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I’ve wanted to write a Nantucket travel guide since I first visited this jewel box of an island four years ago with some college friends.
I traveled to Nantucket again a couple of weeks ago–this time with three generations of my family–and it proved itself to be a wonderful place to visit with kids.
Below you’ll see photos from both trips, plus my recommendations (as well as the recommendations of Gimme readers who are far more familiar with Nantucket than I am!) on where to stay, eat, and visit.
I look forward to your comments on this spectacular little island.
How to Get to Nantucket
The first time I visited Nantucket, I took a Delta flight from JFK, and my plane couldn’t land due to fog. After circling for hours, we ended up being diverted back to Boston. From there, I took an Uber from Logan to Hyannis for the ferry to Nantucket. Needless to say, this wasn’t ideal, but barring an experience like this, flying is the easiest way to get onto Nantucket.
This year, we drove from Brooklyn to Hyannis, stayed at the Cape Codder for one night, and were on an early ferry out the next morning. This made for pretty easy travel, but I was not charmed by Hyannis at all (I love other parts of Cape Cod, especially Provincetown!).
The only thing good I can say about this day of our vacation was that my niece and I loved the lazy river in the on-site water park. (To be fair, all of the kids LOVED the Cape Codder—it has a 24-hour arcade in addition to the water park, so you can imagine their delight.)
We woke up early the next day, and headed to the ferry, which was only about ten minutes from the Cape Codder. We chose the Steamship Authority because it was the least expensive high-speed ferry that goes from Cape Cod to Nantucket. You check all your bags before getting on the ferry, and then park your car short walk away. The high-speed boat takes only one hour, but get there very early if you want seats outside!
Where to Stay on Nantucket
The first time I went to Nantucket, we stayed at The Brass Lantern Inn. For about $500 a night we got a small but comfortable room, into which we somehow crammed four adult humans. This inn was conveniently located, clean, and charming, and I would definitely stay there again.
For my recent trip to Nantucket, our group of five kids and five adults stayed at the luxurious White Elephant, which offers a 5-star experience for those who want more amenities—at a price! Here are a few notes if you choose to splurge on this resort:
One cottage and one room in the main inn was enough for our group of ten. The cottage has a kitchenette—meaning a small fridge and a smaller freezer, a sink, a dishwasher, and a microwave. There were, weirdly, no plates in the room, but we saved money giving the kids cereal for breakfast and sandwiches (served on paper towels!) for lunch. The washer/dryer in the cottage was also a lifesaver, as every parent knows.
You really don’t need a car on the island if you stay at the White Elephant. They’ll pick you up from the ferry dock or airport and drive you anywhere within a mile of the resort, a radius that includes most restaurants and shopping and even a few beaches. In addition, the White Elephant holds a twice-daily drawing where you can win half-day access to one of their BMW SUVs—we won this three times because very few people entered, and thus we were able to get farther around the island without calling an Uber. The White Elephant also provides (adult) bikes, so you can zip around the island that way as well.
The White Elephant has nice amenities for large groups of varying ages. The pool area is small in the world of resorts, but kept the kids entertained when they were sick of biking and beaches. There is a small gym on-sight, and a really lovely bar area. The White Elephant library is a perfect space to get some work done, and this space also offered a nightly cheese and port spread. They provide beach chairs, towels, and umbrellas to all guests to take to beaches on the island.
White Elephant is a kid-friendly hotel. Families were everywhere, and there was a nice big lawn for kids to run on (while adults eat at the on-site restaurant!). The public Children’s Beach is essentially on the White Elephant property, and the hotel has fun little treats for kids, like cookies and milk, sand toys, and wagons for hauling young kids around.
The White Elephant and The Brass Lantern are certainly not the only places to stay on Nantucket, but I give both of them a thumbs up. My friend who visits the island often says her favorite spot is Greydon House.
The Best Nantucket Beaches
No Nantucket travel guide would be complete without a rundown of the island’s many beaches. Neither of my visits to Nantucket included long beach days (there was too many other things I wanted to do and see!), but I’ve seen most of the beaches, and they are all lovely in their own way.
For kids, I love Jetties Beach because the waves are mellow. The same is true of Steps Beach. Bigger waves—which the older kids in our group loved—can be found at Cisco Beach or Madaket Beach.
Where to Eat & Drink on Nantucket
Having been there only twice, I have barely scratched the surface of healthful Nantucket restaurants! Thanks to my readers, my Nantucket travel guide can include far more restaurants. Here goes…
Born & Bread. I had perhaps the best breakfast sandwich of my life here (the cream cheese and veggie one). A reader said: “the sourdough breads, I dream of them!”
The Beet. This restaurant has been on my list both times I’ve been on Nantucket, but I still have not gone! A reader opines: “Everyone raves about it for its healthy ingredients, but I have always thought it’s okay in flavor. It’s definitely healthy though.”
Sandbar. This Jetties Beach lunch shack is surprisingly yummy, and their frose is not sweet and goes down dangerously quickly. Their simple salad with pickled vegetables is also amazing. Don’t get the street corn–it was absolutely drowning in mayo.
Nautilus. I haven’t tried this yet, but more than one person told me not to miss the lobster appetizer. If you are a meat-eater, both the duck and steak are supposed to be excellent.
Lemon Press. I only got to-go green juices, coffees, and teas from this popular cafe, but a reader says: “Great for smoothies, and I love the avo toast (it’s unique with pickled veggies).”
Proprietors. This has been on my list both times and I wasn’t able to get a reservation! The chef is rumored to be a vegan so there are many plant-based options.
Oran Mor Bistro. This is another farm-to-table spot I haven’t been able to try, but which gets great reviews from readers.
American Seasons. This is a wonderful, healthful place to get a delicious fish dish. They also had an amazing mushroom plate when I was there several years ago.
Something Natural. This bakery makes amazing veggie (and meat) sandwiches—you only need half!
Dune. They do a vegan plate that several people recommended, but I haven’t tried this one myself.
Millie’s. I love taking a bike ride from town to Madaket beach and getting lunch and Triple Eight blueberry vodka drink from Millie’s. They make yummy, hearty salads, and they have a solid kid’s menu.
Galley Beach. The setting couldn’t be more beautiful, but the food is mediocre and the prices are offensive. I would go for a drink at sunset, but you’ll need a reservation for even that. You can walk in before 4:30 p.m.
Brant Point Grill. The White Elephant’s on-site restaurant has a somewhat limited, although solid, menu. Meal prices are commensurate with all the White Elephant’s prices (very high), but the all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch seemed worth it (my brother was the only one who partook). One really nice thing about Brant Point is that, while the adults eat outside, the kids can run on a large lawn that includes a cornhole game.
Ventuno. This is another Nantucket restaurant that is always on my list but that I have not been to. The steak comes highly recommended, but so does the vegan plate!
Cru. It’s a tough reservation to get, and expensive (are you sick of hearing that? Welcome to Nantucket), but worth a meal. The cocktails are fun, the seafood is fresh, and the scene is celebratory.
Or, the Whale. We had an excellent dinner here on my recent trip to Nantucket. Do not miss the vegetarian rice cake dish, or the pickled veggies.
When we needed groceries, we ended up mostly in the Stop & Shop for stuff for our cottage–and it wasn’t great. Better small grocer options that have been recommended are My Green Market, Pip & Anchor, and Washashor Farm.
For a beach barbecue, we went to Bartlett’s Farms which has amazing organic produce, plus a market with household items and wines. They also have a cart in town each morning with their gorgeous produce.
What to Do on Nantucket
One of my very favorite things about Nantucket is how you can just hop on a bike and get to beautiful paths that take you all around the island. To get to Nantucket’s bike paths, you have to ride on a short stretch of streets—the path itself is easy enough for kids to ride. If you look carefully, you’ll see spots to pick wild blackberries along the sides of the trails!
On both of my Nantucket trips I rode the five-ish miles from downtown out to Madaket, where you can jump in the ocean and get lunch at Millie’s. Another nice ride is out to Cisco Brewers, a place you’ll want to check out for sure (think: live music, food trucks, and yummy drinks in addition to the beer).
One of the nicest parts of a visit to Nantucket is simply walking around (and siting around!) the exquisite town. Make sure you give yourself a lot of time to simply exist within downtown Nantucket.
Some of my other favorite activities in Nantucket include:
Shopping. I am not a big shopper on most vacations, but Nantucket is full of the best boutiques, with nary a chain store in sight! If you’re an Elin Hilderbrand fan, you can find her on Wednesday morning’s at Mitchell’s Book Corner, although you’d have to wait in this line to get her to sign (we didn’t wait). I prefer Nantucket Book Works, in part because they have a magical toy section.
A Gimme reader suggests The Rainbow Fleet and Commonwealth if you are into second-hand clothing stores. Several of you recommended Barnaby’s Toy & Art Shack for kids.
Driving onto a beach. This is something we were lucky enough to do because we have wonderfully generous friends who are Nantucket veterans. The loaned us their Suburban to drive out to Great Point, and then they got stuck when the four-wheel-drive on their own vehicle failed! In any case, it was a magical experience, complete with seal sightings and a spectacular sunset.
Museums. Every Nantucket travel guide recommends the Whaling Museum, and yet here I am, the person who will find a museum anywhere (think: Aruba), and I’ve never been! The children’s playroom is supposed to be great for younger kids.
Wellness and Fitness. I have heard wonderful things about the spa at the White Elephant, but did not experience their services myself. In addition to biking and tons of walking, you can get your fitness on in video several studios on Nantucket. I enjoyed a barre class at Studio Nantucket, and I have heard really good things about Forme as well!
Retoxing. If you’re rather retox than detox, Nantucket has a lot to offer in the way of nightlife. The first time I went to Nantucket, we went to the infamous Chicken Box. This trip, our dear friend Doug (who spends most of his summer on ACK with his family) took my brother and husband out to The Gazebo, Gaslight, and finally Stubby’s for late-night cheese steaks. The point is, there is plenty to do after dark on Nantucket during the summer. The streets are as thronged at midnight as they are at noon (which is to say, very thronged!).
I hope this mini Nantucket travel guide inspires you to splurge on a long weekend on this magical island. And, for those of you who have been, I would love if you’d be willing to share your own suggestions in the comments!