We may be living through a pandemic, but we’re still feeling the urge to travel (safely). After canceling trips that had been planned pre-pandemic, booking new trips we assured ourselves would be “totally fine” by the time they came around, and then having to cancel those, too, we’ve all come to accept that the pandemic has changed the travel game in 2020. Luckily, there are plenty of local places to safely explore that will give you just as much fun and relaxation as traveling abroad to somewhere dreamy, like St. Tropez. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit—but to be honest, I did get a genuine feeling of being a world away when I traveled to Provincetown, a seaside town on Cape Cod.
There’s always something happening in Provincetown (which often goes by the nickname “P-Town”), even during a COVID-19 summer. If you Google “Provincetown”, you’ll instantly find all the historic info about it, like how it’s home to where the Mayflower landed in 1620. But what really makes this coastal town feel different from the rest is its free spirit and high energy. It’s a top LGBTQ+ destination, a haven for artists of all kinds, and it’s f*cking fun. Storefronts down the main street are decorated with signs that solidify the town’s strong message of love and acceptance. Commercial Street is a vibrant and easily walkable strip that serves as the town’s main street where you’ll find tons of stores, restaurants, and hotels.
One of the greatest benefits of traveling to P-Town during the pandemic is its mandatory safety measures. Social distancing is practiced at every establishment, with tables six feet apart at all restaurants and stores only permitting specified capacities. And mask enforcement is no joke here. You can’t walk around Commercial Street without a mask on. There are signs deeming it a “mandatory mask zone”.
It might sound like walking around a summer town with a mask on is a drag, but TBH, it really made me feel safe and put my mind at ease. And FYI, as of August 4, 2020, Massachusetts requires out-of-state travelers to quarantine for 14 days or show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test, excluding New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Hawaii.
How To Get There
Except for Hawaii, all exempt states whose travelers can visit Provincetown without quarantining are a manageable distance away by car. We drove from New York and clocked in a five-and-a-half-hour road trip there, but it was an enjoyable drive with almost no traffic. If you want to ball out, you can also get there by boat. If you don’t have a casual private yacht at your disposal, you can hop on a Boston Harbor Cruise (which leaves out of Boston, duh). The ride is 90 minutes each way, and round-trip tickets cost $94.
Pro tip: If you’re driving to P-Town, you *must* make a pit stop in Northwest Harwich to grab ice cream at a glorious place called Sweet Izzy. It’s pretty much on your way there and only 50 minutes outside of P-Town. It’s a full vegan ice cream shop, and all of its products are made in-house with only organic ingredients. We loved it so much we stopped once on the way there, and once on the way home (calories don’t count on vacation, right?). It’s also located directly next to a trampoline park, a local staple that’s been around for over 60 years. Definitely pay them a visit too (tickets cost $8 for 10 minutes), but remember to jump first and enjoy your ice cream second.
Where To Stay
Provincetown is a compact, small town, so here’s an easy rule of thumb for finding a hotel: if you want to stay on the main strip of town (which could be loud), look for hotels on or right off of Commercial Street. This street is adjacent to the water, so many establishments have water views or are waterfront hotels. If you want to be somewhere with a little less noise, but a short walking distance away from town, look for hotels on Bradford Street.
We opted for Eben House, a bed-and-breakfast on Bradford Street, so we were close to the action but also got a quiet night’s sleep. The grounds have great communal spaces, like a porch with an Insta-worthy hammock and a nautical-themed saltwater pool area. It’s also a 60-second walk to town, making it super convenient.
Other options are Pilgrim House, a “centrally-located, year-round” luxury hotel that is also home to The Landing Bistro and Bar; there’s also Salt House Inn, a fully renovated bed-and-breakfast located right in the center of town known for its signature house-made rustic breakfast.
Pro tip: Upon booking your reservations, ask your hotel what safety measures are in place. It’s nice to get away, but what good is a vacation without peace of mind?
How To Get Around
One of the many things that make P-town so great is that everything is pretty much walkable. The furthest distance we ever walked during our stay was 12 minutes, and it was a fun stroll through town. Having said that, if you need a taxi or Uber for any reason, they’re available.
Where To Eat
No matter where you choose to eat, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a fun and safe experience in Provincetown. Restaurants and cafes cater to all cuisines, but given that it’s a coastal town, you can’t miss out on the fresh seafood.
Our favorite restaurant was Strangers and Saints, an innovative eatery in the art gallery area of town. The cocktails are top-notch, and each dish was better than the next. There are even three different outdoor areas to choose from upon making a reservation. We picked the front patio (which we loved), but the herb garden and back patio looked equally impressive.
You won’t be able to miss The Patio when walking through town. The outdoor deck is decorated with huge blue-striped umbrellas and string lights. The vibes are better than the food here, but it’s worth a visit, although it’s on the expensive side. Reservations are required with a credit card, and there’s a table limit of one hour and 45 minutes.
The historic Red Inn restaurant is “all about old-world charm and new-world pleasure”. It’s the town’s classiest place to eat and has a raw bar and cocktail happy hour from 2:30pm to 5:00pm daily.
For true P-town beach vibes, you need to hit up Canteen for drinks and lobster rolls. This beach shack is filled with tables painted with seafood puns like “Oh My Cod” and serves excellent pre-mixed cocktails and quick bites. There’s also access to the beach, making for a great photo backdrop after a few cocktails.
Pro tip: Since social distancing is practiced everywhere, reservations are a necessity during dinner hours. Aim to make your dinner reservations as late as possible, since most things shut down by 11 pm. Because you can’t go out to bars during this time, a late reservation will allow you to enjoy your day to the fullest and give you a table to enjoy cocktails later in the evening over dinner. Be sure to call ahead and ask if there’s a time limit for your table reservation.
What To Do
It was crowded during our weekday stay in town, but given it was the week of Carnival (P-town’s biggest celebration of the year), we heard it was actually pretty empty compared to a normal year. Since the parade was canceled, this was to be expected, but there were still people out and about. No matter when you choose to visit, manage your expectations knowing that you won’t get a 100% genuine experience in any town you travel to during COVID (for obvious reasons). I personally thought we wouldn’t be allowed out of our houses until 2021, so I’m just grateful to be able to travel at all, even locally.
Enjoy a day poolside and let your rainbow flag fly at the Boatslip waterfront resort. Their bread and butter is their famous “tea dance” happy hour, but it’s unfortunately canceled for the 2020 season due to COVID safety restrictions. There’s a $12 cover charge that gets you a lounge chair and towel (cash only), and be sure to get there early as it’s first come, first served. They’re famous for their Planter’s Punch cocktails, and after getting lit from just two of them, I can certainly see why.
There’s an abundance of ice cream shops and candy stores in town. ScottCakes, Provincetown Fudge Factory, Cabot’s Candy Factory, and Ptown Scoop are some of the best spots to indulge.
Rent bikes from Provincetown Bike Rentals and put in that cardio work on one of the many bike trails throughout the area. Given that it’s a coastal town at the cape’s tip, the beach options are endless. Pack a beach bag, and don’t forget the SPF.
Weed is legal in the glorious state of Massachusetts. All you need to score some goodies is a valid ID showing you’re over 18 years old. The lines can seem long at the town’s only dispensary, Curaleaf, but they move pretty fast. Also, make sure you have cash or a debit card on you, because they don’t accept credit cards.
☆ Make an ice cream pitstop at Sweet Izzy
☆ Check into hotel
☆ Explore Provincetown
☆ Pre-dinner drinks at The Canteen (Note: they do not take reservations, but you should be fine without them)
☆ Sunset dinner at The Patio (the reservation table limit is 1 hour 45 minutes and a credit card is required for reservations)
☆ Spend the day lounging poolside at The Boatslip
☆ $12 cover charge with lounge chair and towel (cash only)
☆ Come early (first come, first served. No reservations)
☆ Open 10am-4pm
☆ Pre-dinner drinks at Aquabar
☆ 9pm dinner reservation at Strangers & Saints
☆ Check out of hotel
☆ Grab coffee and treats to-go at the famous Provincetown Portuguese Bakery
☆ GTFO of P-Town and head home
Images: Joana Mascioli; James Kirkikis / Shutterstock.com