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Nantucket Island Guide

"Thirty Miles at Sea!" is the island's slogan. To its year-round inhabitants and summer visitors, Nantucket is not just an island off Cape Cod, but a seagoing world of its own.

Nantucket Town, Massachusetts
Nantucket Town & Harbor

Nantucket, 30 miles (48 km) at sea off the Massachusetts coast of Cape Cod (map), is a beautiful New England island with a historic old town, quaint villages, public beaches, a history of whaling and an upscale ambiance, which is why it's packed with tourists and summer residents from May through September.

Why Nantucket?

With its location far out to sea, its history of whaling, its choppy indigenous name, and its people's reputation for hardiness, you might expect Nantucket to be clusters of peasant dwellings and strong-armed shipwrights making rough island boats.

In fact the opposite is true: the cobblestone main streets of Nantucket Town are lined with towering elms and gracious Federal, Greek Revival and Victorian buildings, and the residential neighborhoods boast street after street of dignified houses from the 18th and 19th centuries as well as the expected shingled fishermen's family bungalows (particularly in 'Sconset).

This is to be expected if you know a bit of Nantucket history, and when you consider the money that whaling brought to Nantucket.

Nantucket panorama
Nantucket Town and harbor...

Go on a Day-Trip

Here's a typical itinerary for a day-trip by ferryboat or flight to Nantucket from Boston, Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, New Bedford, or New York City. (See below for transportation details.)

Same-day excursion tickets on some ferryboats are cheaper than round-trips with an overnight stay.

8:00 am

Start for the airport or ferryboat dock, allowing a minimum 30 to 45 minutes for unloading, parking, ticketing, check-in, boarding, etc.

9:00 am

Your fast ferryboat or flight departs. Within an hour you are in the center of Nantucket Town, either by ferry (which arrives in the center), or by NRTA WAVE shuttle bus from Nantucket Memorial Airport (ACK).

9:30 am

Guided Tours

Board a tour bus for a 1-1/2-hour guided driving tour of the island, or walk to the Nantucket Whaling Museum to inquire about tickets for a walking tour of Nantucket Town.

Rent a Bike!

Rent a bicycle, get a bike path map, and set out to see the island on your own.

12:00 Noon

Lunch at one of Nantucket's many restaurants and cafés, or pick up a sandwich or salad and drinks and have a picnic.

1:00 pm (13:00)

Sun, Sand & Sea

Time to go to the beach! Take a shuttle bus or ride your rented bike to your choice of beach (see below).

See & See

Visit the Nantucket Whaling Museum, the Science Center, one of Nantucket's historic houses, or wander, camera in hand, along the historic streets and alleys.

3:00 pm (15:00)

Make your way back from beach or bike ride to Nantucket Town for a stroll, some shopping (or window shopping), and refreshments.

4:00 pm (16:00)

Get ready for your return flight or ferry voyage. If you have a later one, continue your explorations on Nantucket.

6:00 pm (18:00)

You may be back on the mainland by now, ready to return to your Cape Cod hotel and prepare for a seafood dinner.

If you're still on Nantucket, there are ferryboats that depart the island as late as 10:00 pm (22:00).

Stay Overnight

Nantucket has a wonderful collection of hotels, inns and B&Bs. Staying a few days gives you the chance to really explore and get to know the island. Lodgings are more expensive on Nantucket than on Cape Cod and in other mainland resort locations; and in high summer they are often fully booked, so reserve your lodgings well in advance.

Hotel Map with Prices

Use this Hotel Map with Prices to find a place to stay on Nantucket.

 

Nantucket Hotel Tips

Nantucket Island harbors nearly a hundred places to stay, but the real character of the place is best captured in the old whaling merchants' and ship captains' houses converted to inns.

Many of these are carefully restored, luxuriously appointed, and staffed with professionals; others are run by one person or a couple and are modest but warm and friendly.

Jared Coffin House, Nantucket, Massachusetts
Jared Coffin House (1845) in Edgartown, among Nantucket's most prominent and historic inns.

High Season

In high season (roughly mid-June to mid-September) rooms may be difficult to find unless you reserve well in advance. On short notice, you may have a chance of finding a room for a day or two during the week, but on weekends it may be impossible.

Minimum-stay requirements (such as two or three nights on weekends) may be imposed during the high season as well.

Some lodging and dining places may not accept credit cards. Do not assume that they do—ask.

Off-Season

Although some lodging establishments on Nantucket stay open all year, many operate only between May and October.

Any place will give you an off-season discount on room rates if you come in spring or autumn, although the dates vary from one establishment to the next.

Top Inns

Jared Coffin House

This fine brick mansion rates 5 stars for its 43 rooms located in the center of Nantucket Town, just a 5-minute walk west from the Steamship Authority ferry terminal on Steamboat Wharf, or 8 minutes from Hy-Line's Straight Wharf. More...

Seven Sea Street Inn

The 5-star, 15-room B&B at 7 Sea Street, a quiet street in a central location, has a garden patio, a library, and rocking chairs in the guest rooms. More...

White Elephant Hotel

This 4-star, 50-room lodging complex, built new to look old, takes its odd name from a historic Nantucket hotel. Rooms, suites and fully-furnished apartments all enjoy use of the heated outdoor swimming pool, spa, fitness center, and free loaner bicycles. The eponymous 5-star, 50-room White Elephant Hotel, is more expensive. More...

Faraway Nantucket

Six historic Nantucket houses around a central courtyard make up this centrally-located lodging complex with rates more affordable than some nearby inns. More...

Hotel Pippa

You can't get more central than this thrifty 3-star, 9-room historic inn less than a 5-minute walk from everything in the center of Nantucket Town. More...

Getting to Nantucket

You can get to Nantucket, 30 miles (48 km) off the coast of Cape Cod (map), by plane from Boston, Hyannis, Martha's Vineyard, New Bedford or New York City; by car ferry from Hyannis; or by passenger ferry from Cape Cod, (Hyannis or Harwich Port), New Bedford, or Martha's Vineyard.

Ferryboats

m/v Iyanough Ferryboat, Nantucket MA
m/v Iyanough: fast catamaran passenger ferry from Hyannis MA to Nantucket Island.

Passenger Ferries

In summer, especially on weekends, you should reserve your tickets in advance, especially for the high-speed ferries.

The voyage from Cape Cod to Nantucket takes 1 hour for a fast catamaran passenger ferry, 2-1/4 hours for a traditional passenger ferry, or 2-1/2 hours for a car ferry. The most convenient ferry departure point is Hyannis, with the most ferries. Other docks include Harwich Port on Cape Cod, New Bedford in southeastern Massachusetts, and from the neighboring island of Martha's Vineyard MA.

Ferryboat 'Great Point' at Brant Point Lighthouse, Nantucket Island, Massachusetts
Steamship Authority traditional ferryboat m/v Great Point passing Brant Point Lighthouse.

Whichever ferry you take, be at the dock at least 30 minutes before departure time (45 minutes is better) to check luggage, load bikes, check tickets, and get in line to board and find the seat you want.

Remember also that ferry voyages depend on weather, mechanical equipment and other factors, and may be delayed or cancelled without notice. It's a good idea to look upon departure and arrival times as provisional rather than absolute.

Passenger Fares

The lowest fare is $41 per adult, round-trip, for the slower traditional ferries (2-1/4 hours); $81 for the high-speed catamaran ferries (1 hour), though there are some special same-day round-trip fares on the high-speed ferries, Monday through Thursday only, for $60.

Children 5 to 12 pay half price, children 4 and under sail free. Add $14 round-trip for each bicycle.

Parking Near the Docks

Allow $20 to $25 per calendar day for parking near the ferry docks. Thus, if you park on Monday and leave on Wednesday, you will pay $60 to $75 for three calendar days. It's a good idea to reserve your parking in advance, along with your tickets, especially on weekends and in July and August.

Car Ferries

Most visitors do not take cars to Nantucket. They rent a car, bicycle or motor scooter there, or use the convenient NRTA WAVE shuttle buses. But if you must take your car, the Steamship Authority runs car ferries from Hyannis's Pleasant Street Dock to Nantucket several times daily. Reservations for high-summer voyages are typically made months in advance (think: early January) and fares are high: $520 to $590 round-trip for a standard car in high season.

Flights

Flying can be a convenient way to get to Nantucket, but at busy times fares can be surprisingly high. Also, you must watch out for the fog. If the weather prevents your flight from getting to the island, you may still have to pay for the lodging and other reservations you've made.

Luckily, this is only an occasional problem, but you must keep it in mind. If you're flying from Hyannis's Cape Cod Gateway Airport (HYA; fomerly known as the Barnstable Municipal Airport or Hyannis Airport), you're only 1.1 miles (1.8 km, 25-minute walk) north of the Hyannis Transportation Center. CCRTA's Barnstable Villager bus can take you between the airport and Transportation Center, whence the Hyannis Trolley will take you to the docks for fast ferries to the island. The ferries sail whether there's fog or not.

Nantucket Memorial Airport
Nantucket Memorial Airport

Cape Air (tel 800-352-0714) flies frequently in summer to Nantucket Memorial Airport (ACK; map) from Boston's Logan International Airport (BOS, 14 flights), Hyannis MA (HYA, 16 flights), New Bedford MA (EWB, 20 flights) and Providence RI (PVD, 7 to 10 flights).

Cape Air also runs flights daily between Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Some flights from and to Hyannis are operated in conjunction with Nantucket Airlines.

JetBlue flies nonstop in summer from New York City (JFK, LGA & HPN) to HYA and ACK.

Island Transportation

Once you're on Nantucket, you can walk to most everywhere in Nantucket Town, ride a bicycle, take a taxi or rideshare app car to other places, or ride the shuttle bus to the ferry docks, the airport and the beaches.

Shuttle Buses

Nantucket Regional Transit Authority (NRTA) WAVE Shuttle buses, nicknamed The WAVE, cover the island every day from late May through early October, from 7:30 am to 11:30 pm, with these exceptions:

Surfside & Jetties Beaches: service runs from mid-June through early September, 10 am to 6 pm.

Siasconset ('Sconset): service runs via Polpis Road (in addition to the shorter, faster route along Milestone Road) from July through early September, 10 am to 6 pm.

Nantucket Airport (ACK): service runs from July through early September from 9 am to 6 pm.

WAVE bus on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts
A WAVE shuttle bus leaves Straight Wharf in Nantucket Town...

Bicycle & Scooter/Moped

Bikes do well on this small island (except on the cobblestones of Main Street!). The 7-mile (11-km) trip to 'Sconset on the Milestone bike path takes about one hour, half that time if you push it.

Nantucket Bike Shop

Both car and passenger ferries will carry your bicycle with you from the mainland to Nantucket for a fee. Otherwise, bicycles are for rent at over a half dozen shops in Nantucket Town, with the most prominent shops being on Broad Street just off Steamboat Wharf.

Remember that bicycle riders are required to obey all traffic signs and signals just like car drivers: stop and yield signs, one-way street signs, etc. In practice, this does not always happen. Some bicyclists will break the rules, car drivers will expect them to break the rules and will therefore defer to them, and the result is a free-for-all.

Guided Tours

The Nantucket Historical Association sponsors a 1.5-hour historical-architectural walking tour through the best of Nantucket's art and architecture. Call 508-228-1894 Monday through Friday from 8 am to 5 pm for a reservation, as the tour is limited to 15 people. They also organize family tours of special interest to young children.

Tour vans meet most ferryboats at Steamboat Wharf and Straight Wharf, ready to take you on a 1.5-hour tour of the island.

Nantucket Island Tour Bus
A tour bus waits at Nantucket's Straight Wharf for arriving travelers.

Gail's Tours (tel 508-257-6557), operated by Gail Nickerson Johnson, a 6th-generation native of Nantucket, offers a 1-3/4-hour in-depth tour three times daily for small groups. More...

Ara's Tours (tel 508-228-1951), 6 Fair Street, offers two tours daily in summer in an air-conditioned van. More...

Nantucket Island Tours (tel 508-228-0334), 33 Straight Wharf.

Barrett's Tours Inc. (tel 508-228-0174), 20 Federal Street.

Cruises

Nantucket by Water operates ta variety of specialty cruises featuring ice cream, cocktails, kids' fishing, ecology, oyster farm and sunset cruises.

Friendship Sloop Endeavor, Slip 15, Charter Boat Dock, Straight Wharf (tel 508-228-5585) makes five voyages daily in summer. Cruises last one or 1-1/2 hours.

Those who just like being in a boat can rent a sailboat and take sailing lessons at one of the establishments on Washington Street Extension or Steamboat Wharf.

Island Boat Rental on Straight Wharf will rent you a power boat.

Sport fishers should wander down to Straight Wharf to talk to one of the charter boat captains about a day's run for bluefish or striped bass.

Finding Your Way Around

Nantucket, Massachusetts is a town, a county and an island—all one and the same (map).

Nantucket Town

Nantucket Town is the historic, commercial, business and shopping center, with most of the island's shops, boutiques, hotels and inns, restaurants and services including police, firefighters and hospital.

Steamboat Wharf and Straight Wharf in the center of Nantucket Town (map) are the terminals for ferries from Hyannis, Harwich Port and Martha's Vineyard.

Nantucket Airport

Nantucket Memorial Airport (ACK), 3 miles (5 km) southeast of the center of Nantucket Town, receives flights from Boston, Cape Cod, and New York City. NRTA WAVE shuttle buses run to and from the airport in summer.

Siasconset

The only other settlement of any size is little Siasconset, a village 7.6 miles (12 km) east of the main town at the easternmost tip of the island, referred to by islanders as 'Sconset.

Around the Island

Other areas on Nantucket island have historic names such as Madaket at the western end; Coskata at the northeastern tip; Cisco, Surfside and Tom Nevers on the south shore; Altar Rock and The Moors, undeveloped areas in the east-central part of the island.

What to See & Do

Public Beaches

Nantucket's public beaches are scattered around the island, from Children's Beach right in the town center to Madaket Beach at the island's western extent, and Siasconset Beach at the eastern. Here they are in order of distance from Nantucket Town:

Children's Beach

Right on the harbor, an easy stroll from the town center, it has a playground for the kids, picnic tables for all, toilets, showers, and a bandstand with free concerts on Thursday and Sunday evenings in summer.

Brant Point Beach

A short walk northwest from the town center toward Brant Point Lighthouse. You probably saw the beach when you came to Nantucket by ferry: it's the one on the starboard (right) side of your vessel. However, it is subject to strong currents and there are no facilities whatever and no lifeguard, so it's suitable for capable swimmers only.

Yacht passing Brant Point, Nantucket, Massachusetts
Giant yacht passing a fisherman on Brant Point Beach in early morning fog..

Jetties Beach

Nantucket's complete beach: not far from town, full facilities, great for families or indeed anyone. It offers a boardwalk to the beach, changing rooms, toilets, public tennis and volleyboall courts, a kids' playground, rental windsurfers, sailboats and kayaks, even beach-accessible wheelchairs. Come by bike or by NRTA shuttle bus.

Francis Street Beach

On the east side of the harbor, a five-minute walk from the town center, the waters are calm and thus relatively safe for kids, and though there are toilets there is no lifeguard.

Surfside Beach

Nice broad beach with good facilities (lifeguard, toilets, showers), though it lives up to its name and the surf and breeze can be heavy at times (which makes it good for surfcasting fishers and kite-flyers). Bring a picnic as you're 2.2 miles (3.5 km) south of the town center, though there is a snack stand. Follow the bike path, or take the NRTA WAVE shuttle bus.

Miacomet Beach

West of Surfside on the south shore, it is farther from the town, with heavier surf, and less easily accessible, thus less-visited. There's a lifeguard, but no other facilities.

Dionis Beach

A favorite with locals because it's three miles (5 km) west of town, and thus less crowded with mainland visitors. The dune-sheltered beach, calm waters, lifeguard, toilets and showers make it a good choice for families who can get there by bike.

Cisco Beach

Like Miacomet, a south shore beach with heavy surf best reached by bike (4 miles from town along Hummock Pond Road). No facilities except a lifeguard.

Madaket Beach

At the western tip of the island, this is where you go to watch the sunset rather than to swim, unless you like heavy surf. There's a lifeguard and toilets, and food sold nearby. Get there by bike (5.5 miles/9 km) or NRTA WAVE shuttle.

Siasconset Beach

Almost everyone who gets to Nantucket for a few days takes the opportunity to ride a bike 7 miles (11 km, about 1 hour; map) or take the NRTA WAVE shuttle bus to the village of Siasconset (called nothing but 'Sconset by islanders) on the island's southwestern side.

The village center consists of Post Office Square, a roundabout on which you can see the post office, 'Sconset Café and "package goods" (liquor, wine and beer) shop, Claudette's Sandwiches, the Siasconset Market—good for a fresh-cut sandwich or an ice cream cone—and the tennis courts of the Siasconset Casino (tennis club).

To the right of Claudette's is the road to the beach, only 100 yards/meters away. There are no facilities whatsoever on the beach.

Public toilets/rest rooms are a block north from the market, near the old town pump.

  Post Office, Siasconset, Nantucket MA
  'Sconset Post Office.

The rest of 'Sconset is residential, with many typical Nantucket houses, but also a few streets of small, low-roofed bungalows, some more than two centuries old, that sit squatly and squarely as though bracing for the violence of winter storms.

Want a walk? Look for narrow Front Street east of the 'Sconset Market, walk along it almost to Broadway and turn left onto Bluff Walk for a stroll with sea views.

Biking

Outside of the town, Nantucket is a good size for bicycling: 14 miles (22.5 km) long by 3.5 miles (5.6 km) wide, relatively flat, with few hills (and those gentle and low), 35 miles (56 km) of bike paths and tolerant automobilists (map). It's easy to rent a bicycle on Nantucket, or you can bring your own on the ferry for a fee.

Here's a rundown of Nantucket's bike paths:

Surfside Beach

Start at Atlantic Avenue and Vesper Lane in Nantucket Town, and this path takes you 2.2 miles (3.5 km) due south to Surfside beach.

Cliff Road

Another route to the beaches, this path starts at Crooked Lane in Nantucket Town and follows Cliff Road north and west toward Madaket, meeting the Eel Point/Dionis Beach and Madaket bike paths after 1.2 miles (2 km).

Eel Point/Dionis Beach

Continuing west and north from the Cliff Road bike path, this takes you to Eel Point and Dionis Beach in less than a mile. (1.4 km).

Madaket

Continuing the Cliff Road ride, the Madaket bike path starts at the intersection of Madaket and Quaker roads and goes 5.5 miles (9 km) west and south to Madaket near the western end of the island.

Milestone-Siasconset

The Milestone bike path heads due east from Nantucket Town's Milestone rotary (traffic circle) and, 6 miles (10 km) later, arrives in 'Sconset, with its beach and cafes.

Polpis

This is the long way between Nantucket Town and 'Sconset, turning left off the Milestone bike path east of Milestone rotary and following the Polpis road northeast toward Polpis, Quidnet and Sankaty Light, the now-famous lighthouse that was moved back from an eroding cliff in October 2007 at a cost of $4 million. The bike path continues southeast all the way to 'Sconset, about 8 miles (13 km) from Nantucket Town.

If you make the circuit following the Polpis and Milestone bike paths you will have biked about 14 miles (22.5 km), which can be done in a morning, or made a full-day excursion if you stop frequently to enjoy the natural sights along the way.

Cycling & Moped Regulations

While biking on Nantucket, remember to observe all traffic regulations as though you were driving a car. In addition:

  • Helmets are required by law for riders 16 years and younger.
  • Riding on sidewalks in Nantucket Town is prohibited.
  • Mopeds (motorbikes) and motor scooters are not allowed on sidewalks or bike paths. They must be ridden on roadways only.

Museums

Nantucket Whaling Museum

Artifacts, photographs and stories of the whaling trade fill the Nantucket Whaling Museum, 15 Broad Street (map), but nothing tells the story so well as the dramatic, gigantic 46-foot-long (14-meter) skeleton of a sperm whale.

The whale washed up on Low Beach in 'Sconset in 1998, and soon died. After scientific study, its skeleton was preserved so visitors could marvel at the size and strength of these extraordinary creatures.

Compare its size with that of the fully-outfitted whaling boat and imagine the doughty mariners who left the relative safety of the ship to hunt and (usually) bring back a creature many times their size and strength.

Part of the museum building was once a manufactory for whale-oil candles, built in 1847. Exhibits show how the candles were made, and the importance of this source of light to New England homes and businesses in the mid-19th century.

Other exhibits include scrimshaw (artful carving on ivory), finely-woven Nantucket lightship baskets, period costumes and furniture, and paintings, many of them portraits of prominent whaling captains and merchants.

"Going on the Whale," carved wooden tableau on the Whaling Museum, Nantucket MA

On the museum's roof is an observatory with fine views of Nantucket harbor and the town. Climb the grand staircase to enjoy the panorama.

More whale lore? Visit the New Bedford Whaling Museum and Mystic Seaport.

Nantucket Historical Association

The Nantucket Historical Association (map) operates the Nantucket Whaling Museum, the island's Oldest House and other historic structures, including the Old Mill (1746), Old Gaol, Hose Cart House, Quaker Meetinghouse (1838), and Hadwen House (1845).

Buy a special visitor's pass to all the buildings. Individual admissions to all buildings would cost much more, and the pass gives you the advantage of being able to browse in a museum for a while, go to the beach, and return to another museum later in the afternoon.

You can get your pass at the Whaling Museum at 15 Broad Street (map), or at any of the other association buildings.

Shipwreck & Life Saving Museum

The Shipwreck & Life Saving Museum, 158 Polpis Road (map), about three miles (5 km) from the center of town, has exhibits explaining the role of the island's life-saving service. More than 750 ships foundered off Nantucket, with great loss of life, which would have been much greater but for the brave men who risked their lives to save others'.

Nantucket Atheneum

Nantucket's free public library is among the oldest in the USA. Thoroughly updated, its 42,000 volumes are available for reading, its Great Hall for lectures, its Weezie Wing for children. Look for it on India Street in the center of town.

Maria Mitchell Science Center

Nantucket's Maria Mitchell Science Center (map) is organized and maintained in honor of the island's foremost astronomer, Maria Mitchell (1818-89).

Discovery of a Comet

Born on Nantucket of an astronomer father and teacher-librarian mother, Mitchell became interested in the stars at an early age. Out here on Nantucket, away from the pollution and haze of cities, she studied the heavens, and in 1847 discovered a hitherto uncharted comet.

Her discovery earned her a gold medal from the king of Denmark and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (the only woman so honored at the time), and led to a distinguished career as a professor at Vassar College.

The Association

Founded in 1902, the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association seeks to preserve a fitting memorial to the island's famous astronomer, and to make available science facilities to residents and visitors.

The Science Center at 2 Vestal Street (map) consists of several buildings, prime of which is the Maria Mitchell Observatory, open year round, with lectures and stellar observations when the sky is clear.

The Hinchman House at 7 Milk Street, contains the Museum of Natural Science, featuring lectures, birdwatching, wildflower and nature walks, and children's nature classes.

The Mitchell House at 1 Vestal Street, next to the observatory, is the birthplace of Maria Mitchell, with wildflower and herb gardens. It's open during the warmer months.

The Science Library is at 2 Vestal Street; the Aquarium is at 28 Washington Street.

Sankaty Head Lighthouse

Sankaty Head Lighthouse, 122 Baxter Road, Siasconset (map), has stood atop Nantucket's Sankaty Head since 1850, guiding mariners and also bikers and walkers in need of a landmark.

It was sited 250 feet (76 meters) inland from the shore and built on the sand that composes most of the island, but through nearly two centuries of service, the ocean has gobbled much of Sankaty Head. As the sea came closer and closer to the historic monument, threatening to topple it over a cliff, something needed to be done.

A group of six residents of Siasconset took the lead, formed Save Our Sankaty, and raised nearly $4 million to do the job.

Sankaty Lighthouse

By August 2007 the sea had eaten away Sankaty Head to within 76 feet (23 meters) of the lighthouse. The movers required a minimum of 67 feet from the cliff, so the move comes just in time: one big storm could have made it impossible to save Sankaty Light.

By September 2007 the lighthouse was reinforced inside, girdled with steel cable on the outside, and raised on huge steel H-beams and oak cribbing, awaiting the slow but steady move on a clever and complicated system of rollers to its new foundation.

Sankaty Lighthouse raised, Nantucket MA
Sankaty Lighthouse (450 tons) raised on H-beams and oak cribbing.

Bike to Sankaty Head

You can visit Sankaty Head Light on a bike, a nine-mile (14.5-km) ride (about an hour) one-way. From the James Coffin Memorial Rotary (traffic circle), follow Milestone Road to Polpis Road northeast toward Polpis, Quidnet and, finally, Sankaty Head Light (map).

Vineyards & Breweries

Nantucket has its own winery, brewery and distillery under the aegis of Cisco Brewers, 5 Bartlett Farm Road, 2.5 miles (4 km) southwest of the town center (map). Come to see, sample and buy their wines, spirits and beers. Travel there by the brewery's free shuttle, an NRTA WAVE shuttle buson the Miacomet Loop, or along the Hummock Pond bike path.

A Bit of History

Explorer Bartholomew Gosnold marked Nantucket on his chart in 1602, but it was 1659 before the first colonists came ashore on an island already inhabited by four Native American tribes.

Early Days

In 1686 the Jethro Coffin House, the first fine farmhouse to be built, went up on Sunset Hill. The old farmhouse is now known as Nantucket's Oldest House, and has been preserved and opened to visitors by the Nantucket Historical Association.

Jethro Coffin House (1686), Nantucket Island, Massaschusetts
The Jethro Coffin House, Nantucket's Oldest House (1686).

Whaling Begins

A few years later in 1690, Nantucket colonists began to hunt the right whales they saw swimming along the island's shores, just as the native inhabitants had before them.

By the turn of the century (1700), they were going to sea in ships to hunt the leviathans and bring them home.

In 1746 the first lighthouse was set up on Brant Point to mark the harbor entrance for whalers returning to the "Grey Lady," as Nantucket was known because of its frequent blankets of fog.

Revolutionary War

By the time of the American Revolution, Nantucket was already wealthy from the whale-oil trade and contributed greatly to the Revolutionary cause, losing over 100 whaling ships and 2,000 Nantucketers in the war.

The Revolutionary War was a setback to the island's prosperity, and before the island could recover fully, the War of 1812 again interfered with its prosperity.

Whaling's Golden Age

But soon Nantucket whale oil again lit the lamps of all New England, baleen (whalebone) provided the stays for the corsets then in style, and ambergris was a fixative for perfume, allowing its scent to linger longer.

The last four decades of the 1700s and the first four decades of the 1800s were, in all, the golden age of whaling, when Nantucket was rightly considered the whaling capital of the world, with more than 150 ships dedicated to the hunt.

End of an Era

By mid-century, natural gas and "coal oil" (kerosene) were growing in popularity as lighting fuels, destroying the demand for whale oil. New Bedford, a deeper-water port, took trade from Nantucket, and railroads cut into the maritime shipping business.

A great fire in Nantucket Town in 1846, and the lure of the California gold rush in 1849, nearly destroyed the island's economy. Its population dropped from around 10,000 to less than 4000.

The last whaling ship set out from Nantucket in 1869, and never returned to the island.

Tourism Begins

By the 1880s, the age of the sail-rigged whaling ship was coming to an end, but the same invention that put an end to that era—the steamship—brought the beginning of a new era for Nantucket as a vacation destination.

In 1881, Nantucket even had a steam railroad!

Tourists began to arrive in the last two decades of the 1800s, automobiles arrived in 1918, and Nantucket's tourism industry was well established by the mid-1900s.

With the arrival of the first jet airplane at Nantucket Memorial Airport in 1962, tourism intensified. The late 1900s saw scheduled jet flights from New York City. The island developed from a getaway spot for eastern Massachusetts residents to a regional, then to an international destination.

With its increased popularity, Nantucket has become an upscale destination with refined hotels and restaurants, shops and boutiques, and high prices.

The best of Nantucket—its natural beauty, wildlife, beaches, bike paths and scenery—are priced best of all: they're free as air.