June is Pride Month, which means it’s one of the best possible times to visit Provincetown, Massachusetts. Located at the extreme tip of Cape Cod, Provincetown is a ghost town during the winter months, with most local shops and venues closed “for the season.” But come May, when the ferry starts running regular trips between Boston and MacMillan Pier, P-Town comes alive.
Provincetown has been a popular gay mecca for decades, and is extremely proud of its queer roots and inhabitants. Rainbows line the main thoroughfare — Commercial Street — and particularly in June, that same street is absolutely packed with people relishing the freedom that comes with complete acceptance of all people.
If you’ve never been, Provincetown is a unique place offering so many experiences in such a small area that it can be a little overwhelming (particularly when the summer crowds get rowdy.) Visitors are heartily encouraged to explore to their heart’s delight, but it can be helpful to have a few destinations in mind before you go. Here are just a few of our recommendations.
You can drive to Provincetown, but in the summer it’s not the best option. Cape Cod is a mega-popular weekend destination, and traffic gets extremely congested near the bridges that provide access. (There is currently construction, as well, so a drive that usually takes two hours from Boston can take closer to 5 hours!) The best way to get to P-town is to take a ferry, either from Boston or Plymouth, which makes the trip far more enjoyable. This site helpfully breaks down the many ferry options.
P-town hosts theme weeks almost all summer long, with huge hosted parties, parades, and art events galore. These theme weeks aren’t designed to be exclusive so don’t be intimidated if you don’t quite fit the bill, although you should be prepared for the population of P-town to drastically change from week to week. For example, June is Pride Month, yes, but it also pays homage to Juneteenth and the celebration of gay people of color. July 8th-15th, on the other hand, is “Bear Week,” when the tiny town suddenly becomes overrun with massive, bearded men. Women get their time, too, from the 19th to the 23rd of July with “Girl Splash,” and queer families are celebrated the week after. For more information on the celebrations, visit their official webpage here.
Provincetown owes its unique, diverse flavor to the artists who call it home. One of the best places to enjoy their work is the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, or as the locals call it, PAAM. The museum strives to display the works of the Provincetown Art Colony and its connection to American Art history by including historic and contemporary pieces in their ever-growing permanent collection. The museum is also host to an always-changing lineup of exhibitions, classes, lectures, film screenings, and cultural events, so it looks different almost every time you go. It is closed on Tuesdays during the summer, but encourages walk-ins every other day of the week.
Less formally, artists have private studios all over P-town, and many work with their doors open so people can wander in and explore galleries at their own leisure. Commercial Street or MacMillan Pier are great places to appreciate some of these artists and purchase their work, but it’s even more exciting to “discover” a smaller artist down one of the many side streets. Be sure to explore the wild murals down an alley just past Shop Therapy, which is located at 286 Commercial Street.
People-watching while walking down Commercial Street is often entertainment enough, but we highly recommend seeing a show or two while you’re in P-town. The options include drag shows, cabarets, karaoke nights with flamboyant guest stars, and broadway-style spectacles. Popular productions are advertised all along Commercial Street if you need ideas, such as Zoe Lewis & the Souvenirs at The Club, and the Showgirls Monday Night Talent Show at the Atlantic House (or A-house, if a local gives you directions.) The Crown and Anchor is another historic entertainment complex, with multiple venues hosting a variety of entertainment options. For a smaller, more personal experience, The Post Office Cafe has an amazing Drag Brunch that will sate your appetite and blow your socks off. It’s a good idea to get advance tickets to any show you’ve set your heart on, as they tend to fill up quickly.
Provincetown has 45 miles of beaches, but among the best are Race Point Beach and Herring Cove. Run by the National Park Service. Race Point Beach has miles of soft sand and picturesque dunes. The fee to enter is $25 per vehicle during the summer months, which is well worth it for clean restrooms and changing facilities. It’s also home to the historic Race Point Lighthouse, which is worth checking out.
Herring Cove, also run by the NPS, is one of Provincetown’s largest beaches and is a popular spot to admire sunsets. Herring Cove faces west, into Cape Cod Bay, so the waves (if there are any) are and the water is slightly warmer than the angry Atlantic on the other shore. The Herring Cove Bathhouse is well-maintained and has an excellent snack bar. (FYI: If you visit Herring Cove, be advised there is a “queer” section. If you enter at the wood fence along Province Lands Road and hike towards the dunes, you may stumble upon a loosely-enforced nude beach situation.)
While you’re enjoying the great outdoors, the Province Lands Bike Trail is a scenic 5.25 mile bike trail that weaves through the dunes and parts of Beech Forest, and is worth doing at least once. The trail provides access to a number of popular beaches, and the bike entry fee is cheaper than paying for a vehicle.
As we’ve mentioned, Provincetown packs a whole lot into a tiny town. We’ve covered the basics, but here are a few more things you shouldn’t miss — even on a quick visit. Commercial Street, the main pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare, features three miles of galleries, shops, cafes, bars, and dispensaries. (Yes, the ones that sell weed. The budtenders are knowledgeable and really want to help you enjoy your time in P-Town. If you’ve never been to a legal dispensary, here’s the 411.) While you’re enjoying the crowds and shops along Commercial, be sure to stop into the Provincetown Portuguese Bakery. Portuguese sailors helped build Provincetown after the American Revolution, and this cafe honors their heritage with some of the best pasteis de nata and patinhas devaedo you’ll ever have this side of the Atlantic.
For a spectacular view, climb the hill to see the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, which commemorate the original landing of the Mayflower in 1620. Or, you can experience the Cape by boat on one of the many whale-watching and dolphin tours available from MacMillan Pier. Captain John Boats has a great reputation for knowing where to find the humpbacks, minks, and right whales, as well as gray and harbor seals. Finally, you can’t leave Provincetown without having Wellfleet Oysters. The locals swear that the best place to get them is at Old Colony Tap, but you can enjoy them just about anywhere they’re offered.