Long known as a secluded retreat for artists and writers like Jackson Pollock and Norman Mailer, Provincetown, Massachusetts, transforms each summer from a sleepy town of about 3,000 to a bustling tourist destination, with upwards of 60,000 visitors crowding its tiny rows of old streets. While there is a healthy supply of tourist traps—overpriced theme restaurants and ubiquitous novelty T-shirt shops—discerning travelers can still find sophisticated stores, galleries, restaurants and bars more in line with Ptown’s culturally rich history.
For the freshest take on local cuisine, skip Commercial Street’s row of shore-lining restaurants and head to nearby Ten Tables (133 Bradford St.; 508-487-0106; tentables.net). Its intimate feel extends from the dining room (true to its name, there are just ten tables) to the menu, which features dishes made from locally sourced ingredients, such as oysters from neighboring Wellfleet Harbor, and homemade fare like pastas and cured meats. Though a long way from Boston’s North End, Italian joint Spiritus Pizza (190 Commercial St.; 508-487-2808; spirituspizza.com) is the real deal; each slice has an ideal sauce-to-cheese ratio and a perfectly crispy crust that is neither too thick nor too thin.
Save for a private yacht, there is no better place to end the day with a cocktail in hand than Harbor Lounge (359 Commercial St.; 508-413-9527; theharborlounge.com). The drinks are strong and the scene is eclectic, but the incomparable harbor views are the real draw. Three walls of windows and a private pier over the water make it easy to enjoy the sunset after a day spent exploring.
Amid Commercial Street’s souvenir-filled storefronts are three shops not to miss. MAP (141 Commercial St.; 508-487-4900), a boutique in the West End, offers a well-edited mix of rugged clothes (think vintage Levi’s and authentic CPO jackets), decorative accessories and vintage pieces, all curated by its well-traveled owner, Pauline Fisher. The stories she has after 19 years in business are alone worth a visit. Closer to the center of town, resident artist Tim Convery’s Tim-Scapes (208 Commercial St.; 917-626-4052; tim-scapes.com) sells T-shirts, sweatpants and ponchos emblazoned with prints of his modern “Ptown” logo—a graphic reinterpretation of Provincetown’s nickname that Convery originally created using duct tape, his preferred medium. A modest, second-floor workshop overlooking the ocean is where cobbler Victor Powell (323 Commercial St.; 508-487-9075; victorpowellsworkshop.com) has sold his bespoke leather goods and sandals since 1999. Though Powell’s footwear is available by mail order, a visit with the artisan in his studio reveals how special his creations truly are.
Provincetown’s artistic heritage is nowhere more evident than in the Gallery District, a stretch of Commercial Street running through the East End. There are dozens of spaces, the largest and most comprehensive of which is the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (460 Commercial St.; 508-487-1750; paam.org). Open year-round, its permanent collection holds more than 2,000 works by artists who, at one point or another, have called Cape Cod home. Just down the street is Foc’sle (437 Commercial St.; 508-443-1970), L.L. Bean creative director Alex Carleton’s two-year-old gallery-antiques-store hybrid that presents its exhibitions in a laid-back atmosphere. Artwork is displayed alongside various nautically themed treasures for sale, creating a venue best described as a highly stylized New England flea market.