Provincetown, located on the very tip of Cape Cod and cradled by the sparkling Atlantic, is proof that sometimes they truly do save the best for last.
P-Town as the locals call it, is known for many things, including its pristine beaches, its booming tourist industry, its artists and galleries and its well deserved status as one of the signature vacation spots for the nations gay and lesbian community.
It also has a storied Irish history, chiefly to be found in the kind of artistic figures who made their homes here over the decades. Eugene O'Neill arrived there as a 27-year-old untested playwright to stage his debut play, “Bound East For Cardiff”, and found that the high tide and the dense fog that helpfully rolled in on opening night were ideal accompaniment to his old sea dog's play.
But the Irish also make their presence felt in the bars, restaurants and bed and breakfasts that roll out the welcome mat to tourists. In fact you'll find them behind the bars, counters, fudge shops and fried clam stands the entire length of the town.
Getting to P-Town couldn't be easier. You can take a plane or a fast ferry via Boston Harbor Cruises (my favorite option, since it provides you with the enjoyable spectacle of arriving in the heart of town) or you can simply drive up the cape, it's your choice.
First timers can find the search for an ideal place to stay in P-Town daunting. I can help you with that. For my money, the venue that offers the perfect combination of upscale accommodations, local charm, location and value for money is The Anchor Inn.
Located on Commercial Street, The Anchor Inn is close to all the attractions while at the same time being a haven from the crowds. It's setting, right in front of the harbor, could not be more ideal. The moment you arrive you'll know it’s something special and it seems they have thought of everything - rooms offer wifi, TV, personal refrigerators, luxury baths, hair dryers and most rooms have private balconies overlooking the P-Town harbor.
The secret to The Anchor is its winning blend of comfort and charm. I can't recommend it highly enough as your ideal base of operations. There's a wide front porch on which to take a seat and people watch in the early evening and the Inn's two labradors Molly and Ginger roll out the welcome mat the way only big friendly dogs know how. Here's the clincher though: The Anchor Inn's attentive and genuinely personable host Chris will give you the 411 on the local scene and do everything he can to make your stay a memorable one. That's the kind of attentiveness that money simply can not buy. Your first stay here is guaranteed to make it the only inn you think of for repeat visits.
The Squealing Pig is a gorgeous, welcoming Irish bar that's a perfect mix of locals and blow-ins. With its low key charm and friendly staff, it provides first time visitors with an ideal way to get to grips with the P-Town scene (and to get away from it, since this bar is a bit of a sanctuary). It's also one of the best places in town to have lunch.
Everyone who goes to P-Town (and pretty much everyone goes there) goes in search of their own private experience. I'm no different. For me Provincetown is all about sea air, swimming, fine dining, nightlife, theatre, and most of all it's about the endless miles of bicycle trails that are among the most breathtaking in the nation.
P-Town is fun, just about any kind of fun. But it's natural beauty provides the restorative experience that only truly memorable vacation destinations can provide. This is a place to quietly renew the spirit on the beach, in the water, on the bike trails or dancing. A morning bike run to the beach or through the pine scented bike trails will cure what ails you for the rest of the year, I promise. And if you haven't brought a bike you can daily rent one for a competitive rate at Arnold's Bike Shop located at 329 Commercial Street.
P-Town's art scene has exploded in the last decade. New galleries abound displaying works at every level, running from the most accomplished to the seaside views and decorative works that are crafted to appeal to tourists. There are so many new galleries now that you won't be able to see them all in one day, but the best place to start is at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum at 460 Commercial Street. They know the scene and they'll help you to navigate it.
Why should you go? Because in Provincetown every side street leads to the sparkling water or it takes you into the leafy undiscovered world of accomplished gardening and Cape Cod architecture. If there was a geiger counter to locate the presence of old world charm it would operate at maximum tilt here. Flowers, climbing vines, fragrant herb gardens, quite unspoiled beaches that stretch for miles, they're on every corner here and they add immeasurably to the charm of the place.
Theatre lovers are going to find P-Town a home away from home. After all Broadway is run by the gays so can you be surprised when they bring a show or two with them on holiday? On our recent visit we caught a new kind of boy band on stage at the surprisingly huge theatre venue Art House, located at 214 Commercial Street. Forget One Direction and say hello to Well Strung. This accomplished all-male string quartet featured classical musicians (who also happened to be muscle bound hunks) who astounded the audience with pieces by Mozart, Vivaldi, Rhianna and Lady Gaga. Well Strung were the perfect P-Town blend of accomplishment and fun and they brought the house down.
The dining in P-Town features attractions to suit all tastes and wallets. One thing you absolutely have to do - I insist - is visit the Provincetown Portuguese Bakery located at 299 Commercial Street to order a freshly made malasada (sweet fried dough) topped with sugar. Imagine the best doughnut you have ever tasted and you still haven't come close to its utter majesty. Forget your figure, you're on vacation you can do this, just buy one.
For our money, some immediate dining standouts included Napi's located at 7 Freeman Street, an American Italian restaurant, which is open for lunch and dinner and features standouts like Portuguese Kale Soup and wonderfully rich Clam Chowder. They feature a fresh catch of the day menu with unmissable dishes like the Cod Provencal (prepared in olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, olives, basil and white wine. We found the place offered a perfect mix of seasonal and seafood dishes and it could easily become your go to restaurant.
Another delightful place we found was the aptly named Jimmy's HideAway (named after Jimmy McNulty, a local who co-owns it) located at 179 Commercial Street. What do you want on a night out on vacation? Great food, great service, strong drinks, attentive waiters and killer deserts. We found this restaurant to excel in all points. Call ahead for reservations (it's popular) and ask for a table facing the water.
The Lobster Pot at 321 Commercial Street obviously places an emphasis on seafood dining. The sea views from the dining area are popular with tourists and make this a pleasant throwback of a restaurant offering signature dishes like the clam chowder, fried clams and baked cod - are all superb (and you can't miss their signature lobster dishes).
Absolutely do not miss Connie's Bakery, located at 205 Commercial Street (in the Aquarium Mall). Their choices, hand prepared by Connie O’Meara, include made-to-order egg sandwiches, fresh muffins, amazing cinnamon rolls, coffee cakes, bagels, croissants, and a full line of coffees and specialty teas. But for us the standouts included the Pulled Pork Pie (I actually want to rebook my vacation just to experience another one, they're that good) which, served with a fresh green salad, can set you up for the entire day. Do not miss this place. It's one of the keys to the real P-Town.