What to do in Nantucket, Massachusetts

Things to do on Nantucket

Brant Point Lighthouse, Nantucket

A tiny slip of land thirty miles out to sea off the coast of Massachusetts, Nantucket is an island of pristine beauty.  But in addition to its unspoiled landscapes, it has so much more to offer and there's something for just about everybody.  From the quaint, historic downtown to the tranquil bike paths and nature trails that cover the island, there are activities for all tastes and appetites.  Discover museums, admire historic architecture, shop eclectic boutiques, browse art galleries, or dine in exceptional gourmet restaurants - it all can be found here - and it's yours for the exploring!

Entering Nantucket Harbor

Beaches, Beaches, and more Beaches

We're surrounded!

Sconset Beach, Nantucket Massachusetts

The hands-down best thing about Nantucket is the beaches. It is, afterall, an island, so beaches are in abundance! And with so many to choose from, you can find a beach that suits your needs, whether you're looking for calm seas for swimming with small children or more serious wave action for experienced swimmers.

For families, Children's Beach, Jetties Beach, and Dionis Beach are all excellent options. They each have lifeguards and restrooms, but there are also playgrounds and food services at Children's and Jetties. All have surf that is calm enough for children (of course, you'll need to make your own judgement based on current conditions)

Of the other beaches around the island, some have services available, but some do not. Doing your homework before heading out is a good idea. One of the most popular beaches in summer is Surfside Beach which is located 3 miles from town on the south shore, but with access via paved bike paths or the island shuttle service. There is plenty of surf with a wide beach that is great for picnics, beach games, and is popular for surfcasting. Lifeguards, restrooms, showers, and food service are also available at Surfside as well.

With over a dozen different beaches to choose from, no matter what you're looking for, you'll find it here.

Nantucket Town

Where the shopping is the best!

Downtown shop, Nantucket Massachusetts

Nantucket offers a multitude of fabulous shops that can capture your heart (and your pocketbook) if you let it. Never fear though, shops run the gamut from ultra upscale to beach community casual, but nowhere will you find neon lights or tacky storefronts. Nantucket maintains a congenial and pleasant appearance in every aspect, and this holds true for the entire shopping district of town as well. Welcoming windows framed with overflowing flower boxes draw you in and set the stage for the wonderful treasures you will find within. Whether you're looking for antiques, home furnishings, books, clothing, or fine original art by island artists, you will be delighted by the variety of options to while away the day. If you seek something for your home to remind you of your time on-island, Nantucket Looms, The Lion's Paw, and Leslie Linsley are for you. These wonderful shops offer hand-woven products, unique items from around the world, and finely crafted products made in their island studios. A trip to Nantucket wouldn't be complete for me without a visit to each.

Island artists are thick on the ground on Nantucket, and rightly so. The light and beauty here are an irresistible draw for artists of all mediums. Of course, art is a highly personal matter, but some of my favorite island artists which I would recommend checking out while on Nantucket are Illya Kagan (at South Wharf Gallery), G.S. Hill (at Hills of Nantucket on Straight Wharf), and Bill Welch (William Welch Gallery). Each has a style all their own, yet they all expertly capture quintessential Nantucket.

If books and other memorabilia are what you desire, visit The Museum Shop at the Whaling Museum on Broad Street or either Nantucket Bookworks (also on Broad Street), or Mitchells Book Corner (on Main Street). You can lose yourself here for quite a happy while. There are so many other fine shops and boutiques as well, too numerous to mention. My advice is to go ahead, indulge yourself, and spend some very pleasant hours meandering in and out of the wonderful stores around Straight Wharf, Main Street and Centre Street.

Nantucket Gifts

The Laughing Whale Store - dedicated to Nantucket lovers

The Laughing Whale is a specialty store where you'll find fun gifts and unique products to suit every taste. Pillows, postcards, custom jewelry and posters are but a few of the treasures they've created for you.

Don't forget to wander around Straight Wharf

The adorable little shops here are not to be missed!

Take in a Museum

You won't be disappointed

Nantucket Whaling Museum

The Whaling Museum of the Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) is an island treasure that documents and celebrates the islands rich cultural and whaling history. If you visit Nantucket, you owe it to yourself to visit this museum. Located in the heart of town, and originally housed in the 1847 candleworks factory used during the end of the island's whaling era, it was restored as part of an extensive expansion and renovation effort in 2005. The Whaling Museum today is a top-quality exhibition space with a rooftop observation deck and an impressive collection of whaling artifacts and decorative arts, including scrimshaw and lightship baskets. But the most dramatic display is the forty-six foot long skeleton of a whale that is the centerpiece of the museum's Gosnell Hall. Be sure to pick up a schedule when you enter the museum and take time to listen to some of the short lectures given by the museum staff here. Their fascinating presentations will surely transport you to another time and place and leave you with a deep appreciation of the life of a Nantucket whaler.

Another notable museum on island is the Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum located on the Polpis Road outside of town. This relatively modest-sized museum is dedicated to preserving the memory of those Islanders who risked their lives performing sea rescues in the treacherous shoals in the waters surrounding Nantucket. Captivating displays and family-friendly exhibits are designed to appeal to all ages.

Celebrating the life of Maria Mitchell, The Maria Mitchell Association was founded in 1902 by family, friends and former students of this remarkable woman. A Nantucket native, astronomer, naturalist and educator, she achieved international fame after she discovered a comet in 1847, and later when she was appointed the first American Professor of Astronomy at Vassar College. Preserving her legacy, The Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association operates two observatories, a natural science museum, an aquarium, and Mitchell's historic birthplace at their Vestal Street locations.

Other sites of interest

History is alive and well here on Nantucket

The Nantucket Historical Association also administers several other historic sites around Nantucket, serving to preserve and interpret the history of this unique island for visitors and residents alike. An Historic Sites pass can be purchased at any of the historic sites listed here and will provide admission to all four of these properties.

The Old Mill was built in 1746 by sailor Nathan Wilbur who had spent time in Holland. It is the only surviving mill of the four "smock mills" that overlooked Nantucket town and it remains the oldest functioning mill in the country. Located at 50 Prospect Street.

Greater Light is an18th century livestock barn lovingly converted to a summer home by the Monaghan sisters in the 1920's. Harkening back to the time when Nantucket drew a summer colony of artist to its shores, this home is wonderfully preserved and unique in its eclectic collection of furniture, art, and architectural flourishes. Located at 8 Howard Street.

The Hadwen House is a Greek Revival mansion built in 1845 by wealthy whaling merchant and silver retailer, William Hadwen. Tours of the downstairs parlors displays the grand furnishings and rich lifestyle enjoyed by one of the islands prosperous leading citizens of that time. Located at 96 Main Street.

The Quaker Meetinghouse on Fair Street was constructed in 1838 to serve one of the three sects of Quakers that resided and worshipped on Nantucket. The dominant religion of 18th century Nantucket, Quakerism was observed by the ruling class of the island and most residents during the prosperous whaling decades.

There's so much to see and do

And it's a small island, so you won't get lost!

Biking and Hiking

Get close to nature

View from Polpis Road

Visitors are encouraged to leave their cars on the mainland, especially during the summer when the population on the island quadruples in size.  And since there are miles of well maintained bike paths to take you to all parts of the island,  getting around without a car really is the way to go.  Bring your own bikes or rent them at any one of the bike shops on the island - they have everything you need to outfit the entire family.  Just pick up a map of the paths out of town, purchase a picnic lunch, and take off.  There's really no better way to see the beautiful landscapes that make up Nantucket.

If you'd rather explore on your own two feet instead, Nantucket offers miles of walking and hiking trails that are second to none.  Just walking around Nantucket Town can be as rewarding as any of the more outlying areas, with its unique architecture and fascinating history - and the walking tours offered by the Nantucket Historical Society are a good place to start.  But if you'd like to see more open spaces, you've come to the right place.  As a community, Nantucket has been at the forefront of protecting its natural spaces and half the island is protected as forever open-space.  Some of the best places to experience natural Nantucket are Sanford Farm (aka Rams Pasture) off Madaket Road, with over 15 miles of trails to explore its 1000 acres.  The Squam Farm and Squam Swamp trails offer a number of looping trails through meadows, hardwood forests, and past vernal pools.  A personal favorite is Altar Rock, once thought to be the highest point on the island, it is still a dramatic spot to see the rolling hills and moors, and on a clear day you can see the Atlantic Ocean, Polpis Harbor and Nantucket Sound. For more information and trail maps, visit the Nantucket Conservation Foundation website.

Keep Nantucket close all year long

With a beautiful 2013 Calendar

Dining on Nantucket

The best restaurants are on this island!

Nantucket is well-known for its fabulous restaurants and lives up to its stellar reputation with delicious ease. Dining out on Nantucket is such a foodie's delight with close to eighty restaurants to choose from. You might just have a hard time choosing where to go, especially if your time on-island is limited.

Before you go to Nantucket preview what the island has to offer by visiting the Nantucket Food and Wine website. It will be time well spent. A extensive listing of restaurants and food related information is available there including a break down by establishments serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner that should help you make some decisions before you even leave the mainland.

But if you're looking for a couple of recommendations, we would definitely say that there are a few places on-island that we visit whenever we have the chance.

For lunch, try Arno's, The Brotherhood of Thieves, or The Tavern at Harbor Square for a casual sit-down meal that will be sure to please.  If you need a picnic lunch to take to the beach, stop by Provisions or if you're heading out of town to the west, stop at Something Natural - their amazing bread is baked on premises and the sandwiches are not only delicious, they're enormous!

Perennial favorites of ours for an evening of exceptional fine dining include The Club Car, Straight Wharf Restaurant, Company of the Cauldron and American Seasons. Straight Wharf has a wonderful deck out back that overlooks the harbor and in the summer it is just a fabulous place to enjoy an exquisite meal. 

A Taste of Nantucket

Cookbooks that bring the island home

Bring the tastes of Nantucket home to your house with these terrific cookbooks from some of the islands beloved restaurants and executive chefs.

Nantucket Taste Memories: The DeMarco Restaurant Cookbook
Donald E. DeMarco
Amazon.com: $28.13

"...Patrons of DeMarco Restaurant will be delighted that Don has shared so many prized recipes. All are scaled for the home kitchen and easy to follow." --Yesterday's Island

The Nantucket Restaurants Cookbook: Menus and Recipes from the Faraway Isle
Samara Farber Mormar
Amazon.com:

A true foodie's cookbook features dishes from 18 restaurants representing the highest of high-end dining.

Nantucket Open-House Cookbook
Sarah Leah Chase
Amazon.com:

For anyone who wants to make the most of fair-weather dining all year round, this terrific cookbook contains more than 250 recipes from island chef Sarah Leah Chase. 

Pasta Sfoglia: From Our Table to Yours, More Than 100 Fresh, Seasonal Pasta Dishes
Ron Suhanosky
Amazon.com:

Although Sfoglia on Nantucket has since closed its doors, you can still relive those exquisite recipes right in your own home with this fabulous cookbook.

BarefootMusing's Photographs of Nantucket

The photographs on this leaf are the personal property of the author and cannot be used or reproduced in any way without the author's written consent.

Have you ever been to Nantucket?

What are your thoughts of the island?

Whether you've spent time on Nantucket, have just heard of it, or are maybe thinking about a visit, please share with us your thoughts of this lovely island.  If you found this information helpful, we'd love to hear from you too!

Comments

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28 leaves
1103 forum posts
Bonita on said:
Nantucket sounds like a wonderful place. My in-laws are in Massachusetts so I'll have to see if we can visit Nantucket when we go up that was some time. Thanks for all the great info.
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49 leaves
51 forum posts
It was my pleasure! Nantucket is my touchstone and I'm happy to share it with others. Stay tuned, more Nantucket articles will be coming soon ;-)
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16 leaves
65 forum posts
It looks beautiful and full of history. I'd love to go there one day! What a great guide to Nantucket you've created here. I also think Maria Mitchell sounds amazing.
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122 leaves
1153 forum posts
Gosh but I so want to get back down by the water again. It would be so much fun to live near a beach or the ocean. Loved your Nantucket Massachusetts pictures.

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