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All of the Things You Must Do in Nantucket in 2024

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Nantucket has built a reputation as the premier summer destination for discerning, wealthy Americans. The island is characterized by the cedar-shingled buildings and an unmatched vibe that makes you forget the troubles of the moment and allow yourself to enjoy the great beaches, incredible food and the surprisingly huge number of things to do in Nantucket.

To give you a sense of Nantucket, there’s a good chance you’ll overhear a conversation wherein somebody says “it’s such a small world” and another repeats the same while shaking their head in apparent disbelief. This is Nantucket: a small world of locals with connections all around the east coast of the U.S. and beyond.

Background to Nantucket

Nantucket is known for its once-thriving whaling industry. The leitmotif of the island is the whale, and you’ll see images, carvings and references to whales on everything from streets to beaches to restaurant menus. So much is Nantucket known for whaling that Herman Melville’s famous novel Moby-Dick was inspirated by the final voyage of the Nantucket whaler Essex.

The summer destination for wealthy Americans from the northeast that is modern Nantucket started to take shape in the 1950s when developers started purchasing property and land on the island. Nowadays, it has become the place beginning from Memorial Day weekend (the kickoff of the summer) and well into the summer.

How to get to Nantucket

By sea

Ferries to Nantucket are run by a few operators, including Seastreak which provides services from New Bedford, MA and New York City from May to October and take only an hour. If you’re heading to Nantucket to party, the party begins on Seastreak which has a full bar and music on board. In short, if you’re looking for an experience, Seastreak is your choice of ferry operator.

If you’re just looking to get to Nantucket and don’t need (or want) the party to start on the ferry, we recommend Hy-Line Cruises which offers services to Nantucket from Hyannis in Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. Otherwise, The Steamship Authority also offers passenger services and car ferry services from Hyannis if you wish to take your car onto the island (though we recommend that you rent a Jeep to get into the full Nantucket experience.

By air

There are a number of major airlines that fly into Nantucket Memorial Airport (ACK) including American, Delta, United and jetBlue. Each of these provide seasonal, commercial services from major U.S. airports to Nantucket, including from New York City (LGA, JFK and EWR), Chicago (ORD), Boston (BOS) and others.

If you’re looking for more of a private jet experience, Cape Air offers services to Nantucket on its small 10-seater Cessna planes from Boston (BOS), Hyannis, MA (HYA), New Bedford, MA (EWB) and Martha’s Vineyard (MVY).

As you approach the runway, you’ll be greeted with beautiful views of Nantucket, including Nantucket Sound which Nantucket Harbor opens into.

Where to stay on Nantucket

Hotel options have increased over the years but remain relatively limited so you will likely be in a short-let through VRBO. Choosing a short-let on VRBO is definitely the best way to experience the island and really is the right way to do it if you’re traveling with a group of friends. You should stay near the town but not in the town (i.e., within walking distance), even if you rent a car.

The White Elephant offers the largest range of serviced accommodation ranging from small hotel rooms to freestanding homes on the waterfront. The Nantucket Hotel & Resort is a premium stay but is a much pricier option. It boasts a pool and is an excellent choice for a family wanting a serviced experience.

If you’re prefer to stay out of the main town, you absolutely must consider The Wauwinet. It’s a stunning decorated and secluded beachfront property that is also home to one of the best restaurants in Nantucket, though the hotel comes with a price tag. The Faraway is also a great boutique hotel in Nantucket without as hefty a price tag.

Getting around Nantucket

Hire car

Without a doubt, the best way to get around Nantucket is to rent your own set of wheels. And not only do you want your own car, but you want to rent a 4WD that has a beach permit and ideally a retractable roof. Part of the experience of Nantucket is driving around in a Jeep or other 4×4 and enjoying the amazing summer vibes in the town, beaches and smaller areas.

Public transportation

The Nantucket Regional Transit Authority operates a small network of shuttle buses and paratransit services, including The Wave, the famous blue-and-white shuttle bus which is free for summer 2024. Otherwise, fares are no more more than US$2-3 for a one-way ticket, and the shuttles are fairly frequent (though make sure to check the schedule as you’ll need to plan your day around the shuttle times).

Taxis and private hire

There are four private taxi operators which we recommend on the island, as below. Otherwise, Uber and Lyft operate on the island but you should expect to wait quite a while if you don’t think to book well in advance.

  • Diane’s: +1 (508) 228-5555
  • Milestone: +1 (508) 325-5511
  • Val’s: +1 (508) 228-9410
  • Roger’s: +1 (508) 818-8294

Bike/e-bike

Virtually all roads outside of Nantucket’s town center have separate bicycle lanes which are perfect for exploring the island. We recommend renting a bike or e-bike from Young’s which is still family-owned and operated. Make sure to take your helmet with you – you should be wearing it at the very least when you’re sharing the road with cars.

The 12 Things You Must Do in Nantucket

Cycle to Siaconset (“Sconset”)

There really is no better way to experience Nantucket than to actually experience the island of Nantucket, and to do that means getting out on the road and seeing the beauty of the island.

More specifically, you should hire a bicycle and get on the cycling route from Nantucket town to Siaconset (which locals call “Sconset”) that takes you through Polpis and past the famous Sankaty Head Lighthouse. The lighthouse is the brick-and-granite structure which sits on the bluff at the end of a road in Siasconset and is the iconic image of Nantucket throughout the U.S.

Travel tip: As you leave Nantucket, make sure you take the cycle path marked as Polpis and not Milestone Road (which is far less scenic).

The majority of the cycle route is a designated bicycle path so you won’t be competing with traffic. If you want to get close to the lighthouse, you’ll need to divert from the cycle route. You’ll probably be recommended to take Milestone Road back so that it’s a full loop back to Nantucket town.

The Milestone Road cycle path is not particularly scenic so we would recommend taking the Polpis route back if you prefer water. Milestone Road is certainly the faster way back to town though.

Eat sandwiches at the beach

Getting a takeaway (gourmet) sandwich and driving to a (drive-on) beach to eat it there is the quintessential Nantucket experience and truly is one of the best things to do in Nantucket. The island has developed an ecosystem of sandwich shops that are all in a tacit, friendly competition for the best sandwich.

As you will realize in your hunt to find the best sandwiches in Nantucket, not all sandwiches are made equal and you need to know where to go.

Rent a Jeep and drive on the beach

There’s a reason why everybody in Nantucket is driving an open-top 4×4. Provided you have a beach permit, you can drive on the beach as long as you’re on a designated drive-on beach like Nobadeer Beach. It’s one of the few places in the U.S. that you can drive on the beach – and it’s the norm.

There are so many beaches in Nantucket, and although it’s important to know which are the ‘best’ beaches in Nantucket, what’s more important is knowing the vibe of each beach. What we mean to say is, if you’re looking to chill out or watch the kitesurfers, it’s not going to be the same beach that you’ll go for parties and loud music.

No matter how you do it, driving on to a beach is one of the best things to do in Nantucket and is a quintessential experience of the island. And because the weather in Nantucket can be unpredictable, be ready to change your day’s itinerary at a moment’s notice to go to the beach if the weather suddenly turns in your favor.

Get a mudslide from Gazebo

This fits into the category of “if you know, you know“. The mudslide at The Gazebo is nearly a requirement if you are traveling by ferry into Nantucket, or looking for a boozy afternoon or evening with friends. The Gazebo is a gazebo right next to Provisions, where you can get one of the best sandwiches in Nantucket – and the ferry terminal is right beside The Gazebo for easy access as soon as you disembark.

For those of us that haven’t had the joy of a mudslide is, just think alcoholic chocolate milkshake. You will typically find the younger crowd at The Gazebo because this is an institution of the island that is open all day until the fun ends. Expect music, fun, and your occasional bachelorette party.

Taste Nantucket Crisps

An American summer isn’t quite an American summer without potato chips on the beach. Frequent travelers to the northeast of the U.S. will be very familiar with Cape Cod Chips which have been the go-to option for your backyard BBQ or beach picnic, but there is a new brand in town, specifically Nantucket Town.

Nantucket Crips are shaking up the east coast with more innovative flavors, like the new hit favorite, South Wharf Cocktail Sauce. It tastes like an elevated tomato sauce flavor to us – but don’t take that as a criticism: we found ourselves reaching for more, and then reaching for another bag.

Sara and Hayden, the duo behind Nantucket Crisps, opened a pop-up store in Nantucket town on Cambridge Street in Nantucket town in May 2024. The store is decorated super thoughtfully and is a great place to get Nantucket swag, buy Nantucket Crisps merchandise and, of course, try caviar with your potato chips directly from their caviar fridge.

Do a chocolate-making class with Andre at Faraway Chocolates

You wouldn’t expect an experience like this on Nantucket, and it very much is one of the newer things to do in Nantucket. However, you’ll be surprised by how much fun you’ll have at the chocolate-making class at Faraway Chocolates.

The courses are led by Andre who was once a chef at Per Se, one of New York’s leading restaurants. It’s a tasty evening activity before or after dinner to complement your beach days and delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners. There is also a Faraway Chocolates store at Old South Wharf right on the waterfront in case you just want to taste Faraway Chocolate.

We recommend buying your chocolate and taking it down to the pier to see the boats, especially if you’re there during Figawi, the race weekend regatta from Hyannis to Nantucket. (Fun fact: if you want to know what Figawi means, locals say the origin of the term is from “where the f*** are we”. We can’t be certain, but it feels right.)

Buy Nantucket Reds at Murray’s

You can’t hear Nantucket and not immediately think red pants. This iconic “color” (yes, Nantucket red is a color in and of itself that was introduced in the 1960s by the late Philip C. Murray) and the pants with this color have become a symbol of island life.

Don’t be fooled: Murry’s is the original of this canvas pant. You can only buy this canvas pant on the island. Don’t fall for an imitation from larger-named brands as the locals will be sure to make notice these copycats.

Spend an afternoon at Cisco Brewers

Cisco Brewers has an interesting history in that it started life as a winery and then progressed to a beer brewery. Unfortunately, after the Covid-19 pandemic, Cisco Brewers stopped growing its own grapes and so doesn’t produce its own wine on site anymore, but you can still taste some amazing wines from other regions and, more importantly, their fantastic selection of beers.

Cisco Brewers offers interesting brews that aren’t available at your local bar. Be aware that Cisco Brewers is extremely popular and isn’t a particularly big venue, so expect lines to get in to the brewery from before it even opens in the morning. There is usually live music as well which encapsulates the very essence of the Nantucket afternoon out.

You can also ask them for Shut The Box, a great boardgame that you can pass the time with. Otherwise, just sitting in the outdoor area with friends and trying the different beers is usually enough to keep one entertained for a few hours.

Watch the kitesurfers at Pocomo Beach

It’s no secret that the beaches on Nantucket are amazing, particularly if you know from locals which ones are the best to go to. And because there are so many beaches, it’s important to know which flavor of beach culture you’ll be getting which will dramatically influence your experience. One of those flavors involves high winds which makes perfect conditions for kitesurfers and paraboarders.

If you want to watch talented people get out on the water and essentially fly around, head to Pocomo Beach at Pocomo Head. Provided the weather conditions are right, there will almost always be kitesurfers and paraboarders on the water. And if you want to learn how to kiteboard, we recommend you book your flight to South Africa.

Listen to live music at the (what should be) world-famous The Chicken Box

If you’re looking for the island bar with live music and bud light that stays open late, The Chicken Box is the answer. The dance floor is always packed, and the line is always long. Make sure to go early to secure your spot in this island hotspot, which many young locals will tell you that even their parents went to in their day. It’s yet another Nantucket institution that has been open for over 50 years.

Visit the Whaling Museum

When the weather is good in Nantucket, the honest truth is that you won’t want to be indoors anywhere. If, however, the weather in Nantucket turns against you, we recommend spending 45 minutes inside the Whaling Museum. It’s a great way to understand how the island came to be and why it is such a special place, particularly for northeastern Americans.

Shop the boutiques and eat cookies

There are a number of boutiques in Nantucket town that sell Nantucket preppy clothes to clothing and your usual set of options. Some of the best shops are on India Street and, of course, Main Street where you’ll find the vast majority

And as is the case with sandwiches, it appears that there is a friendly competition for best cookie in Nantucket (which, as you might know, we absolutely love). You’ll find some of the best cookies at Born & Bread (the cowboy – wow) and Something Natural (they make only two cookies – and make them fresh), both of which also make some of the best sandwiches in Nantucket.

Our other top choice is Patisserie by PPX Events which makes some of the best cookies in town. Make sure you check their opening hours – and get in early, because they sell out.


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