1. Window Shop
Vis a Vis is a chic and eclectic women’s clothing boutique that carries a nice selection of American-made accessories and clothing brands, as well as other trendy brands. They have a lovely array of Nantucket-specific items as well. Prices range from low to high.
Nantucket Bookworks is the place to go for scintillating beach reads, cerebral literary novels, and local-themed books. They also have a great selection of unique gifts and cards. And they’ve just recently added a Smoothie Bar.
Ambrosia Nantucket will please both gourmands and chocolate lovers with their selection of artisan chocolates and organic spices and teas. They also carry a small collection of pieces from one of my favorite Nantucket makers Nell Van Vorst. Her porcelain cups and trays are just amazing!
Be sure to wear comfortable shoes as the cobblestone streets are lovely to look at, but difficult to walk on, especially if you’re wearing heels.
2. Beaches, Beaches, and More Beaches
Nantucket has over 82 miles of beaches, most of which are accessible to the public. From downtown, some of them can be easily accessed via the WAVE bus run by the Nantucket Regional Transit Authority. Fares range between $1 and $2. Pedestrian beach access is free, while beach vehicles need a permit.
Surfside Beach is one of my favorite beaches and also one of the most popular on Nantucket. It’s only 3 miles from town and you can take the WAVE bus during the summer months. The pristine white sand and heavy surf are incredibly picturesque and it’s also great for beach combing. Just be aware that this is also Nantucket’s unofficially official nude beach. So don’t be surprised if you see some folks sunbathing au naturel.
3. Soak in the Scenery
If you’ve arrived via ferry and are only staying for the day, it’s almost enough to just spend your time walking around downtown. You’ll see quintessential Nantucket architecture, stroll down cobblestone streets, and visit the many shops and boutiques. Not to mention you’ll have lovely views of the harbor.
But if you have more time or are feeling adventurous, take the WAVE bus around the island, pop off here and there and simply stroll down the quaint streets or the bike path. You’ll see fantastic vistas and stunning beaches, as well as many examples of traditional Nantucket architecture.
4. Become a Nantucket History Buff
Nantucket is home to several museums. Both the Whaling Museum and the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum are located downtown. Housed in what used to be a candleworks, the Whaling museum offers an in-depth look at what life used to be like when Nantucket was the whaling capital of the word. They also feature a 46-foot Sperm Whale skeleton and the 1849 Fresnel lens that was used in the Sankaty Head lighthouse. And you’ll have a bird’s eye view of downtown from their rooftop terrace.
If you love purses, you’ll love the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum. These handwoven baskets have a rich history stretching from local Native Americans weaving ash baskets to sailors on whaling boats making baskets with the materials they had at hand to sailors on lightships (the equivalent of a lighthouse in boat form) weaving rattan baskets to pass the time. In the 1940s women’s handbags became popular and the modern era of the Nantucket Lightship Basket began.
A museum farther afield, but a definite must see, is the Nantucket Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum. You’ll be awestruck by the bravery of the locals who risked their lives to save shipwrecked mariners before the days of navigation systems and modern lifesaving equipment.
5. There’s Almost Always a Party
Festivals abound on Nantucket in almost every season, except for the dead of winter. In June for example, you can hit the Book Festival and the Film Festival. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it in time for the Book Festival, but I was able to catch two movies at the Film Festival: Captain Fantastic and Claire In Motion. Both movies were incredible with the added bonus of a Q & A with the directors of Claire In Motion after the film. Keep in mind that refreshments aren’t typically provided so you’ll have to bring your own.
There are also season-specific festivals, such as the Daffodil Festival and the Cranberry Festival. Held at the end of April/beginning of May, the Daffodil Festival celebrates the start of spring and includes a variety of events, including parades, tours, art exhibits, and the Nantucket Daffodil Flower Show.
When fall rolls around, it’s time to harvest the cranberries. The Cranberry Festival celebrates the harvest and gives visitors the chance to learn about the history of cranberry farming. There are also fun activities for children and families.
6. Go Wild
On Nantucket there are plenty of low cost options to explore the great outdoors. Both the Nantucket Conservation Foundation and The Nantucket Islands Land Bank support and maintain hiking trails on conservation land that are free and open to the public. Most of these trailheads are not easily accessible from downtown so you’ll need to figure out ground transportation.
Trail maps can be found here:
Please be aware that Lyme Disease is present so make sure you take the appropriate precautions.
7. Be a Mermaid
With the over 82 miles of beaches on Nantucket, there’s also a heck of a lot of water. So explore your inner mermaid and go for a swim or rent a kayak or paddle board. The beaches on the North Shore are protected by Nantucket Sound and generally have gentle surf, but you’ll want to check with your rental place and/or the lifeguards at your beach of choice. Rentals can be expensive so be sure to research the costs beforehand.
When in doubt, remain on the beach and soak up the sun because ocean tides and currents can be dangerous, especially if you’re not familiar with the area.
8. Travel With An Expert
There are a number of tours available. I’ve never taken advantage of any of these because I’m lucky to have a friend who lives here, but it seems like there’s a tour for everyone. Prices vary.
9. Seafood, Eat Food
There are plenty of restaurants on the island. The majority of eateries are located downtown, and seafood is served at most of them. Food is expensive on Nantucket because most of it has to be imported, but for relatively affordable dinning options, check out:
- The Brotherhood of Thieves This fun restaurant offers a great selection of appetizers, burgers, and sandwiches.They have a variety of drink options as well, including beers from the local favorite, Cisco Brewers. In the off season, they offer nightly specials, such as $5 burgers. Located downtown.
- Madaket Millies I think I love this restaurant as much for the story behind it as the food. Named after Mildred Carpenter Jewitt, otherwise known as Madaket Millie, this restaurant pays homage to this headstrong islander who dedicated her life to the beaches and waters of Nantucket. Millie was awarded the highest Coast Guard position a civilian can attain due to the tremendous assistance she provided to the Coast Guard throughout her life. She loved her animals more than anything, but she was also a good friend of Mr. Rogers, and she was even featured on an episode of his show. Some tables have beautiful views of Madaket beach, the same beach where Millie kept watch until her death in 1990. And the food here is pretty good too. Located in Madaket.
- Sophie T’s Pizza If you’re dying for a slice or an Arugula Prosciutto pie, this is the place to go. Features counter service and take out. Located mid island.
10. Grin and Beer It
After a long day at the beach, it’s super fun to head over to Cisco Brewers, which is also home to the Triple Eight Distillery and Nantucket Vineyards. You can do tastings and/or take a tour. You’ll also be able to grab some grub to go with your libations from the several visiting food trucks. It can get pretty crowded and parking is tight so it’s probably best to take the shuttle.