The thirty-mile, two-hour sea crossing to Nantucket may not be an ocean odyssey, but it does set the "Little Gray Lady" apart from her larger, shore-hugging sister, Martha. Nantucket's smaller size adds to its palpable sense of identity, as does the architecture; the "gray" epithet refers not only to the winter fogs, but to the austere gray clapboard and shingle applied uniformly to buildings across the island.
The tiny cobbled carriageways of Nantucket Town itself, once one of the largest cities in Massachusetts, were frozen in time by economic decline 150 years ago. Today, this area of delightful old restored houses – the town has more buildings on the National Register of Historic Places than Boston – is very much the island hub. From the moment you get off the ferry you're besieged by bike rental places and tour companies. Straight Wharf leads directly onto Main Street, with its shops and restaurants; the information office – which has a daily list of accommodation vacancies, but doesn't make reservations – is nearby at 25 Federal St (April– Dec 9am–6pm; Jan– March Mon– Sat 9am–5pm; Tel:508/228-0925, Web: www.nantucket.net ). The Chamber of Commerce, Zero Main St, 2/F (Mon– Fri 9am–5pm; Tel:508/228-1700, Web: www.nantucketchamber.org ), carries the best range of island information.
Old Nantucket lives in the Nantucket you visit today. The combination of 18th and 19th Century buildings and the cobblestone streets will make you feel as though you have stepped back in time. Antique shops, historic sites, charming inns and interesting museums are yours for discovering; with the added bonuses of dramatic scenery, miles of unspoiled beaches and plentiful nature preserves.
With few cars and no traffic lights, beach-goers and sightseers, cyclists, strollers and happy ice-cream eaters lend to the charm and personality of Nantucket, making it a popular destination for people fleeing larger cities for vacation and weekend getaways.
The Historic District is the hub of Nantucket Town and what you first enter when stepping off the ferry. Walk up and down Main, Federal and Center Streets. You'll see cozy bed & breakfasts like the Anchor Inn and unique restaurants like the Boarding House . The Whaling Museum , Brant Point Light Station and First Congregational Church & Old North Vestry are all popular spots for visitors.
Take note of the small, round plaques by some doorways, issued by the Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) to certify the dates the historic homes in this neighborhood were built. Nantucket maintains one of the highest concentrations of pre-Civil War structures in the country. The NHA operates six other historic properties as museums.
Siasconset and Madaket
Beyond the residential and touristy side of Nantucket Town are two villages: Siasconset, seven miles to the east, and Madaket, 6 miles to the west. In the days when factories rendered whale oil, Nantucket Town residents would flee to Siasconset (locally known as 'Sconset) to avoid the heavy smells. Today, 'Sconset is mostly a summer community with a few choice lodging options and several restaurants, like the Chanticleer . It also has lots of waterfront and conservation areas close by, all of which make it a great day trip from town, easily accessible via bike or public transportation.
Madaket, on the west coast, is basically a large beach with serious surf, a great place to picnic, and a sunset enthusiast's haven. To get there, follow the Madaket Bike Path signs or take the NRTA shuttle.
A pet-friendly island, dogs are welcome on most ferries and on shuttle buses to and from the beach. Some hotels also accept your canine friend, such as the Safe Harbor . Although many restaurants have outdoor seating, call beforehand to ensure your fuzzy buddy can sit beside you while you are enjoying local eats, such as quahog (pronounced ko-hog) chowder or lobster, or cocktails. The Boarding House is a great places to enjoy your meal without leaving your pup behind.
Perhaps you thought that Nantucket, being an island off the coast of New England, could offer the hungry traveler nothing more exciting than clam chowder or broiled seafood. You are to be pleasantly surprised. If, on the other hand, you have come expecting the island to live up to it is gourmet reputation, you will not be disappointed. Nantucket has managed to attract and retain world-class culinary talent. The options are impressive: from fabulous French fare to a comforting cup of clam chowder, from the freshest, raw Sushi to the perfectly grilled steak. Nantucket is far from the troubles of your daily life on the mainland, but certainly not so far off that the world's finest provisions can't be brought in.
Not to be missed, according to Island residents, is 21 Federal . Housed within the gracious walls of a former private residence (as are many restaurants on the island) the food works hard to match to quiet elegance of the room. Menu items read like a gourmand's idea of heaven: sauteed halibut with crepes, lobster and red wine risotto, followed by chocolate lava cake with caramel sauce anyone? To give you a sense of how seriously the foodies here take their feasts, visit L'Ile de France French General Store on Federal Street, a gourmet market where you can find unique, imported French products.
Other formal fine dining options include the Brant Point Grill at the newly refurbished White Elephant Inn , and right in Nantucket Town are DeMarco Restaurant on India Street, Le Languedoc Bistro on Broad Street and the Boarding House on Federal Street.
There's no shortage of eateries that cater to those with a discerning palate but who would also rather not wear a jacket. Black Eyed Susan's on India Street welcomes you as you are (as long as that does not mean gym shorts or bikinis) and presents luscious offerings with an international flair. Other more casual favorites are the Centre Street Bistro, Sushi By Yoshi , and Arno's at 41 Main Street - all right in Town.
Though most dining establishments are right downtown, visitors don't even have to leave the harbor to enjoy a variety of dining options. Most of these restaurants offer indoor as well as outdoor seating and the outdoor option comes with the added benefit of prime people watching. Directly on the harbor is Cap'n Tobey's Chowder House , giving those who seek a waterfront view a full range (formal to casual, American to International) to choose from.
Beyond Town and the Harbor there's always your cottage or beach. A wonderful variety of food purveyors offer gourmet goods to go. Try the full-blown clam bakes from the Lobster Trap - either delivered to your door or available for take away.
Nantucket is hardly known as a wild, party-to-the-wee hours kind of destination. In fact, most establishments close by midnight; however, those who'd like to enjoy a few drinks with friends have plenty of options. In Nantucket Town, Brotherhood of Thieves , Tap Room , and the Rose and Crown all qualify as friendly watering holes, and many of them feature live music (again, think more along the terms of a folk guitarist and banish the idea of an all-night disco or rock bands).
The Chanticleer is perhaps the best-known fine dining option on the Island. Year after year, this French restaurant receives the highest awards and praise, with the wine list alone garnering its own attention and awards. This should be expected as the wine cellar holds 40,000 bottles and the wine list boasts a selection of no less than 1200 French and Californian wines.
So not to worry—defying geography, Nantucket manages to please even the most discerning gourmets.
The Nantucket native is sure of two things: the island is a special place and locals are thrilled to see you and wish to accommodate your every need. Seeing everything on Nantucket is easy if you plan ahead. Many attractions can be found within walking distance of one another.
Madaket Beach The Madaket Bike Path leads to Madaket Beach . This path offers bikers beautiful views, a handsome final destination and two offshoot bike paths. The first is the Cliff Road Path and the second is the Eel Point/ Dionis Beach Path. The nearly one-mile path to the Beach is recommended. Heading south is the shortest of all the bike paths, Surfside Path that leads directly to Surfside Beach . Head over to Nantucket Town for dinner at the traditional American restaurant Black Eyed Susan's .
Whaling Museum Most visitors allow plenty of time to leisurely stroll the winding cobblestone streets of Nantucket Town. The Whaling Museum on Broad Street chronicles Nantucket's long history of whale hunting. The First Congregational Church and the Jethro Coffin House , the oldest house on the island, are within a few blocks of one another. You can also wander down to Swain's Wharf or grab a bite at the Brant Point Grill , famous for its lobster dishes.
Nantucket Aquarium The Nantucket Aquarium is uniquely located inside a cottage, and has information about the sea life on the island. The architecture at the nearby Atheneum , Nantucket's public library, is worth a look. The Life Saving Museum is just up the street. Dine at the comfortable Atlantic Cafe , then head over to the landmark Brant Point Light Station and take some photos.
Children's Beach The welcoming Children's Beach is popular with adults as well. Many choose to come here to swim because the waters are never rough. Stop into the Sailor's Valentine Gallery a few blocks away or drive up to Steps Beach . Dine at 21 Federal then do some star-gazing at Open Night Loines Observatory .
Historic District There is much to do in the Historic District . Stop into the Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) for maps, pamphelts and other information about historic places. Shops like the Golden Basket and restaurants such as Cioppino's make walking through this neighborhood a pleasure. The Maria Mitchell Association offers educational summertime activities for children.
Nantucket is a lovely, small island ringed by white sand beaches, dotted with quaint, historic towns. All this makes it a fine island to tour by bicycle or by foot. Luckily there are plenty of ways to get around Nantucket without your car, and each provides the visitor with a more fulfilling experience.
Walking Tours Nantucket Visitors Services and Information Bureau ( +1 508 228 0925 )
Van and Bus Tours Nantucket Island Tours ( +1 508 228 0334 )
Bike Tours Young's Bicycle Shop ( +1 508 228 1151/ http://www.youngsbicycleshop.com/ ) Island Bike & Sport ( +1 877 228 4070/ http://www.islandbike.com/ )
Carriage Tours Rosewood Carriage Company ( +1 508 228 9252 )
Ghost Walks Nantucket Ghost Walk ( +1 508 228 4572/ http://www.nantucketghosttour.com/ )