Wonderful Provincetown, Mass: great food, dune tours and more

PROVINCETOWN, MASSACHUSETTS – A great way to get to a great destination.

Last time I was on Cape Cod, back about 28 years ago, my wife and I drove from Boston to Hyannisport and then up to Provincetown. Short on time for this trip, we opted for the fast ferry from downtown Boston to Provincetown.

It’s a big boat and takes only 90 minutes to make the crossing, passing through the harbor islands I mentioned in a recent blog. The price is just $87 return for an adult.

They have a concierge on the second deck who can provide maps, set up Provincetown tours or call you a cab.

There’s also a bar on board and our ride was smooth as can be, marred only by a family that COULD NOT STOP TALKING the entire trip. I couldn’t sleep a wink as these people insisted on blathering about any thought that popped into their heads. I got up later to use the washroom and two of them were standing outside the men’s room, still talking!

That aside it was an uneventful trip into what locals call Ptown, an artists’ colony with something like 60 or 80 galleries and a very active gay community. I don’t know about you, but I love a town where you walk down the street and see couples of every description and orientation and spot overhead banners for a benefit called “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche.”

We arrived about 10 a.m. in a light rain, so had to ditch our plan for a bike ride. Instead, we poked around fun shops like Utilities, with its kitchen stuff and kitsch, and a place called The Lily Pond, with funky lampshades, jewellery and other goodies (see photo above left).

The tourism board set us up for lunch at a wonderful spot called Lucky Dog, where they have gluten free, all-beef hot dogs with several great toppings to choose from. Owner Aaron Schwartz makes the chili for his chili dogs from scratch, using nine or ten varieties of beans. And he double cooks his thick-sliced bacon for extra crunch.IMG_0416

I had a dog with baked beans and mustard that was good. But the dog with macaroni and cheese and bacon was simply unbelievable. About a gazillion calories, no doubt, but absolutely wonderful in a what-the-hell kind of way.

He also serves a variety of lobster rolls; from just plain with mayo to one we sampled with fresh tomatoes and basil; like a caprese salad lobster roll (see photo at right). Even crazier as the mac and cheese lobster roll, as Schwartz uses four types of cheese and nice, spiral pasta that looks and tastes great.

Schwartz, a former consultant from Marin County, sweats all the details and serves up food that’s fast, but definitely a step above fast food. He also works in the winter at the local soup kitchen and donates some of hs proceeds to the humane society.

He’s a fun guy whose face lights up talking about his business, and how many people can say they enjoy their jobs that much?

We also had a fun, hour-long tour with Art’s Dune Tours, where you go out in a covered, four-wheel drive vehicle and drive along designated “roads” in the marvellous and seemingly endless sand dunes on the back end of Ptown.

IMG_3563The business has been around 67 years and is the last remaining dune tour company in town.

There are thousands of acres of park land in the Cape Cod National Seashore, thanks in part to a designation by local hero John F. Kennedy. Most of the city of Provincetown is actually inside the park, which features beautiful, rolling dunes of golden sand and waves of green sea grass. The area used to be heavily forested but the trees were taken down for firewood or to build homes centuries ago. The dunes were fairly unstable at one point but volunteers in the 1960s planted thousands of bits of grass, and things are now much better.

Our tour guide, Rob, explained there are deer, raccoons, snakes, foxes and other critters out in the dunes. He’ll also show you some of the old artist shacks that were built out in the dunes, some with ocean views. Some are still privately owned but others are used by artists who get allotted time to paint or write in the immense quiet. Rob showed me one battered old property where Tennessee Williams wrote part of A Streetcar Named Desire and where Jack Kerouac also wrote some of On the Road.

It’s a fun, bouncy ride and you’ll be able to get out and enjoy the fresh air and admire the dunes and maybe see one of the many cranberry bogs. You also get to ride along the beach and check out the campers and fishermen before riding back into town.

We opted to also try the $15, one-hour trolley ride through town. Our driver was a bit heavy on the “here’s an award-winning restaurant” and “here’s an award-winning gallery” stuff, but was informative and fun. We passed bars with female impersonators, lovely gardens, historic homes, funky lobster roll shops and lots of other fun spots, including a stretch of land where the Pilgrims landed and stayed for five weeks before moving to Plymouth, which gets all the credit these days.

I climbed to the top of the Pilgrim Monument, which rises 252 feet in the sky from a 100-foot hill. Climbers are rewarded with sweeping views out to the Atlantic and over to the mainland, and some say you can even see Boston (50 miles or so) on a clear day.

Down below there’s a pretty museum with dolls, exhibits showing ship’s captains quarters, models of old ships, painted figureheads of women and lots more. It’s a nice spot but perhaps a tad expensive at $12.IMG_0530

We finished off with dinner at Patio, where we had a great seafood combo with perfect lobster tail, nice scallops and swordfish. They brought out some bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and cranberry for dessert.

It’s pretty inside but opt for the patio if the weather’s good so you can people watch. And there are few places in the U.S. as good for that as Ptown.

The night was glowing when we got to the dock; beautiful reflections in the water on a perfect summer’s night. The trip back was glorious and I snuck out on the deck a couple times to see the stars and feel the wind.

For more information visit www.massvacation.com

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