Monday, February 3, 2014

Provincetown, Year-Round

The malasadas are reason enough to drive out to Provincetown, Massachusetts. But these warm hunks of sugary, fried dough at the Provincetown Portuguese Bakery disappear when the store shuts down for the off-season.

Fortunately, there are many reasons to visit this seaside destination that don’t rely on the summer season, making a road trip to the tip of Cape Cod a sweet proposition any time of year. 

Like many beach towns, Provincetown’s vibrant, eclectic and active summer atmosphere cools off with the weather. The town stays busy enough, but is noticeably calmer and with fewer crowds than during peak season. This translates into little waiting at the best restaurants, vacancy at inns and hotels, and a romantic, meditative peace permeating the beach dunes. Even the drive out along Cape Cod, which many people dread during summer months due to traffic, becomes a leisurely ride through classic seaside towns.

In the midst of winter woes, it is easy to see why Provincetown is a relaxing haven.

Even before you reach Provincetown proper, several nearby treasures set the stage for leisure and romance.

Truro Vineyards of Cape Cod, about ten minutes away from Provincetown, is one such place. This local, family-owned and operated company produces quality wines, such as the crisp and refreshing Diamond White. Reminiscent of summer, a few glasses can warm even the chilliest of winter evenings.

After the winery closes for the season in mid-winter, Truro’s wines can be found in stores throughout the region. Adding a little whimsy and local flare to their stock, Truro features several vintages in a lighthouse-shaped bottle, in both clear and blue-colored glass.

The wine bottles are just one of many symbols of classic New England that abound here. The beachfront is perhaps the most appropriate, in any season.

Race Point Beach is part of the larger Cape Cod National Seashore, which is run by the National Park Service. Accessible right off of Route 6, Race Point Road is the scenic two-mile drive through a beach forest, complete with windswept oak and beech trees, dunes and foliage. It connects to other scenic roads or ends at a parking lot from which you can walk to the sand.

On crisp winter days there is a unique beauty in the dunes and widespread flats of Race Point Beach. Located opposite downtown on the other side of the peninsula, this classic, sprawling Cape Cod beach transforms into a barren, naked lunarscape when the summer sun tanners have gone. Only waves, seabirds or a frosty ocean breeze break the silence here. An occasional strolling couple will stop to sit on an oversized piece of driftwood, perhaps waiting for the early sunset or weighty winter moon to bathe the tableau in ethereal lights and colors. For the artist and tourist alike, inspiration and peace seem to be frozen into the dunes.

Closer to downtown, where the curvature of the Cape Cod tip curls in towards Provincetown Harbor, is the Breakwater Walk or Provincetown Causeway. The straight shot of massive stones that make up the breakwater traverses the harbor, connecting the corner of town to an outermost spit of scimitar-shaped land. Summer visitors scramble along the boulders, inches from the harbor, getting sprayed by seawater until they reach the other side where two lighthouses stand sentinel.

Off-season, the hordes have disappeared, the walk becomes a bit more daring and the seawater sprays just a bit icier. But the view of the Provincetown skyline – mainly marina buildings, small shops and the towering Pilgrim Monument – is unrivaled. So is the serenity and surrealism that comes from standing on a boulder surrounded by the ocean.  Even on ill-weather days, peering out at the stone causeway affords glimpses of the lighthouse through the fog: a confident symbol of the gritty dependability at the foundation of New England culture.

That culture is alive and well in the year-round restaurants and other establishments.

One of the town’s top spots, Mews Restaurants and CafĂ©, is open 363 days a year. Besides its exquisite setting, the award-winning Mews serves up delectable dishes, many which put a local twist on foreign-inspired dishes. Or sip a cocktail and fine-dine at The Pointe Restaurant with views of the Pilgrim Monument, which resembles the medieval Tuscan towers in Italy. Find a more casual and classic Cape Cod seafood meal, as well as spectacular oceanfront panoramas at Fanizzi’s by the Sea.

The benefit of a compact, walkable downtown, especially during winter, is the easy accessibility to the diverse array of open restaurants, shops and art galleries. The Provincetown Chamber of Commerce website ( makes it easy to determine year-round establishments – and there are many – by labeling them with a blue snowflake.

In a town that claims the title of Birthplace of Modern American Drama, entertainment is never in short supply at the local theaters. Many of the artists and art galleries that contribute to this town’s effervescent vibe remain year-round, allowing creativity to spill over onto the icy streets.

Locals gather annually to build a Christmas tree made out of lobster pots, lit, decorated and topped with fishing accoutrement. The result is strikingly beautiful and like the town itself, is an artful blend of imagination and iconic New England. The same goes for the lights strung from the ground to the top of the Pilgrim Monument.

Whatever reason spurs your visit, Provincetown is an attractive getaway option this winter. An off-season stay gives you the best of the beach without the normal fusses.

And if you stay long enough, you can catch the first batch of malasadas when the Portuguese Bakery reopens come springtime.