Provincetown is renowned for its vibrant queer and gay community and its deserved reputation as an artist enclave. It’s also known for its natural beauty. Province Lands, the name given to the Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS) within Provincetown’s borders, offers bike trails and three remote beaches, where, if you walk far enough, you can find real isolation.
Most summertime visitors venture onto the water — to whalewatch or sail and sailboard in the protected harbor. A different perspective comes with a dune or aerial tour.
Provincetown is a delight in late spring and fall, when upwards of 80,000 summer visitors return to their homes off-Cape. Commercial Street is navigable once again, and most shops and restaurants remain open. Tiny gardens bloom profusely, well into October.
From January to March, though, the town is given back to the almost 3,000 hardy year-rounders — almost half of whom are unemployed during this time. Although about 80 percent of the businesses close during January and February, there are still enough guesthouses (and a handful of restaurants, especially on the weekends) open all winter, luring intrepid visitors with great prices and stark natural beauty. Steel yourself against the wind and take a walk on the beach, attend a reading at the Fine Arts Work Center, or curl up with a good book.
Pick up and/or visit Provincetown Magazine.
I’ll keep it to a few highlights, though: In 1620 the Pilgrims first set foot on American soil in Provincetown, anchoring in the harbor for 5 weeks, making forays down-Cape in search of an agreeable spot to settle. By the late 1600s and early 1700s, only 200 fishermen lived here.
From the mid-18th to the mid-19th century, Provincetown was a bustling whaling community and seaport. After the industry peaked, Portuguese sailors from the Azores and Cape Verde Islands, who had signed on with whaling and fishing ships, settled here to fish the local waters. But by the early 1900s, Provincetown’s sea-driven economy had slowed. Today, although a small fishing industry still exists, tourism is the steam that drives the economy’s train.
In 1899 painter Charles W. Hawthorne founded the Cape Cod School of Art. He encouraged his Greenwich Village peers to come north and take advantage of the Mediterranean-like light. By 1916 there were six art schools in town. By the 1920s, Provincetown had become as distinguished an art colony as Taos, East Hampton, and Carmel. By the time Hawthorne died in 1930, the art scene had a life of its own, and it continues to thrive today.
Art’s Dune Tours
Beech Forest Trail
Connie’s BakeryGay Provincetown and the Boatslip
Herring Cove Beach
Land’s End Inn
Nor’east Beer Garden
Old Harbor Lifesaving Station
Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum
Province Lands National Seashore
Provincetown Art Association and Museum
Provincetown Art GalleriesProvincetown Hotel at Gabriel’s
Provincetown’s Commercial Street Shops
Race Point Beach
If you’ve fallen in love with the Cape and want to take a deeper dive with exploring, my Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket: An Explorer’s Guide has been the region’s travel bible since it was first published in 1995.
Stop into your local indie bookstore, or order it on Amazon. Help keep the guide alive. Thanks!