Teeming with weather-worn-shingled cottages, cobblestone streets, luxury boutiques and expansive beaches, Nantucket tops our list of favorite travel destinations when the weather warms up. Sitting 30 miles south off the coast of Cape Cod, the tiny island manages to feel both charming and exclusive.
As Nantucket opens for the season, we talked to Ann Walker, concierge at The White Elephant, a Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel. Walker, who has lived in Nantucket for five years but spent her summers there growing up, gave us an insider’s guide. She revealed how to score a yacht, what’s new this season, where you can spy seals and her best-kept Nantucket secret.
What is the best way to experience Nantucket in the summer?
The best way to experience Nantucket is by boat. Our guests gain exclusive access to the Barton & Gray boats — it’s usually members only. The Barton & Gray Hinckley boats are available for four-hour charters. Families can order a picnic and enjoy a day out on the water taking in all the sights of the harbor. It is an ideal way to spend a summer day, sipping a cocktail on the Hinckley while you cruise through the harbor, and your captain will help you plan the day to best suit your family’s interests.
New this year, through our partnership with Barton & Gray, we designed a 36-foot White Elephant-themed yacht for more fun out on the water.
Another way to get out on the water is to take the Wauwinet Lady boat from The White Elephant hotel over to our sister property, The Wauwinet, for lunch or dinner at Topper’s. The boat ride is complimentary with your dining reservation, and crossing the harbor takes about 50 minutes each way. The boat departs at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily in season.
What’s new in Nantucket this season?
Every season brings something new to the island. This year, we have the Nantucket Culinary Center and Corner Table new to downtown. The culinary center holds cooking classes, wine tastings and private chef dinners that you can sign up for in advance.
The Corner Table has a great grab-and-go food case, and the café has lots of comfortable seating. It is a great spot downtown to meet a friend for a bite or cup of coffee.
The culinary center is a great new addition for Nantucket, as this is the first forum to offer hands-on cooking classes, giving visitors and locals a chance to improve their culinary skills.
What is the best way to spend a day on the island?
My favorite excursion is to take a trip out to Great Point. To do this, you need a four-wheel drive vehicle with a beach permit, which is available from any of the car rental agencies. Pack a picnic and drive your jeep out Polpis Road and look for the turnoff to The Wauwinet.
You will see the gate house and a spot to pull over — stop there and let some air out of your tires for beach driving. Once you have done this, you can drive on the beach, all the way out to the Great Point Lighthouse.
It is a very peaceful and natural environment out there, and you will usually see seals sunbathing on the beach near the lighthouse. It really is an experience like no other; you will feel like you are leading your own safari and seeing the part of the island least touched by man.
Plan to spend about half the day out there. If you enjoy fishing, this is a great spot for surf casting. Rods are available for rental from Bill Fisher Tackle.
What are the best things for families to do in Nantucket?
The Critter Cruise is a wonderful activity for families with young children. It is a one-hour hands-on boat trip; the captain pulls up fish and lobster traps and creates a touch tank so kids can handle the various critters that they catch.
They fish with poles in the harbor as well. Kids and parents always rave about what a great time they have out there. The Maria Mitchell Association Aquarium offers a program called Feeding Frenzy, where they let kids come in early to feed the animals before they open to the public. Reservations are required for this, and can be booked through the aquarium website.
The Children’s Beach park and playground is a nice area for families. Parents can relax and enjoy the view of the ferries coming in and out of the harbor while kids play on the beach and playground. In July and August, the park has many organized activities, such as tie-dying T-shirts or free movie nights.
What are Nantucket’s top beaches?
For families with young children, Dionis Beach is a great spot because the water is very calm for swimming, there is a lifeguard on duty, and it offers restrooms and showers. Parents can relax while the kids splash in the water, with no worry about large crashing waves.
For more active families, Surfside Beach is ideal; it is a much larger beach, offering space for kite flying and beach games. The surf can be heavy, and surfboards are available for rental.
What are the must-visit restaurants in Nantucket?
For breakfast, you can’t beat Black Eyed Susan’s. If there is a line out front, it usually moves quickly and is well worth the wait. Brant Point Grill offers a delicious brunch on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can’t go wrong with our famous Lobster Bloody Mary while overlooking the harbor.
Something Natural has the island’s best sandwiches. You can take them with you to the beach or eat at picnic tables on its front lawn. Cru is a great spot for an upscale sit-down lunch or dinner; it is located on the end of Straight Wharf, so you get a water view, and it is also a fantastic spot for people-watching as people come and go on the Hy-Line ferry.
The Pearl is a wildly popular spot for dinner. The menu puts an Asian twist on coastal cuisine; the classic wok-fried lobster is always a favorite.
And no trip to Nantucket would be complete without a stop by the Juice Bar for ice cream after dinner. You will see a line around the block, but don’t be intimidated. You will smell the delicious waffle cones they make while you wait.
What are the best places to watch the sunset in Nantucket?
Madaket Beach is known for its sunsets. It is the farthest point west on the island. You can pack up a blanket and your favorite cocktail and enjoy the view sitting out on the beach, or head to Millie’s, a casual restaurant with large open windows upstairs that offer a great view.
For a more upscale environment with a beautiful view, Topper’s at The Wauwinet has a gorgeous outdoor patio with views of the harbor. While you’re there, try some of the Nantucket-raised Retsyo oysters. They are cultivated only 300 yards away — in true farm-to-table form.
What is Nantucket’s best-kept secret?
The ’Sconset Bluff Walk. ’Sconset is a small town at the east end of the island. It is very quaint, with small rose-covered cottages. The Bluff Walk leads you along a small path through the backyards of the large waterfront estates.
The Bluff Walk can be a bit tricky to find. It begins at the end of Front Street. You will see signs saying “Public Way” and “Footpath Only” — follow the grass path up toward the left, not the paved path that leads down to the right. Once the footpath ends, continue along Baxter Road to reach the Sankaty lighthouse or turn back the other way to return to town.
The view is spectacular: On one side, you get an insider’s look into the beautiful homes, on the other side you see the bluffs leading down to ’Sconset beach and the ocean beyond.