To the right, picturesque clouds hover over wind-swept dunes, blue waters and the aroma of salt in the air. To the left, a scantily clad drag queen rides a bicycle - tattoos adorn both cheeks (not on the face) and Cher's club mix blares from the cassette player in the basket, accompanied by the rapid ting-a-ling of the bicycle bell. The time: 6 p.m. on a Saturday in July. The place: Provincetown.
Provincetown is the northernmost tip of Cape Cod's curly tail. The town became a Portuguese whaling and fishing community in the mid-18th century and evolved in the early 1900s into a distinguished art colony, which it remains today. A beautiful 3-mile stretch of galleries, cool shops, delicious food and incredible, old mansions, it's a welcoming locale for the open-minded family's vacation, a romantic getaway and, without a doubt, a mecca for lesbians and gay men from around the world.
There are over 30 miles of beach in Provincetown, all part of the Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS). The 2 main beaches are Herring Cove and Race Point. Herring Cove is the busier of the 2 beaches, is calmer and warmer than the shores of Race Point. Each beach is accessible by shuttle bus, bicycle or foot, and if you go a bit farther from the tourists, after passing an occasional strip of nude bathers, you are certain to find peace and isolation.
Where to Stay
The Copper Fox
A former Federal Colonial house built in 1856, the Copper Fox was recently restored and converted into an elegant 7-unit guesthouse with a homey feel. The house is directly across the street from the Cape Cod Bay in the East End Gallery District - quieter than the heart of Commercial Street but only a short walk to the action. The wide, plush front lawn leads to a sprawling wrap-around porch with superb views of the harbor. The sunroom, the expansive gardens and the 2 spacious common areas give a cohesive feel to the already cozy house. Two apartments are available with fully-equipped kitchens and living rooms, and both may join additional bedrooms on their respective floors to accommodate parties of 4 or more. Continental breakfast and afternoon tea are served daily both in the dining room and on the porch.
Best Luxurious Hotel
The Brass Key Guesthouse
Revel in these luxuries you will find at the Brasskey: Godiva chocolates on your goose down pillow; iced tea and lemonade by the heated, outdoor pool in the enclosed brick courtyard; endless antiques; cozy fireplaces; wine, beer and cheese hour in the evening; TV and VCR; and a rooftop observation deck with a panoramic view of Provincetown. The Brasskey is a delightful haven one block from the roaring activity of Provincetown's Commercial Street. There are 33 private-bath guestrooms - 10 with gas fireplaces, nine with whirlpool bath, 3 with private decks and all with big, fluffy robes and towels. The guesthouse is in a private, gated compound that consists of a restored captain's whaling house built in 1828, a Victorian mansion and adjacent carriage house, a traditional Provincetown Greek Revival residence and three quaint cottages.
Best Family Hotel
The Masthead Cottages, Apartments and Motel
These spacious, light, airy and well-maintained cottages are over 100 years old. Each cottage has a large picture window facing the water, a fully equipped kitchen with refrigerator and coffeemaker, telephone and slightly dated but comfortable furnishings. The boardwalk on the property has lounge chairs and provides access to the 450-foot private beach. Cribs and rollaway beds are available at no charge, and children under 12 stay for free. Charcoal grills are provided on the beach, as are clean towels. All rooms have air conditioning and color TV and some have a VCR and microwave.
Best Budget Accommodation
Breakwater Motel, Motor Inn & Apartments
This straightforward motel offers clean, comfortable rooms - many overlooking Provincetown Harbor and Cape Cod Bay. Fully equipped two-bedroom apartments are available directly on the beach. All rooms have private bath, cable TV, maid service, pets (with approval from management), and access to the pool.
Best Ornate Decorations
The Black Pearl
At the Black Pearl, you'll feel like you're in the home of an eccentric, bohemian friend. From the outside, the Black Pearl appears to be a simple blue and white house from the mid-1800s. On the inside, you'll find 6 guest rooms decorated like a children's book illustration, with unreal intricacies in color and style. Four rooms have fireplaces, including the Lullwater Suite, which also has French doors that open onto a private deck with hot tub. The suite, which is in it's own cottage, is air conditioned with a refrigerator, microwave, and cozy den with TV, VCR, stereo and CD player. The Constantinople Room has a Middle Eastern motif and fireplace; the Mesa Verde is completely Southwestern with textured walls, stenciling and a faux adobe bed. Breakfast is a wide array of delicious baked goods.
Food & Drink
Where to Eat
Best Fisherman's Bar
The Old Colony (call it the "O.C.")
Some say they are too intimidated to walk into this down-and-dirty fisherman's "straight tough guy" bar. I found it charming and homey and didn't want to leave. So I didn't for quite a while. The front door has a circular window like a ship's porthole, the wooden ceilings are draped with nets, life preservers, anchors and fishing rope and there's the nice touch of simple seashell ashtrays. Graffiti seems to be encouraged in the bathroom, as is engraving whatever you like in the wooden booths and benches. Classic rock plays from the jukebox and either the Discovery Channel or the local News can be seen on the small TV behind the bar.
Joe Espresso Bar
Organic coffee beans and substantial cups complement the trendy array of cocoa, cinnamon, raw sugar, milk and cream with all possible fat contents. All locals say it's consistently the best java for miles. Yummy pastries, too.
Best Local Seafood
The Lobster Pot
Open daily for lunch and dinner, February-November. Despite the tourist atmosphere, the Lobster Pot is definitely the place for this tasty crustacean. Every imaginable type of prepared lobster is available - boiled, baked, broiled, stuffed, pan-roasted, scampi, Alfredo, Newburgh (a sherry cream sauce) - all delectable. Ask to sit at the "Top of the Pot" deck overlooking Provincetown Harbor - a scenic spot for sunset cocktails or moonlight martinis.
Best Clam Strips
Clem and Ursies
Clem and Ursies is a very casual, rustic roadside joint that offers great value and hearty, delicious dishes. You can order steamed lobster while you wait - either to take home or eat at the picnic tables on the screened-in porch. Select from yummy seafood cakes, homemade bread, imported cheese and deli sandwiches. Choose the retail section or the take-out area, but don't forget the raw bar. Kids are free to run around and be wild, provided parents allow this behavior. Children's meals are available.
Best Bar to Find a Nude Picture of Tennessee Williams
The Atlantic House
Make sure to call it "The A House" if you want to be hip. This is Provincetown's premier gay bar - and a beautifully decorated one at that. Enjoy listening to or even engaging in one of the explicit sex conversations you will be sure to overhear. The downstairs Dance Bar has low ceilings covered with oars, small ornate lamps and a great fireplace. The jukebox includes the expected Judy Garland and various women in jazz. Newspaper clippings from Tennessee William's August 22, 1946, production at the Provincetown Playhouse of "The Unsatisfactory Supper" adorn the walls. An experience at the upstairs Macho Bar can be whatever you decide to conjure up. Check out the private label "A House" liquor bottles with leather-clad studs on the front - and which undoubtedly contain the worst house liquor imaginable.
What to Do
Best Kid Stuff
This museum chronicles the story of the Whydah, the pirate ship of "Black Sam" Bellamy. It is the only pirate shipwreck ever discovered and authenticated in North America. It sank 1,500 feet from Wellfleet's Marconi Beach in 1717 and was raised in 1984 by a local Cape Cod resident. Check out coins, jewels and cannons salvaged from the brig as well as a working conservation laboratory. Pirate facts - the average Whydah pirate was about 5'4" and wore a size 5 shoe; the last woman hanged in Massachusetts, Rachel Wall, was a pirate; there is only one documented report of "walking the plank," dated 1826.
Best Day Trip
Cape Cod Potato Chip Factory
Watch sci-fi robotic machines wash and peel potatoes (28 million pounds a year), see the spuds crackle in 200-gallon vats of hot oil, then watch the sorting, salting and bagging process on the assembly line during this 15-minute, self-guided tour. This factory produces between 150,000 and 200,000 bags of chips a day. A free bag of these fine kettle-fried chips is yours at the end of the tour. Buy a hat or t-shirt at the gift shop, but don't wipe your greasy hands on it. The factory is a one-hour drive south of Provincetown along Route 6.
Best Whale Watching
Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch
The cruise lasts about 3 1/2 hours and comes with an onboard naturalist and scientist from the Center for Coastal Studies. The center has named over 700 humpback whales since 1975 and can provide personal histories on many of the whales you'll see. Learn about humpback, fin, minke and right whales as well as whale behavior and oceanographic data. Bring some sort of outerwear - it gets chilly on the water. Food and cocktails are available in the galley.
Best Dune Tours
Art's Dune Tours
In operation since 1947, this unique tour takes you through the National Seashore Park, where you'll see impressive dunes and dune shacks. The first such shack was built in 1794 as a refuge for shipwrecked sailors. Four of the shacks are available to artists and writers who receive residencies through a lottery system. Some notable tenants include Jack Kerouac, e.e. Cummings, Eugene O'Neill, Norman Mailer and Jackson Pollack.
Best Bike Trails
Those from the Province Lands Visitors Center. A total of 8 miles of hilly, paved trails - around ponds, cranberry bogs and sand dunes - leave from the Visitors Center and run though Province Lands'4,000 acres.
Best Walking Trails
The Beech Forest Trail off of Race Point Road from Route 6 is a sandy, 1-mile trail that circles the shallow Beech Forest Pond before cutting through a forest of beech trees and huge dunes. The Breakwater Trail at the western end of Commercial Street (at the Provincetown Inn) is a mile-long jetty that doubles as a footpath to the secluded Long Point beach. It is a fabulous spot to watch the tide roll in and see the Woodend and Long Point Lighthouses.
Best Local Souvenirs
Provincetown Soap Works Soap
This soap is the only local commodity actually manufactured in Provincetown and exported all over the United States. Owners Lynne Davies and Barbara Levison have created eight organic, refreshing and aromatic body soaps that are reminiscent of all the wonder of the beach without the sand in your bathing suit. Each bar of soap is hand-cut and individually hand-stamped with a view of the town and harbor. They've recently expanded their product line to include lotions, bath salts, teas and more, all with the same fragrances as the soaps and all hand-made and hand-packed. They're available for purchase at most tourist-oriented stores in Provincetown.
Best Largest All-Granite Structure in the United States
Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum
This 252-foot monument commemorates the Pilgrims' landing in Provincetown on November 11, 1620, and their five-week stay in the harbor searching for a decent place to settle. (If you remember anything from 3rd grade history, it must be that they eventually settled elsewhere - does Plymouth ring a bell?) Teddy Roosevelt laid the cornerstone to the monument in 1907 and President Taft dedicated it in 1910. You can climb the 116 stairs to the gargoyle-guarded top where on a clear day you can see 30 miles to Boston. Inside the museum you can view dioramas, dolls, toys, local art and some fabulous specimens from the art of taxidermy. Make sure to wear black leather shoes with buckles and a big, ol' hat.
Best Evening Activity
Countless galleries lie within a few blocks of one another on the east end of town. Many of those have festive receptions in the early evening, especially Fridays. Make sure to check out the D.N.A. Gallery (acronym for "definitive new art") at 288 Bradford Street, above the Provincetown Tennis Club. Also peek into The Schoolhouse Center for Art and Design at 494 Commercial Street.