Nantucket Essentials From A to Z
Sally Horchow may live in Los Angeles, but Nantucket feels like home. Here's a local's guide to what to do on the island.
NANTUCKET – My family started traveling to Nantucket from Dallas in the summer of 1974 to escape the Texas heat. We rented a house each summer and eventually built one. Once I left for boarding school and then college, it was Nantucket I would come home to every summer, not Dallas. It's where my family congregates. I got married there. And whenever I make the cross-country trek from Los Angeles, I never mind the inevitable travel hassles (you can practically bank on fog-related delays or cancellations), because I know at the end of it, I'll be on Nantucket. It's that special.
But that's just the thing: Nantucket is a special place to anyone who visits it. A friend just told me that she came to the island last winter for the first time for work, and even though it was deadly cold, dreary, and grey, she fell in love with it.
I like visiting in the off-season, but Nantucket really means summer to me. These are the places and experiences that make it so great, from A to Z.
What to Do in Nantucket, an A-Z Guide
This may be a small island, but it packs a big punch.
The airport code and subject of many Nantucket names, signs, and half the California license plate on the car I drive there: BCKNACK.
Everything tastes better on the beach. Take advantage of the select slivers of sand that you're allowed to drive on by buying a beach permit, packing a cooler and a grill, and plopping down at the 40th Pole off of Eel Point Road for the sunset.
Cocktails on the Beach
I repeat: Everything tastes better on the beach — including cocktails. Galley Beach has a great bar that spills onto the sand, and everyone applauds the sunset.
There's always a wait for sit-down breakfast at Downyflake, but it goes by quickly when you get a chocolate doughnut from the take-out counter to tide you over.
Escaping to the High Seas (or Just the Harbor)
For a special occasion, I splurge and charter a gorgeous Hinckley picnic boat from Barton & Gray Mariners Club.
Wine in May, film in June, comedy in July. Fantastic extra reasons to visit.
Current Vintage (curated vintage clothing), Vis-à-Vis (inexpensive jewelry and clothes), Nantucket Looms (beautiful handmade home items), Epernay Wine & Spirits (steady stream of summer rosé), and the Nantucket Historical Association's museum shop (Nantucket crafts and historical items).
Lunch on the patio at White Elephant Hotel provides the best vantage for beautiful Nantucket Harbor. Bloody Marys + boats = a winning combination.
The Inquirer and Mirror
Affectionately called "the Ink and M" or "The Inky Mirror," the terrific local paper, which hits the Hub on Main Street (and everywhere else) on Thursday.
Juice Bar Ice Cream
I try to get Juice Bar at least ten times per visit, which is not difficult to achieve. I order brownie a la mode in a homemade waffle cup cone and mint Oreo with hot fudge on alternating days. Just to mix it up.
Kaleidoscope of Flavor
That's what you'll get from bluefish paté, a cocktail party favorite, the best of which comes from East Coast Provisions — aka 167 — and is served on Wheat Thins.
Get a ready-made clambake with all the fixins and a 1¼-pounder from Sayle's Seafood.
Murray's Toggery Shop
I always pay homage to the shop where I had my first summer job, and — more importantly — the home of Nantucket Reds, those dark pink shorts and pants everyone wears on the island.
Navigating on Wheels
Rent a bike from Nantucket Bike Shop (where my family bought ours used at the end of the season) and ride everywhere. Hell, it's only seven miles long and fourteen wide.
"Only the Good Die Young"
Along with "Nobody Does It Better" and "Sweet Caroline," they're the most popular requests for the sing-a-long piano player made by the sauced crowd at The Club Car.
It's Nantucket's version of a white sourdough, but better. Nantucket Bakeshop slices theirs thinner than Something Natural, but both are excellent.
Among the other good eats at Millie's in Madaket, which is on the westernmost end of the island and is accessible by bike (30 minutes from town), car, NRTA bus (15 minutes from town), or — the best — the Millie's shuttle that picks up in front of the Town Information Booth on Federal Street.
As a throwback to childhood, I buy one at The Sunken Ship and don't take it off until the end of the summer. No, I don't care if it starts to smell.
I save all my carbs for a summer full of them, from Something Natural (turkey/tomato/swiss on oatmeal), Provisions (turkey terrific on herb), and Cook's Café (Bangkok wrap).
The other good carbs come from alcohol. Specifically, Nantucket's own distillery, Triple Eight, and their cocktails — as well as post-beach Sankaty Light beers — at Cisco Brewery.
Un-doing a Belt Buckle
Try not to do it after pancakes at Black-Eyed Susan's.
Very Amazing Fireworks
Always guaranteed to be display on the 4th of July at Jetties Beach.
Walking at Sanford Farm
Do it at a brisk clip with a friend or a sister to work it all off. (See S.)
X Marks the Spot
Specifically, pool tables, fun bands, and cheap beer at The Chicken Box, where townies and tourists paah-ty as one.
They skip the new-agey music at The Studio Nantucket upstairs on Main Street.
They come in handy when you're gathering shells on Dionis Beach.
Where to Stay: Hotels and House Rentals
50 Easton St.; +1-508-228-2500
The most well-appointed, convenient full-service hotel in town. The best. That's all.
Cliffside Beach Club
46 Jefferson Ave.; +1-508-228-0618
The only truly beachside offering near town.
The Summer House
17 Ocean Ave.; +1-508-257-4577
Cluster of cute cottages in the tiny village of Siasconset. There's a fun scene at the poolside restaurant, where you can dine al fresco before expansive views of the Atlantic.
120 Wauwinet Rd.; +1-508-228-0145
The splurge getaway on the island.
20 North Water St.; +1-508-228-0695
Brand new, eleven room boutique hotel in a 1717 landmark building renovated with a modern design sensibility. From the folks behind The Veranda House.
These are two great resources:
- Debbie Cleveland at Jordan Real Estate - firstname.lastname@example.org
- Greg McKechnie at Great Point Properties
Where to Eat
In addition to the places mentioned in the A-Z, I also love:
15 South Beach St.; +1-508-325-4001
Hopping and fun. Plus, any place that serves deliciously fresh sushi AND macaroni and cheese on the same menu is the place for me. The tuna burger is astounding and available at their take-out outpost, Lola Burger.
12 Federal St.; +1-508-228-9622
The underground wine cellar-feeling restaurant serves homey, delicious food (Bartlett's Farm tomato salad, chicken under a brick, and softshell crab are my favorites) and is perfect for a rainy night. The terrace is great for brunch on a sunny day, and the bar works for either.
Cru Oyster Bar
1 Straight Wharf; +1-508-228-9278
New this summer, it's a great, fresh take on New England classics. Cru also has prime real estate: an open-air, dockside restaurant surrounded by gorgeous visiting yachts and sailboats.
Plan Your Trip
Nantucket Memorial Airport (ACK) has service from Boston on Cape Air (a great commuter — read: puddle-jumper! — airline), from New York (JetBlue and Delta from JFK; Delta from LGA), and Hyannis (Nantucket Airlines). There are also flights from Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia in the summer. Beware frequent fog delays getting in and out of the very small airport — missed connections happen all the time.
You can drive one hour from Boston to Hyannis and take a ferry. Book Steamship Authority if you want to take your car, which requires a special reservation and takes 2¼ hours. Otherwise, Hy-Line only takes one hour.
The town of Nantucket is very walkable; you can easily walk to most activities in town. But leave your stilettos at home: The sidewalks and crosswalks are made of centuries-old, uneven brick, and many streets are cobblestone.
Depending on where you are staying, renting a bike at one of the many shops in town is the best way to get around and see the island. If you're staying outside town and/or want to transport stuff/kids/chairs to one of the many gorgeous beaches, rent a car at the airport from one of the many options: Hertz, Nantucket Island Rent-a-car, or Windmill Auto Rental.
Many taxi companies can be called at a moment's notice and have stands at various obvious places. So if you're staying in town and want to stick to walking, you'll never have a problem getting a cab when you need to go farther.
NRTA is the bus system, another reliable way of getting around.