There’s something surprisingly authentic and arguably timeless about Nantucket, the understated oddball island sister who splits the coastal Massachusetts tourist trade with her more cosmopolitan siblings, Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod.
Perhaps it’s Nantucket’s relative isolation on the Atlantic side of its self-named sound. Or the staying power of its once essential, now thankfully archaic whaling tradition. Or the island’s unlikely, eye-popping spring floral explosion against its signature weather-beaten, shingled facades.
Whatever its origin, there’s no denying that Nantucket has mojo to burn. You can even hear the island’s playful, literate independence in the oddball hits by Grammy Award-winning local girl Meghan Trainor, who took pop music by storm with “All About that Bass” and “Lips Are Movin’.”
But be forewarned: Nantucket ranks as one of North America’s most expensive beach destinations. Such is the price of genuine mojo, I suppose. One fun way to save: rent a bike for your stay. After all, the island is only 14 miles long and 3.5 miles wide, and most of the activity is centered in the central harbor town of Nantucket, where invading ferries dock.
Ready to pack some well-heeled sand between your toes? Here are 10 ways to see, taste, and smell what Nantucket has cooking.
Walk into the light(houses): Touring Nantucket’s historic lighthouses ranks as one of the island’s most serene pastimes. Tiny wooden Brant Point Light, originally erected in 1746, welcomes visitors arriving by ferry. Sankaty Head, located at the end of Baxter Road in Siasconset, still serves as a navigational aid. But you’ll want to bring your hiking boots to visit Green Point, which blinks a sandy seven-mile off-road trek to the island’s northernmost tip.
Cisco Brewers: What’ll you have to drink? It’s a timeless question and Cisco Brewers has the answer, combining a brewery, Nantucket Vineyard winery and Triple Eight Distillery with live music and bon homme on the outskirts of town. Bike riders can wend their way to a nog via the Hummock Pond Road bike path, while daytrippers should check out the free courtesy van available at the Federal St. visitor’s center.
Nantucket Whaling Museum: Get up close and humbled by the 46-foot skeleton of a sperm whale that serves as the centerpiece for this emersion into Nantucket’s colorful first industry. What’s more, it’s housed in a former candle factory built in 1847, following the Great Nantucket Fire.
First Congregational Church: The oldest and largest house of worship on Nantucket still holds services on Tuesdays and Sundays, but its chief tourist draw may be upstairs in the bell tower, which offers an unparalleled view of the island.
Jared Coffin House: Though it may sound like the lost Freddie Kruger sequel, this 1686 (!) home is Nantucket’s oldest and the lone surviving structure of the island’s 17th century past.
Maria Mitchell Aquarium: In the outside chance that you or your young’uns don’t experience the thrill on your own, you can pet a variety of locally-collected sea life, from lobsters to octopuses to sharks, and learn a bit more about them before they’re returned to the wild at season’s end. Indeed, this place is all about that bass!
Nantucket Island Surf School: Fancy some water fun? Get thee to Cisco Beach, where kids of all ages can learn to fall from a board gracefully with the help of individual or group lessons.
Theater Workshop of Nantucket: For six decades, this locally-grown thespian troop has been presenting the best of Broadway musicals, dramas and one-act comedies by the likes of Woody Allen, Ethan Coen and Elaine May.
Rose & Crown Pub: Known locally as “the Crown,” this 30-year-old pub and eatery once served as a stable for horses and carriages in the 1800s. Still the best place on-island to embarrass yourself on Thursday karaoke nights.
Altar Rock: Located 100 feet above the island’s middle moors, Altar Rock is the out-of-town sunrise/sunset destination of choice for hikers, bikers and participants in the infamous Nantucket Dog Walk. There’s no better place than this to truly rub elbows with the Nantucket mojo.