Nantucket Island, Massachusetts

Before Nantucket became a vacation hot spot, it was a whaling village.
By: Jennifer Plum Auvil

Long before Nantucket became known as a vacation destination, it was primarily a quiet whaling community off the coast of Massachusetts. These days, folks aren't flocking to this Atlantic isle seeking fortune from the sea, but are coming for the sheer beauty and peaceful nature of the island. The tourist season kicks off with the Daffodil Festival in April and tapers off in mid-November with the end of the cranberry season. But despite the increase in visitors over the years during the high season, Nantucket has preserved the rustic charm and shabby chic feel of yesteryear. So, pack up the kids and bid farewell to the car, fast-food restaurants, traffic lights and high-rise buildings and head for what the Native Americans called the "Faraway Land."

A visit to this New England gem truly does seem like a visit to a faraway fairytale land - one set against a bright blue backdrop of ocean and bay in a community of simple, weathered white cottages surrounded by wild roses. Small neighborhoods make up Nantucket, each one with a personality all its own. The historic district is the center of the island, with its cobblestone streets, harbor and truly amazing architecture. And there's good reason why Nantucket is listed in the Official Preppy Handbook - the stores around Main Street, including Murray's Toggery Shop, Peter Beaton Hat Studio and Nantucket Looms, still carry the tried and true staples for a perfectly prepped wardrobe. There are fewer stores across the island, allowing neighborhoods from Siasconset to Madaket to retain their small village appeal. So for real shopping, stick to Nantucket Town.

And as for the beaches, there seems to be at least one that meets most everyone's needs and preferences. For families, the most popular sandy stretches are Surfside Beach and Children's Beach, both with calm waters and no shortage of sandcastles. Another good choice for families is Miacomet Pond - the little ones will enjoy the pond area and the larger beach is perfect for the whole clan. Madaket Beach is known for its rougher surf and not-to-be-missed sunsets. For those seeking a remote beach, bike ride to Quidnet Beach and take in the view of Sankaty Head lighthouse. Or pack a gourmet lunch and ride to Siasconset Beach - the waves get pretty rough, but the atmosphere is reminiscent of something from Wuthering Heights. For more activity, explore one of the many bike trails that snake around less populated areas of the island. Charter a boat for a day of fishing. Rent a sea kayak and explore the coast. Or stay on land and explore the cranberry bogs or bird-watching high points.

With all these offerings, it's no wonder Nantucket Island made it onto this year's list of America's Best Beaches.

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Children's Beach alone is an example of the opportunities for the little ones.
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There are a variety of options for swimming, from the calm waters at Children's Beach, Jetties Beach and Surfside to the rougher waters of Siasconset, Polpis and Montgomery beaches.
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The sand is soft and the beaches are wide and flat.
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There is good reason for people to return to Nantucket year after year the small-town charm and delightful atmosphere.
Non-Beach Activities
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The town offers shopping, museums and historical walks as well as excellent bike trails, fishing, boat excursions and even mini-golf at J.J. Clammps.

Best Family Accommodations
Wade Cottages
Web Site:
Tucked away in the bluffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Siasconset Village lie the Wade Cottages. It won't be long before the whole family feels right at home with the worn beach chairs and private beach. All apartments and cottages have kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms to accommodate the entire family.

Best Budget Accommodations
Nesbitt Inn
Phone: (508) 228-0156
Located in the center of town, not far from the ferry terminal, is the reasonably priced Nesbitt Inn, serving up cozy accommodations in a family atmosphere. Guests share breakfast together as well as the bathrooms located in the hall, a small price to pay for such a warm and inviting atmosphere. The Nesbitt Inn welcomes families with children, a rarity among Nantucket inns, and even offers a swingset out back for some playtime after a day at the beach.

Best on the Beach
The Wauwinet
Web Site:
With 26 bedrooms and a handful of beachside cottages, the Wauwinet can easily be mistaken for a home away from home. That is, if "home" is a quaint cottage bordered by rose gardens and sandy paths, nestled among the dunes of a private beach along the Atlantic Ocean and Nantucket Bay. Each room is individually decorated with antiques and fully equipped with all the comforts of home - including a choice of movies and fresh popcorn available for in-room viewing and snacking. And take advantage of the many activities available on site, including tennis lessons, sailing, nature tours, whale watching, fishing and sailing, as well as lounging on the beach. Also, check out the Taste of Nantucket mid-week programs (which only run during spring and fall), offering free daily tours and activities including lobster fishing, shellfishing and tours of nearby cranberry bogs and natural historic landmarks.

Best Hideaway
The Summer House Cottages
Web Site:
It's hard to deny the romance permeating the Nantucket air, especially when tucked away in a private, gray-shingled cottage perched on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Siasconset. The Summer House Cottages take escapism to a new level - one that involves marble whirlpool baths and countless roses. Enjoy a swim in the beachside pool and lunch on the wooden porch of the inn's restaurant, which overlooks the sea. If you want to be where the action is, check out the locations near Main Street in town. Guests at these in-town locations can also use the inn's private jitney, which provides transportation from town to the beach and pool at the cottages.

Food & Drink

Best Bar
The Straight Wharf
Web site:
After a long day of boating or sunning, there are few better places to enjoy a beer at dusk than the outside deck at the Straight Wharf Restaurant and Bar. Situated on Nantucket Harbor, it's a great place for watching the comings and goings of boats as well as getting a perfect view of Brant Point in the distance. The bar menu offers some of the same treats served in the restaurant, but in a more relaxed setting. After a low-key dinner on the patio, head next door to the Gazebo, where the island's younger crowd parties in a fun, outdoor atmosphere.

Most Romantic Restaurant
The Chanticleer Inn
Web Site:
The Chanticleer is one of the best-known (and most expensive) restaurants on the island, serving fine French cuisine highlighting local specialties, including Nantucket striped bass, scallops and lobster. Chef Jean-Charles Berruet can rightfully stand behind his fresh fish choices - from May to October he rolls up his sleeves and joins his staff on fishing excursions in search of the ideal items for his menu. The food is delectable and the wine list, loaded with more than 1,200 selections from France to California, appeals to a wide variety of wine lovers. Served in an intimate setting and in a beautiful dining room, dinner at the Chanticleer makes any evening a special event.

Best Bakery
The Nantucket Bake Shop
Web Site:
More than 20 years ago, Jay Detmer and Magee Bradt were college students seeking summer employment on Nantucket while planning their fall wedding. As they chose the menu for their big day, they were learning the ins and outs of bread and pastry baking. Little did they know they were on the brink of a culinary legacy - the drool-worthy baked goods that keep islanders and visitors coming back for more year after year. Served in some of the finest restaurants on the island, these breads, pastries, cookies, cakes and assorted baked goods have gotten quite a reputation. A trip to Nantucket is not complete without trying Jay's homemade donuts or Magee's Chocolate Chunk cookies or raspberry squares. Many visitors take a piece of their Nantucket vacation home with them - in the form of the famous authentic Nantucket Portuguese Bread found only at the Nantucket Bake Shop.

Best Family Restaurant
The SeaGrille
Web Site:
While the SeaGrille's off-the-beach location may not seem the best on the island, there are few better options for quality family dining. Offering an extensive menu of New England seafood specialties, as well as an enticing children's menu, the SeaGrille caters to both Mom and Pop as well as the kiddies. And if you fall for the chef's special Quahog Seagrille chowder, it's available by mail order. If the kids are more interested in hot dogs and french fries than fish and chips, check out another town favorite, The Brotherhood of Thieves. Or, as the locals know it, "The Brotherhood," on Broad Street.


Best Festival
Nantucket Film Festival
Web Site:
For those with stars in their eyes, the annual Nantucket Film Festival adds a touch of glamour and art house cinema to the seaside charm of the island. If Cannes and Sundance are out of reach, check out this smaller scale film festival, which highlights independent movies. Events take place around the island and films are shown in the two classic theaters in Nantucket - the Gaslight Theatre (Union St.) and Dreamland Theatre (South Water St.).

Best Walking Tour
Historical Walks of Nantucket
Web site:
Interested in learning more about the history of Nantucket? Join a walking tour through Nantucket's historic district. A costumed guide tells real-life stories, navigating the crowd along the cobblestone streets. Learn about the island's transformation from a whaling Mecca to a popular and chic beachside resort town all the while enjoying the sights of Nantucket.

Best Rainy Day Activity
The Whaling Museum
Web Site:
Housed in an 1846 factory, the Whaling Museum offers some insight into the whaling industry that was once an integral part of daily life on the island. The museum houses whaling memorabilia, paintings and a skeleton of a 40-foot finback whale, as well as exhibits including "Whaling, Then and Now" and "South Seas Collection." Lectures are given daily on the history of whaling and tales of life at sea.

Best Natural Adventure
Strong Wings Adventure School
Web Site:
Strong Wings is a nonprofit organization offering ongoing adventure excursions for schoolchildren on Nantucket year-round. Residents on the island may send their children to summer camp at Strong Wings, which exposes children to nature and the environment through kayaking, snorkeling and stunt-kite building. Those looking for just a day in the wild can hire an eco-guide for a day of kayaking off the shores of Nantucket or experiencing the island's nature in a new and different way.

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