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Best things to do in Provincetown

Best things to do in Provincetown

Best things to do in Provincetown

Perched on the inner tip of Cape Cod’s curling peninsula, Provincetown (also called P-town) has a long and complicated history as a safe harbor. For thousands of years, the indigenous Wampanoag (meaning People of the First Light) lived peacefully along these shores until European colonizers brought disease and destruction in the early 1600s. 

Then, in 1620, the Mayflower Pilgrims sought refuge here, followed by Portuguese fisherfolk and eventually artists, who spent the past century shaping the tiny enclave into a creative colony with city sensibilities. 

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Today, P-town’s classic clapboard architecture might infer Kennedy-style Americana, but its Leave It to Beaver looks get subverted by colorful townsfolk like local legend John Waters. This is a beloved haven for the LGBTIQ+ community, and when summer comes, thousands of visitors turn the town’s main drag into an all-inclusive Pride parade. 

Join vacationers crowding Commercial Street between May and September, kick back on a windswept seashore in spring and fall, or cozy up inside a B&B to brave winter. No matter who you are or when you visit, there’s something exciting to do in Provincetown. 

Rays from a setting sun highlight ripples on the shore of a beach in Provincetown, Mass.
There’s no shortage of stunning beaches in Provincetown, Mass © Douglas Rissing / Getty Images Plus via iStockphoto

Enjoy some sand and surf on P-town beaches  

There’s no shortage of beaches in P-town. Step behind Commercial Street’s harbor-side businesses, and you’ll find yourself on sandy expanses. But if you’re looking for a full-day affair, head to two oceanside escapes far from the main drag. 

Race Point Beach, perched on the Cape Cod National Seashore’s northernmost tip, boasts miles of sandy dunes, wild crashing waves and seemingly endless sunlight. As night descends, wrap yourself in a blanket to admire the sunsets – there’s a reason landscape artists attempt to preserve them in paint. 

If you visit in springtime, keep your eyes on the ocean – it’s possible to see whales breaching in the distance. 

Herring Cove Beach, located just over a mile from Commercial Street, offers a gentler surf on Cape Cod Bay. On summer weekends, families build sandcastles near the parking lot while gay men head south to a slip of sand known as Boy Beach.

To access the queer section, enter at the bike-lined wood fence along Province Lands Road and hike toward the distant grass-topped dunes. On sunny days, brave sunbathers bask in their birthday suits, and the dunes become a cruisy meeting spot. 

Plan your visit around low tide. If you miss your chance, expect to wade through waist-high water while returning to the road. 

Top beaches in Massachusetts 

Hit the high seas in Cape Cod Bay 

Between April and October, the Cape Cod Bay and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary become an essential refuge for all types of whales, including humpbacks, minks and the endangered right whale. Join a boat tour to spot the gentle giants, along with gray seals, harbor seals, and seabirds. 

Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch hosts 3-to-4-hour rides led by experienced naturalists. Bring a pair of binoculars for majestic creature close-ups, and consider popping a Dramamine to stomach rough waters. 

For a laidback seafaring experience, call on Dog Gone Sailing Charters. Lovably gruff Captain Rory brings 40-plus years of sailing experience – and plenty of stories about bygone P-town – to a breezy boat ride around the Cape’s tip. Pack a small picnic, kick back with your beverage of choice, and enjoy Cape Cod from a sailor’s point of view.  

Cyling on the beaches of Cape Cod
 Skip car traffic and use cycling as your way to get around Provincetown © MH Stock / Shutterstock

Cycling is the best way to get around P-town

Park your car and hop on a bike: cycling is P-town’s go-to form of transportation. Cape Cod traffic is notoriously hectic in summer, but with two wheels, you can cruise through town without worrying about congestion. 

If you’re willing to break a sweat, race to the Province Lands Bike Trail, starting at Herring Cove Beach, and glide over the changing landscape of white-sand dunes, scrubby pine forests, and cranberry-filled bogs. The hilly 6.6-mile loop is a welcome respite from Commercial Street’s constant hum. White-tailed deer and cottontail rabbits outnumber rowdy vacationers, and if you plan an early ride, you may get the trail to yourself. Break up the trip by stopping at the Province Lands Visitor Center; check out the observation deck for expansive views.

There are several spots to rent bikes in Provincetown, including Provincetown Bike Rentals and the Bike Shack. Secure a set of wheels before arriving in town. Rentals can be hard to find during peak weekends. 

Go gallery hopping on Commercial Street

Art seems to pour from every door in P-town. Amble along the buzzy main thoroughfare, and you’ll find over 40 galleries chock-full of everything from painted landscapes to modern sculptures. The greatest concentration is on the East End – including William Scott Gallery, a contemporary outfit showing Edward Hopper-style scenes by revered local painter John Dowd. 

Pop in each gallery throughout the day, or join the throngs for Friday night’s Provincetown Gallery Stroll (late May to early October). The artwork might be expensive, but perusing the paintings is free. 

Thanks to its endless vistas and dazzling light, P-town has attracted over a hundred year’s worth of artists to its shores. Jackson Pollock, Ann Packard, Paul Cadmus and Willem de Kooning are a few big names inspired by the town’s picture-perfect backdrop. 

For a comprehensive look at P-town’s arty history, peek inside the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, established in 1914. Admission is free after 5pm on Fridays. 

Shop local at quirky boutiques 

P-town’s unique boutiques are as vibrant as the characters strolling down Commercial Street. Adam’s Nest – an uber-queer clothing-and-art store, sells graphic tees with an activist edge. Order a to-go tea at the Captain’s Daughters while admiring a hip assembly of apparel and homegoods. 

Full Kit Gear is a fetish-forward spot for men’s clothes, and Toys of Eros is popular for its sex-positive treats and adult toy museum. If you’re searching for beach reads by local bards, hunt the shelves at East End Books for Mary Oliver’s poems and Michael Cunningham’s prose (Land’s End: A Walk in Provincetown is a must-read). 

Perhaps more interesting than the shops are the owners. These amiable and often chatty entrepreneurs are like P-town’s caretakers. Stop in, say hello, and remember to be kind. You may bump into them on the dancefloor later in the evening. 

Participants with colourful balloons on their backs run through the streets at the annual Gay Pride parad
Celebrate everything from Pride month to carnival  in Provincetown © Cafebeanz Company / Shutterstock

Find your people at a themed week

The P-town experience changes drastically based on when you choose to visit. Themed weeks and events throughout the year attract particular members of the alphabet mafia, so if you plan on being social, find a theme that suits your style. 

If you can think it, P-town hosts it. Single Women’s Weekend is for unattached lesbians and non-binary folks. Men of Color Weekend, and a separate Womxn of Color Weekend, calls to the LGBTIQ+ BIPOC community. 

July 4th week is popular with muscled party boys, and those who stick around for Bear Week get greeted by a sleuth of hair-happy gentlemen. There are weeks for families, the transgender community, and even leather lovers. The events around town often cater to those visiting. 

To see the Cape at its most colorful, visit for Carnival – a midsummer festival that’s equal parts Mardi Gras mayhem and Pride celebration. Make sure you bring an outfit to match the year’s theme – the event brings in roughly 90,000 attendees, and you don’t want to feel left out of the fun. 

Dive into American history 

Look toward the sky nearly anywhere in town, and you’ll spot the 252-ft tall Pilgrim Monument commemorating the first landing of the Mayflower Pilgrims in America. (The Pilgrims spent five weeks in P-town before sailing to Plymouth Rock in 1620). 

The building, built between 1907 and 1910, is America’s tallest all-granite structure. Climb its 116 steps and you’ll get rewarded with a breathtaking Cape Cod panorama. 

After soaking up the views, head to the adjacent Provincetown Museum, which chronicles P-town’s maritime history with videos, artifacts and dioramas. A new wing of the museum, added in 2020, examines the indigenous Wampanoag Nation, including how 17th-century encounters with European colonists led to their demise. 

A group of people wearing fancy white outfits, attend a tea party in Provincetown.
Come dress to impress for one of P-town’s popular Tea Parties © Joseph Prezioso / AFP via Getty Images

Get rowdy at Tea Dance 

When the clock strikes 4pm, Pavlovian response takes over P-town. It’s time for Tea, which means one thing – gathering together on the Boatslip Resort’s spacious outdoor deck. Tea Dances became an LGBTIQ+  tradition in the 1960s when things like same-sex dancing and serving alcohol to known homosexuals were illegal. Calling gay gatherings “Tea Dances” was a clever way to hide from authorities. 

Today, P-town’s Tea Dance is a three-hour bacchanale where people mingle while drinking anything aside from actual tea. Come dressed to impress – groups often attend in matching attire ranging from baseball tees to drag regalia. 

The tradition runs from May through September; cost is $5 from Monday to Wednesday and $10 from Thursday to Sunday. Arrive early to avoid long lines, particularly on holiday weekends. Bring cash to expedite the process. 

Party all night with the LGBTIQ+ community

Cape Cod locals have a long history of partying hard. Atlantic House, or A-House as it’s often called, started slinging drinks in 1798. Today, it’s one of America’s oldest gay bars and part of a complex, including a larger dance club and a men’s leather-and-Levi joint. 

Order a beer and toast the queer legends who came before you – Tennessee Williams was one – then move next door to cut a rug. 

For something more salacious, drop by Purgatory and strip down to your skivvies. The basement club’s weekly underwear party gets so sweaty you’ll be happy you’re not wearing clothes. 

A rotating roster of themed parties also takes place at Crown & Anchor throughout summer, hosted by expert DJs with big city pedigree. 

Shipwreck Lounge, a cozy queer-forward cocktail spot, is a welcome respite from the thump of loud music. Sit by the roaring fireplace and unwind with a nightcap. 

No matter where you end up, all roads lead to Spiritus. This late-night pizza joint, open till 2am on weekends, is the go-to for post-party munchies. 

 A lobster roll, pickle and bag of local potato chips in Cape Cod
Don’t miss Cape Cod’s most beloved sandwich, the lobster roll © TRAVISBLUE / Getty Images

Gobble up local grub 

Provincetown is packed with locally-owned restaurants and cafes catering to various palates. Eat your way down Commercial Street to sample local flavor. 

Taste the town’s Portuguese history at the Provincetown Portuguese Bakery, dating back to 1900, and wash down one of their creamy pastel de natas with a cold brew from KōHI Coffee Co. The Canteen is best for tacos and salads (including veggie-friendly options), and Relish’s deli sandwiches are great on the go. Place an order early and bring your treats to the beach. 

When it comes to fine dining, Sal’s Place earns high marks. The elevated Italian fare is served in a harbor-side house or outside on the beach, which makes for a romantic evening. Book a reservation in advance to ensure you get a table. 

For something low-key, stop by Provincetown Brewing Co. and sample a flight of the in-house brews with names like Asphalt Glitter and CrandaddySour – they taste as good as they sound. 

If you’re craving surf snacks, throw back a lobster roll at the Lobster Pot or order crab cakes at Mac’s Fish House. P-town was a fishing village long before it became a queer art colony; you won’t find fresher seafood. 

Laugh till your belly hurts at a live performance 

As the sun sets over P-town, the stage lights go up. Waltz down Commercial Street post-dinner to the sounds of buskers, piano bars, and the distant laughter of audiences wafting through the air. 

Crown & Anchor, a historic entertainment complex, hosts two of the town’s big-wig drag artists. Dina Martina – a bedraggled chanteuse whose singing is as hilariously bad as her lipstick – is a summertime must-see; comedienne songstress Varla Jean Merman gives off big Carol Burnette energy. 

Across the street is the Art House, known for Seth Rudetsky’s Broadway Concert Series, featuring some of the biggest names and best belters in showbiz. For smaller acts, including up-and-coming drag performers, cabaret singers, and standup comics, grab a seat at the Post Office Cafe and Cabaret. 

P-town is no stranger to the stage. In 1915, the formation of the Provincetown Players ushered in an American theater revolution by birthing the career of Eugene O’Neill. To catch a full-length play, snag a ticket to one of the chamber pieces at the Provincetown Theater, founded in 1963 (open May through early December).  

This fisherman heads to the water at the Cape Cod Natural Seashore to fish.
The Cape Cod National Seashore attracts nature lovers year-round.© Deb Snelson / Getty Images

Search for solitude at the Cape Cod National Seashore 

Adventure just beyond Provincetown to the Cape Cod National Seashore, where a landscape of shifting coastal dunes attracts nature lovers year-round. Between spring and autumn, hikers take the Dune Shack Trail – a sun-exposed 2.5-mile loop whipped by Atlantic winds and covered in sand. 

The trail passes a series of primitive cottages (dune shacks) initially built to house shipwrecked sailors, then converted into artist retreats in the 20th century. Playwright Eugene O’Neill described it as “a grand place to be alone and undisturbed.” Bring sunscreen and proper footwear – the sand gets blisteringly hot on sunny days. 

If you want to see the dunes without putting in the miles, plan a trip with Art’s Dunes Tours. The off-roading expedition explores the seashore’s history and ecology while seeing some of its most scenic locales. Try the sunset tour or dune-and-kayak tour for a unique look at Cape Cod’s wilderness. 

Join Halloween’s fright fest 

Autumn’s crisp weather means thinner crowds – unless you’re visiting for Halloween. During October’s final weekend, P-town heats up with haunted houses, costume parties, movie screenings and all-night fêtes. 

The ghoulish gathering reaches its climax on Saturday, when visitors stalk Commercial Street in Hallow’s Eve drag before making mischief at Boatslip’s late afternoon Tea Dance. Head to A-House or Crown & Anchor to dance until the devil’s hour. 

Halloween coincides with Spooky Bear Weekend – a themed get-together hosted by the Northeast Ursamen (a bear-centric LGBTIQ+ group). The weekend features a market, dune tour, and costume ball. Although the group caters to furry gay fellows, the vibe is “all are welcome.” 

Get into the supernatural spirit by visiting Winthrop Cemetery, established in 1793, for a run-in with P-town’s oldest permanent residents.

18 picture-perfect Massachusetts lighthouses 

Things to do in Provincetown in the winter   

Winter in P-town is a far cry from the summer’s busy scene. Snow-white blankets cover the beach, and many Commercial Street stores close for the season. It’s a time of year best suited for curling up next to a fire in one of the town’s many inns or hiking through barren dunes without spotting another soul. 

December still draws crowds thanks to Commercial Street’s month-long holiday market and the Christmas-themed Holly Folly weekend, but tourism winds down after New Year’s Eve. 

Make the most of the slow season by visiting spots usually overrun during summer. Mac’s Fish House, Provincetown Brewing Company, and the little bar at A-House are a few gems that remain open year-round, and it’s still possible to catch live performances at Tin Pan Alley. Winter is also the best time to meet locals. 

P-town’s population shrinks below 3,000 in the cold season, and those who stay are a ragtag group of artists, fishers, and small business owners happy to extol the town’s virtues to anyone willing to listen. 

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