Summer Escape to: Nantucket
By the Editors of Farewell Travels
Photograph by Pamela Einarsen
Happiness is getting on a ferry headed for Nantucket Island.
As the boat moves away from the shore and presses through the waves of the Atlantic, you can’t help but feel the pressure of everyday life (and work) ease.
Being on an island 30 miles out in the sea does that to people.
Nantucket—which is 3 ½ by 14 miles long—is largely made up of heathlands (“The Moors”) and ringed by beautiful white-sand beaches. The whole island is on the National Register of Historic Places and thanks to conservation efforts, more than 40 percent of it is protected from development. The town of Nantucket, where the ferries dock, is the hub around which everything on the island radiates. A webwork of cobbled streets lined with huge old elm trees, gas lamps and 18th and 19th-century buildings, it is rife with art galleries, islandy boutiques and restaurants run by top chefs.
Here’s what you need to know.
Walking tours are time well spent. You’ll laugh. You’ll be surprised. You’ll learn a lot. The Nantucket Historical Association offers two truly worthwhile walking tours April through October--The Downtown Walking Tour and the Historic House Tour. Check the calendar here for daily times. Tours go rain or shine and depart from the Whaling Museum lobby. Reservations are strongly recommended. Plan to spend some time before or after at the museum, which sits in a former candle-making factory.
The view of views. Climb the ninety-four steps of the clock tower at the First Congregational Church at 62 Centre Street. On a clear day, you can see Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod. The church itself dates back to the early 1700s.
A real star! An inspiring way to spend a bit of time is to take a tour of Maria Mitchell’s childhood home (pictured left) on Vestal Street. One of Nantucket’s most famous residents, Maria Mitchell was the first American woman to work professionally as an astronomer. In 1847, she discovered a comet which became known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet.” You can see the Dolland telescope she found it with as well as other artifacts from the Mitchells’ daily life in the 19th century. In addition to the 1790 Quaker-style house, the Maria Mitchell Association on Vestal Street has a natural science museum with an array of programs for both kids and adults, including nature walks, birding expeditions and astronomy nights.
Reservations a must. Culinary standards on the island are high which make advance reservations in the summer essential. As soon as you know the dates of your trip, reserve a table at The Pearl and once there, deliberate over all the menu offerings but in the end…order the Salt and Pepper Wok Fried Lobster. For another meal, park yourselves at the ceviche bar downstairs at the Corazón del Mar. Both restaurants are owned by Seth and Angela Raynor who also own the hugely popular Boarding House restaurant.
Best way to get around. Aside from the cobblestoned streets of town, the island is very bike-friendly, with many cycling paths clearly mapped out. You can rent all sorts of two-wheelers right at the Nantucket Bike Shop which has three locations including two shops on Broad Street (numbers 4 and 10) and one on Steamship and one on Straight Wharf. That said, if you don’t want to deal with the traffic in town, they will deliver to you for multiple day rentals free of charge.
Island treasures. You’ll see Nantucket Lightship Baskets in shops around town. The weaving of these rattan baskets, which started back in the 19th century, is a real art and the history of them is very compelling. They were originally made by the crews on lightships, which were floating lighthouses that warned ships as they passed by the South Shoals, the site of many shipwrecks. Over the years, they evolved and now come in all sizes, from small purses to huge picnic baskets and can be round or oval, open or covered. Many are adorned with scrimshaw and intricately carved handles. Prices run anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to several thousands. Get the whole story by visiting the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum at 49 Union Street.
I scream for ice cream; you scream for smoothies. In the daytime, there’s always a line for the smoothies at Nantucket Ice Cream at the end of Straight Wharf. At night, it’s for the ice cream.
The biggest hits? The Strawbana smoothie (which they sell out of every single day) and the Lobstah Trap ice cream--vanilla base, fudge, caramel and all sorts of “secret” ingredients the staff won’t divulge. Also great is the Madaket Mud, a perfect scoop of chocolate.
Life’s a Beach. If you want to get to a beach without going very far, check out Surfside, on the southern coast. By bike, it’s within easy riding distance (about 3 miles) of town. It’s a popular spot with a lunch bar, lifeguards and changing facility. Unbelievably beautiful, however, is Madaket Beach, a longer ride for bikers (12 miles round-trip) at the western tip of the island. The beach here is nonpareil: big white dunes, Atlantic waves, and fewer footprints than at Surfside. It’s also prime sunset-viewing territory.
Kick for kids. Throughout the summer, every morning (Monday-Saturday), you can watch the staff of the Maria Mitchell Association Aquarium (28 Washington Street) as they feed the resident creatures. This is hugely popular and pre-registration is necessary. Call 508-228-5387.
Day trip. Siasconset, which everyone refers to simply as ‘Sconset, on the southeastern side of the island (the island shuttle goes there and there are bike trails as well), makes for a great day trip for those staying in Nantucket town or elsewhere on the island. With its weathered shingled houses and cottages (some of which date from its whaling era), spanking white fences festooned with island blossoms, glorious beach and its Bluff Walk alongside the ocean –it’s Nantucket just as you pictured it.
Romantic getaway. It’s sexy, it’s retro-chic and it’s boutique. Eleven-room Chapman House at 20 North Water Street, just reopened this season after a major redesign and is every inch hip in a 1717 building right in town. The hotel is a sister property of Lark Hotel’s Veranda House right around the corner, which dates back to 1684.
Dogs are welcome. There are hotels that are “pet-friendly” and then there are those that seriously welcome dogs. The Brass Lantern Inn, which is in town, is the latter and one of the few inns on the island that actually allows four-legged guests. Upon arrival, your pet will be welcomed with a toy and yummy treat, a dog bed that’s just the right size, food and water bowls…and a beach towel. On top of that, the staff provides you with a list of places where you can walk your best friend (on and off the leash), as well as pet-friendly restaurants, places to go with your dog and names and numbers of pet supply stores and services. And for those places you can’t take your dog? They’ll pet sit, $20 per day per dog. The inn has 15 guestrooms and one two-family suite.
Island hopping. Nantucket on its own makes for a great vacation but pair it with a trip to Martha’s Vineyard, and it’s off-the-charts fun.
You can divide your week by staying right in the heart of downtown Nantucket at The Nantucket Hotel & Resort (which just opened this season—it was previously the Point Breeze) and then zip over by high-speed ferry in a little over an hour to sibling resort extraordinaire, the Winnetu Oceanside Resort at South Beach in Edgartown on the Vineyard (or go from MV to Nantucket). All of the details will be handled by Vineyard Nantucket Resorts which owns both properties. See pricing and schedules here. This is offered through September 8th, 2012.
Only interested in Nantucket?You'll love The Nantucket Hotel & Resort on its own. It has a classic 1891 island exterior but everything you'd expect with a modern hotel. There are both guestrooms and suites (with one to four bedrooms). The vintage bus pictured here is used to pick up and drop off guests at the Steamship Authority dock as well as take them to (and pick up from) Jetties and Surfside Beaches.
When to go/when not to go. Nantucket Island has a festive air of carnival all summer long. The rest of the year, it quiets down considerably, but is a dreamy getaway, even in coldest months of winter. In fact, the island’s annual Nantucket Noel is a month-long holiday celebration that runs between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, making that an especially enchanting time to visit.
Photo Credits: Most of the images on this page were taken by Pamela Einarsen (the umbrella, the boat, the bike and ice cream shot). The Maria Mitchell House and kids at the aquarium are courtesy of the Maria Mitchell Association. The other images are courtesy of the hotels themselves. The photo of The Nantucket is by Kit Noble Photography.