’re situated in Ptown, everything is within biking distance. The beaches are concentrated on the west end of town. We picked up a map at a bike shop, Google a few, and discovered the rest as we cycled past various signposts. Pack the basket with a swimsuit, a beach towel, and a hat, and ride off towards any of the following. We did one per day, every day.
Herring Cove Beach
It’s a short ride and a long-ish walk through moors, estuaries, and a lovely sandscape to the slightly rocky beach.
Depending on whether the tide is in (swim and float) or out (walk and look for crabs), this natural estuary is idyllic.
Race Point Lighthouse
Further up from Hatches Harbor is one of the prettiest spots in town. An unmarked parking lot off the main bike path leads to a dirt road that leads to the lighthouse. Tall grass, woody paths, vast moors, and, in the distance, a picture-postcard lighthouse built in 1816. Ride your bikes as far down the trail as you can, and walk the rest of the way. After admiring the lighthouse, head down to the beach for whale spotting, which is almost guaranteed.
Tucked away at the end at the end of the Province Lands natural preserve — a brilliant ride through exploring ponds, birdlife, and trails.
Riding west out of town (towards all the beauty mentioned above) is a mile-long stone jetty jutting into the water, connecting town to the curved tip of Cape Cod. When the tide is high, jump off the massive stone boulders for a swim. When it’s low, walk across the beach to the Wood End Lighthouse and the tidal flats.
Head to the east end of town, where off Route 6 you’ll find Snail Road Walk. It’s not an official seashore trail and there’s no real parking. People just park their bikes or cars off the highway and follow the trail to the dunes. It’s impossible to describe the majesty and the splendor of this walk and the stunning reward at the end of it all. More like a lunar landscape, this walk takes about an hour (cycle east from the center of town and park your bike in a clearing). Towering dunes that stretch for miles lead to low woods and, finally, a serene beach and the ocean. If there is ONE thing I would not miss, it is this, We went twice in one week.
A small beach in the center of town just off Commercial Street where one can have a swim, watch the sunrise, and walk down to kayak rentals and the main pier.
Where to Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
These favorite spots are pretty much within walking distance of Commercial Street and all are outdoor dining only.
I would eat here every night if I could. Set on the water in the west end, run by the amazing Siobhan Carew, with a brilliant staff, delicious Italian food, good lighting, and a great crowd.
Center of town, decks on the beach, views of the water, faded nautical chic, oysters, and seafood.
Lobster rolls and so much more in a pretty outdoor garden setting. No reservations taken, so walk in, order your food and find a bench under the trees overlooking the water.
Take-out sandwiches and salads on the west end of town. A perfect spot to pick up a picnic while riding towards the beaches.
The Red Inn
An old-fashioned inn built on the water with a pretty garden out front and a great deck. Usually it’s the spot for a cocktail and a few oysters pre-dinner, but with the current climate, it’s full lunch and dinner only.
The good-looking coffee shop and restaurant on Commercial Street served me my daily dose. And was also great for cocktails and snacks in the garden.
Where to Shop
I try to keep my shopping while on vacation to a minimum. But these stores were hard to resist.
John Derian Company
I’ve visited his beautiful New York stores multiple times, but the Provincetown outpost feels special. A treasure trove located on John’s residential property on Commercial Street (a sea captains house from the 17th century), it is a welcome respite from the kitsch and mediocre art being sold in town. Signature decoupage, Jenette Ferrier throws, Astier de Villatte ceramics and candles, and so much more.
The Captain’s Daughters«Tea and sundries” may be how they describe themselves, when in fact they sell lovely objects, fine teas, some clothing, and lots of CBD- and hemp-based beauty products. Open by appointment only for the moment.
Clothing and accessories — all chic and mainly for men, but just as appealing to the other half.
Tim’s Used Books
For such a tiny town to be able to support four bookstores is impressive. One of my favorites is Tim’s on Commercial street.
Mad As a Hatter
Hats galore and a lifesaver if, like me, you forget to pack a hat for a summer break.
What to See
Some galleries and museums are open, some are not. As is the case with many beach towns, most of the art you’ll find is totally cheesy, but the spots that are always worth a visit are Bakker Project, Julie Heller Gallery, and Provincetown Art Association and Museum.
Where to Stay
A little lay of the land: The town consists of one main street (Commercial Street), which runs east to west and parallel to the water. The east end is quieter, home to many galleries and residential properties. The west end is shops and restaurants and clubs galore. But as you venture farther out towards the end of the island on the west end, there are lovely homes and inns. Deciding which part of town to stay in depends on how you envision your evenings. I wanted to be central, yet have some quiet, and be able to walk everywhere to shop or get my coffee without having to jostle a hundred people while I did it.
We rented a beautiful Airbnb on the east end just off Commercial Street in a little cul de sac with a garden and a balcony. Bliss.
As for hotels, two great options are The Waterford Inn and The Red Inn. But I love the most unique choice, Captain Jack’s Wharf. Built on a fishing wharf in the west end of town overlooking the tidal flat basin, its quaint Cape Cod cabins are a delight. Each is completely different, but all are beautifully decorated, with views for miles. I have friends who stay here every year and won’t stay anywhere else