Hyannis and Provincetown are the heads and tails of Cape Cod. As the Cape’s de facto capital, Hyannis is the tidy town where everyone goes to shop, bank, visit the multiplex, or catch a flight or a ferry to the islands. By contrast, Provincetown is literally and figuratively “out there.” Built on sand dunes at the end of the earth, it is a place where anything is possible — and therefore inevitable. The two communities are among the most popular destinations on the Cape, and many vacationers like to sample them both. Here’s how they stack up on some essentials.
Hyannis:Sitting just across the street from the excursion boats and island ferries, the casual Black Cat Harbor Shack (159 Ocean St., 508-534-9923
, www.blackcattavern.com) treats lobster as comfort food with the lobster salad-grilled cheese sandwich. This is how grilled cheese puts on the Ritz.
Provincetown: Chef-owner Kristyn (“Tiny”) Samok of Tinys Local Food (336 Commercial St., 508-413-9582, www.tinyslocalfood.com) says she tired of seeing overstuffed lobster salad rolls squishing out all over diners’ hands. So she invented the lobster “hot dog,” which is a sausage casing stuffed with lobster meat. She serves it grilled on a bun with a topping of dill slaw.
Advantage: Provincetown. Samok’s hot dog is to a lobster roll what a double shot of espresso is to ordinary coffee.
Hyannis: With the wind in their hair and the sand beneath their feet, John, Robert, and Ted Kennedy seem like the perpetual boys of summer in the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum (397 Main St., 508-790-3077, www.hyannis.com). In the dugout of the lower level, you can also see tributes to the original boys of summer at the Cape Cod Baseball League Hall of Fame.
Provincetown: Lest anyone forget that the Pilgrims landed first in Provincetown, the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum (High Pole Hill, 508-487-1310, www.pilgrim-monument.org) recites the history of the town at land’s end. It tells the Mayflower tale and pays special attention to the glory days of Provincetown theater.
Advantage:Provincetown. Climbing the 116 steps and 60 ramps to the top of the Pilgrim Monument provides a bonus aerobic workout.
Hyannis: Wrapping around the west end of Hyannis Harbor, Kalmus Beach is one of the most convenient beaches on the Cape. It has everything you could ask: adequate parking, bathrooms, a snack bar, lifeguards, shells, and abundant seabirds. There is even an area designated for wind-surfers.
Provincetown: The beauty of Long Point is that there is literally nothing there except sand, views, and a lighthouse. After hours of jostling on P-Town streets, “nothing” begins to sound good. You can take the 3-mile walk or take the Long Point shuttle (508-487-0898, www.flyersrentals.com).
Advantage: Are you social or antisocial? You’ll meet more people at Kalmus,
and avoid more at Long Point.
Hyannis: Chef Florence Lowell has her own Barnstable Harbor oyster farm to supply Naked Oyster Bistro Raw Bar (410 Main St., 508-778-6500, www.nakedoyster.com). She likes her oysters with flying fish roe, because the pop of the caviar gives the bivalves a little drama without overwhelming the flavor.
Provincetown: Locavore bistro and watering hole The Squealing Pig (335 Commercial St., 508-487-5804, www.squealing
pigptown.com) serves Wellfleet oysters that they call “the fruit of the flats.” Order with cocktail sauce; with pickled ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce; or as a Bloody Mary shooter.
Advantage: Hyannis. Naked Oyster has more options, including with sour cream and caviar; baked with basil pesto, and baked with caramelized Vidalia onions, Great Hill blue cheese, and bacon.
Hyannis: If all you need is a coverup for the beach, the generic Cape Cod souvenir shirts on the $5 shelves at Cape Cod Sweat and Tee (500 Main St., 508-790-3412) should do the trick. Close your eyes and you can see them: Cape Cod in the Coca-Cola script, a generic lighthouse, and so on.
Provincetown: The tops at the Cotton Gallery (255-257 Commercial St., 508-487-1672) speak of the local psyche with such pronouncements as “I love my two moms,” “I’m no rocket surgeon,” or “My phone is smarter than your honor students.”
Advantage: Provincetown. We may be cheap but we like a little tease with our tees.
Hyannis: The Main Street entrance to the Hyannis Public Library (401 Main St., 508-775-2280, www.hyannislibrary.org) opens to a volunteer-staffed book sale that offers a window on townie reading habits. Fortunately many of the Hyannis folks who donate their surplus books favor good beach reads, which are resold at prices so low that you don’t mind if the pages get a little damp.
Provincetown: Every town this size should be so lucky as to have a great little store like the Provincetown Bookshop (246 Commercial St., 508-487-0964), which has kept P-Town in reading material since 1932. The shop is strong on local authors, sea-related books, paperback fiction, and poetry. It even has a small bargain-book section.
Advantage: We have to go with Hyannis because sales help support the library.
Hyannis: Most trips follow the shoreline on the Catboat Rides (Ocean St. Docks, 508-775-0222, www.catboat.com) aboard the Eventide, a lovingly maintained classic 1933 catboat that can accommodate up to 20 passengers. With a 10-foot beam, she offers a smooth 90-minute sail under the sloop rig.
Provincetown: The Bay Lady II (MacMillan Pier, 508-487-9308, www.sailcapecod.com) is a modern (1984) edition of the gaff-rigged schooners that once plied their fishing trade all up and down the North Atlantic coast. The cockpit has been designed for maximum seating comfort for up to 49 on the two-hour cruises. The sunset trip can be spectacular.
Advantage: Hyannis, if only for the varnished teak and mahogany of the historic vessel.
Hyannis: Ed Bogle has been making fudge at the Village Fudge Shoppe (576 Main St., 508-778-0350) for 32 years, and his aunt’s fudge recipe predates the shop by another half century. Plain chocolate is most popular (though he did introduce chocolate with walnuts 10 years ago). The colorful Bogle is personally partial to penuche — a brown sugar fudge made with double the cream.
Provincetown: During the height of summer, the Provincetown Fudge Factory (210 Commercial St., 508-487-2850, www.ptownfudge.com) stays open until 2 a.m., allowing late-night revelers to satisfy a sweet tooth with such offerings as chocolate-raspberry, cranberry-walnut, or chocolate-coconut fudge.
Advantage: Hyannis. Bogle hand-whips his slightly cooled fudge in the window — a nifty bit of street theater.
Hyannis: Huddling under the big blue canvas of the Cape Cod Melody Tent (21 West Main St., 508-775-5630, www.melodytent.org) has been a Cape tradition for more than six decades. The design of the venue ensures that performers are up close and personal, and the lineup is always a sizzling mix of oldies, pop, jazz, and comedy.
Provincetown: Carrying on the torch of Provincetown’s venerable theatrical history, the Provincetown Theater (238 Bradford St., 508-487-9793, www.provincetowntheater.org) has one show left this summer: a send-up of Hollywood films about nuns called “The Divine Sister.” The theater building was created in 2003-04 by converting the former Cape End Motors garage.
Advantage: Hyannis. It’s hard to fault a lineup that includes Seal, Lyle Lovett, Wanda Sykes, and k.d. lang.
Hyannis: Cindy and Tom Duby of Caffe Gelato Bertini (20R Pearl St., 508-778-0244, www.caffegelatobertini.com) make their gelati using recipes from Florence. Chocolate is the top seller, especially when you count variations like cocoa mint, chocolate orange, and chocolate chipotle. For an especially Italian treat, Bertini offers an affogato: up to three scoops with a shot of espresso.
Provincetown: Some of the favorite flavors at Lewis Brothers Homemade Ice Cream (310 Commercial St., 508-237-0522, www.lewisbrothersicecream.com) sound as much like bar concoctions as frozen delights. They include White Russian (vodka, Kahlua, and coffee) and Mudslide Chip (vodka, Kahlua, Bailey’s, and chocolate chips). In addition to vanilla and chocolate, the shop also sells a lot of both ginger and pistachio.
Advantage: Provincetown. The Lewis Brothers concoct an unpredictable flavor of the week.