The Coast Is Clear

What's missing from post-summer Provincetown? Crowded sidewalks, oppressive heat, and touristy "celebrations."

race point provincetown

A colorful vista between Provincetown’s Race Point and Herring Cove Beaches. Photo by Jon Doromal.

LIKE MOST SEASIDE getaways, Provincetown parcels out its peak season into discretely branded modules: tightly thematized celebrations of either jazz, film, schooners, drag queens, or…younger drag queens. All that single-purpose solidarity can be exhilarating, but also seriously unconducive to R&R. Indeed, there’s a strong argument to be made for hitting the Cape’s most remote point offseason — for reveling in the mild weather before New England’s harsh chill kicks in, minus the summer crowds. An experiment: Browse Commercial Street’s art galleries during high summer and count how many seascapes there are, smacking of some neo-Romantic’s schmaltzy pictorial vision. Then come back and simply stand on the sidewalk in November, when the throngs no longer block the views of weathered gables, melancholy lighthouses, and rolling surf. Yup. Pure photorealism, baby.

GETTING THERE Even post-peak, weekend traffic down Route 6 is no picnic, though free parking at meters, in public lots, and along the main drag (beginning November 1) makes having a car in Provincetown less of a nuisance. For $240 round trip, flying Cape Air is a hassle-free, 29-minute option.

SLEEPING Ahoy, mate! Nautical nicknames like Commodore, Quarter Deck, and, for whatever reason, Key West, add maritime whimsy to the 12 comfy rooms at White Wind Inn (fireplace suites, $145-$200 a night), a gracefully aging Victorian boarding house perched over people-gazing ground zero. Amenities include complimentary seats in the living room, where amiable proprietors Michael Valenti and Rob Tosner play host to a parade of local drop-ins.

EATING Surrounded on three sides by water, Provincetown is a gastronaut’s haven for seafood. For a splurge, hit the Red Inn (book in advance), where you’ll feast on delights such as pan-seared local sea scallops with orzo and citrus beurre blanc ($28). Cleverly disguised as a townie dive, the Lobster Pot turns out expert renditions of its pan-roasted namesake (market price) and garlicky butter-sautéed squid ($10). The malassadas ($2.15) — hot, yeasty, sugar-dusted doughnutlike puffs — at Provincetown Portuguese Bakery have inspired their own 12-step program. If you’re here for Thanksgiving, both the Red Inn and the Mews offer tricked-out traditional meals.

PLAYING And you thought the Yankees-Sox rivalry was intense? The Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum provides a singular look at what the famous Mayflower travelers did way (read: a few hours) before they even thought about paddling over to that overrated rock in Plymouth. Not that P-town has any reason to be insecure: It’s been a visual-arts mecca since the turn of the 20th century, with world-class galleries and the top-notch Provincetown Art Association and Museum, which showcases works by the likes of Robert Motherwell and Man Ray. Don a jacket and hiking shoes to traipse around the Cape Cod National Seashore sand dunes, home to a smattering of artists’ shacks, including those used by playwright Eugene O’Neill and painter Mark Rothko.

BROWSING Glass Half Full is your source for truly fine bottles of fermented grapes, especially unlikely rosés. Roots sells worthy home and garden gifts and accessories. And despite the trying-too-hard tag line (“swanky swigs and badass barware,” anyone?), tasteful quaffing gear abounds at Provincetown Drinkx.

OBSERVING THE LOCALS The ones choking down miserable grub at Governor Bradford? Rookies. The ones knocking back PBRs and taking in the drag karaoke at Governor Bradford? Locals and clued-in tourists. At Waterford Inn, a posher crowd downs craft cocktails and excellent bar snacks amid surprisingly (for P-town, at least) up-to-date décor. Recaffeinate at the original Wired Puppy, whose Newbury Street outpost won this year’s Best of Boston nod.