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independently owned and operated since 1977

The Road Less Traveled

Art’s Dune Tours at 75

by Rebecca M. Alvin

Top Image: Rob Costa touring the dunes. Photo: Rebecca M. Alvin

People come to Provincetown for all sorts of reasons. There’s the unique blend of historical and present-day cultures, the welcoming atmosphere and fun shops on Commercial Street, the artistic legacy, the nightlife, and of course, the National Seashore. But no matter what the purpose of your visit, if you drive into town along Route 6, you are immediately struck by the natural beauty of the landscape as you come around the bend at the top of the hill as you pass Pilgrim Heights. To your left, the glistening bay, seemingly retained by the long row of Days’ Cottages along Route 6A. But to the right, the dunes protrude from scrubby brush and Pilgrim Lake, announcing your entrance into a place like no other. And as you drive past the “Entering Provincetown” sign, you are engulfed in the sandy mountains of the Outer Cape. No matter who you are or why you’re here, the dunes are a quintessential part of Provincetown.

Seventy-five years ago, Art Costa realized this. After earning a Purple Heart in the Army during World War II, the native Provincetowner returned here and started a beach taxi business, ferrying people around in his 1936 Ford Woody, to the beaches, into town, and to the dunes. And so began Art’s Dune Tours..

Archival image courtesy of Art’s Dune Tours

“He was a very gentle, soft-spoken, friendly guy,” says Rob Costa reflecting on his dad, who died in 2006. “He had a lot of friends in town. Both my parents were very well-loved in town.”

Although Costa drove for his father’s company as a young man, he didn’t take it over until around 2003, he says. In between, he was a tour director for Collette Tours, traveling all over the world. Between his father’s outgoing, tour-guide proclivities and love of the dunes and his own experiences with Collette, Costa is perfect for the job.

Archival image courtesy of Art’s Dune Tours

The dune tour involves a caravan of trucks driving out into a restricted area of the dunes off of Route 6, what Costa calls “The outback of Provincetown,” a 4,000-acre stretch of sand dunes, beaches, and forest lands. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year each truck has only one party at a time and masks are required. But other than that, the tours have been able to continue with adjustments made as needed. In addition to the standard tour, there are also combination kayak/dune tours, a unique Art with Art’s tour, includes a demonstration and art lesson from an artist so you can let your creativity shine out there in the dunes, and other specialty tours. It’s an excellent way to enjoy Provincetown outdoors. More importantly, the tours are a fascinating combination of ecological, cultural, and historical information, with stops for photography, and plenty of laughter along the way, as Costa happily shares his dad-joke humor.

Archival image courtesy of Art’s Dune Tours

Each dune tour operator brings a unique perspective to the tour, but all are knowledgeable about the various elements that make this area so vital. As Costa points out, it’s “the biggest part of Provincetown [covering 75% of the land here] and yet the road less traveled.”

On each tour, you will learn about the 19 dune shacks that exist out there under special provisions. The shacks were originally created as beach huts for people stranded from shipwrecks, an idea that later developed into the life-saving stations and eventual Coast Guard we now have. The shacks have been home to legendary artists and writers and Provincetown nobility, each one with its own enchanting history that your guide can share with you.

Archival image courtesy of Art’s Dune Tours

You’ll also see and learn about the vegetation out here, which was not always part of the landscape. In fact, for more than a century, the land was an almost entirely barren sandscape before it was reforested. It is now home to wild cranberries, beach plums, wildlife like coyotes and fox, and the land features an occasional freshwater lens or aquifer that naturally occurs, creating what looks like a large puddle or an oasis in the middle of the desert-like landscape.

Costa fills his tour with personal references, such as when Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway were here to film The Thomas Crown Affair in 1968 and Costa’s mother baked McQueen a pie or the special tree he’s noticed all his life, which he calls the Perseverance Tree because even though it was knocked over ages ago, it regrew through the dunes into an odd shape that still stands.

And then there are those dad jokes, such as the one about the outhouse next to one of the dune shacks. “That’s called the International House. You know why? Because before you go in, you’re Russian to get in there. And then when you’re in it you’re European. Then when you’re done, you’re Finnish,” he says with a broad smile. “That’s my dad’s joke.”

Archival image courtesy of Art’s Dune Tours

What’s the secret to staying in business this long in a competitive market, with a short season and slim margin for error? Costa says it goes back to his dad. “He just loved the dunes and I think that’s what separated us from all the other companies that have come and gone through the years. There were probably like 16 companies that have come and gone but we persevered because of my father’s passion.”

Art’s Dune Tours, located at 4 Standish St., Provincetown, operates daily excursions as well as by-request special tours, April 15 – November 15. Reservations are required and must be made by phone currently. For general information visit and to reserve call 508.487.1950.

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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