Herman Melville wrote in Moby-Dick, “Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore . . .” More than 100 years later, this tiny island 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod still defines itself, in part, by its isolation. At only 3 1/2 by 14 miles in size, Nantucket is smaller and more insular than Martha’s Vineyard, with only one town of any size (also called Nantucket). But charm-wise, Nantucket stands alone—all the creature comforts of the 21st century wrapped in an elegant 19th-century package.
Nearly all of Nantucket's 110-mile coastline is free and open to the public. Lifeguards, a playground, restrooms and the Downy Flake snack bar (famous for homemade doughnuts) make Children's Beach ideal for families. All ages flock to Surfside Beach, a southern strand, with great swimming and a popular bicycle/skate path. Crosscurrents make swimming dicey at Madaket Beach, a narrow beach pounded by surf and ocean crosscurrents, but its westerly location makes it ideal for catching sunsets.
Things to Do
The 43-foot skeleton of a finback whale greets visitors to Nantucket's Whaling Museum. Once a spermaceti-candle factory, the building recounts the history of what was once the island's foremost industry. Consider heading out on the waves yourself on 90-minute island tours aboard the 31-foot replica sloop Endeavor. The Maria Mitchell Association further explores the natural environment of Nantucket within six museum buildings, including an aquarium, a natural science museum and an observatory.
Shopaholics, beware: Nantucket is your kind of place. Island-made arts and crafts, including exquisite art glass, handmade baskets and custom jewelry, fill display cases in Nantucket Harbor wharf shacks. Nantucket Town also specializes in fine textiles. Purchase hand-woven throws at Nantucket Looms or a hand-hooked rug at Claire Murray -- unless you prefer to have the latter show you how to hook your own. Mitchell's Book Corner includes an entire room of regional and maritime-themed tomes.
Eating and Drinking
Nantucket's locals like to eat well, and the island's restaurants charge mightily for the privilege. Splurge on dinners of fresh-caught seafood, including lobster, clams and bluefish, served at upscale harborside restaurants throughout Nantucket Town. Menus change regularly to reflect the day's best catch. For casual dining, you can't go wrong with a huge, steaming plate of take-out fried clams from Sayle's Seafood. Nantucket's beloved Island Pharmacy is an old-fashioned soda fountain serving ice cream treats and tasty sandwiches.