(This arti­cle may or may not con­tain affil­i­ate links. What does that mean?)

A tiny island twen­ty miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Nan­tuck­et, Mass­a­chu­setts is an old school throw­back to a sim­pler way of life.  There are no chain restau­rants.  No Star­bucks.  No stop­lights.  The speed lim­it nev­er breaks 45 miles per hour, and most streets keep it to an ago­niz­ing­ly slow 20 or 25. I sup­pose it’s a way of encour­ag­ing you to slow down, lit­er­al­ly. Take in the sites and smell the hydrangeas (of which there are many).  The only enter­tain­ment comes in the form of going to the beach, cut­throat wif­fle­ball com­pe­ti­tions in the back­yard, or tak­ing in a movie at the small-town movie theatre. 

My fam­i­ly has been mak­ing the sojourn to Nan­tuck­et for over twen­ty years.  Since before Y2K.  Since before Elin Hilder­brand made it famous.  Since before Nan­tuck­et Nec­tars were a nation­al a thing.  All six of us would pile in our giant Chevy Sub­ur­ban in Colum­bus, Ohio and embark on the six­teen-hour dri­ve to Hyan­nis Port before maneu­ver­ing our car onto the fer­ry and drift­ing across the Atlantic to the promised land.  The fact that we made this trip for 20 years and none of us killed each oth­er or got left some­where is some­thing my fam­i­ly is still very proud of.

 

 

nantucket cedar shingle homes with american flag

A relax­ing after­noon on Nantucket.

 

 

These days, I make the trip with my own fam­i­ly in tow.  While maybe not for every­one, the slow­er pace and relaxed, laid back atmos­phere island life affords a nice break from the con­stant hus­tle and over-stim­u­la­tion we’ve all become accus­tomed to in our dai­ly lives.

If you’re think­ing of plan­ning a fam­i­ly trip to Nan­tuck­et, we’ve got a list of the best fam­i­ly-friend­ly things to do that will keep every­one enter­tained and also allow you to sim­ply relax and enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Go to the beach

 

beach umbrella on Jettie's beach in Nantucket

Going to the beach in the age of social distancing.

 

As an island, the one thing Nan­tuck­et is lousy with (aside from rab­bits, weath­er-worn cedar shin­gles, and van­i­ty license plates) is beach­es.  They have a beach to suit just about every fan­cy you could pos­si­bly have.  If you’re look­ing for big waves and big adven­ture, Surf­side is the tick­et.  Look­ing for some­thing a lit­tle more tod­dler-friend­ly?  Chil­dren’s Beach has got you cov­ered.  Beach­es where you can dri­ve your car out and tail­gate, maybe do a bon­fire and lob­ster boil?  Got a cou­ple of those too.  Nobadeer, Monomoy, and 40th Pole are all great options — just make sure you’ve got your beach per­mit!

And if you’re look­ing for great beach­es with awe­some snack shacks, head to Sand­bar at Jet­ties for their pop­u­lar buck-a-shuck or grilled cheese.

 

 

Visit the Whaling Museum

 

Some­times, island weath­er can be a lit­tle unpre­dictable and you’ll get the occa­sion­al rain­storm.  On these days, there are real­ly only two options – sit at home and lis­ten to the kids argue over who gets to choose the show on Net­flix or whose turn it is on Fort­nite.  Or, go to the Nan­tuck­et Whal­ing Muse­um.

Before you skip ahead, I will read­i­ly admit that a muse­um about whales sounds about as excit­ing as watch­ing a Ken Burns doc­u­men­tary.  Espe­cial­ly if you don’t har­bor any par­tic­u­lar fas­ci­na­tion for marine life.  But the muse­um is just as much about island his­to­ry and its whal­ing roots as it is about whales.  Ren­o­vat­ed a cou­ple of years back, the muse­um boasts arti­facts from Nan­tuck­et’s days as one of the biggest whal­ing ports in the world, along with videos and inter­ac­tive exhibits about the famed whale­ship Essex that inspired Her­man Melville’s mas­ter­piece, Moby Dick.  You also hear sto­ries about the Island’s Quak­er ances­try, it’s involve­ment in the abo­li­tion­ist move­ment, and how the entire island was orig­i­nal­ly pur­chased by set­tlers for 30 pounds and two beaver hats.  Either they got it for a steal, or those were some real­ly nice beaver hats. 

As some­one who does­n’t have much inter­est in the whal­ing indus­try, I still find the muse­um fas­ci­nat­ing and very well put togeth­er.  And the short films and sen­so­ry exhibits are super fun for kids.  As an added bonus, the view from their obser­va­to­ry deck is one of the best on the island.

 

 

Drive out to ‘Sconset

 

Though its offi­cial name is Sias­con­set (sy-uh-scon-set), don’t call it that unless you want to get a huge eye roll out of a local.  Every­one in these parts calls it ‘Scon­set.

Locat­ed on the far east side of the island, ‘Scon­set is a quaint lit­tle ham­let atop a bluff over­look­ing the Atlantic.  It’s reclu­sive and wash­away nature makes it the per­fect enclave for some of Nan­tuck­et’s more famous res­i­dents.  With only a small post office, gen­er­al store, and a hand­ful of tiny shops to its name, the allure of ‘Scon­set is the fact that it’s even more shut off from the world than the rest of Nan­tuck­et, which seems near impossible.

Grab a sand­wich at Claudet­te’s and spend an after­noon strolling around the town, swing­ing on the swings at Cod­fish Park, and pok­ing into the hid­den trails and tiny side streets that make ‘Scon­set so enchant­i­ng.  The bluff walk, in par­tic­u­lar, is fun to trav­el, if you’re game enough to look for it…

 

 

Take in the Town

 

dog watching the water at Nantucket harbor

Even the fam­i­ly dog loves a good Town stroll!

 

 

The thing my fam­i­ly loves to do most is just walk around Town and vis­it the shops.  We’ll start with a snack from the Hub, then mosey through the dif­fer­ent sou­venir and t‑shirt shops, pop into the book­stores, and we’ll end with an ice cream cone from the Juice Bar and a stop in the Sunken Ship.

The Sunken Ship has been a fam­i­ly favorite for decades.  A cross between a sun­dries shop and a gen­er­al store, it has the widest assort­ment of nick-knacks that seems to entrance kids of all ages, my hus­band includ­ed.  Grow­ing up, the run­ning joke in our fam­i­ly was that my youngest broth­er always had a habit of say­ing, “Dad, I found some­thing in the Sunken Ship I’ve got­ta show you.  But you don’t have to buy it for me…”  Which of course is exact­ly what my broth­er hoped would hap­pen.  And 90% of the time, my dad could­n’t help himself.

If you’re look­ing for some evening enter­tain­ment, the Dream­land The­ater is also a great spot for an after-din­ner movie. 

 

 

Go out to Millie’s

 

On the far west side of the island is anoth­er lit­tle ham­let called Madaket.  Though sim­i­lar to ‘Scon­set in its remote­ness, all sim­i­lar­i­ties real­ly stop there.  Where ‘Scon­set is more of a reclu­sive hide­away for the well-to-do, Madaket is very much an out of the way, salt-of-the-earth fish­ing village.

It’s home to Mil­lie’s, in our opin­ion one of the best restau­rants on the island, with the crowds to prove it. The restau­rant derives its name from a Nan­tuck­et leg­end nick­named ‘Madaket Mil­lie’, a larg­er than life woman known for her can-do spir­it and strong-willed per­son­al­i­ty.  When she was­n’t patrolling the coast­line for ship­wrecks, she could be found help­ing islanders in need and hang­ing out with her friend, Mis­ter Fred Rogers.  Yes, that Mis­ter Rogers. 

 

 

 

 

The restau­ran­t’s casu­al vibe and coastal fare can’t be beat (I rec­om­mend just about every taco on the menu).  Though there’s often a wait, go put your name in and then walk around the vil­lage or pop over to the beach.  It’ll be the best restau­rant wait you’ll ever have. 

 

 

Rent bikes or mopeds and pedal your way around

 

With sev­er­al bike paths extend­ing from Madaket all the way to ‘Scon­set, Nan­tuck­et is very bike-friend­ly.  You can rent bikes from a vari­ety of places, includ­ing Cook’s Cycles or Island Bikes, and they have options for the whole fam­i­ly, includ­ing adult and chil­dren’s bikes, as well as bike car­ri­ers to hook on to the back of your bike for lit­tle legs that tire easily. 

Get­ting around by bike can often be eas­i­er than get­ting around by car, espe­cial­ly in the sum­mer months when traf­fic becomes so bad it’s rem­i­nis­cent of Man­hat­tan at rush hour.  Try bik­ing your way out to some of the sites that are a lit­tle hard­er to get to on foot, like the Old Mill, Steps Beach, or Brant Point Light­house.  Or bike to some of the mid-island hik­ing trails.

If you’re feel­ing real­ly adven­tur­ous, bike out to Cis­co Brew­ery and spend the day on their gor­geous patio, enjoy­ing live music, patio games, and local fare from a hand­ful of restau­rant food trucks.  It’s fun for the whole fam­i­ly, but espe­cial­ly per­fect for a kids-free after­noon date, if you’re able to get away.

 

 

Go out on the open water

 

kayak and boats in Monomoy spit on Nantucket

Oars up!

 

 

Want to spend some time out on the open sea?  You’ve cer­tain­ly picked the right place.  Nan­tuck­et is full of fish­ing char­ters, whale and seal watch­ing expe­di­tions, and pri­vate boat rentals.  While I per­son­al­ly don’t see the appeal in hook­ing and gut­ting my own fish, my broth­ers have both done fish­ing expe­di­tions and absolute­ly loved them. 

My fam­i­ly tends to pre­fer more active water adven­tures, like kayak­ing, and there are some great spots for that as well.  Just about every year, we try to make it over to Sea Nan­tuck­et Pad­dle Sports to kayak around the har­bor for a lit­tle bit, where the water is a lit­tle calmer and bet­ter for kayak­ing with kids.  There’s also a small salt marsh to the right of the har­bor that has tons of birds, crabs, and oth­er marine life scut­tling about, which is odd­ly enter­tain­ing to watch.  And there are a few spits of beach that you can pull your kayak onto for some good old fash­ioned seashell hunting.

Nan­tuck­et is also a haven for surfers, with sev­er­al beach­es like Cis­co and Great Point offer­ing up the per­fect waves, often with an audi­ence of a seal or two.  Just watch out for sharks! 

 

 

 

Don’t miss! How to plan a safe fam­i­ly trip dur­ing COVID

 

 

Getting there

 

 

Sev­er­al major air­lines — like Unit­ed, Amer­i­can, and Jet­blue — now offer flights into Nan­tuck­et.  All flights will have a lay­over in either New York, Wash­ing­ton D.C., or Boston, as those are the only cities with direct flights into Nan­tuck­et Memo­r­i­al Air­port. You can also fly into Boston Logan Inter­na­tion­al Air­port and dri­ve down to Hyan­nis Port, Mass­a­chu­setts to take the fer­ry over instead.

If you’d like to dri­ve from Los Ange­les, it takes about 48 hours through the I‑80 E and I‑90 E

 

 

map from los angeles to nantucketmap from los angeles to nantucket

 

When it comes to places to stay, Nan­tuck­et offers a nice mix of upscale resorts and charm­ing B&Bs.  For a fam­i­ly that’s seek­ing a good loca­tion with all the ameni­ties and then some, we love the Nan­tuck­et Hotel & Resort.  It’s cen­tral to Town and a short walk to Chil­dren’s Beach, but also boasts a health club, spa, and pool.  If a quin­tes­sen­tial his­tor­i­cal New Eng­land expe­ri­ence is what you’re after, the Jared Cof­fin House is an icon­ic favorite in the heart of Town.  But if you like some of the B&B charm with more of a mod­ern twist, Hotel Pip­pa is the place for you and has a fan­tas­tic lit­tle wine bar and patio off of its lob­by.  We also rec­om­mend check­ing out Airbnb and VRBO — there are loads of beau­ti­ful beach­side rentals on the island that will have you feel­ing like a local.

We also love to use Tri­pAd­vis­er when book­ing our stays. Tri­pAd­vis­er will search for the best deal from all the online book­ing sites and you can read about the ameni­ties each hotel offers plus feed­back from pre­vi­ous fam­i­ly’s stays.

 

If you’re look­ing for a nice sum­mer escape to get away from it all and have some relax­ing fun as a fam­i­ly, Nan­tuck­et Island is a per­fect destination.

 

 

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7 Fun Things to do on Nantucket that the Whole Family Will Enjoy