Taking in the Best That Nantucket Has to Offer!

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When I lived in Boston, we would occasionally zip over to Nantucket although I can probably count only a half dozen or so times over the years we made the effort. We tended to go to Martha’s Vineyard more often, which we skipped this past summer during our August visit since Obama was there at the time and security was through the roof.

I always thought of Nantucket is the “older island” when I was in my twenties since it seemed to appeal to the older, wealthier, more established New Englander, many of whom either had a second home there or semi or permanently retired to the island.

For those of you not familiar with Nantucket, it’s an island roughly 30 miles south of Cape Cod. Together with the small islands of Tuckernuck and Muskeget, it constitutes the town of Nantucket, Massachusetts and spans across only around 105 miles, so you can easily get around the island in a day.  The feeling of the place is very intimate even in the bubbling summer months, where the population bursts to around 50,000, up from its year round population of only 11,000.

We came in by fast ferry from Hyannis in Cape Cod, the preferred way of getting to Nantucket. As the boat comes into the harbor, you’re greeted with sailboats, quaint weathered wooden houses along the shore and men fishing in the distance. Bikes seemed to be parked everywhere and the place is….well, quiet, relatively speaking considering the chaos you normally get in a harbor town.

Once you arrive by ferry, you’ll want to meander around the main town for a bit and perhaps even book a restaurant for lunch or dinner in advance depending on the season. Inside the center of town, you can walk around, cycle or go by car, although I’d recommend the former two as your views and experiences will be much more interesting and the place is small enough to avoid a car. The houses are quaint and oh so New England, except that all the houses are made from natural wood, some more weathered in color than others depending on their age.

This was taken in one of the cute and quirky antique shops in the center of town.

Flowers are abundant during the summer and it appears that every lawn — front, side or back — is crawling with seasonal flowers.

Below is the front porch of the White Elephant Hotel and adjoining Restaurant, a long time renowned meeting point just outside of the center of town. We biked there and it was an easy ride.

The harbor in front of the White Elephant Hotel.

The White Elephant front porch.

Depending on your plans for the island and duration of your stay, you’ll either want to bring a bike or rent one. We got lucky since I have an old friend who lives just outside town who had a couple bikes we could use for the day.

If you’re there for a day trip or only have a couple of days, here’s a great way to spend one of them. Book a lunch or dinner reservation somewhere with outdoor seating if you’re there during summer or early fall – there is no shortage of great restaurants in and outside the town. Be sure to read our separate restaurant review write-up on the White Elephant. There’s also Sayle’s Seafood on Washington Street Extension which is best known for its fried clams, fish market and take out meals. If you have space and time, save room for dessert by stopping into Aunt Leah’s Fudge Shop at the Courtyard, Straight Wharf.

After lunch, rent bikes and head out of town. You’ll pass farmer’s markets and stands, sustainable shops, windmills, sunflowers (be sure to read our article on sunflowers, which is mostly photos), offshoots to the many beaches that Nantucket has to offer, a seemingly old cemetery and well manicured trees.

As you’ll head out of town, one of the more remarkable observations (if you’re not from the area), is just how well manicured everything is – from the lawns and gardens to the porches and driveways, everything feels a bit like the colorful side of Pleasantville, except that everyone in the town (and island) seems to be wealthy and semi-retired. If there is a slummy part of Nantucket, I’ve never managed to find it.

We did two complete loops and since the island is so small, you can take in a lot in a couple of days if you plan a route or two in advance and nearly all the loops can include a beach of two if that’s on your agenda.

The beaches are equally manicured and exactly as I had remembered them from my visits years ago when I lived in Boston. The beaches on the north shore of the island tend to have a gentler surf suitable for children, with the notable exception of Brant Point which has a strong current. Many of these are easily accessible from town and all have great views of either Nantucket Sound or the harbor. Great Point is also visible from some of these locations.

The beaches on the south shore of the island all face the Atlantic Ocean and tend to have a heavier surf. Some can have rip tides as well. Several of these are accessible by bike path or shuttle bus and have parking, facilities, and/or lifeguards.

Among the east coast beaches are what they refer to as inner harbor beaches, which tend to be the beaches for the more adventurous. Siasconset is accessible by bike path or shuttle bus which is recommended since there is limited parking. The outer beaches require beach permits to drive to them and 4-wheel drive. Some car rental companies can provide you with a permitted vehicle, so it’s worth asking about this in advance if that’s your interest.

The sunsets are out of this world – be sure to see our separate photo post on Nantucket sunsets, a series of photos which were mostly shot on a ferry coming back from Nantucket to Hyannis.

Here are links to read all of our posts on MassachusettsBoston and Cape Cod.

Note: Some of our activities were sponsored/hosted by the Massachusetts Tourism Board, but all opinions expressed are entirely our own.

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