When you think of Nantucket, you think of vast summer homes of the wealthy and famous; plaid pants, popped collars and outings filled with croquette and sangria. However, this beautiful New England island has a saltier past filled with whaling ships, burly ship hands and foul-mouthed sailors. Thanks to a strict building code, you’re able to see the island as it was in the early 1900s.
Many people assume Nantucket is just a sister island to Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Nantucket and its island residents have a strong heritage and an even stronger island spirit. From the uniquely Nantucket shingled homes, cobblestoned Main Street and many fisherman wharfs and boardwalks, you’ll quickly see that Nantucket has a feeling and a personality all its own.
Where to stay
If you’re looking for a hotel with stunning views and a rich, deep history, book your stay at the Nantucket Hotel and Resort. The hotel just opened in 2012, but the building has been around since the golden era of Nantucket, around 1891. From the outside, it looks like a regal structure, a hotel you’d see in movies from the early ’20s, complete with lavishly dressed guests. Thanks to a massive renovation, the lobby and rooms reflect more modern conveniences and decor with a small nod to seaside history — old maps of Nantucket on the wall, whale pillows and plenty of sailboat motifs. The location is walking distance to the whaling museum and the children’s beach. Rooms start at over $500 in season.
For something a little smaller with more of a bed-and-breakfast charm, stay at the Jared Coffin House on Broad Street. The house, which was the largest home on the island when it was built in 1845, has the aura and charm of old money, with antique-filled parlors and rooms furnished with historical tapestries and four-poster beds. The amenities are what you would expect, like late-afternoon port in the impressively stocked library or access to the quiet garden across the street. If you’re a shopper, you’ll love the inn’s proximity to the Historic District’s unique and eclectic boutiques. Rooms start at $155 during high season.
Where to play
Although the beaches have great allure during the summer months, there’s more to see and do on Nantucket Island. The Whaling Museum is a must for visitors of all ages. Located on Broad Street, the museum offers an animated crash course on the island’s very colorful and salty history. Complete with a fully-rigged whale boat, harpoons and sailors’ crafts, there’s plenty on display to give you insight on the historic island.
If you’re more into historical sights and photography, you have to visit the Brant Point Lighthouse. Built in 1901, this 26-foot white-washed beacon offers breathtaking views of the island. For more stunning views of the island, go up the tower (all 94 steps) in the First Congregational Church, located on Centre Street. The tower rises up 102 feet, offering the best overall view of Nantucket. While there, make sure to check out the church’s l’oeil ceiling, which was crafted in 1852. Be sure to stop by the recently renovated Dreamland on South Water Street to catch a movie, play or show in the 18th-century theater.
If strolling down cobblestone streets in search of unique souvenirs and island clothing, visit the island’s Historic District. Most of the antique shops, like Nantucket Country and Nina Hellman Marine Antiques, are located on Centre Street, while many clothing shops, like Murray’s Toggery and Nantucket Brand, are on the cobblestoned Main Street. You’ll find great candy, cookie and sweet shops like the Nantucket Cookie Company and Nantucket Gourmet on India and Broad streets. We recommend taking a few hours to shop and explore.
Where to eat
Start your day at Black-Eyed Susan’s, a local institution on Nantucket Island. During peak summer months, you may have to wait to get in; however, once you sink your teeth into the Jack Daniels infused butter and sourdough french toast, you’ll forget all about it. If you’re on the go and just want a baked good, stop by the Petticoat Row Bakery. Here you’ll find super-flakey croissants, incredible muffins and amazing whale cookies.
For lunch, you can’t beat the Straight Wharf Fish Store. Here you’ll find buttery lobster rolls, melt-in-your-mouth clam chowder and some of the best tuna or swordfish on the island. After lunch, go grab a beer at Cisco Brewers. During the summer it can definitely be more like a frat party than a relaxing brewery, but the beer is hoppy and refreshing.
If you’re with kids who are craving pizza, stop by the Pi Pizzeria. It’s Nantucket’s only wood-fired pizza and definitely the best on the island. We love the white-clam pizza topped with arugula and crispy pancetta. The crust is raised and crispy on the outside but super soft and moist in the middle. For dessert, go to Juice Bar. It has the best hand-crafted ice cream on the island and has traditional flavors like vanilla and rum raisin. You’ll definitely wait for hours during the Fourth of July, but the creaminess of the ice cream is worth it.