CLAIM TO FAME: The “land’s end” of Cape Cod, the best LGBTQ destination in the country
HISTORICAL BRAGGING RIGHTS: Original landing site of the Pilgrims
BEACHES: Coast Guard beach, Head of the Meadow, Herring Cove, Marconi, Nauset Light, Race Point,
DON’T MISS: Pilgrim Monument, whale watches, Province Lands Visitor Center, Whydah Pirate Museum, CC National Seashore bike trails through the dunes, Commercial Street strolls
Provincetown is surrounded by water in every direction except east by its only neighbor, the town of Truro. About 4,500 acres, or 73% of the town’s land area, is owned by the National Park Service, which operates the Cape Cod National Seashore, leaving about 2.7 square miles of land under the town’s jurisdiction.
Provincetown is, in many respects, where Cape Cod’s modern story began. The Nauset first peoples inhabited the land they called “Meeshawn” for many years before the Pilgrim arrival. When the English explorer Bartholemew Gosnold first landed on the Cape’s very tip (before the Pilgrims’ arrival 18 years later), he caught a large store of codfish and renamed the area “Cape Cod.” What most people don’t realize, however, is that at first the name only really referred to the Provincetown area of the landmass.
In 1620, the Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact when they arrived at the harbor. They agreed to settle and build a self-governing community, and came ashore in the West End. In 1654, the Governor purchased this land from the Chief of the Nausets for a selling price of two brass kettles, six coats, 12 hoes, 12 axes, 12 knives and a box. Following the American Revolution, Provincetown grew rapidly as a fishing and whaling center. The population was bolstered by numerous Portuguese sailors, who settled in Provincetown after being hired to work on US ships.
By the 1890s Provincetown was booming, and began to develop a resident population of writers and artists, as well as a summer tourist industry. After the 1898 Portland Gale severely damaged the town’s fishing industry, members of the town’s art community took over many of the abandoned buildings. By the early decades of the 20th century, the town had acquired an international reputation for its artistic and literary productions.
By the 1970s Provincetown had a significant gay population, especially during the summer tourist season. There had been a gay presence in Provincetown as early as the start of the 20th century and drag queens could be seen in performance as early as the 1940s in the town. The Provincetown Business Guild (PBG) was formed in 1978 to promote gay tourism and today, more than 200 businesses belong to the PBG. The 2010 US Census revealed Provincetown to have the highest rate of same-sex couples in the country, at 163.1 per 1000 couples.
The town has scheduled festivals and week-long events throughout the year. The most established are in the summer: the Portuguese Festival, Bear Week and PBG’s Carnival Week. The Provincetown International Film Festival honors the best in independent and avante garde film.
Provincetown is served by two seasonal ferries to Boston and one to Plymouth, that all dock at MacMillan Pier, located just east of the Town Hall in the center of town. The Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority offers flex route buses between MacMillan Pier and Harwich and a shuttle to Truro. Provincetown is at one end of the scenic “Bike Route 1” from Boston called the Claire Saltonstall Bikeway. The Provincetown Municipal Airport is located just east of Race Point, is surrounded by the Cape Cod National Seashore, and is used mostly for General Aviation, but does receive regular scheduled service to Boston or White Plains, New York via Cape Air. The nearest national and international service is from Logan International Airport in Boston.
Town of Provincetown
260 Commercial Street
Provincetown, MA 02657
Chamber of Commerce
307 Commercial Street
(PO Box 1017)
Provincetown, MA 02657