Two escapes, one destination

Hot tubs, high culture, and tea dances vs. biking, the beach and beers: With $400 to spend, which writer got the better Provincetown deal?

By Courtney Hollands
Globe Staff / June 6, 2010

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I was praying for clear skies, doing an anti-rain dance, if you will. My husband, Kevin, and I had planned our weekend in late April around biking. I was determined not to let Mother Nature derail it.

BYOB (bringing your own bike) is a surefire way to save money on an overnight trip. We had $400 to spend on food, lodging, and activities. Seeing the sights by bike is free.

Besides, I had a hunch that my colleague stylish Christopher Muther would have an edge when it came to night life at the tip of Cape Cod. He might know the best places to see and be seen in town, but would he see whales while biking along Herring Cove Beach?

Luckily, we awoke to sun streaming in our Somerville window Saturday morning and set off for the Cape after carefully wedging our bikes into the backseat and trunk of my car.

Arriving in Provincetown a little after noon, we drove straight to the Oxford, the well-appointed bed-and-breakfast tucked into a side street in the West End. Not only did Trevor Pinker, one of the owners, let us check in early, he upgraded us to our choice of three unoccupied rooms. We took the Worcester room, the most expensive. (I had booked under my married name, so this wasn’t preferential treatment.) Our original room, the Magdalen, cost $141.51 a night. Now, we were paying the same price for a room with a gas fireplace and private entrance off the English garden — excellent. (In summer, weekend rates can double.)

Pinker, who was baking snickerdoodles when we checked in, ticked off the Oxford’s amenities: an espresso machine, free snacks, port and sherry for the pouring, a flat screen TV with cable, breakfast, a DVD library, etc. The two house rules? No smoking and no feeding the dog. We could live with that for the 480-thread-count sheets. This was our kind of place.

A shore thing
With cookies in hand, we biked to town for lunch. We intended to have chowder at the Lobster Pot, but our inner beer snobs succumbed to the siren call of the Chimay sign outside the Squealing Pig. Soon we had two Unibroue beers, a bowl of seafood chowder, Parmesan truffle fries, and a half-dozen Wellfleet oysters in front of us for $46.25, including tip. The neon “Prescriptions’’ sign over the bar and Lauryn Hill on the speakers were nice touches.

It was time to burn some calories, so we hopped back on our bikes and joined the Province Lands Trail bike path on Conwell Street. The hilly trail is a 5.45-mile loop that winds through dunes and beech trees, with spurs to Race Point Beach and Herring Cove Beach. We raced to the top of a rise overlooking Race Point Beach, before coasting down toward the water. When we arrived at the beach, I immediately took off my shoes — even chilly sand feels good between toes that have been shoved in ski boots and thick socks for months. We walked along the beach, skirting blankets where others sat soaking in a bit of early spring sun, until we came across a seal relaxing on the shore.

Next stop: Herring Cove Beach. Several cars were parked facing the water and people with binoculars and telescopes intently scanned the horizon. Suddenly, a whelp: “Look at the spout!’’ “Was that a fin?’’ “It’s a whale.’’ I had just seen a seal up close and personal and now, there were whales swimming off the coast. Forget the zoo; this was a veritable animal kingdom.

Although sunsets at Herring Cove Beach are said to be breathtaking, we had to get back to town for our 7:30 dinner reservation. We changed, tried the fireplace, and had a glass or two of complimentary port and wine at the Oxford before walking to Commercial Street. Jimmy’s Hideaway had opened for its fourth season just two days before. The subterranean joint — which prides itself on using organic produce and local seafood — was bustling. I ordered a dirty martini and we snacked on Pain D’Avignon bread from Hyannis while contemplating the menu.

We split crab and corn cakes ($13) for an appetizer and eschewed the pricier entrees for the $15 selections off the tavern menu: garlicky shrimp Florentine for me, and baby back ribs for Kevin. The bill came to a reasonable $82.25 including tip and we were stuffed. I asked the waitress where we should go next. “Well, it’s sort of that weird time before everything starts up,’’ she said, and suggested live music at the Squealing Pig, Governor Bradford, or Good Times.

We didn’t get very far before we saw the Fudge Factory. Somehow, we found room for the shop’s gooey homemade peanut butter cups (two for $3). Sweet tooths sated, we had visions of drag karaoke at the Governor Bradford. Clearly, I would have killed with “Maneater’’ by Hall & Oates. But the infectious sounds of Broadway show tunes summoned us into the Crown & Anchor, where a beaming Bobby Wetherbee was playing piano for a rowdy crowd. A drag queen danced to “All That Jazz’’ as a well-heeled woman in a fedora two-stepped her way to the piano with a tip. “That song is from ‘Chicago,’ of course, which is about a woman murdering her lover,’’ Wetherbee said. “That happens all the time here.’’

We sang along to an Irving Berlin medley, “Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead,’’ and strangely, a rousing “Hava Nagila’’ between sips of Sam Adams. My voice was hoarse when we started for the door; Weatherbee sent us into the brisk night with a “goodbye, dahh-lings.’’

Finally, the Governor Bradford. We lasted through a drunken rendition of John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses’’ and a guttural take on George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone’’ before heading back to the Oxford.

Shopping and sipping
It was hard to get out of the cushy bed come morning but breakfast called. We feasted on yogurt, fruit, freshly baked coffee cake, and hardboiled eggs in the dining room. Stomachs full, we set off for the Pilgrim Monument. At the adjoining museum, we saw an antique fire engine with wide tires (for driving in sand), a harpoon, and 19th-century dolls. (On his visit Chris was probably too busy shopping at Marc Jacobs to walk under the actual finback whale jawbone on display. Score one for Team Courtney.)

August marks the 100th anniversary of the monument’s completion, and we decided to celebrate early by ascending the almost 253-foot granite tower. Although the fierce winds teased my hair into a ’do a la Tina Turner from the “What’s Love Got to Do With It’’ video, the climb was worth it for the foggy views of the ocean and Boston in the distance. Then we headed into town for some gallery peeping in the East End and a coffee at Wired Puppy. I declared it was the moment I’d been waiting for all weekend: time to shop.

Kevin gamely accompanied me to Utilities, where we browsed through the shower curtains, gadgets, and Thomas Paul melamine plates, and to the Recycled Retriever. We eyed the biodegradable poop bags and the eco-friendly chew toys for our future dog.

But Marine Specialties was the shopping jackpot. Wedding dresses for $125? Check. Vintage Czech apothecary bottles? Check. Leather jackets by the pound? Check. A fabulous Supremes cardboard poster? Checkmate. I gladly plunked down $5.26 for it and we were on our way.

It was hard to keep my wallet closed at our next stop: the uber-hip, rock ’n’ roll-infused boutique Map. I leafed through a book on Van Halen and looked at the premium Levis and Rogues Gallery T-shirts before I saw them: the highlighter yellow Spring Court sneakers that almost broke the bank. Almost. Though the owner, Pauline Fisher, said they were on sale for $79.50, and that John Lennon had worn a similar pair on the cover of “Abbey Road,’’ I took them off. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,’’ I said, wondering aloud if Chris had such willpower.

Before skipping town, Kevin and I split a pick-me-up sandwich at Far Land Provisions, a recommendation from the Oxford owners. The tasty grilled veggie and hummus sandwich hit the spot and our bill, including two drinks, came to $8.89. As we started for home, I did a quick calculation. I thought we were very close to the $400 mark, but we had over $50 left to spend, enough for a wine tasting at Truro Vineyards ($8 a person to try six wines). We sipped and swished a 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, a 2008 Vignoles, and a 2007 Martime Red (a blend of Zinfandel and Merlot grapes), among others, and nibbled on free crackers. The 2008 unoaked Chardonnay — made completely from local grapes — was our favorite.

Then it was time to bid adieu to the Cape. We had a great getaway biking, seeing whales, and sampling wines. Chris came back from his P-Town weekend with crazy tales of hot tubs and tea dances, but I knew we had him beat on the budget.

Courtney Hollands can be reached at

If You Go

Where Courtney stayed

Oxford Guesthouse

8 Cottage St.


Where she ate

The Squealing Pig

355 Commercial St.


Jimmy’s Hideaway

179 Commercial St.


Wired Puppy

379 Commercial St.


Far Land Provisions

150 Bradford St.


What she did

Province Lands Bike Trail

Cape Cod National Seashore

( Pick up a bike map at the Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham.)

Provincetown Fudge Factory

210 Commercial St.


The Crown & Anchor

247 Commercial St.


Pilgrim Monument
and Provincetown Museum

High Pole Hill Road


Marine Specialties

235 Commercial St.



141 Commercial St.


Truro Vineyards

11 Shore Road, North Truro