Provincetown Travel Guide

Provincetown Travel Guide

Fernando Nocedal

Provincetown’s compelling history as the first landing place for the Mayflower pilgrims, a fishing and whaling harbour with deep Portuguese roots, and—dating back as far as the early 20th-century—a thriving gay and artists’ community, make it one of coastal New England’s most diverse and beloved vacation destinations, especially during the summer high season. Wondering what to do in Provincetown? During a visit to this bustling but easy-going community with a splendid setting at the tip of Cape Cod, you’ll likely spend much of your time browsing the abundance of independent shops, seafood-centric restaurants, acclaimed art galleries, and friendly—and flirty—gay bars.

Herring Cove Beach | Photo: Fernando Nocedal

Herring Cove Beach | Photo: Fernando Nocedal

Where to eat in Provincetown

This historic fishing port is, not surprisingly, an ideal locale to feast on New England seafood. From lobster roll shacks to award-winning waterfront restaurants, you’ll find plenty of options for satisfying your craving. Provincetown attracts celebrated chefs from around the globe who both add their own spin to local cuisine and continue to expand the town’s culinary scene.

Serving some of the Cape’s boldest, most creative dishes, Joon showcases the region’s finest seasonal ingredients, prepared with a wide range of international influences. The inviting space is both cosy and elegant. Offerings may include wood-roasted wild mushrooms with miso bacon vin and wonton crisps or oxtail rillettes with horseradish cream. The sommelier also does a fantastic job pairing with the extensive wine selection. Even relatively standard items are given a different take—like duck sliders with apple turnip slaw and the bottarga (cured roe) Caesar salad with pan-fried duck egg—ensuring a finely executed, memorable dining experience.

James Beard award-winning chef Barbara Lynch’s Southern European-inspired take on New England cuisine at Spindler’s has quickly established itself as a welcome addition to Commercial Street’s East End. The menu includes seafood chorizo stew with tomato ragu and plump Wellfleet oysters on the half shell, plus lighter bar snacks like mini lobster rolls and moules frites. A softly lit outdoor deck and bar serves artful cocktails—such as the Naked & Famous (with mezcal, aperol, citrus, and yellow chartreuse) curated from Lynch’s Boston cocktail bar, Drink.

For a fine example of classic New England fare in a relaxed, romantic setting, take a stroll along Commercial Street to the West End’s upscale Red Inn. Arrive early and enjoy the lovely bay-side setting—a colourful garden and deck with rocking chairs overlooking the water. Seafood is the star of the menu, with plenty of options to suit your appetite: light (local oysters), rich (lobster and artichoke fondue), or hearty (pan-roasted local cod).

The playfully masculine décor and Mediterranean-inspired menu at Strangers and Saints create the quintessential tavern atmosphere—it’s a sophisticated spot for a fine cocktail and a delicious dinner. The contemporary design and historic interior elements, including weathered-wood floors, a fireplace, and copper fixtures, echo the building’s former life as a 19th-century’s whaler’s house. Offerings include oven-blistered clam-pancetta pizzas, scallop crudo, burrata with heirloom cherry tomatoes, and a stellar selection of house cocktails, well-chosen wines, and craft beers.

Salt House Inn

Salt House Inn

The best hotels in Provincetown

One of Provincetown’s many charms is its abundance of small, idiosyncratic inns and lack of cookie-cutter chain hotels. If one-of-a-kind is your thing, you’ll find plenty to pique your interest in one of the 18 ornately luxurious suites at Land’s End Inn. Perched atop Gull Hill in the quiet West End, this rambling historical home features expansive porches with ocean views. The over-the-top Art Nouveau decor and Victorian stained glass will instantly transport you to a time before cell phones and social media preening.

Comprising six restored Victorian buildings and a main mansion, Crowne Pointe Historic Inn is centrally located among Provincetown points of interest, one block from the shops, bars, and restaurants of Commercial Street, near Pilgrim’s Monument. The grounds include the exclusive Kiehl’s Shui Spa, exceptional dining at the Pointe Restaurant, in-suite fireplaces, and a small but lovely outdoor swimming pool. Across the street, the owners also operate a sister inn, the Brass Key, that’s also home to one of Provincetown’s trendiest little gay bars, the Shipwreck Lounge.

The East End’s Salt House Inn has beautifully appointed rustic interiors that have a decided flair for contemporary design—rooms feature clean lines, white walls, vintage signs and artwork, and top-of-the-line C.O. Bigelow bath products. The daily changing country breakfast, featuring local, seasonal ingredients, includes dishes like house-made granola, basil and goat cheese frittata, and bourbon caramel cake.

Watch the sunrise and hear the seagulls from your wharf cottage at Poor Richard’s Landing. This artist-friendly East End community has housed notable guests from Tennessee Williams to John Waters, and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular with creative types once you enter the sculpture-filled garden and find your room among the small weathered-shingle buildings overlooking Provincetown Harbor.

Adam's Nest | Photo: Emil Cohen

Adam's Nest | Photo: Emil Cohen

Things to do in Provincetown

While there’s plenty of coastal scenery and cultural activities to keep you occupied in town, it’s well worth your time to explore the unique geography and quiet charm of the surrounding Outer Cape. For a memorable and relaxing beach day, you have two large areas nearby to explore, both of them part of Cape Cod National Seashore. A short distance from the West End of town, Herring Cove Beach has calm waters, white sand, and an outdoor snack bar operated by Far Land Provisions, which serves very good food. It’s perfect for a lazy afternoon in the sun. Just around the bend, for a dip in the Atlantic, Race Point Beach is an ideal spot to remind you you’re at the edge of the continent, with nothing but blue seas on the horizon. Here you’ll find the fenced sand dunes and deep blue waters that Cape Cod’s beaches are so well known for. One of the best ways to explore the vast sand dunes of Cape Cod National Seashore is on an off-roading adventure with Art’s Dune Tours. You’ll experience the iconic landscape that has inspired countless writers and artists—including Eugene O’Neill and Harry Kemp—and feast on classic New England fare, like steamed lobster, clam chowder, and Portuguese kale soup.

For a change of pace from all the street and beach activity, step into the beautifully designed Provincetown Art Association and Museum to view the latest exhibit and stroll through the shaded sculpture garden. And to take in a view of the Cape from above, just a few paces inland, visit the iconic 252-foot-tall Pilgrim Monument, which commemorates the Mayflower Pilgrims’ first landing in the New World in 1620.

For a scenic jaunt to one of the most charming small towns on the Cape, drive 20 minutes south along US 6 to visit Wellfleet, a picturesque town with a colourful artists’ community. In addition to beaches on both the bay and the ocean, you’ll find galleries and boutiques—many set in historic buildings along Commercial Street—and, of course, local oysters and other delicious seafood. Take in the scenery and try the mouth-watering buttered lobster roll at the casual outdoor seafood restaurant Mac’s on the Pier, at the foot of Commercial Street, overlooking Wellfleet Harbor. For a more substantial dining experience and one of the best seafood meals in the Cape, try their sister restaurant Mac’s Shack, a 10-minute walk north.

Shopping in Provincetown

You’ll find compelling and innovative art and design objects at Room 68, which features contemporarily designed home furnishings from emerging international designers and rotating art exhibits. The small and well-curated Adam’s Nest showcases a subversive, intriguing selection of art, apparel, books, and other hard-to-find-items from provocative queer artists. At Kiss and Makeup you’ll discover a variety of organic, vegan, and natural beauty and grooming products, many of them – beard oils and facial cleaners, for example – geared toward men.

For a quick, refreshing break from shopping, head to Kohi Coffee Company, which is tucked behind a storefront and faces the water, and brews outstanding single-origin beans from Portland, Maine’s Tandem Coffee Roasters. The sandwich shop and speciality grocery store Pop+Dutch is hard to miss with its cheerful sign selling “Sandwiches. Salads. Lube.” (a nod to the building’s past, as it was once known as the “S&M deli”). Don’t let the odd combination fool you—the food is good, too! Sandwiches include the Agent Dale Cooper (house-made turkey breast and avocado) and the egg and cheddar breakfast brioche with cherrywood-smoked bacon. 141 Market carries fresh produce and gourmet goods—an organic juice bar serves combinations like fennel-strawberry-mint and sweet potato-maca-almond butter and a vegetarian and vegan hot bar that features Thai, Middle Eastern, Mexican, and other international dishes on a rotating basis. To indulge in some local snacks and sweets, try the one-two punch that is Canteen and Happy Camper. Canteen has classic New England standbys like lobster rolls and clam chowder, while Happy Camper can sate a sugar craving with anything from black tea-and-plum crème doughnuts to honeycomb ice cream.

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