Flanked by sweeping sea grass and magnificent dunes, Provincetown offers some of the country’s best beaches, a rich art scene and a mix of modern life and old-world charm—all part of why gays and lesbians have been flocking to this particular part of Cape Cod for over 50 years.
In this three-mile long seaside village, the property tax records read like an LGBT organization’s membership roll. Four of five of the town’s city council members (known as Selectmen) are gay. So are the Town Manager, Assistant Town Manager, Town Clerk and Licensing Agent.
In Provincetown it’s more a question of who isn’t than who is. Gays and lesbians are the majority all year long. It’s not a week, or a city block, or two restaurants and a bookstore. It’s not a marketing construct conceived in a tourism director’s office whose state finally woke up to the gay dollar. Mix the freedom and safety of Ptown with Cape Cod’s gorgeous landscape, its famous light and salt-tinged sea air and the effect is one you’ll always remember.
Provincetown is bordered by the Cape Cod National Seashore –43,604 acres of shoreline and upland landscape, lighthouses, historic structures, beaches, nature trails and bike paths. It’s also home to Herring Cove, one of only two lesbian beaches in the whole country (the lesbian section is southeast of the beach’s parking lot).
In summers past, Ptown hosted the likes of Eugene O’Neil, Tennessee Williams and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Here now and riding their bikes on Commercial Street are Michael Cunningham, Andrew Sullivan and Kate Clinton. Keep your eyes open; during the high season you’re likely to see Rachel Maddow, Martina, Billie Jean, Rosie and Anderson Cooper.
As with any coastal resort, summer is the season to be in Provincetown. It’s also when thousands of tourists and summer residents make their way “down Cape.” Bus trips bring clueless, straight day-trippers who usually recede by night. The town is home to 1,800 year-round residents that swell to an estimated 40,000 in the summer. If you’re old enough to have ever watched Petticoat Junction, you’ll appreciate that some of the locals keep track of the time by listening for when the Cape Air planes take off.
The town was, and is, a magnet for writers, artists and social commentators. In the 1890s American painter Charles Hawthorn brought his friends from New York to Provincetown, planting the seeds for the place to become an art colony and gay mecca. The local theater scene has a rich history; Eugene O’Neill wrote some of his plays in Provincetown back in 1914. Provincetown Theater (238 Bradford Street, 508-487-9793, provincetowntheater.com), is home of the Provincetown Theater Company and the Provincetown Repertory Theatre.
Commercial Street is Ptown’s bustling center. You’ve never seen so many gays crowding the restaurants and bars or walking through the streets holding hands. The town’s by-laws have kept out national franchises, keeping Ptown’s charm intact.
It’s always show time on Commercial Street. In the summer, there’s an abundance of entertainment choices from comedians and author readings to jamming dance parties and both types of drag shows. Provincetown is one stop shopping for lesbian entertainment. Kate Clinton, Lea DeLaria, Jennie McNulty and Mimi Gonzalez take up summer residence here. Suede lives in the next town over. Women’s Week brings a
tidal wave of the rest, including Suzanne Westenhoefer, Vickie Shaw, Karen Williams, Michele Balan, Judy Gold–you name them, they’re here.
For retail therapy, shopping in Ptown can’t be beat. Commercial Street is lined with shops, restaurants, clubs, inns and art galleries. Womencrafts (376 Commercial Street, womencrafts.com) has been around for nearly thirty years and offers jewelry, books, music and other necessities. Explore Cerutti’s (373 Commercial Street) for funky crafts, pottery and glasswork. Turning Point (379 Commercial Street) features clothing for women and men and Undercover (361 Commercial Street, undercoverlinen.com) is a lesbian owned shop featuring high-end bedding.
There are treasures to be found everywhere, the The HRC Action Center & Store (205-209 Commercial Street) has all your activist needs. Or shop D. Flax (214 Commercial Street) for fun stuff like T-shirts and hers and hers jewelry. You’ll also find candy stores with salt-water taffy, and women owned shops featuring designed-by-us sex toys. There are over 100 lesbian owned businesses alone, giving Ptown the distinction of having the highest per capita rate of women owned businesses. Before your visit check out the Provincetown Business Guild (ptown.org), an organization of gay and gay-friendly businesses.
Don’t miss the unique offerings of Ptown’s numerous art galleries. Passions Gallery (336 Commercial Street) specializes in lesbian themed art and features work by Colette Hébert, Paula Vazquez, Judy Francesconi and others.
You’ll find lesbian community everywhere, but specifically, Girl Power Events and The Women Innkeepers create annual opportunities for women to gather. Some great choices are Single Women’s Weekend (the third weekend in May), Women of Color & Friends Weekend (first weekend in June), Girl Splash: The Summer Women’s Party (third week of July). This year marks the 25th anniversary of Women’s Week. It runs in October (10 days starting the Friday before Columbus Day). And there’s the unofficial Baby Dyke weekend over Memorial Day.
Provincetown is a five or six hour drive from New York. If you aren’t a driver, the bus is a reliable, cheap, but slightly arduous way to go. Greyhound (greyhound.com) is available everywhere and Peter Pan bus lines offer incredibly cheap trips from all over New England. If you prefer to travel a little more comfortably, you can take Amtrak (800-usa-rail) or fly to Boston’s Logan Airport and connect to Cape Air (800-352-0714, www.flycapeair.com) for the 20-minute flight to Provincetown’s airport.
The Boston ferry is an option if you are heading in straight from Boston. Contact Bay State Cruise Company (617-748-1428, baystatecruises.com) for either the 90-minute rapid ferry ($59 round trip) or the three-hour conventional ferry ($29 round trip).
If you need a place to stay, Gabriel’s (104 Bradford Street, 800-969-2643, gabriels.com) has a largely female clientele, and Rose Acre (5 Center Street, 508-487-2347 roseacreguests.com) is a woman owned inn. Womeninnkeepers.com is a quick way to search for women owned places. You just fill out one form on the site and they forward your request for availability to seven different inns.
For affordable digs try Dexter’s Inn (6 Conwell Street, 888-521-1999) and Carl’s Guesthouse (68 Bradford Street, 800-348-2275). There are plenty of budget motels and cute B&Bs but keep in mind most require a multiple-night stay during high season. About half of the 100 or so lodging establishments are open year-round. All have substantially lower rates in the off- season, and you can find great bargains from mid-September through mid-June.
The dining scene offers everything from foot longs to foie gras. Check out the absolutely fabulous lesbian owned eateries that include Front Street (230 Commercial Street), Lorraine’s (133 Commercial Street), Karoo Kafe (338 Commercial Street), and Chach (73 Shank Painter Road). Central House Grill, The Mews, Victor’s, and Connie’s are also sure to delight.
Drag your booty to the top of the 250-foot Pilgrim Monument. It’s $7 to climb to the top and on a clear day you can see forever, or at least 42 miles to Boston. The Provincetown Museum, which houses a copy of the Mayflower Compact, is at the foot of the tower and is certainly a great stop.
Visit the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (508-487-1750). Have Art’s Dune Tours (corner of Commercial and Standish Streets) take you to places you never thought you’d go. Call Jody’s Taxi (180 Commercial Street) and have her drop you off at Ptown Bikes. Don’t miss going on a whale watch; people come to Ptown from all over the world for this very reason. Several firms offer whale watching cruises and they all basically guarantee you’ll see whales. One choice is Dolphin Fleet Whale Watching (McMillian Pier, 508-240-3636). They offer commentary by experts from the Center for Coastal Studies and charge $24 per person for adults.
Even though it’s mostly boys, don’t forget to go to Tea Dance at The Boatslip (161 Commercial Street ) at least once before it goes the way of the Oscar Wilde Bookshop. Sip a latté outside of Wired Puppy, Cicchetti’s or Joe’s and people watch. Have a drink on the deck of The Pied (193 Commercial Street).
You won’t have time to do everything. But after spending the day with the lesbians at Herring Cove Beach, take your lover back to your inn and try not to disturb the neighbors. Then go back to Herring Cove one more time to watch the sunset; maybe even pop the question. This is Massachusetts after all, and since May 14, 2004 Provincetown alone has issued over 2,000 same-sex marriage licenses. If a Ptown wedding is in your cards, visit the City Clerk’s office located in Town Hall on Commercial Street for a piece of paper to make you wife and wife.