Tucked away at the tippy top of Cape Cod, Massachusetts is a beautiful spot where gayness, queerness, and all on the rainbow spectrum are celebrated. Gay people walk down the street hand in hand, queer shops are on every corner, and tea dances and full-production drag shows are daily occurrences. Here you can go to boy beach on a hot afternoon, grab some fantastic food (hello, lobster) from one of the many high-end restaurants, and generally revel in a truly queer utopia.
When I visited Provincetown for the first time last August, I stepped into a world I never thought possible — being in a space where being gay or queer is the norm. It’s comforting to be surrounded by queer people, and though tourists are bussed in during the afternoons, this is an undeniably gay space with countless rainbow flags lining the streets.
History of Gay Provincetown
One thing I wondered about Provincetown, colloquially called PTown, is how did this unassuming little Cape Cod beach town get so gay? Every store seems to be owned by a queer person and almost everyone on the street seems to be gay. What gives?
The story of Provincetown as a gay haven really begins in the 1890s, when the small whaling village got a railroad, making visiting easier and starting a tourism boom. Painters and artists flocked to this village that had beautiful seascapes and sand dunes, and soon began opening art schools which of course attracted gay artists.
Famous playwrights like Eugene O’Neill came to PTown in The Great Summer of 1916 to join the Provincetown players, and Tennessee Williams completed The Glass Menagerie here. The 1930s saw the town become a haven for alternative lifestyles, and by the 1950s gay men and lesbians opened guest houses and businesses here. The remoteness of PTown, virtually surrounded by water, made it safe and somewhat anonymous for queer folks.
Today you can still find artists and writers spending their summers in Provincetown, like Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours. Keep your eyes peeled, you never know who you may see — when I visited I saw Judy Gold and Parker Posey walking down the street!
How To Get To Provincetown
PTown is located on the very end of Cape Cod, a hook-shaped peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean creating Cape Cod Bay. Like all good things in life, getting to PTown is a bit of an adventure and you have to work for it, but the reward is worth the journey!
To get to Provincetown by car, you can drive into Provincetown which takes about an hour from the start of the peninsula. From Providence, RI, it’s about a two-hour drive and about a 2.5-hour drive from Boston. If you drive in you will have to find parking for the week, which costs about $200-250.
To get to Provincetown by plane, you can fly into Boston and take the ferry into PTown, which takes about 90 minutes with comfortable seating and AC! This is probably the easiest way to get into PTown, and you will see plenty of gay and queer people from Boston ferry in for just the day.
How To Get Around Provincetown
Once you get into PTown, you won’t really need a car as most of the town is walkable. Though Commercial Street is technically a road open to cars, you won’t see many people driving down it. It’s dominated by tourists walking up and down it, and driving down it can be a bit nerve-wracking trying to avoid people.
For other parts of PTown that are farther, like the dunes and the beaches, you can rent bikes for the day or even the week. You’ll see plenty of people out on bikes, and since the pace of life here is slower, cars watch out for tourists on bikes.
The Best Time to Visit Provincetown
Provincetown is a summer destination, and being so far north, you definitely want to come while it’s both warm and restaurants and shops are open. The season really kicks off in May and goes strong through October, though there are events here in November and December as well.
PTown is famous for its theme weeks, which celebrate every letter of the rainbow alphabet. It’s good to plan your visit around these weeks, as you can mingle with your crowd and meet some new like-minded folks! Even if you don’t want to explore a specific theme, it’ll at least give you an idea of who’s there — if you’re a single gay man, you may not want to go to the single women’s weekend!
Here are some of the theme weeks worth checking out for all LGBTQIA+ folks:
- Provincetown PRIDE – The name says it all — this is the premier pride festival in Provincetown every June.
- Frolic – Men of Color Weekend – This weekend takes place over five days (long weekend!) during Juneteenth, celebrating black and brown queer joy.
- Revolution: Independence Week – Also known as circuit week, this celebration is all about dance and pool parties, international DJs, and celebrating (queer) independence.
- Bear Week – Bear week is the biggest week in Provincetown, so to speak, with tens of thousands of furry men, chubs, and chasers, oh my!
- Girl Splash – This is the big summer event for women in Provincetown, with comedians, and musicians, and outings like lesbian beach trips, whale watching tours, dune buggy adventures, sailing, and more.
- Family Week – Family Week is the biggest get-together of LGBT+ families in the world, and is a relaxed way for queer families to bond and make friends.
- Provincetown Carnival – Every August PTown turns into a massive party with a parade, costumes, and tens of thousands of queer people from all over. There is also a new theme every year, so dress to impress, and most businesses dress their shops up in the theme as well!
- TransWeek – Every October TransWeek is a safe space for you to come as you are, no matter how you identify. It’s needed more than ever now, so come and be yourself!
- Halloween Weekend & Spooky Bear – It’s Halloween so you know the drill, dress up in your wildest, queerest creation while enjoying the company of the bears that have come once more to take over PTown!
Things to do in Provincetown
Provincetown has no shortage of wonderful things to do for the gay and queer vacationer, from going to parties, seeing an excellent drag show, chilling on the beach, or taking a bike ride. Below are the best things to do in the very gay Provincetown all summer.
Go To a Tea Dance at the Boat Slip
While The Boat Slip Resort & Beach Club by day is a resort, its main claim to fame is between 4-7pm when the huge outdoor patio overlooking the bay turns into an electrifying afternoon Tea Dance. Named because 4pm is traditionally tea time in the UK, this afternoon delight is a thumping, packed dance party filled with good people, strong drinks, and excellent DJs.
During the summer they have themed parties almost every day, ranging from Solid Gold, to Madonna Madness, to I Love The 90s, so be sure to get a look together — most people lean into the theme and go all out! Before you make plans to go, be sure to check out their calendar to check what the theme du jour is.
Next to the boat slip deck, there is a dance floor inside where the DJ plays remixed gay classics (Madonna, Donna Summer, Lady Gaga, really you name it!) that are sure to make you sweat. The drinks here are strong, including the delicious rum punch, just be cautious — it punches back (as I learned the hard way).
There is a small entrance fee to get into the parties, but well worth it. Be wary that after major celebrations (like Carnival parade day) it will be so packed it’s hard to move around, unless you think that sounds like fun to you. You’ve been warned.
Go To a Show
Provincetown is iconic for its gay entertainment, and it’s been providing entertainment to the queer masses ever since it was an artist’s retreat. Every year new shows pop up, from Broadway divas belting show tunes to drag queens with full-scale productions. Some artists have short residencies, some are here for the entire summer, and some of the queens are truly PTown staples who are here every year!
Buying your show tickets in advance is always a good idea, as they may sell out, and try to get to the theatre early to snag a good seat as most shows don’t have assigned seating. It’s also fun to sometimes just stumble into a show off the street, especially since so many performers and queens are busking out front before their show. And you never know who you may see at a show in PTown, we saw Parker Posey at one show.
Some of the best show staples in Provincetown are:
- Varla Jean Merman – Varla Jean Merman is an ultra-funny, ultra-talented songstress that puts on a show like no other. Through parody songs, skits, puppets, and who knows what else, she’ll charm the pants off you and you’ll wonder how such a buff man can turn into such a dainty drag persona. If you haven’t already, check out Varla in the cult classic Girls Will Be Girls from 2003.
- Dina Martina – If you don’t know Dina Martina, you are in for a real treat. Her shows are a mix of a fever dream, irreverence, and complete nonsense — basically the best kind of show. Dina performs the hits, songs you’ve never heard of, and speaks in a language distinctly her own. Will you have any idea what happened after you left? No. But will you have a strong memory of a very weird show? You certainly will. Prepare yourself by watching her iconic Devil Went Down to Georgia performance from Wigstock 2005.
- Miss Richfield 1981 – Hailing all the way from Richfield, Minnesota, Miss Richfield 1981 may have been crowned beauty queen back in 1981 but she sure hasn’t lost any of her pizzaz. Miss Richfield serves up shows that are one part audience participation and one part “did she say that?”, but all in good fun to audiences who eat her up. She is larger than life, campy, witty, and creates shows that are memorable, funnily political, and overall enjoyable.
- Thirsty Burlington – Thirsty Burlington is the premier Cher impersonator, not just in Provincetown, but the entire world! Seeing Thirsty painted and dressed as Cher, moving charismatically down the aisles in that easy Cher style, and singing live – exactly like Cher – you begin to wonder… Is that Cher?! All I am saying is, if anything ever happens to Cher, I know where to find her. Be aware some shows are specific eras of Cher’s career only (we saw Cher 1975), so you may not hear all the hits.
Grab a Bite To Eat
Provincetown is in Cape Cod, which means one thing — lobster, baby! And not just lobster, but oysters, fresh fish, and all that sea salty goodness that comes directly from the bay. Even if seafood isn’t your thing (I mean, you’re wrong, but whatever), there are plenty of incredible food and restaurants in this local-restaurants-only environment.
And since the food is local and extremely fresh, it does tend to be on the pricey side (like most of PTown, honestly), so be prepared to spend a little cash. But you can have some truly unique and delicious dining experiences here.
- Victor’s Restaurant – Victor’s Restaurant is a bit farther down from the main commercial strip of PTown, but absolutely worth the extra steps to eat their exquisitely prepared small plates in their cozy, cottage-style space. Of their small plates, don’t miss their Seared Sea Scallops with applewood bacon, fresh watermelon & spicy brown sauce, their Crab Rangoons with house-made sweet chili sauce, or their oysters, which are as fresh as possible. Despite it being a very nice restaurant, I also love that they put paper on the table and give you crayons, because I am definitely an adult and not a 7-year-old.
- Pepe’s Wharf – Pepe’s Wharf sits placidly on Cape Cod Bay, its white and blue canopy covering the deck making you feel like you’re on an elegant cruise ship. It’s a wonderfully romantic place to sit outside, feeling the breeze blowing in off the bay while eating some truly stellar seafood. The Lobster Ravioli is decadent and divine, paired with lobster sauce and shaved truffles, and the Colossal Shrimp are tender and huge, paired with steak frites, drawn butter, and arugula salad. This spot really is like having a meal in paradise.
- Spiritus Pizza – Sometimes you just need some quick, cheap and easy — pizza by the slice, anyone? Located conveniently close to the Boat Slip, this is the perfect place to end up after a night of drinking (or whenever) to get giant slices of pizza. Grab them to go and eat them while walking down Commercial Street, or enjoy them in the back in their very lush garden with twinkling lights. I also happened to see gay rapper Big Dipper here — as I said, keep your eyes peeled for gay celebs.
- The Lobster Pot – The Lobster Pot is a PTown staple, if not a little touristy, and is the premier place to grab all things seafood, including their famed Lobster Roll. While the main restaurant doesn’t take reservations, you can also go to their Lobster Pot Express around the block to pick up a Lobster Roll that you can take and eat at a picnic bench on the nearby beach. I will say these rolls aren’t cheap — I had a bit of sticker shock when ordering on my first day in PTown, but these are the real deal and packed full of lobster meat!
Get Tan All Over On Boy Beach
Boy Beach (sometimes called Boys’ Beach or Gay Beach) is a little strip of beach close to Herring Cove Beach, which is PTown’s gay nude beach. Here you can lie down sans Speedos, and really even out those tan lines — just don’t forget to properly apply sunscreen to those delicate parts.
The beach feels welcoming to all body types, you’ll hear music playing, and the vibes are generally pretty relaxed (as one should be on a beach). Since you will be laying out, if you can bring a beach umbrella along with you’ll have extra protection from the sun.
Getting to Boy Beach is a little bit of a trek, but definitely worth the effort (here it is on Google Maps). Basically, you can bike or drive down Bradford Street and turn right onto Provincetown Road (Route 6A), where you’ll either park your car in this lot or secure your bike to the bike stop, where you’ll see lots of bikes secured to a wooden fence.
From there you can either trek down the path through the marshes (going south towards the tip of the Cod), which should only take 15 minutes or so (though you may have to wade through waist-high water) or if you have a wagon of stuff like we did, walk along the beach which takes about 40 minutes.
Once you start to see nude men, you made it. The farther you go down the more nude and isolated it gets as well. Be sure to bring snacks as going to Boy Beach is a bit of an event!
Shop on Commercial Street
There is something so special about shopping somewhere that feels like they just get you, isn’t it? Provincetown is just that place. Here, there are a slew of LGBT business owners who curate shopping experiences for queer people by queer people. Clothing, kitchenware stores, sex stores, all of which are outside of the normal heteronormative box.
Some of the best stores in Provincetown are:
- Seaplane – Seaplane is a clothing store that focuses on bold prints, shocking colors, and generally clothing that says “I am queer and not afraid to make a statement”. The shirts here are their mainstays, with gorgeous graphic prints that are truly a stamp of their brand. Their shirts are unique in that they are all made in Philadelphia, and each item of clothing has a digitally printed number, with some batches as small as twelve. While the clothing is a little pricey, it’s made to last, and I still bust my Seaplane shirt out for special occasions.
- Adam’s Nest – Simply put, Adam’s Nest makes extremely cool clothes while giving money to support queer causes. They have given over $80,000 to queer charities to this date. Here you can find shirts that say things like “shoot loads not guns”, and plenty of sexy references to PTown like naked boys on Boy Beach. Everything here is unabashedly queer and will definitely help you make a statement.
- Tim-Scapes – If you are looking for an article of clothing or a souvenir that says “I’ve been to Provincetown” this is the place to check out. In Tim Convery’s distinct style, he creates different PTown “scapes”, from the dick dock to the Pilgrim’s tower to a lobster, using the letters “PTOWN”. Any queer who has been to PTown will easily recognize what you are wearing, and it’s a good way to meet other queers who’ve been to PTown in the “real world.”
- Utilities – This is a home goods store that covers all your bases, with useful things that are proven winners for the kitchen, bath and general home, but perfectly curated as if your gay uncle put it together. They also have a wide array of great PTown souvenirs, like wooden ornaments, so you can bring a little remembrance of your time here home.
- Toys of Eros – Toys of Eros is a very special sex store in that it has everyone’s sexuality in mind and queerness rules. As an extra bonus, the store has a Sex Toy Museum as you walk in, showcasing coins used to pay prostitutes in ancient Rome and an actual vibrator from 1899. Talk about a sex education!
Climb The Pilgrim Monument
The most iconic symbol of Provincetown is undoubtedly the Pilgrim Monument, the 252-foot tower built to honor the Pilgrims’ first landing in Provincetown. But everyone knows that the Pilgrims first landed at Plymouth Rock, right? Well, no actually.
They first landed in Provincetown in November 1620 where they explored the tip of Cape Cod over 5 weeks. This is where they also wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact, before moving onto Plymouth which was less exposed to the elements.
Today you can visit the tower and climb your way to the top by a series of steps and ramps — there is no elevator. But if it’s accessible to you, the climb is worth the effort. From the top, you have the most stunning views of PTown and the bay. We even saw a gay couple get engaged up here. It’s a romantic little spot.
With your entrance fee, you can also explore the Provincetown Museum to learn all about the Pilgrims, look at real whaling journals written by sea captains, and see tools and arrowheads from the Native American Wampanoag tribe. This is a great afternoon outing and definitely, the best way to get the lay of the land from above.
Take a Bike Ride Through the Dunes
One of the prominent features of PTown is the sand dunes, rolling along the northern, Atlantic side of the Cod. These dunes make up one-third of the Cape Cod National Seashore, spanning about 8,500 acres along the Cod. And the best way to explore this scenic seascape is by bike.
You can easily rent a bike for the afternoon, and follow this interactive map from Provincetown Bike Rentals through town and to the dunes. We used this company when we visited, and the bikes were in excellent shape and the team members really take care of you.
You have some options when it comes to how long you want to bike:
- The “Big Ride”, which takes you on the Province Lands Bike Trail through Race Point and Herring Cove, and returns to town, which is 10.3 miles.
- The long route, which is 8.2 miles.
- The shortcut through Beech Forest, which is 4.7 miles.
- The direct ride down Commercial/Bradford St., which is 2.3 miles.
While none of these bike rides are super long and all the trails are paved, you will be going down big dune hills, and back up them, so it’s a major workout whichever way you choose. Along the way, you’ll see lush foliage, especially if you go through Beech Forest, and plants like American beachgrass, seaside goldenrod, wormwood, northern bayberry, beach plum, and more.
I definitely recommend going to Race Point Beach, because not only is it beautiful, it’s a great way to break up your ride. You can also pick up snacks and drinks at CVS next door to eat along your ride.
Visit the Dick Dock
Probably Provincetown’s best worst-kept secret, the Dick Dock, as it’s lovingly called, is located underneath the Boat Slip’s expansive deck along the beach. This is a place for gay men to play anonymously and to enjoy cruising in a space that has all but been officially designated — there is even a Facebook page for it.
In a wonderful interview with Tantric Sex Coach Brad Amberheart, he talks about the magic and importance of safe sexual spaces to create loving communities. He also talks about how AIDS ended the period of free love among men, and how bringing these spaces back can help us love one another again.
What was once a way for gay men to play while hiding their sexuality has now become a place to celebrate it, in a town that embraces queerness wholeheartedly. So if you’re feeling frisky and in a loving mood, this is the spot to check out after dark.
Check Out the Nightlife
Where there are gay and queer people, there are bars and clubs. And who can blame us for wanting to have a good time in our own little queer paradise. While PTown may not be the most raucous place to party (closing time is 1am here), there are plenty of bars down Commercial Street to check out. Some of those are:
- The Crown & Anchor – The Crown & Anchor really is one of the “anchors” of Provincetown. Not only is it where Varla Jean Merman, Dina Martina, and a ton of other shows take place, but there are six bars on site. Yes, six! Some of these include PTown’s largest nightclub The Paramount Club, the leather bar The Vault, and a piano bar/ video bar called Wave Bar. Basically, this is a great place to go bar hopping in one place.
- The Monkey Bar – Monkey Bar is the home of their famous 10oz martini, and if that doesn’t start your night off with a bang, I don’t know what will. This is a great, chill bar with upbeat music that also serves up delicious Thai food and sushi as well. A good spot to make new friends and watch people walking down Commercial Street from the big picture window.
- The Squealing Pig – Sometimes all you need is a busy little Irish Pub with some of the best fish and chips and beer draft lists you’ve ever seen. Well, this is the place. Besides the huge portions of food, you can find some unique beers like Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, made with stout and imported chocolate and local beers like the Mighty Squirrel Cloud Candy IPA.
- 361 Coffee & Espresso Bar – While this coffee shop/bar is not open as late as some of the other offerings, it’s a cozy, quiet space and the perfect place for an intimate chat. Here they serve up an especially delicious Espresso Martini when you want to get a little boost of caffeine when you start your drinking for the evening. Just try not to knock over your martini glass.
Where To Stay in Provincetown, Massachusetts
While there are countless Airbnbs and VRBOs in Provincetown to stay in, there are also some amazing resorts (some of which have been mentioned) if you want to live the high life in Provincetown. Be aware, places book up early, up to a year out, so if you have your heart set on a place, book it now.
Some of the nicest places to stay in PTown are:
- The Boat Slip Resort & Beach Club – As you are now well aware, the Boat Slip is famous for its Tea Dances from 4-7pm, so if you want to be able to walk out and party, inches from your room, this is the place to stay. Some rooms have Bay views, other pool views, and during the day you can lay out on the deck and enjoy the sea breeze. Be aware during some theme weeks there is a several-night minimum.
- The Inn at Cook St – This highly-rated little B&B is tucked in the east end just far enough away from the action to get you some true rest when you need to get away from the wildness of Commercial Street. With a freshly cooked breakfast every morning, a gorgeous little garden in the backyard, and cozy and comfortable rooms, you may just want to move in forever.
- The Queen Vic Guest House – The Queen Vic Guest House or “Bed & Beverage”, is a historic sea captain’s home located on the west end of Commercial Street. The rooms are spacious and modern, and you can enjoy a home-cooked breakfast every morning, soak in the private hot tub, admire the beautiful gardens, and lounge on the magnificent front patio. Everything about this screams classic whaling town, in the best way!
Whether you’re looking for amazing food, entertainment, history, or nightlife, Provincetown is definitely a great place to check out. It’s truly a hub of queer community.