Last month, I visited the charming island of Nantucket with my dear friend Rachael. This New England treasure was founded in 1641 as a shipping and whaling town. Today, the island attracts travelers from all over the world in the summer. Nantucket is known for its sandy beaches, iconic lighthouses, picturesque harbors, grey shingled cottages and delicious food. I am excited to share our trip with you.
Nantucket lies in the Atlantic Ocean, roughly thirty miles from Cape Cod and fifteen miles from Martha’s Vineyard. Nantucket is nicknamed the Grey Lady of the Sea since the island is often obscured by a thick fog. Flights are 30 minutes from New York City. You can also travel to the island via a six-hour ferry from New York City.
WHEN TO GO: High season in Nantucket runs from Memorial Day to Labor Day. During these months, you can expect large crowds and expensive hotels. During the shoulder months of March, April, September and October, you can enjoy the island without the tourists. Hotel and flight prices are more affordable too.
HOW LONG TO STAY: Nantucket works well for both weekend getaways and a 1-2 week trips. This trip, we were on the island for 4 days, but we’ve also visited Nantucket for one or two weeks in the past.
WHERE TO STAY: Nantucket has several charming neighborhoods, each with their own unique flavor. Below are the 3 most popular neighborhoods:
- Town: For first time trips and weekend getaways, we highly recommend staying in town. You will be walking distance to fantastic restaurants, beaches, boutique shops and bus stops. On this trip, we stayed at the Jared Coffin House, one of the oldest properties on the island. This landmark hotel combines history with modern amenities.
- Sconset: Sconset is 8 miles from town and located on the eastern end of the island. Sconset is infamous for its rose-covered cottages and seashell path. There are a handful of shops and restaurants. In the evenings, Sankaty lighthouse casts its light on the local cottages.
- Madaket: Madaket is 6 miles from town and located on the western end of the island. This part of the island is known for its family friendly vibe and its spectacular sunsets.
HOW TO GET AROUND: Depending on where you stay, you can explore majority of the island without a car or bike. Since we stayed in town, we walked or took the bus to reach our destinations. If you are staying outside of town, you should rent a car or bike.
THINGS TO DO
1) Explore Downtown Nantucket. Nantucket has over 800 pre-Civil War era homes. You can spot some of these historic homes in the downtown area, where wealthy sea captains, ship owners and merchants lived. The downtown area also sports a ton of cute cafes, boutique shops and markets. If time permits, visit the Whaling Museum to learn the history of the town.
2) Visit The Iconic Lighthouses. Nantucket is known for its three distinct lighthouses: Brant Point, Sankaty Head and Great Point. Brant Point is located on Nantucket Harbor. This small white lighthouse was first constructed in 1746 and is the second oldest lighthouse in the United States. Brant Point is a short walk from town. It is a great spot to watch the sunset.
Sankaty Head is located on the eastern part of the island. This red and white lighthouse was built in 1850 and has one of the best views overlooking the ocean. We strolled along Sconset Bluff Walk, a gorgeous path that begins by the rose-covered cottages and concludes at Sankaty. At night, Sankaty lighthouse casts its light upon the gorgeous neighboring homes.
Great Point was first constructed in 1784 on the northernmost point of the island. To reach the lighthouse, you will need a 4×4 vehicle or take a guided tour with the Wauwinet hotel. Once you are at Great Point, you will find breathtaking views and the seals lounging on the beach or swimming in the ocean.
3) Grab a Drink at Cisco Brewery. Cisco Brewery has something for everyone with a vineyard, a distillery and a brewery. With live music, food trucks and a bustling crowd, Cisco is the perfect spot for a daytime drink and snack. There is a free shuttle to and from the brewery from town.
4) Relax At The Beach. Nantucket has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The waves and views differ from beach to beach.
- North Shore: Calm Waters
- Jetties Beach: Family favorite due to mild waves, lifeguards, restrooms, restaurant and watersports equipment
- Brant Point: Rocky beach not good for swimming, view historic lighthouse, watch boats enter and leave the harbor
- Children’s Beach: Close proximity to town, ideal for small children
- Dionis: Family favorite with calm waters, restrooms, showers and lifeguards
- South Shore: Strong Waves
- Surfside: Popular beach, lifeguards, food service and restrooms
- Cisco: Surf school, food carts, soft sand, strong waves, popular for surfers and young adults, not good for young children
- Western Shore: Can Have Strong Waves
- Madaket: Beautiful beach, spectacular sunsets, waves can be rough, lifeguards, restrooms, no food service on the beach
- Eastern Shore: Can Have Strong Waves
- Siasconset: Surf can be heavy with strong currents, lifeguards, restaurants and restrooms located in the nearby village
- Great Point: Hard to reach, no lifeguards, requires special pass to access beach by four-wheel drive
5) Admire The View at Steps Beach. Steps Beach is infamous for its picturesque wooden staircase that leads to the ocean. Walk down the stairs to travel to Dionis or Jetties Beach. Along the way, take in some of best views of the island.
6) Get Ice Cream at Juice Bar. Juice Bar is an island institution! It is the best spot for homemade ice cream and waffle cones. Be prepared to wait in a line that wraps around the corner during the summer. Trust us, it is definitely worth it.
7) Stroll on Sconset Bluff Walk: Sconset Bluff Walk is a scenic path to view the hydrangea-lined streets of Sconset. You will also see breathtaking views of the coast. When the path ends, you can walk towards the Sankaty Lighthouse. You can turn Sconset into a whole day adventure with a lunchtime sandwich at Claudette’s Sandwich shop, a swim at Sconset beach, a stroll on Sconset Bluff Walk and a visit to the Sankaty Lighthouse.
WHERE TO EAT
Galley Beach offers diners superb food in a stunning location with chic ambiance and excellent service. The restaurant began as a clam shack in 1958 and has evolved into a premier restaurant in Nantucket. We highly recommend the crab cakes, Eggs Benedict and lobster rolls for brunch. You can also stop by for a sunset cocktail or late night drink on the beach. You can read about dining at Galley Beach here.
Millie’s is located on the Western part of the island and mixes southwestern cuisine with seafood favorites. We recommend the lobster roll, which features with chunks of fresh lobster. Pair your roll with fresh blueberry lemonade spiked with Blueberry Vodka for a real lunchtime treat.
Breeze is conveniently located in the Nantucket hotel. The restaurant is whimsically decorated in nautical decor. The chef serves up contemporary coastal cuisine. We started our meal with the blueberry lemonade with 888 blueberry vodka and the crispy, flaky crab cake. For the main course, we ate the fresh halibut with a side of creamy mashed potatoes.
Or, the Whale is inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The restaurant serves new American fare. We highly recommend the decadent shrimp croquettes to start. For the entree, we share the branzino and cheeseburger. The branzino was light and flaky and paired perfectly with arugula puree and coconut rice. We absolutely loved the caramelized onions and tomato jam on the cheeseburger.
American Seasons serves up American fare with local, seasonal ingredients. We started with the light and refreshing beet salad. Next, we devoured the ricotta cavatelli with braised chicken thigh. We finished our meal with the halibut.
Club Car is a perfect spot to grab drinks or dinner. The bar itself is located in an actual train car. Late night, guests can enjoy karaoke.
Nantucket is a beautiful place to visit. I can’t wait go to back next summer.
Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there away off shore… Look at it.
– Herman Melville, “Moby-Dick; or, The Whale”