Dreaming of an all-American, bunting and burgers kind of summer beach vacation this year? Then the hurdy-gurdy, loud lewdness of Commercial Street in Provincetown, Massachusetts is for you — the first and original summer beach resort in America, perched on the very tip of Cape Cod.
Join throngs of foot traffic that battle throngs of car-laden, lost tourists on the one-lane, one-way main street that dissects downtown P’town from east to west. The west end beckons party boys, their boozy BFF “girlfriendz,” bears and muscle boys. A few well-heeled Cape Cod tourists and Boston ferry day-trippers — kids and strollers in tow — share casual west-end Herring Cove or Race Point Beach time.
Galleries, gardens and grub
I prefer tranquil, easy, east-end Provincetown where Commercial Street is less gaudy and less busy, but nonetheless inviting, interesting and engaging — and mostly inhabited by locals. Galleries and restaurants abound; Harbour Town Beach is perfect for low-tide-morning or pre-cocktail-evening strolls.
Once a tranquil Portuguese fishing village, the only true Portuguese reference in town these days is Provincetown Portuguese Bakery, a fixture in town for generations. The bakery is famous for traditional Portuguese malasadas (a type of fried doughnut), Portuguese pastries and hearty breakfast and lunch fare.
At Far Land Provisions, my personal favourite and a popular must-stop in P’town, discover perfect beach provisions of sandwiches — Pilgrim Lake (turkey and cranberry) or The Ballston (ham, cheddar and bacon) — organic coffee and the best breakfast sandwiches (organic eggs if you ask!) on an English muffin, croissant or fresh bagel. Lunch offerings include mac ’n’ cheese, salads and wonderful take-away deli items.
Can’t get to Far Land’s Bradford Street location before your sunny beach time? No worries — check out their new concession at Herring Cove Beach. It offers a more limited menu selection than their downtown store, but with fresh and inviting items such as lobster salad rolls, pulled pork sandwiches, cod cake sliders and their more popular deli sandwiches, you can have all you need for your picnic on the sand dunes of Herring Cove Beach.
Two meals, a brunch and a stroll
Start with breakfast at the friendly Devon’s, an unassuming and tiny white cottage that closes at 1pm then re-opens for dinner. With a dining room that seats just 37, it serves up some of the best food in town — and judging by the continual crowds that wait for seats, you will need to make a reservation in advance.
Continue on with lunch at The Squealing Pig — The Pig, as the locals call it — which serves decent Wellfleet oysters, a very serviceable burger, fish and chips and yummy fish curry. Pair your dish with one of their outstanding selections of bottled and pulled beer and you’ll be the one squealing. The Pig transforms into a local watering hole at night, offering live music on weekends. It’s a nice place to kick back and enjoy a brown pop of choice.
Historic houses and lovely gardens in the east end are certainly worth checking out. Grab an iced coffee (strong!) at Angel Foods, and shop its great selection of (somewhat pricey) basic and specialty grocery items. Discover delicious prepared foods, sandwiches, soups and freshly baked goods that are ideal for packing a gourmet picnic lunch (include blackberry sparkling lemonade and goat cheese yogurt).
Continue your leisurely wander and stop at Suzanne’s Garden, a locally tended perennial garden near the corner of Commercial and Allerton Streets. Set amongst a row of historic houses, this seems to be the spot for outdoor gay weddings in Provincetown.
If your morning continues more like the night before, wander down Commercial for a sizable and spicy bloody mary and brunch at Fanizzi’s. This family-run, Italian restaurant by the sea serves a classic Cape Cod surf ’n’ turf and traditional, over-indulgent desserts, all with lovely views of P’town harbour. If you have aging parents in tow on this vacation, Fanizzi’s offers a Florida-like early bird special to get them fed early and off to bed so you can enjoy the rest of your P’town evening.
Late afternoon and into the sunset
Peruse the stacks of Provincetown’s newly renovated Public Library, with a replica of the Rose Dorothea Schooner dry docked in the main lobby. Take the time to view local artisans’ work from the town’s art collection, housed at the library.
A pre-dinner cocktail at the Harbor Lounge is a must, with its lovely, breezy, sunny lounge, and Liam, the friendly bartender and gadabout. Be sure to take your drink out onto the private wharf and enjoy the early setting sun and sea breeze.
At least once during your stay, start with a pre-dinner martini at The Mews, where local mixologist Pingle Bowden pours from “New England’s largest vodka bar.” Then enjoy a sunset dinner in the oak, brass and neon-trimmed, harbour-facing main room; fresh seafood and grilled meats make this a perennial favourite with both locals and tourists.