I’ve just returned from an amazing trip to Nantucket! I have been going to this island nearly every summer since before I was born, so coming back always feels like home. My mom actually went there when she was pregnant with me, and the three years I didn’t go were when I was in college and had internships or research projects during the summer. Once I graduated from college last year and revisited Nantucket during the summer, I was really shaken by how much I missed this beautiful place and vowed to try to come back every year moving forward.
I always recommend Nantucket to anyone looking for a beautiful getaway. It’s perfect for families with children of all ages – beaches and day camps for younger kids and boogie boarding, surfing, art camps, ghost tours, and more for the older kids. There is a whole influx of job openings in the summer due to high island traffic, which is perfect for high school and college aged kids looking for summer jobs. The quaint cottages, luxurious dining spots, and secluded trails all create the perfect backdrop for a couples romantic destination. And the island is so safe that it’s perfect for a relaxing solo weekend or intimate girl’s trip. I’ve known people get married here, honeymoon here, celebrate an anniversary or birthday weekend, have a bachlorette party, or just come enjoy the beauty of the island for a few days. It truly is ideal for every kind of getaway.
Where to Stay:
Typically, when my family has stayed on Nantucket with a larger group (4 or more people) for more than a week, we rent a house near Madaket beach or near town. Tristram’s Landing (now Mainstay Nantucket) has typically been our go-to renter for years, as they pair up timeshare cottages and summer homes with island visitors for anywhere from one week to the entire summer. However, because this stay was just for an extended long weekend we chose a quaint little hotel just outside the center of town called the Cliff Lodge.
A few other great places to stay on the island are:
- Jared Coffin House (a truly historic landmark hotel)
- The White Elephant (a more luxurious stay just outside of the main town)
- Wauwinet (a secluded luxurious hotel)
- The Nantucket Hotel & Resort (TripAdvisor ranked best hotel in the country in 2017)
- Union Street Inn (Ranked best small hotel in the country)
- Seven Sea Street Inn (A quaint, romantic hotel)
- Periwinkle Inn (located just a few streets from the center of town, intimate setting)
Where to Dine
The food on Nantucket is honestly outstanding. I’ve always found great options for whatever type of cuisine strikes your fancy! Luckily, the island has a variety of fantastic food at all different price points and preferences, from more upscale restaurants to lowkey eateries, you simply can’t go wrong! For those specifically interested in brunch, here is a compilation of all the standout restaurants.
From my time spent on the island over the years, I’ve compiled my personal preferences, known classics, and local haunts to give you my ultimate guide to eating your way through Nantucket! Enjoy!
Best “before the island” food: Baxter’s – This is THE place to go while waiting to board your ferry. It’s about a 2-3 minute stroll from the Hyannis Port Authority docking area, so it gives you an excuse to stretch your legs after a long car ride and before you sit for hours on the boat. The vibe is extremely casual, with outdoor, dockside seating or indoor seating to suit everyone’s needs. It is very kid (and dog) friendly, so if you’re traveling with children this is a great place to hit up. Even though I’m vegetarian, I do indulge in some of the local Nantucket seafare because it is sustainably, locally caught and doesn’t damage the ecosystem. I recommend their fish and chips with tartar sauce and clam chowder, and my parents both give rave reviews about their lobster rolls. It truly sets the mood for all the great New England food and nautical vibes you’ll encounter on Nantucket. And honestly, their clam chowder is one of the BEST on the Cape. (Side note: sometimes they do put bacon in, so I always check beforehand.)
Best Casual Dining
- Best of New England: The Sea Grille – you can not go wrong with this island staple – everything on the menu is outstanding! My family has been coming back to this family owned restaurant for over 20 years and we have loved every experience.
- Quintessential New England: Brotherhood of Thieves – lobster rolls, fish and chips, and clam chowder to die for. If it’s a nice day, opt for the patio to enjoy some homemade iced tea in the sunshine!
- Lunch off Main Street: Queequeg’s – If you’re in town and want a more intimate location with fantastic twists on local fare, this is the place. It’s on a side street in the middle of town, so you can avoid the crowds and long lines.
- Italian Food and Pizza: Pi Pizza – the pizza is obviously amazing, but don’t miss the fantastic salads, eggplant parm, and delightfully creative drink menu. Warning – head there early because they don’t take reservations and the line can get long.
- Brunch/Breakfast: Downyflake – the best donuts on the island in a quaint, old-school coffee shop setting. Perfect for an afternoon pick-me-up or family breakfast.
- Ice Cream: The Juice Bar – You can NOT go to Nantucket and miss out on this location – homemade waffle cups and dozens of delicious flavors located right next to the ferry dropoff.
- Beachside Fare: Madaket Millie’s – fresh fish tacos and iced tea by the beach for lunch and dinner while witnessing the famous Madaket sunsets – what more could you want on an island vacation??
- Irish Pub: Kitty Murtagh’s – a great family hang with hearty food, pool tables and other games, and a central island location to ensure everyone has a great time and can easily access it no matter where you’re staying.
- Brewery: Cisco Brewery – A fun activity for cloudy days is a tour of the local brewery – my personal favorites are the Shark Tracker and Whale’s Tale Pale Ale.
- Sandwich Shop: Something Natural is the iconic mid-island place for amazing sandwiches on local Portuguese bread, but Provisions downtown is another fine option for packing lunch to bring to the beach!
- Diner Fare: The Nantucket Pharmacy off Main Street is where you can grab a delicious grilled cheese and milkshake at the old fashioned lunch counter and pick up that toothpaste, makeup remover, or any other assortment of necessities you may need.
- Sweet Treats: The Nantucket Bakeshop – the magees are a must for chocolate lovers and the traditional Jamaican cocoa bread is for those that prefer savory options. Their traditional Nantucket Portuguese bread is also great for breakfast toast and sandwiches!
- Barlett’s Farm – I’m including this Nantucket staple for those who wish to picnic at the beach or cook at home. This family-owned farm has the freshest fruits and veggies, pre-made salads every day, and strawberry-rhubarb pies TO DIE FOR. This is your one-stop shop for cookouts and home eating.
- Local Chocolates: Sweet Inspirations is THE chocolatier on the island. The classic chocolate covered local cranberries are a must, but don’t forget the assortment of truffle available to indulge in.
Best Fine Dining
- Brunch: The White Elephant (Brant Point Grill)- arguably some of the best views of the ships on the wharf, you can watch the ferries come in and sailboats race from a beautiful terrace
- Iconic: Ships Inn – you can never go wrong here. The quiet, romantic ambiance
- New Classic: Club Car – this quirky restaurant has something for all different dietary needs with fantastic, sustainably sourced dishes. The decor is quite striking and it’s location just off main street is ideal for window shopping after dinner.
- Romantic Dinner: American Seasons – mood lighting, great seasonal menus, and a location that’s just a short distance from town sets the romantic tone for this restaurant.
- Outdoor Dining: Galley Beach – truly stunning seaside views as you eat delicious food. Both lunches and dinners are great opportunities to take in the natural surroundings.
- Upscale Seafood: Straight Wharf – a centrally located restaurant known for it’s fantastic seafood, traditional Nantucket interiors, and variety of choices for the whole family.
- Remote Dining: Wauwinet – looking for a secluded, romantic date night spot? This sophisticated Nantucket staple is a go-to for locals and recurring visitors.
- Sconset Style: Chanticleer – elegant dining amid the stunning scenery of Sconset simply can’t be beat! I also recommend this location for large celebrations or intimate romantic dinners.
- Unusual Dining: Company of the Cauldron – this intimate, American-meets-French restaurant has set menus (with dietary flexibility) for each day of the week that they only announce at the beginning of each week. This is for the adventurous eaters who delight in unusual combinations and enjoy challenging their taste buds.
I must say that I’m actually not the biggest fan of many upscale restaurants on Nantucket. That isn’t to say that they don’t have good food, but it’s mostly high end food that you can get anywhere. If I’m exploring a place, I want to delve into local cuisine and experience flavors and delicacies that I can’t get anywhere else. The few fine dining options I picked offer you a more elegant version of the New England classics; incorporating authentic island fare so that every dish feels unique. If I’m going upscale, I prefer something that stays true to it’s surroundings and is tailored to the location.
Nantucket has such a great variety of shops, from quintessentially preppy staples such as Vineyard Vines and Lily Pulitzer, to the high end Ralph Lauren and various designer boutiques, to the local artisans and designers showcasing their work. Here are some of my must-visits when on island that you simply can’t find anywhere else:
- The Hub – the best place to pick up a copy of the Inquirer, New York Times, or Boston Globe and sit on a bench in town to people watch and start your day. Also a great place to snag some Nantucket paraphernalia to bring back home for friends and family!
- Current Vintage – whether it’s vintage clothing and accessories, home decor, or wine and cheese, this store always has beautiful items from the past
- Vis a Vis – from unique, boho looks to classic prep, this store has a great variety of name brands combined with local designers
- Nantucket Perfume Company – the best parfumerie around, this store can recreate your favorite scents in oil form (so they are more potent and last longer – I’ve had scents for 6 years that haven’t run out because I don’t need to use as much product as spray perfumes), give you options of Nantucket-specific fragrances created in-house, or put together a one-of-a-kind perfume for you that encompasses your favorite oils. The cost of a small bottle is $25 and lasts for years – it’s an unbeatable return!
- Nantucket Bookworks and Mitchell’s Book Corner – just a few blocks away from each other, I love exploring these local staples for unusual novels and newly released bestsellers. These stores are the perfect places to find a summer beach read as you relax on the island’s shores or bring back a gift for a friend. They also typically have Nantucket – themed sections for you to learn about the island’s history, read novels by local authors, and snag cookbooks to bring some local dishes back home with you.
- Geronimo’s – for the animal lovers, this little shop is perfect for gathering pet supplies if you’re on island for an extended stay with your furry family members or if you just want to bring a small treat home after being away from them.
- Peter Beaton – this traditional hat-maker’s shop is tucked away on a side street in the center of town. You can buy pre-made hats in store, or get beautiful custom-made specimens.
- Four Winds Gifts, Inc. – located along the Straight Wharf, this old fashioned gift shop is a staple for gathering all your quintessential Nantucket memorabilia. The shop has everything from t-shirts to bumper stickers to the iconic woven basket bags. It’s truly an island staple that has been around forever and you can always find a souvenir to bring home!
- Nantucket Looms is the best place to grab fine homerooms for yourself and your lucky friends. Everything from intricate place-mats to beautifully crafted beach towels are hand spun on the island right above the shop.
What to Do
Besides the obvious days spent at the beach and walking around town, there are a bunch of fun activities to partake in on the island!
- Stroll through Nantucket’s Downtown Historic District
- Sconset Bluff Walk – the most stunning cliffside views with the ocean on one side and traditional New England cottages with intricate gardens on the other side.
- Art Classes – sketching, painting, pen and ink, you name it! The island has a host of artists with their own galleries that host classes throughout the year for people at all different skill levels.
- Bike Rides – Young’s Bicycle Shop is my family’s go-to
- Boat Rides
- Feed the Ducks
- Walking Tours around the island’s historic downtown district or through historic houses and gardens
- Ghost Tours
- Mariah Mitchell Observatory – the beauty of island nights devoid of city lighting means on cloudless evenings you can see the stars. Reserve a time slot at the observatory to witness the wonders of the universe!
- House Tours – passing by stunning historic houses and curious about their interiors? Many of the stately mansions host open houses for small groups.
- Dreamland Theater – this recently renovated historic theater is the perfect place to catch a movie, then hit up the Juice Bar around the corner for evening ice cream.
- Bands and Musicians at The Chicken Box
There are so many small museums on this island filled with centuries of rich history, but I’ll give you a rundown of my personal favorite haunts!
- Nantucket Whaling Museum – A personal favorite, this museum gives visitors insight into the history of the island as well as showcasing cool featured exhibits. If you’re visiting during Christmastime, don’t miss the beautiful displays of trees decorated by local businesses.
- African American Meeting House – a small, one-room museum that tells the tale of Nantucket’s abolitionist roots and the driving force behind equality on the island and it’s flourishing African American population.
- Oldest House on Nantucket – The Oldest House on Sunset Hill, also known as the Jethro Coffin House, was built in 1686 and is believed to be the oldest residence on Nantucket still on its original site. This is a unique way to immerse yourself in the island’s history and see how they lived.
- Hadwen House – travel back in time to when this Greek Revival mansion was built in 1846 by whaling merchant and silver retailer William Hadwen at the peak of Nantucket’s prosperity as the whaling capital of the world.
- Greater Light – If you’re into the arts, be sure to check out this house belonging to the Monaghan sisters, members of what is now referred to as the Nantucket Art Colony, which thrived on Nantucket in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.
I absolutely love Nantucket island to death! It’s just such a beautiful place filled with stunning nature, welcoming people, great local establishments, a rich history, and a restful vibe. There’s always something fun to do to ensure you are never bored while your surroundings consistently maintain a calm island vibe, so it’s the perfect respite from daily life.