Nantucket Island. Just the name conjures up images of the surf lolling up to the beach, seagulls wheeling in the sky for another pass at a snack, the dinging of a buoy bell. And an outstanding location for some of the nation’s best seafood and hospitality.
The bed and breakfast inns of Nantucket comprise a significant part of the lodging industry and rank with some of the finest inns in New England. Many of the structures built a better part of a century ago as private homes have been converted to upscale B&Bs.
Most centuries-old communities such as Nantucket had a distinct town center that was the heart of this early Massachusetts settlement. The original National Register of Historic Places listing in 1966 included only the historic town core and a nearby village. However, updated as a National Historic Landmark district in 1975, it now consists of the whole island. In addition to being one of the earliest historic districts, it is now the largest by area in the nation.
Located 30 miles south of the Cape Cod peninsula, the Nantucket Island and its seafaring bed & breakfast scene are close enough to reach current services on the mainland via ferry or small plane. Still, it has the feel of being totally on its own in the middle of the ocean.
Existing before our nation’s inception, Nantucket is a uniquely preserved New England seaport. The island’s earliest structures date back to the late 17th century and were simple homes with the commercial buildings being equally pragmatic.
Much of the industry of that day consisted of whaling, and Nantucket boasted sixty percent of New England’s whaling fleet in 1774. The years that followed the American Revolution saw healthy growth as sea captains and wealthy whaling merchants began building more ornate homes that reflected their desired architectural tastes. The town’s population peaked at 9,000 in 1840, but the next few years would see a significant downturn in population and commercial interest.
The mainland port of New Bedford had sprung up and was quickly surpassing Nantucket as the new center of the whaling world. Two unrelated disasters further hastened its decline as well. Sand bars began forming close to Nantucket’s harbor preventing the increasingly larger ships from accessing the port. And in 1846 a devastating fire claimed much of the town’s commercial center and wharves.
It wasn’t until the late 20th century that Nantucket would regain its population and popularity. The fast-growing tourism industry was supported by the well-heeled from Boston and New York began to invest in the picturesque island. Those buildings deemed worthy of saving were protected by new laws designed to preserve the island’s heritage. New money began renovating old structures and converting them into the beautiful, ornate, and luxuriant properties we see and enjoy today.
By definition, Nantucket Island is surrounded by water. More to the point, the ocean. And that means beaches, lots of ‘em. Because the island is shaped like a rounded rectangle, the beaches are divided geographically by compass point, North Shore, South Shore, East Shore, and West Shore.
Many of the beaches are family-friendly with lifeguards and restroom facilities close by. Some of them are more desolate with no services at all. Madaket Beach is probably the best known for sunset viewing. However, it is only accessible by a 4-wheel drive vehicle, has heavy surf, and swimming is not recommended.
Of course, a favorite beach pastime is shell collecting and Eel Point on the Western Shore is the place where you’ll find shells unlike any other. There are no lifeguards or restrooms here but it is a great place to watch sunsets, ranking a close 2nd to Madaket Beach for sundown.
Brant Point Lighthouse is located at its namesake beach. Swimming is not recommended here either because there are strong currents and no lifeguards. It is a great place for boat watching and getting your requisite photographs of a lighthouse. Children’s Beach is located at the harbor and has the calmest water, which is great for the little ones. Lifeguards, a playground, and restrooms make it the perfect place for the young family. Jetties Beach is a short walk from town and is another good option for a family beach. The annual Boston Pops concert is featured here as well.
Sankaty Head Lighthouse is another of the three lighthouses on the island. With its distinctive red band visible for miles, it was one of the first lighthouses to receive the Fresnel Lens. This revolutionary lens design shone farther out to sea and forewarned mariners earlier of the proximity of land.
A nice break from all that surf and sand is a day spent strolling down Main Street. With some of the original street pavers that make for an uneven walk and buildings that have survived the centuries, Main Street is a delight to wander. People-watching is the favorite pastime as you reconnect with the early days of our nation’s history in the 1670s.
Looking for some real estate deals? Check out the architectural eye candy on North Water Street. Beautiful homes with 7-figure price tags, some of them with two century’s worth of history in the hallways certainly ups the interest as well.
As with any small island in the middle of the ocean, beaches will dominate the natural features and attractions. Sometimes overlooked as an impediment to the beach, dunes are an interesting feature of the coastal environment and worthy of closer examination. Having more in common with the Gulf Stream than the mainland, Nantucket’s ecology and economy has been based more on the sea wind, storms, and ocean currents over the centuries than any other set of dynamics. It makes for a day of discovery to explore how these sentinels of the beach morph and move under the influence of nature’s relentless forces.
Parks are another way to get to know the natural lay of the land. Set up as part of the beach systems, many of them have facilities that make it convenient for the whole family to spend a day while relaxing, exploring, and learning more about this unique mid-ocean speck of sand called Nantucket Island.
And don’t overlook the Nantucket State Forest. While small with limited acreage and short, stubby trees, the forest is unique in that it exists at all. High winds saturated with salt spray whip relentlessly across the treetops challenging even these hardy types to remain upright. If you’re up for some Frisbee golf, come and check out the excellent course as you can stretch your legs and get a bit of a walk in.
When the weather goes south and you’re looking for something to do that doesn’t include an electronic device, check out the Whaling Museum. Located in the heart of downtown Nantucket, without straining your imagination too much, you can see how Herman Melville, a frequent island visitor, was inspired to write Moby Dick.
The White Heron Theatre is another must-see destination. Known to occasionally feature top-rated actors from New York, you may find yourself taking in a performance by a Tony or Oscar Award recipient who is taking a break from the bright lights of the big city stages.
Great Point Lighthouse is one of the three lighthouses safeguarding the ships and shores of Nantucket. It will take a bit of planning as it’s only accessible by 4-wheel drive vehicles with an over-sand permit due to some of the soft terrain you’ll have to cross. It’s well worth making a day trip, though as crowds are lighter and you’ll have more of the scene to yourself.
When you’re up for a stroll, make sure you include the Sconset Bluff Walk in your plans. Follow the white-shelled path from Nantucket town as it meanders amongst the adorable cottages on its way to the Sankaty Lighthouse. Stop at the Sconset Market for sandwiches or a snack and keep your camera handy to capture the ivy wrapped walls and circular trellises overladen with an abundance of flowers.
Because Nantucket is an island in the middle of the ocean, you can expect the weather to be consistent. Breezy and humid with a significant chance of salt. Overall though, owing to the proximity to the Gulf Stream, you can expect warm to mild temperatures throughout spring, summer, and fall.
Summer highs are tempered with the cooling sea breezes with July being the hottest month of the year and June being the driest. Winters are typically frigid, wet, and very windy, making for extremely uncomfortable conditions. Annually, temperatures usually range from lows in the mid-20s Fahrenheit to highs in the low 80s. Rarely do the extremes run below 15 degrees F, or higher than 85 degrees F.
It pays to keep an eye on the sky all year round as hurricanes that pummel the southeast and Mid-Atlantic states often continue wreaking havoc all the way to the New England coast. And don’t be caught off guard during the spring and autumn shoulder seasons as powerful storms can roll in from the North Atlantic at any time.
If your stay is a short one, you probably won’t be able to get enough of the bountiful, fresh-caught seafood. For a more extended visit, there is no shortage of menus to satisfy even the pickiest palette.
The Sea Grille is a bit out of the way but worth the Uber ride to get there. An abundance of seafood options vies for your attention as you try to work your way down the menu. The raw bar is top-quality and known throughout the island and beyond for its fresh offerings and variety of fare. Another favorite is any combination of your choice of seafood in a spicy red or cream sauce over your favorite pasta. Dessert may require a ‘to-go box’ to be enjoyed the next morning for breakfast!
The Straight Wharf’s 45-year presence is a testament to its quality. An exquisite menu is presented with a great sense of warmth and hospitality as the staff is genuinely passionate about their craft. The house also provides its own entertainment in the form of those wearing their Nantucket reds with a blue blazer. Weekend nights will find the young crowd hanging out in their full preppy regalia.
For a more informal dining experience, head over to the Sandbar at Jetties Beach. With an open-air bar and seating in the sand, you can count on the classic beach restaurant experience and come away happy as a clam. Pair your menu items with a snapping cold beer from the local Cisco Brewery and you’ll have a match made in seafood heaven.
Nantucket Island is a haven for upscale hospitality. The B&B scene goes the extra mile to ensure all the modern amenities and then some are included in your stay.
Though an island it is, count on a variety of locations and architectural designs from Victorian-style houses to boutique inns that will cater to your every whim. Staples of your B&B stay will run the gamut from comfy beds and spacious rooms in some of the newer properties to a cozier feel in some of the more historic inns. Of course, the prerequisite air conditioning is a must to chase off the ever-present humidity. Some inns will offer a full breakfast menu, while others include a continental breakfast with your stay.
While the island’s B&B’s are never far from the ocean, for the ultimate in a romantic getaway, book your stay with a harbor view. You’ll not only be within walking distance of the historic district and the restaurants, museums, and galleries that populate it, but you’re sure to capture a lifetime of memories with classic scenes from the harbor and all it has to offer.
Free wifi, free parking, and other amenities are included at many of the inns. However, it’s always a good idea to confirm which ones offer free versus paid add-ons so there are no surprises at checkout. Parking is one item to double-check due to space limitations at some properties.
One attractive element of a visit to Nantucket Island is the added adventure of getting there. Located 30 miles south of Cape Cod, there is no bridge so the only options are hopping a flight or floating a ferry. Now there is even a high-speed ferry that cuts the ride down from 2 1/2 hours to an hour. And small aircraft will deliver you to the island’s airfield in minutes.
Once on the island, the usual methods of ground transportation are easily accessed such as Uber, Lyft, taxis, shuttles, and even rideshares. One piece of advice for peak summer visitors is to utilize the Wave (Nantucket Regional Transit Authority) public transportation that is very reasonable ($1 each way on their shuttles). Wave is a fun, economical way to eliminate the hassles of finding that rare parking spot and will allow you to take in the sights rather than worry about traffic.
To connect more intimately with the feel for the town and the island, consider getting some exercise and walk or rent a bike. This will slow you down enough to see things typically missed by public transportation and certainly when driving by car. If your inn is located in the heart of Nantucket, many of your destinations are within walking distance. Consider a ‘hydrocarbon detox’ during your visit and see the sights by bike-wheel or heel!
While the following is not an exhaustive list of the best bed and breakfast inns Nantucket has to offer, these properties certainly rate at the top. Depending on your taste and whether you are looking for a pet-friendly bed and breakfast in Nantucket or something that caters to kids, adults-only, larger groups, romantic, or inns for the disabled, the island has a myriad of choices sure to meet your need.
Properties of the distinctive BnBFinder Diamond Collection (bnbfinder.com), the Brass Lantern Inn and The Seven Sea Street Inn are two of the most aptly-named B&Bs on the island. Seafaring themes will dominate in such an ocean island environment and there are a great number of inns to suit every taste.
Others include the Jared Coffin House, a Nantucket landmark located in the heart of the historic district. One of the oldest hotels on the island conveys the essence of the whaling culture that gave birth to the early settlement. Cliff Lodge is a favorite for those who like to catch sunrise and sunset. With a rooftop walkway, it is sure to inspire as you take in superb views of the harbor as well.
With origins dating back to 1803, Martin House Inn is a romantic getaway located within walking distance of Main Street and other shopping areas. For those interested in the historical whaling culture, the Periwinkle Inn is a “Guest House Row” property within walking distance of downtown shopping, restaurants, several beaches, and Brant Point Lighthouse. Its rooms are named after characters in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Sherburne Inn is another classic with free parking and not far from the White Heron Theatre.
Union Street Inn is known for its breakfast feasts. Owner Ken spent a long career in hotel management and knows how to please his guests. Maria Mitchell Aquarium and Theatre Workshop are close by that provide entertainment for the whole family. It seems natural that Anchor Inn is close to the Whaling Museum and Brant Point Lighthouse. It also serves breakfast each morning in the enclosed breakfast porch where fresh fruit and homemade muffins along with hot coffee and tea.
Carlisle House Inn is over 250 years old and a former whaling captain’s home. Think there are some ghosts in those attics! Not to worry, there are plenty of modern amenities in addition to pristine yards and gardens nearby to keep any spirits at bay. The Barnacle Inn is business-friendly and located close to nearby attractions Theatre Workshop and Hadwen House, one of a kind mansion known for its elaborate architecture and home to a former whaling captain. Definitely worth a visit.
The Veranda House visitors are treated to gourmet breakfasts and greeted each afternoon with a champagne and cookies happy hour on, you guessed it, the veranda. White Elephant Hotel is known as one of the finest luxury inns on Nantucket. Located on the waterfront and with a history dating back decades, it exudes the island’s charm unlike any other property. Guests can book a spacious suite whose views overlooking the harbor will surely add to the memorable stay.