Global lesbian traveler Kelsy Chauvin shares her insight into Provincetown’s queer-related history as well as a comprehensive list of things to do.
Of all the world’s great LGBTQ+ destinations, few compare to rainbow-streaked Provincetown. The historic harbor town at the tip of Cape Cod has long been a haven for artists and eclectic personalities. And though LGBTQ+ visitors were always drawn to the waterfront hamlet, Ptown shored up its lesbian reputation back in 1984, when a group of women gathered on the beach for a clambake.
That early fall clambake started as a social event to boost tourism for local innkeepers, and over time morphed into one of Ptown’s biggest annual events: Women’s Week. (There’s even a 2015 documentary about it, check out Clambake the movie.)
With a population of just 3,000 residents, visitors will find more lesbian-owned businesses per capita here than anywhere else in the world, spanning restaurants, inns, galleries, and shops. So, here are some hot tips for queer women and the folx who love them to enjoy the LGBTQ+ glory that is Provincetown.
What’s on in October
In 2022, Women’s Week marks its 38th anniversary (Oct. 10-16) and includes the annual Single Women’s Weekend (Oct. 12-15). With more than 200 events, queer women come from all over the world to soak up music and comedy shows, hit the beach, play sports, tour the dunes, and of course, dance.
But Provincetown famously hosts festivals and theme weeks all year long, including lesbian events like late May’s MEMDAY Weekend, early June’s Womxn of Color Weekend, and July’s Girl Splash, plus June Pride, August Carnival, and a steady stream of fabulous celebrations from spring through the holidays.
Where to Eat
Stroll the main drag that is Commercial Street for seemingly endless dining choices, including The Club, a restaurant, bar, and cabaret co-owned by Lea DeLaria, with comfy indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the bay. Fantastic performers take the stage nightly at 9 pm (no cover), and savvy guests book dining reservations for prime seats and delicious eats to make a night of it.
Centrally located at the ever-popular Crown & Anchor is Balena, an elegant restaurant helmed by Executive Chef Raina Stefani. Head here for the killer raw bar and superb cocktails, and stay for expertly made seaside dishes that lean heavily into seasonal produce.
Nearby is The Canteen, a counter-service seafood restaurant with a huge open-air back patio and bar. Get even more local vibes at the Portuguese Bakery, serving mouthwatering treats since 1936, including malassadas, the deep-fried pastry dough covered in cinnamon and sugar. Across the street, The Mayflower’s old-fashioned diner vibes suit the traditional seafood menu along with some of the best-ever Portuguese kale soup.
For a romantic evening, you should consider booking an indoor or patio table at Strangers & Saints, serving Mediterranean-inspired dishes inside a former sea captain’s home. The décor is charming, the cocktails are spectacular, and the food is some of the best you’ll find in Provincetown, serving artisanal pizza, unforgettable small plates, and shareable entrées.
One block up from Commercial on Bradford Street is the charming Mistralino, a beloved local restaurant serving rustic Italian cuisine, fresh seafood, and seasonal specials. Book a table on the roomy covered terrace, inside the atmospheric dining room, or enjoy well-made cocktails and bites at the upstairs bar.
Planning a picnic or beach day? Grab top-notch sandwiches and yummy baked goods at Pop+Dutch, and hit Connie’s Café for an especially tasty vegetarian takeout menu. Pick up vino at adorable Perry’s Fine Wines and stock up on an assortment of cheese, charcuterie, sweets, and home-bar provisions.
Where to Play
Entertainment leads the to-do list in Ptown, so kick off your trip by browsing calendars and booking ahead for stand-up comedy, Broadway singers, and drag performers hitting stages at The Art House and the always zesty Crown & Anchor—where drag legend Varla Jean Merman just celebrated her 25th year.
One of the most popular activities is whale watching, and a trip with Dolphin Fleet will take you right into the whale sanctuary off Cape Cod, where you may spot magnificent humpbacks, fin, minke, and other sea mammals like dolphins and seals. For more marine-biology intel, drop by the new Atlantic Shark Center on MacMillan Pier to learn all about Great Whites and other sharks and ocean life.
Dune tours are off the radar for many visitors, but they’re one of the most memorable Ptown experiences. Join the family- and gay-owned Art’s Dune Tours (founded in 1946) to enter the limited-access Cape Code National Seashore via a four-wheel SUV, and learn about the truly spectacular landscape, fascinating flora and fauna, and unique fisherman-turned-artist shanties that dot the rolling dunes.
In town, don’t miss a visit to the iconic Pilgrim Monument, the historic tower that marks Ptown from miles around. At its base is the Provincetown Museum, with permanent exhibits telling the story of this original fishing village, including its LGBTQ+ history, all the way back to the Mayflower Compact of 1620—the country’s first document to establish self-government in the New World. The museum’s artifacts and exhibits also tell the story of the indigenous Wampanoag tribe, the first nation to have dwelled on Cape Cod. By the way, there’s also a brand-new outdoor elevator to transport you from Bradford Street up the hill to the museum and monument.
Dive into local women-centric culture with a visit to the feminist bookstore, boutique, and gallery Womencrafts, which hosts occasional readings and small events. As the country’s first art colony, Ptown is home to an array of art galleries mainly along Commercial Street, as well as the Provincetown Art Association and Museum.
Where to Stay
Between bed and breakfasts, inns, resort hotels, and other accommodations, lodging options abound. Travelers seeking women-owned accommodations can start with a visit to the Women Innkeepers of Provincetown site to browse available guestrooms. But one of the most convenient and charming woman-owned spots is the Somerset House Inn, with a lovely terrace, daily guest happy hour, and delicious breakfasts.
If you crave a more central, lively scene, check into the newly renovated Crown & Anchor Hotel, with modest, bay-side accommodations, and exclusive daytime beach-club access. Explore the Provincetown Tourism website for a full rundown and handy map of scores more hotels and adorable inns.
How to Get There
For many visitors, driving into Provincetown via U.S. Route 6 is preferred for both the Cape Cod scenery, and to drop into towns along the way like Wellfleet for oysters and other provisions. (Fun fact: Route 6 is also called the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, and you could drive it all the way to Bishop, California.)
But from spring through summer, car-free travelers are smart to climb aboard the Bay State Cruise Company from the Boston Seaport, which runs standard ferries to Ptown (a three-hour trip), and fast ferries that cross Cape Cod Bay in 1.5 hours. Just remember, the ferry only operates from mid-May through mid-October.
Hopefully, our Provincetown travel guide has provided you with some travel inspiration and information. You can also visit Ptown.org for the Provincetown Business Guild’s year-long calendar of events and additional details to help you plan your Ptown getaway.