The first time I visited Provincetown, Massachusetts, I was a young dyke who was escaping from personal drama in Northampton, a town known as Lesbianville, U.S.A., even back in 1989, when I followed a girlfriend there. In the six months since arriving I’d had my heart broken, had to move three times, been fired for being a lesbian, and been held up at gunpoint. When a housemate suggested I go to P-town for a few days to clear my head, I jumped at the chance. It was off-season and a lesbian inn owner she knew let me stay in one of the rooms for free. I credit the psychological space that the seaside solitude afforded me with literally saving my life.
And yet, in the ensuing decades, after I went back to my western roots, met my lovely wife, moved to California, and matured into the transgender magazine editor I am today, I never returned to P-town. Until this year. In some ways the queer tourist town hasn’t changed in the past 30 years. But I certainly have. I don’t have the kind of adrenaline-and-alcohol-fueled drama that I did in my 20s.
I was happy to arrive in the offseason (before mask mandates were lifted but after indoor meals returned). I came and went well before the rise of the Delta variant that would run through P-town like wildfire, leaving nearly 1,000 confirmed cases despite 75 percent of those being among the immunized. Provincetown made it through unscathed, with no deaths and few hospitalizations. The town says it’s an even safer place to visit since they learned from the experience.
On the narrow tip of Cape Cod, the town of under 3,000 (during the summer it can swell to 60,000) is immensely walkable and bikeable. Ptown Bikes provides convenient rentals, and most inns in town have bicycles as well.
The lesbian-owned Womencrafts Provincetown
With narrow streets and a fair amount of pedestrian traffic, it’s hard to maneuver a car around and I was happy to arrive on Bay State Cruise Company’s Provincetown Fast Ferry from Boston Harbor. The 90-minute trip down the coast was beautiful. Provincetown’s bustling Commercial Street is crowded with quaint shops and busy restaurants.
Crown & Anchor crème brûlée
Although I spent much of my visit away from the main street, I returned every evening. At the Crown & Anchor for dinner and a drag show I especially enjoyed the crème brûlée. The show was engaging, but I admit I was underdressed for the evening's cold breeze.
Strangers & Saints
This onetime fishing village serves incredible fresh fish. While in town I also partook of Oysters Rockefeller at Lobster Pot and oysters on the half shell at Strangers & Saints, known equally for its inventive cocktails as its new American cuisine (I enjoyed a Lady Alden’s Dress made with lemon and mandarin juices and a touch of lavender syrup).
The Pointe Restaurant’s Tuna Poké was also delectable (above).
As I walked back to the hotel after dark I passed the pilgrim monument, which commemorates Provincetown for being the place that the pilgrims first came ashore. Whether the arrival of the pilgrims should be celebrated or not can depend upon your heritage and the color of your skin. But I do like that the first place the Puritans visited has become one of the queerest towns in America.
Room at The Stowaway
When I tell my wife I’m staying at The Stowaway on Bradford Street, she reminds me that the Plymouth colony’s first governor, William Bradford, is one of her distant relatives (on one side of the family — on the other are the Indigenous peoples of this land).
8 Dyer Hotel
Stowaway’s proprietor is Steven Azar, and his lovely property was a fabulous launch pad for a week of adventures. Another option for accommodations in town is the B&B 8 Dyer Hotel, owned and operated by a lovely gay couple, Steven Katsurinis and Brandon Quesnell. Both properties have perfected the art of contactless stays.
Fox Run Old Colony Nature Pathway
Indeed, the inn’s cross street, Howland, leads to a number of lovely trails. I wandered down the Fox Run Old Colony Nature Pathway and later hiked up a trail into the Beech forest near the campground in The Cape Cod National Seashore. The seashore, managed by the National Parks Service, stretches more than 43,000 acres along the state’s coast, and it is one of the reasons P-town retains its character. The protected wetlands and dunes host a wide range of wildlife.
The dunes of The Cape Cod National Seashore
You can access the National Seashore by car, bike, or on foot; but the most fun may be on one of Art’s Dune Tours. Started in 1946 by Art Costa, the business is now in the capable hands of Art’s gay son, Rob (below).
Rob, owner of Art's Dune Tours
Rob showed me where he and his husband said their vows, introduced me to the dune ecosystem, and delivered me to Race Point Beach just in time to catch a spectacular sunset. You can book a campfire dinner, and Art’s will provide the s’mores and beach chairs.
Sunset at Race Point Beach
Around the bend, Herring Cove Beach is more protected from the Atlantic and is a popular swimming destination. Known as Boys Beach it also draws onlookers from an unexpected direction.
The author sailing with Moment Sailing Adventures captain Kendall
Charters from Provincetown will happily sail or power around the horn and anchor off the beach for swimming and sightseeing. I booked a private sail aboard the 47- yacht with Moment Sailing Adventures. Captains Chris and Kendall sailed me around for several glorious hours. They are happy to teach those who want to learn, but I preferred sitting in the bow with a stupid grin on my face as the spray misted my skin. Having a trans woman captain made me realize how rarely tour operators or guides are trans or nonbinary.
On my final day, the tides were out as I walked along the beach to the ferry dock. At its highest elevation Provincetown peaks at 100 feet. The bay slopes gently and the beach is so shallow that low tides reveal wide expanses of glistening sand and small tidal pools. In the clear waters horseshoe crabs, looking like ancient evolutionary holdovers, were mating, proving once more that P-town can be a wild time even during the off-season.
This piece initially ran in Out Traveler print issue #25. You can read the digital version of the issue here.