Best Things To Do in Nantucket
No visit to Nantucket is complete without a stop at its iconic lighthouses and a bike ride through its charming cobblestone streets. And then there are the island's many beaches like Jetties (great for families) and Surfside (great for watersports). When you're not soaking up the rays on the shoreline, get a history lesson at the Whaling Museum. And while you're inland, don't forget to explore hidden gems like Cisco Brewers for a pleasant, sand-free afternoon (and a few free samples, too).
Updated August 27, 2019
- #1View all PhotosfreeSurfside Beach#1 in NantucketBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
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 watersports.
But popularity has a downside. Recent travelers recommend visiting in the off-season to avoid the crowds and parking challenges.
- #2View all Photos#2 in NantucketSightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
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 back to 1901, but the station has hosted 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 of the same name is a picturesque place to take a breather and watch the boats float by the harbor. Recent visitors also enjoyed the beach plums growing wild at the entrance to the beach.
- #3View all Photos#3 in NantucketParks and Gardens, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDParks and Gardens, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Located at the northern point of Nantucket, the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge provides a protected habitat for hundreds of osprey and other rare sea birds. Other activities include surf-fishing, hiking and checking out the Great Point Lighthouse, but according to recent visitors, off-roading along the 16 miles of trails is probably the most popular activity on the refuge.
The Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge is open to the public year-round. There are no admission fees for pedestrians and boaters, but oversand vehicles do require a daily or seasonal permit ($65 for the day; $140 for the season). Travelers highly recommend signing up for a guided tour with the Trustees of Reservations, offered daily from April through mid-October. On the three-hour 4x4 oversand vehicle tour, expect to learn about the plants and wildlife that call Coskata-Coatue home. Tours cost $60 for adults and $20 for children 12 and younger. Tour times vary by day, so check the refuge's website for more details. In term of its facilities, seasonal portable toilets are available at the Wauwinet Gatehouse and Great Point Lighthouse.
- #4View all Photos#4 in NantucketWineries/BreweriesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDWineries/BreweriesTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
On the grounds of Cisco Brewers — which contain a vineyard, a distillery and a brewery — you can take a tour through a small cottage dedicated to each type of beverage and get a detailed account of the creation process. And at the end of the tour, stay to sample some of the latest concoctions from friendly bartenders who know their stuff. Agreeable sips aside, most recent visitors love the open-air setting.
Located on Bartlett Farm Road, Cisco Brewers is about a 15-minute bike ride from Nantucket Town. Visitors with cars should note that parking is limited. Tours are a bit pricey — $20 for adults — but this also includes a tasting glass that visitors can keep as a souvenir, plus samples of two wines from Nantucket Vineyard, two beers from Cisco Brewery and two spirits from Triple Eight Distillery. Tours are offered daily at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. until Columbus Day. The brewery is open year-round. You can find more information on the brewery's website.
- #5View all PhotosfreeJetties Beach#5 in NantucketBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
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. But there are two major things that set Jetties apart. First, 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. And second, Jetties has a boardwalk lined with casual eateries, keeping visitors from going hungry on an all-day beach trip.
Most recent travelers love the family-friendly atmosphere at Jetties, but a vocal minority complain about the shore's upkeep. Jetties Beach is conveniently located a mile from downtown Nantucket Town, off of North Beach Street.
- #6View all Photos#6 in NantucketMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Landlubbing vacationers might not see its appeal, but still, the Whaling Museum does well with history lovers and Herman Melville fans. Some of its more memorable displays include an 1849 Fresnel Lens from the old Sankaty Head Lighthouse and a 46-foot-long skeleton from a sperm whale that washed ashore in 1998. There's also an impressive collection of scrimshaw art: Whalers created these elaborately engraved (or carved) pieces out of spare whale bones and teeth to pass the time at sea.
While the museum's scenic rooftop deck is a big hit, it's the various educational programs that really win visitors over. Recent travelers highly recommend planning your visit to coincide with the Whale Hunt presentation, which details how Nantucket came to be known as the "whaling capital of the world. Also popular is a storytelling presentation on The Essex, the local whaling ship that inspired "Moby Dick."
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