Bringing a car to Nantucket, the tiny Massachusetts island 30 miles off Cape Cod, can be an incredible hassle in summer -- there are only six pokey car ferries per day from Hyannis, and they book up months in advance. Day visitors generally choose to come on foot (which frees you to opt for a high-speed ferry), but then they don't explore any farther than tourist-mobbed Nantucket Town. Your solution? Rent bikes. Flat, sandy Nantucket is heaven for beginning bicyclists, with paved paths leading all over. Bring helmets with you (they're required for children under 12) or rent them along with bikes in Nantucket Town at shops right by the wharf (visit www.wheelsheelsandpedals.com for more information). Nothing could be easier, or more fun.
Here's the lay of the land: Three major bike routes radiate out from Nantucket Town, one heading west to Madaket, 6 1/4 miles, one south to Surfside 3 1/2 miles, and the longest one a 17-mile loop out to Siasconset Beach ('Sconset to locals) and Sankaty Head lighthouse. It's classic beachy terrain, with few trees, wide skies, and swaths of tall dune grass on both sides. The pedaling is easy, and the island's small scale makes you feel you're really getting somewhere, especially when you hit the bluffs and get that Atlantic panorama. Picnic benches and water fountains are conveniently provided at strategic points along all the paths, which you'll appreciate if you're towing really young ones in a bike trailer.
Madaket is picturesque, especially at sunset, but has strong surf; with kids, you're better off turning right on Eel Point Road and swimming at gentler Dionis Beach. Popular Surfside beach is your best bet with young children, not only because the ride is shorter but because there's a snack bar. My favorite, though, is the ride to 'Sconset, even though it is the most demanding, longer and with a few hills. 'Sconset is rarely, if ever, crowded, perhaps because of the water's strong sideways tow. Lifeguards are usually on duty, but the closest facilities (restrooms, grocery store, and cafe) are back in the center of the village, which is lovely and worth a stop anyway. From 'Sconset, head north along the coastal path on Polpis Road, stopping off to snap Nantucket photos in front of the classic lighthouse at Sankaty Head. If you've planned ahead, though, you've booked an unforgettable naturalist-led tour (offered Juneâ??Oct) of the barrier beaches with the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge (tel. 508/228-6799; www.thetrustees.org; reservation required); detour up Wauwinet Road to the Wauwinet Gate House to meet the tour. By the time you pedal back into Nantucket Town and get back on the ferry, you'll have spent a day in the sun you won't soon forget.
Where to Stay: $$ Jared Coffin House, 29 Broad St. (tel. 800/248-2405 or 508/228-2400; www.jaredcoffinhouse.com).