Nantucket Travel Guide

USA  #5 in Best Relaxing Getaways in the USA
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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 MuseumAnd 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).

How we rank Things to Do

Updated August 27, 2015

  • #1
    Things to do in Nantucket
    View all Photos
    #1 in Nantucket
    Beaches, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME 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. According to one TripAdvisor user: "This is the busiest beach on Nantucket. Plan for crowds and parking challenges." Other recent travelers suggest you swing by in the off-season. Although cold, this is when you can catch a quieter Surfside experience.

  • #2
    Brant Point Light
    View all Photos
    #2 in Nantucket
    Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Sightseeing, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME 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 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 of the same name is a picturesque place to take a breather and watch the boats float by the harbor. One TripAdvisor user likes the beach for quite a different reason: "Our guide pointed out the nearby beach plums growing wild at the entrance to the beach. We were lucky enough to find a few ripe ones."

  • #3
    Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge
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    #3 in Nantucket
    Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Free
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

    You can drive your own four-wheel drive automobile or rent one to test the sand, but one TripAdvisor user offers a warning. "Make sure you know how to drive on very soft sand. During the summer months many a tourist can be seen a few hundred feet onto the beach with their Jeep buried up to the frame." Luckily guided tours are offered by Trustees of Reservations starting at about $40 per adult, $15 for kids.

  • #4
    Cisco Brewers
    View all Photos
    #4 in Nantucket
    Wineries/Breweries
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Wineries/Breweries
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    On the grounds of Cisco Brewers -- which contain a vineyard, distillery and brewery -- you can take a tour through a small cottage dedicated to each type of drink 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: Says one on Yelp.com: "We sat in some Adirondack chairs and read our books while enjoying our drinks. We saw people playing that beanbag toss game, and others came in with outside food, which seemed like a wonderful idea. Everyone there was really nice, and they even had a musician playing."

  • #5
    Jetties Beach
    View all Photos
    #5 in Nantucket
    Beaches, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Beaches, Free
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME 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.1) 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. 2) Jetties has a boardwalk lined with casual eateries, keeping visitors from going hungry on an all-day beach trip.

    And most recent travelers love the family-friendly atmosphere at Jetties, but a vocal minority complain about the shore's upkeep. According to one TripAdvisor user: "Cigarette ends, bottle tops, etc [are] left in the sand. I recommend that Nantucket should buy a beach cleaner or two."

  • #6
    Whaling Museum
    View all Photos
    #6 in Nantucket
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME 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 impressive displays include a Fresnel Lens from the old Sankaty Head Lighthouse and the 46 foot-long sperm whale skeleton that hangs from the ceiling. 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. One TripAdvisor reviewer says: "Make sure you plan your visit to coincide with the Whale Hunt presentation. The 40-minute talk was so engaging that about two dozen 13- and 14-year-old students were mesmerized -- no texting, posting or whispering!" Also popular is a storytelling presentation on The Essex, the local whaling ship that inspired Moby Dick.

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