Nantucket is known as a refined vacation destination. And getting more posh by the year. Located about 30 miles south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, this island has the isolation that some are looking for.
Be willing to splurge when you visit Nantucket. Room rates and dinner plates are quite pricey, but some of the most popular island activities can be experienced at reasonable prices. A visit to Nantucket is about riding through the cobblestone streets on your rental bike or lazing about on the shore with your favorite book in hand. So pack your swimsuit, and head to Nantucket. Continue reading our Nantucket Travel Guide and start planning! For a list of all the best East Coast beaches, click here.
Weather – When to Visit Nantucket
July and August are the hottest months, with an average high of 75°F. January is the coldest month, with an average high of 39°F. Nantucket is most popular between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but insiders prefer the shoulder season (April-June and September-November). September is ideal: the ocean is still warm, the restaurants are open, and there are fewer crowds. It’s also charming to visit in December, when the island is wrapped up like a Christmas tree in tinsel and white lights.
Know Before You Go
Nantucket’s location makes it vulnerable to unexpected changes in weather patterns. Always bring a coat, and be aware that high winds—which are more common in the winter—can cause ferry cancellations, and fog sometimes prompts flight cancellations. This island is still old-fashioned in many ways—some establishments (as well as taxis) only accept cash.
Surfside Beach, located on the southern shore, is one of the most popular beaches on the island. It’s definitely one of the most amenity-rich stretches of sand, too: Public rentals, showers, food kiosks and lifeguards are all here in the peak beach season. And although the waves may be too choppy for younger travelers, Surfside is great for catching a wave and participating in other gnarly water sports. This is the busiest beach on Nantucket.
Brant Point Light
Nantucket’s iconic Brant Point Light is said to be the country’s second oldest lighthouse by some aficionados. While this superlative isn’t completely true — the current tower dates to 1901, while the station has had a lighthouse since 1746 — the attraction remains a popular spot to view Nantucket Town’s harbor. You can’t go inside Brant Point — it’s still an active post used by the U.S. Coast Guard — but there’s still a lot to see here. The beach is a picturesque place to take a breather and watch the boats float by the harbor.
Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge
Located at the northern point of Nantucket, the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge provides protected habitat for hundreds of osprey and other rare sea birds. Other popular activities include surf-fishing, hiking and checking out the Great Point Light, but according to recent visitors, off-roading along the shoreline is probably the most popular activity on the refuge.
Northern Jetties is pretty similar to its southern, sandy counterpart, Surfside. Both bustle with activity in the summer and are loaded with beachside perks like food carts and public bathrooms. Because of its location on Nantucket Sound, Jetties’ waves are much calmer than those found at Surfside, making it a better place for younger or less-experienced swimmers. Jetties also has a boardwalk lined with casual eateries, keeping visitors from going hungry on an all-day beach trip.
The island’s local beer maker and distillery—and the country’s first outdoor brewery—plays host to a crossroads of islanders, and their dogs, in a laid-back, picnic-tabled setting with live music, a tented raw bar, corn hole, and play areas for kids. There’s a variety of Cisco beer on tap, including Island Reserve, a double IPA available only on island, as well as cocktails made with vodka, whiskey, rum, and gin from the adjacent Triple Eight Distillery (you can also buy a refillable growler for brews-to-go). Catch the free shuttle from in town or drive or bike yourself there.
Things to do in Nantucket
Nantucket Bike Tours
Their team has designed safe, memorable, guided bike experiences for all ages and abilities. Based right in town, guests can easily walk to their starting location and be fit with a comfortable bike and helmet. They will then head out on a 2-3 hour tour of the island. Their classic tours include a Town Adventure, Sunset Tour, Spin to Scionset, and the To the Brewery Tour. Telephone: 508-825-5362 Web: Nantucket Bike Tours
Capt. Tom’s Charters
They specialize in light tackle spin casting and fly casting. People of all experience levels from novice to expert, have a unique experience fishing with Capt. Tom’s Charters. They cater to individuals, families and larger groups, creating memories and memorable experiences that will last a life time. Telephone: 508-228-4225 Web: Capt. Tom’s Charters
Endeavor Sailing Excursions
The Endeavor has been offering sailing excursions in Nantucket Sound for 30 years. Voted by Yankee Magazine as “Best in New England”, the Endeavor operates from May-October. Telephone: 508-228-5585 Web: Endeavor Sailing Excursions.
ACK Sunset Sail
Experience a relaxing, private Nantucket sunset sail on the pristine waters of Nantucket Sound. Sailing charters are available June through October. Enjoy a stunning Nantucket sunset sail for up to six people onboard “Weathervane”. Telephone: 508-423-9985 Web: ACK Sunset Sail
At Paddle Nantucket, they offer daily SUP Yoga classes, and private paddle lessons by appointment. Learn the fundamentals of Stand-up Paddle boarding in Nantucket’s beautiful and sheltered harbor; an incredible way to sea Nantucket and saturate in her beauty. Telephone: 508-332-2546 Web: Paddle Nantucket
Best Restaurants in Nantucket
$-Inexpensive $$-Moderate $$$-Pricey $$$$-Ultra High End
$$$$ Ships Inn Restaurant
Located in a historic whaling captain’s mansion built in 1831, the dining room and lounge are below street level and have an updated colonial atmosphere. It is the perfect choice for an evening out with friends, or for a more romantic experience in one of the restaurant’s cozy alcoves. Many of the creations are “boat to table” – caught by local fishermen. Telephone: 508-228-0040 Web: Ships Inn Restaurant
$$ – $$$ The Nautilus
While they are very much a New England restaurant with a coastal/seafood base, the inspiration will be well rooted in Asian flavors and ingredients of the haute street food variety, taking ideas from the traditional Japanese izakaya type establishment, and will also have a major nod to the tapas style of Spanish cuisine, with additional influences from mainland Asia and Latin America. Telephone: 508-228-0301 Web: The Nautilus
$$ – $$$ Keeper’s Restaurant
Keepers menu is a collaboration of favorite dishes that they love to eat and are passionate about cooking. They offer guests the freedom to create their own dining experience with their unique “Pair & Share” philosophy. Guests can customize their meal by pairing menu selections together and sharing is highly encouraged with family-style plating options. Telephone: 508-228-0009 Web: Keeper’s Restaurant
$$ – $$4 Centre Street Bistro
This true-to-the-island experience is only made better from the thoughtful menu and consistently good food. Open year-round, Centre Street Bistro serves lunch and dinner, as well as brunch on the weekend. Favorites include their goat cheese tart appetizer and seared duck entree; for brunch, it’s a full stack of buttermilk pancakes. This local bistro is BYOB, and guests often stop at Murray’s Liquor Store on Main Street to pick up their drink of choice. Telephone: 508-228-8470 Web: Centre Street Bistro
$$$$ Proprietors Bar & Table
Proprietors serves up small plates of global fare on vintage dishes. There is a variety of influences, with Middle Eastern, Asian, and Southern flavors working together on the plate. You’ll find kimchi pancakes with pork belly, peanuts, and buttermilk next to chicken liver pate tart with huckleberry jam, pickled vegetables, and cocoa nibs. This hot spot also offers a sublime brunch. Telephone: 508-228-7477 Web: Proprietors Bar & Table
Nightlife in Nantucket
Bar at Galley Beach
An island institution among the white jeans and navy cardigan set, the Galley offers some of the only on-sand drinking on the island, with an extensive list of rosés—still the island’s unofficial wine of choice—and hands down one of the very best sunset views on island. You’ll pay a bit extra for the privilege, perhaps—a $40-something glass of wine here is not unusual, and there’s one for $129. Telephone: 508-228-9641 Web: Bar at Galley Beach
The Chicken Box
An island institution for more than 50 years, The Chicken Box is where you go for your dive fix (locals call it “the Box”). Don’t expect pristine (or even clean floors)—never mind rosé. This is a tequila and Bud Light sort of place. Live music is some of the best in town, but don’t get there before 10 p.m. or everyone will know it’s your first time here. Telephone: 508-228-9717 Web: The Chicken Box
Millie’s has all the makings of perfection: strong and spicy Bloody Marys, panoramic ocean views, a lawn made for letting the kids run wild, and the sort of food you’ve been craving since the night before. Order up the house best: scallop tacos, lobster quesadillas, grilled Mexican corn, and the Altar Rock, a life-changing salsa, guacamole, and cheese dip. And some Bloody Marys. Lots of Bloody Marys. Telephone: 508-228-8435 Web: Millie’s
Summer House Beachside Bistro Bar
The bistro’s bar is ‘Sconset’s answer to Galley Beach, which sits on an equally alluring spot on Nantucket’s northern shore. After a leisurely walk through ‘Sconset village, stop at the bar for a glass of rosé or a cold beer in the afternoon. You can listen to the waves crashing, far away from the crowds that typically plague downtown throughout the summer. Telephone: 508-257-4542 Web: Summer House Beachside Bistro Bar
Mixologist and bar manager Clint Terry stocks the shelves with Ambrosia spices and herbs, creating cocktails with unexpected seasonal twists. You’ll find roasted grapefruit with chiles, flaming rosemary, and tequila in Teq-uil-a Mockingbird. Less adventurous drinkers can opt for a Blueberry & Soda, which balances Cisco Brewer’s 888 blueberry vodka with spicy ginger and lemon. If you’re skipping the cocktails altogether, do as the bartenders do and ask for a glass of Fernet Branca. Telephone: 508-228-0301 Web: The Nautilus
Best Nantucket Hotels
The Wauwinet – Great for Honeymooners
Expect secluded beaches, magnificent sunsets, and massages so good you’ll spend the last 15 minutes obsessing over how to fit in another. On the quiet northern side of the island, the resort caters to a more refined weekend away: private cottages, fewer crazy crowds (virtually no crazy co-eds), top notch dining with a practically clairvoyant sommelier, sunsets by the fire pit, bikes to borrow, and a complimentary water taxi to check in on the throngs downtown, if you feel you must. For more information, pricing or to reserve your room visit The Wauwinet.
White Elephant Village – Great for Families
The Nantucket Hotel & Resort
Union Street Inn
Heading to the Nantucket beaches? Get all your beach gear here.