Cape Cod Day Trip: Provincetown
The ferry ride from Boston to Provincetown is scenic in its own right—passing lighthouses and islands with sailboats weaving in and out of tiny ports, then nothing but ocean for as far as the eye can see. Just as passengers start to get antsy, P-town’s towering Pilgrim Monument comes into sight. I’m headed there for a quick getaway, meeting up with a local friend for a perfect summer Cape weekend.
My friend meets me on the pier, and after our happy reunion, we decide to grab lunch. The fresh sea air has worked up my appetite—and luckily, just steps from the Macmillan Pier, I can get right down to business and satisfy my craving for a quintessential Cape Cod delicacy: the lobster roll.
The Red Shack indisputably has the best lobster rolls in town. Located in a strip of shacks at the end of the pier, they offer several varieties of lobster roll, from off-the-wall Moroccan and Mexican versions to the more traditional Connecticut-style and—my favorite—the Traditional: served cold on a crusty roll, with a quarter pound of lobster meat slathered in mayo, topped with lettuce and tomato. There’s something that just says ‘summer’ when sitting on the pier, seagulls reeling overhead, watching boats docking and staring out at the bay.
Appetite sated, we wander down bustling Commercial Street. Though cars drive down it, it becomes a virtual pedestrian mall during the summer months, with visitors cramming the streets, window-shopping myriad shops, galleries, and restaurants all up and down Provincetown’s main street. We stop into the legendary Provincetown Portuguese Bakery knowing that even if we were stuffed at that moment, we’d want a snack for later and should buy now, before all the good stuff is sold out. The bakery has been in business for more than a hundred years, since the town was just a sleepy fishing village and Bohemian art colony. It has been owned since the 1970s by the same family who took on the recipes the previous owners passed down, adding their own Portuguese favorites. These delicacies line the shelves of glass cases, labeled in Portuguese: sweet pasteis de nata (a lemon custard pastry), malasadas (made right in the window for passersby to watch), and bolas de berlim (Berliners)—but also, their savory counterparts, pasties de massa tenra (a fried hand pie with beef and chorizo) and bolinhos de bacalhau (salted cod fritters). We opt for some sweet treats to go for later.
We’ll work up an appetite by visiting the Provincetown Pilgrim Monument and climbing the 116 steps and 60 ramps all the way to the top, where we’ll have a bird’s eye view of the town and the sea, work up a sweat, and get a dose of history at the same time. Afterward, we stroll through the monument’s museum, a fantastic look at early Provincetown history. The grounds are the perfect place to sit back in an Adirondack chair under a shady tree and have our pastries.
We stroll back to Commercial Street and consider our lunch options. There are so many, it’s hard to pick, and we waffle between two favorites. The Patio serves one of the most over-the-top raw bar plates: the Monument, a towering raw bar extravaganza of oysters, clams, jumbo shrimp, crab legs, ceviche, and lobster. But it’s to enjoy with a crowd under one of their patio umbrellas. Instead, we opt for the Lobster Pot one of Provincetown’s longest-standing landmark restaurants. On the way in, we stop to look at the live lobster tank. The biggest one I’ve ever seen (pulled out so we could take a look) was a prize-winning 17-pounder. We get a seat upstairs—there’s no patio seating, but the dining room still has awesome bay views—and my mini-beach vacation starts to settle in. I’m not starving after my snack (and I’m trying to pace myself!) so I just order a bowl of their famous chowder, while my friend orders the squid from an extensive menu of classic seafood favorites.
After lunch, we’re ready for the afternoon: A bike ride to Race Point Beach and a stroll to the scenic lighthouse. Less than a mile from the Lobster Pot, we get geared up at Gale Force Bikes. From there, we pedal along Moors Road to Province Lands Road, ending up on Race Point Beach, where we walk to the historic 1816 light house, drinking in the breathtaking views of this rugged patch of sand. After relaxing for a spell, we circle back in the direction of town to Herring Cove Beach. Both areas are part of the National Seashore, protected by John F. Kennedy in 1961. Today Herring Cove is one of the Cape’s most popular beaches.
Later, when we’ve had our fill of surf and sand, we return the bikes. Across the street, Victor’s beckons like a desert oasis. Time for an ice cold vodka martini and a plate of oysters from their happy hour raw bar. The classy white-hued lounge soon fills with chatter, and it’s time to freshen up before dinner at Mac’s Fish House.
Mac’s started as a seafood shack in Wellfleet, housed in the former home of a lobsterman. The Provincetown iteration is more modern, with a back patio and a market on one side. The menu features contemporary riffs on traditional seafood dishes, with house-made linguica sausage reflecting the local heritage. There is also an extensive raw bar and sushi menu—some of the freshest around. We start with some nigiri sushi and then share the swordfish, grilled with a white bean cassoulet and braised kale, and the poached cod, with a tomato sauce and linguiça sausage. We are wined, dined, and stuffed to the gills, and ready to waddle home. We hitch a pedi-cab to our last stop. After our long day of climbing, biking, and sun on the beach, none of Provincetown’s legendary nightlife scene for us—just a quiet night cap at Tin Pan Alley, where they have live piano music and a great back patio. After watching the plates being marched out of the kitchen—upscale and modern—I make a note to put this place at the top of my list for my next visit.
I’ve been eating and drinking from one end of Provincetown to the other today, but full and content as I head to my friend’s house for the night, I feel I haven’t even scratched the surface of P-town’s culinary prowess. I make a mental list—my next visit will be sooner rather than later, where I’ll sample a whole new set of eateries and outdoor adventures.
Gale Force Bikes, 144 Bradford Street Extension
Mac’s Fish House, 85 Shank Painter Road
Lobster Pot, 321 Commercial Street
The Patio, 328 Commercial Street
Pilgrim Monument, 1 High Pole Hill Road
Provincetown Portuguese Bakery, 299 Commercial Street, 508-487-1803
The Red Shack, 315 Commercial Street #A
Tin Pan Alley, 269 Commercial Street
Victor’s, 175 Bradford Street Extension