A trip to this fishing village turned art colony turned gay-friendly resort town brings you to the tip of Cape Cod, the land narrowing so much as you approach on Route 6 that you can see water on both sides, Atlantic Ocean and Cape Cod Bay. Provincetown is the clenched fist at the end of the slender wrist that is Truro, with the forearm of the Outer Cape towns of Wellfleet and Eastham leading down to the flexed elbow, made up mostly of Orleans and Chatham. As you enter P-town, the dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore loom, as does the 252-foot-high Pilgrim Monument, visible from anywhere in town. From the Pilgrims' landing and five-month stay in 1620, through the town's emergence as a strategic harbor bordered by rich fishing grounds, to the introduction of rail service in 1873, P-town has a long history as a destination.
The two main streets, Commercial and Bradford, run parallel to each other, and Globe critic Robert Campbell has called the town's architecture "random and jumbled, a series of happy accidents." Many a visitor has stumbled upon Little Gorgeous Things
(359 Commercial St., 508-487-6171, littlegorgeousthings.com
), seven connected gallery spaces that wend their way from a courtyard off the street to a lovely small deck jutting into the harbor. More than 100 artists are represented, and the store runs the gamut from fine art to model ships. Puzzle Me This
(290 Commercial St., 888-789-9537 or 888-789-9537, puzzlemethis.com
) offers a rare haven for people who love games and brainteasers. Now Voyager Bookstore & Gallery
(357 Commercial St., 508-487-0848, nowvoyagerbooks.com
, Friday-Sunday through Dec. 31), across from the Provincetown Library, offers bestsellers and classics, a selection of Cape Cod books, greeting cards, and artwork with local themes.
Provincetown has a high concentration of restaurants. The Wired Puppy
(379 Commercial St., 508-487-0017, wiredpuppy.com
) offers coffees, teas, and accessories, along with free Wi-Fi. Try the Hair of the Dog blend. Spiritus Pizza
(190 Commercial St., 508-487-2808, spirituspizza.com
, pizzas $15 and up) opened in 1971 as a pizza parlor, but the legendary late-night meeting spot has added coffee, ice cream, and continental breakfast to its repertoire. Level
(386 Commercial St., 508-487-7800, levelbistro.com
, entrees $22-$35) features nightly specials from pizza to beef Wellington and got a boost when David Plante, Aquitaine Boston's chef, joined David Ogren, Level's chef, for the 2007 summer. Ogren was once Plante's sous chef. Napi's
(7 Freeman St., 800-571-6274, napis-restaurant.com
) bills itself as the town's most unusual restaurant, and owners Napi and Helen Van Dereck integrated antiques, artwork, murals, and sculpture into the construction of the local seafood favorite.
Parking in Provincetown can be difficult, which is why many ride the Bay State Cruise Co. ferry from Boston's World Trade Center. However, it runs only from May through October (baystatecruises.com
, 617-748-1428, $19-$44 one-way). Likewise, the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority shuttle bus loops through town and beaches seven days, but won't roll again until May (800-352-7155, thebreeze.info, $1 per ride). The Crowne Pointe Historic Inn & Spa
(82 Bradford St., 508-487-6767, crownepointe.com
, $120-$329) sits on a 140-year-old sea captain's estate. Its 40 rooms are spread over six restored historic buildings, and it also boasts the Shui Spa, named best day spa on the Cape by Cape Cod Life magazine. The Brass Key
(67 Bradford St., 800-842-9858, 508-487-9005, brasskey.com
, $110-$480) is a series of nine buildings, among them an 1828 sea captain's home, around a terraced courtyard. Many of the rooms at the Somerset House Inn
(378 Commercial Street, 800-575-1850, 508-487-0383, somersethouseinn.com
, $75-$295), an impressive 1845 Victorian, have views of the bay.
The Province Lands area of the national seashore has long inspired writers and artists. Some of the primitive dune shacks where they found solitude are still in use today, and Art's Dune Tours
(4 Standish St., 800-894-1951, 508-487-1950, artsdunetours.com
, $21 adults, $16 children, sunset and clambake tours available) has been providing entertaining one-hour tours since 1946. The area's first European settlers found a mature forest in the area of the dunes, but grazing and clear cutting for firewood and construction of houses and saltworks depleted the vegetation. For a time, the blowing sand threatened to bury Provincetown. The breakwater in the West End, which leads to Wood End Light,
was built in 1911 to prevent sand from washing into the harbor. A walk to the lighthouse on the breakwater, near the West End rotary and Pilgrim Landing Park, is a popular pastime and takes about 30 minutes each way. Check the tides before you go. The Province Lands Visitors Center
(Race Point Road, 508-487-1256, nps.gov/archive/caco/places/provincelands.html
), about a mile from town, sits atop a sand dune about 100 feet above sea level and offers commanding dune and ocean views.
Provincetown casts a whimsical eye at itself, and many businesses are in on the joke. Take the Burger Queen
eatery or the Mussel Beach
fitness club. Nightspots include Club Purgatory
(subtitled "Almost Heaven") at the Gifford Street Inn (11 Carver St., 508-487-8442, theclubpurgatory.com
), and the Governor Bradford Inn
(312 Commercial St., 508-487-2781), which hosts a drag karaoke show nightly with DJ Ali Baba Ganoush on Fridays and Saturdays. The Crown & Anchor
(247 Commercial St., 508-487-1430, onlyatthecrown.com
) features six venues.
The Provincetown Art Association and Museum
(460 Commercial St., 508-487-1750, paam.org
, admission $5) hosts exhibitions, films, and a museum school in an East End space that recently underwent a $5 million renovation. The museum echoes the town's outsize influence in the art world; such artists as Hans Hofmann, Robert Motherwell, Man Ray, Milton Avery, and Andy Warhol were inspired by the light here, which has been described as luminescent because of the reflection off the water and the dunes. Some say it is matched only by that of the Greek isles. Galleries abound, and the Julie Heller Gallery
(2 Gosnold St., 508-487-2169, juliehellergallery.com
) boasts that it houses the most extensive collection of Provincetown art for sale. The gallery occupies space that once was the box office of the Provincetown Playhouse. The Pilgrim Monument and Museum
(High Pole Hill Road, 508-487-1310, pilgrim-monument.org
, adults $7, children $3.50) is a package deal. The tallest all-granite structure in the country was dedicated in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt. It will be lighted for the holidays in a Nov. 21 ceremony.
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.