One of several artist shacks that still remain in Province Lands and are available for rent during the summer and fall.
Photo Credit : Ian Aldrich
Each year, the eclectic oceanside community of Provincetown, Massachusetts, at the tip of Cape Cod, takes its rightful place in Yankee’s “Best of New England” issue. Its status as one of the region’s premier vacation destinations is easily justifiable. There are the beaches, of course, plus an abundance of great restaurants and a thriving arts scene.
There are also the dunes.
You see, just beyond the lively hum of Provincetown’s downtown center is the Province Lands area of the Cape Cod National Seashore. Here, visitors can find what the playwright Eugene O’Neill described in 1919: “a grand place to be alone and undisturbed.” On the cape. Even in summer. Yes, it’s true.
A scrubby, dune-filled sprawl of sand and water, the Province Lands area has long held a special place in the hearts of locals and visitors alike — so much so that it fell under government protection back in 1714, when forward-looking colonial leaders, fearing the deforestation that had already decimated the Outer Cape’s woodlands, restricted tree cutting to keep the sands of its northern tip from blowing into the harbor.
O’Neill wasn’t the only artist who found solace out here. Others followed — including Jack Kerouac, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning, to name a few — and they would squat on the dunes or sleep in simple shacks they erected. A number of those shacks still remain, and artists from around the world flock to the Outer Beach every summer to rent them.
But perhaps nobody knows this slice of land and water as well as the Costa family. In 1946, Art Costa, a Provincetown native and son of Portuguese immigrants, had recently returned from World War II and needed a job. In the sandy landscape just outside his hometown, he saw an opportunity. Costa fired up his 1936 Ford Woody and began giving tours of the dunes and beaches of the Outer Beach, and Art’s Dune Tours was officially born.
Costa was a prescient businessman. Nearly two decades before the federal government set aside some 43,000 acres of prime seaside real estate to establish the Cape Cod National Seashore, he saw the area’s tourist appeal. So did others — some 15 local tour companies were in operation when Costa led his first group — but over time Art’s Dune Tours became the best-known (and eventually the only) outfit to guide visitors through the dunes.
Today Art Costa’s son, Rob, runs the business, and over the years he’s helped the company expand its services. There are sunset and lighthouse tours, a sunrise trip geared for photographers, and another outing by sailboat. These trips are fun but also information-packed, as the guides are well versed on the history and ecology of the area. What visitors come away with is more than just pretty dune photos.
Like both Cape Cod and Provincetown, Art’s Dune Tours is a frequent Yankee Editors’ Choice pick for one of the best summer attractions in New England. Last fall, we traveled to the cape to visit Rob and take one of his tours for a segment of the second season of Weekends with Yankee, our television show in collaboration with WGBH. Below is a selection of images from our trip.
Have you ever experienced Art’s Dune Tours?
Note: We met up with Rob Costa from Art’s Dune Tours for a spectacular off-road journey in a season 2 episode of Weekends with Yankee, our public television show in collaboration with WGBH. Check the Weekends with Yankee site to learn more about the series, plus when and where to catch episodes.