I’ve had Nantucket on my bucket list for as long as hydrangeas and gray shingled homes have lived on my Pinterest board. My Mom and I decided on a mother/daughter trip for a week to relax, eat well, and take in all the coastal New England charm. After a week vacation it quickly became one of my favorite places. I can confirm it lives up to the hype–Nantucket is truly is a living breathing post card and a step back in time.
How to get there:
I had read many blog posts prior to booking flights, and travel had seemed complicated. But I was actually surprised by how easy it was to get here-even from Texas! The biggest hinderance was cost, flights are not cheap. There’s an option to ferry over on the Hyline if you’re coming in from Boston, the Cape or Martha’s Vineyard, but plane is definitely the easiest for most everyone else. It’s a small airport but they surprisingly have American, Delta and Jet Blue. I flew in from Houston, took a flight to Philly and got a quick, direct flight from Philly to ACK. Much less daunting than expected!
How to get around:
Another reason I wanted to visit Nantucket is because there are zero traffic lights, making it even more quaint than the neighboring MV and Cape Cod. There are Ubers (expensive at times) cabs (don’t use on a holiday weekend), the Wave shuttle bus, bikes and of course, walking. We’ve found the Wave to the most economical for taking day trips to different parts of the island since tickets are $2-3 each way. Ubers can get pricey depending on time of day and season but are usually still available. We also rented bikes from the Nantucket Bike Shop, and it’s not only been great for leisure riding, but for traveling to different beaches, into town and to different parts of the island. Renting a car isn’t necessary unless you plan to stay in a home or booking an extended stay. The town is very walkable and pedestrian-friendly!
When to visit:
After lots of research, asking locals, and my own observations July-September is best for a first time trip here. July and August are the busiest, the water will still be chilly, but hydrangeas are in full bloom and the town is full-on Americana summer. The locals notice the mass amounts of tourists, but it won’t seem any busier than anywhere else in the summer if you’re visiting for the first time. I’ve also heard Labor Day is a wonderful time to visit for a low-key trip, minimal tourists and warmer water.
What to pack:
For the summer, bring versatile outfits for both warm and cool weather. We visited early July and there were some days I was wearing a winter sweater and pants, and others I was sweating on the beach in a bathing suite, so pack for all the seasons! (Easy task, right?🤪) Attire wise, it is very low key on the island. Most people aren’t wearing heels or even wedges to dinners. It is an island chic, flow-y dress, statement accessories and sandals type of town. Pack your summer dresses and best cardigan!
Where to stay:
This depends on who you are going with and for how long. If you’re in a big group, I’d suggest an Airbnb. If you’re doing a couple’s trip or have less people, I highly recommend going the bed and breakfast route. It’s also another way to save money considering breakfast is always hearty and there are tons of perks like happy hours, coffee, tea, provided beach towels, bikes etc. We stayed at the Cliff Lodge and it did not disappoint! The home was built in the 1700’s and was so beautifully restored while maintaining its historical charm. We enjoyed the garden so much and spent a lot of our afternoons reading in the recliners among the hydrangeas and enjoying breakfast on the garden patio. The breakfast was also fantastic. They provide a generous homemade breakfast each morning, and coffee and tea during the day. It was also a short 10 minute walk to town and 15 minutes to the closest beach!
What to do:
Oh my gosh, WHERE do I start. We stayed for 8 nights and I was worried we wouldn’t have enough to do but *wow* I was so wrong. Our days were packed full and we were exhausted by 9PM every night. The island is pretty small, so if you’re active and comfortable exploring you won’t be bored!
Visit the Beaches
There are so many beaches to choose from, I could probably write an entire blog post on it. I didn’t get a chance to visit all of them, so this list is limited to what I went to, but is a great starting point for a first time visitor.
Steps Beach: This is most iconic and and likely what you’ve seen photographed. It surprisingly wasn’t a tourist trap and still felt relatively secluded. This beach was a 15–20-minute walk or short bike ride from Cliff Lodge and it did not disappoint. This is a must see for the view alone, and the beach itself is great too. Even with a small crowd it didn’t feel noisy or crowded. There are no bathrooms or food so be sure to pack your own food with you (hot tip❗️ ride your bike to Something Natural, grab sandwiches and take them with you to the beach-it’s located along the way!) Steps is also walking distance via shoreline to Jetties Beach which does have restrooms and food.
Galley Beach: This is a private beach wedged between Steps and Jetties and can only be accessed by hotel guests. If you want to visit, you can eat at the Galley Beach restaurant with tables on the sand–such a dream!
Jetties Beach: The busiest, most popular beach and is easily accessible from town. It has a big restaurant/bar, bathrooms, lifeguard and is where most tourists flock to. It was jam packed with families, tons of kids, big groups and a was little rowdier than others we visited.
Dionis Beach: An unexpected gem! We found this beach along the Cliff Road bike path and fell in love. An untouched beach with very minimal crowds, huge shoreline, and gorgeous dunes. A public restroom and lifeguard were available but there is no food onsite.
Madaket Beach: You’ll need a car, Uber or bike to get here but this is THE place to be for sunset. Sunset aside, the beach was gorgeous and wish we could have come back during the day. More on this below!
Sconset Beach: This is a great beach to visit when you are already visiting the town of Siasconset or “’Sconset” as it’s referred to. You can easily do the town in a day and everything is within walking distance, including the beach. Pack your lunch, grab food at the market or sandwiches from Claudette’s and it’s the perfect spot to spend the afternoon.
Children’s Beach: Not worth coming to unless you stumble upon it. It’s a sandy beach at the harbor near the center of town-not at the ocean! It does have a park and is good for kids to play, but not worth it for a whole beach day.
Surfiside Beach: Gorgeous beach on the southern part of the island but has rough waves and isn’t always ideal for swimming. Had multiple lifeguards and warnings for rip currents, under toe etc. It’s an easy few miles from town by bike and has both restrooms and food onsite. Bonus-we saw a cute seal here!
Bike the Island
I can’t recommend this enough. We rented bikes for the week from Nantucket Bike Shop and followed the bike paths from the Wave website. To get out of town you will have to share the road with cars, bikers and walkers but everyone is super accustomed to bikers so we felt pretty safe. The main roads all eventually lead into bike paths and most have signs toward beaches. For leisure rides, we took Cliff Road to Dionis (can go to Madaket for a longer ride), Sconset to the Sankaty Lighthouse (can bike from to Sconset but is 16 miles round trip-we took our bikes on the bus instead) and Surfside Road to Surfside beach. There are tons of others as well but if you aren’t a long-distance biker, I highly recommend these!
Visit the Lighthouses
There are three on the island. Great Point Lighthouse-not accessible unless you have a jeep permit, Santaky Lighthouse 1.5 miles from Sconset and Brant Point Lighthouse is a quick walk from town.
Sail the Nantucket Sound
This was a really fun morning activity but could also make for a great evening outing during sunset. We sailed with Endeavor and loved it! The sails are an hour and a half and we loved Captain Jim-he was super knowledgeable about the island and actually built the sailboat himself!
Visit Cisco Brewers
We didn’t get a chance to go but it was on our list and TONS of people recommended. I’ve been told they make their own wine as well if you aren’t a beer drinker. This is on our list for next time!
Visit Sconset and do the Bluff Walk
This is an absolute MUST! Sconset it the most fairytale-like village lined with rose-covered cottages and a quaint coastal charm. My recommendation is to spend the day in Sconset starting early after breakfast to beat the crowds. Jump on the Wave if you want to bring your bikes or bike down yourself (long 16 mile round trip-we opted out). Start with the Bluff Walk which starts at Front and Broadway, and goes through residential backyards. You’ll feel like you are in the wrong place, but you aren’t. It’s an easy two miles and can only be walked, so leave your bikes on the racks. The views of the ocean and the yards are stunning, it did not disappoint! Once you finish up the walk, head over to Claudettes (get the turkey sandwich with the works) and head to the beach for the afternoon. To end the afternoon grab your bike (or walk) to the Sankaty lighthouse, it is an easy 1.5 miles from the town square.
Stroll the Town
If anything, this may have been my favorite part of the trip. You could easily spend one whole day in town between all the cute cafés, shops, bookstores, ice cream shops etc. My mom and I would start in town and wander all the neighborhood streets and just melt over all the gorgeous homes, flowers, cobble stone streets and the pure timelessness of it all. The pace of life here is so what we needed, and we loved that some days we simply walked and took in all the beauty (and of course 10000 hydrangea pictures🙈).
Madaket Beach for Sunset
Another must! Even if the sunset isn’t great, it is so fun to picnic on the beach and watch the sun go down with the rest of the town. It is a super popular spot but didn’t feel touristy. Our plan was to grab dinner Millies prior, but the wait was an hour and a half, and they don’t take reservations. We ended up grabbing a bottle of wine and snacks from the next-door market and went for a makeshift picnic, which turned out to be even better!
Visit the Oldest House:
This is best seen as a stop along the way to the beach or to Something Natural (right next to it), but is worth seeing! It is beautifully preserved from the 1600’s and is usually open to the public to tour inside.
What to Eat:
The food scene here is incredible-come hungry. Make reservations in advance as restaurants book up quickly, even if it is just for two people. This list is everything we tried but there are a TON of other restaurants absolutely worth visiting that aren’t on this list. You won’t find a bad restaurant on the island!
Keepers-Fun cozy casual spot with a fresh and light food and it was a quick Uber right outside of town.
Island Kitchen: Loved this spot. Sit on the patio if you can, menu was similar to Keepers and was in the same area. They have an ice cream shop attached and it is hands down the best homemade ice cream on the island.
Gaslight-Fun bar that has an Asian fusion menu lineup. Food was awesome and is a good option if you want to snag a bar seat and eat a light dinner. Also service was 10/10-best servers and management that we had, hands down.
Via Mare: Venetian fare with a twist. They played on the flavors and spices from the trade within the port city of Venice. Located inside the Greydon House Hotel right in town. Loved the moody vibe in here and the food was delicious. Highly recommend a visit!
Galley Beach: Great for lunch, brunch or dinner and a little more high end. Ask for a table on the beach to sink your toes in the sand!
Straight Wharf: This was our priciest dinner, but the food was incredible. They are doing two courses for $75 a person which is new since Covid but loved the ambiance and the food was absolutely worth it. Great location too-we had a gorgeous view of the harbor.
Tap Room: I liked this one for an upscale casual atmosphere. The inside ambiance wasn’t great, but sit on their patio if you can!
Born and Bread Mercantile & Bakery– Best bread on the island by the loaf or as a sandwich. They sell out quickly, so go early!
Something Natural-My favorite spot to spend the afternoon. It’s to-go only but they have a large yard with shaded trees and picnic benches. Also great for a stop along the way to the beach.
Handlebar Café-Cute little coffee shop, worth a visit in the morning to sip and stroll☕️
Claudette’s Sandwiches-Casual sandwich shop in ‘Sconset. Get the turkey sandwich with the works!
Island Kitchen Ice Cream-Right next door to the restaurant. Excellent ice cream, don’t skip out if you have dinner here!
Juice Bar-You’ll know you’ve made it to the Juice Bar when you see the line wrapping around the building and crossing the street. The ice cream was good but I hate to say it wasn’t worth the hype for waiting in line.
Club Car-We didn’t make it for dinner but came for drink and loved it. We met some of the best people here of all ages and loved that it turned into a piano bar.
Gaslight-Has live music and a turns into a fun bar in the evenings🍹
Writing this post brought back all the best memories 🥲 and I’ll be daydreaming of my time spent here for many days to come. Until next time, ACK🤍