There’s plenty to see and experience on New England’s eastern-most island
The island has a rich historical and literary culture
The novel Moby Dick was set on Nantucket
Visitors can enjoy beaches, take guided walks in town, or visit a lighthouse
Located just off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Nantucket is a summer playground. It is the lower-key version of its nautical neighbor, Martha’s Vineyard. Nantucket’s points of interest include great food, a walkable historic town relaxing beach and lighthouse excursions, and an interesting historical and literary history. If you decide to visit, you’re in for a memorable New England island vacation.
Nantucket in history and literature
Nantucket was settled by Quakers in 1659. Two centuries later it was prospering as a base of operations for the area’s whaling industry and became the third-largest city in Massachusetts. The island was so well-known for whaling that it became the setting for Herman Melville’s iconic novel Moby Dick, despite the fact that the author hadn’t visited when he wrote the book.
Notable residents of Nantucket include the first female astronomer, Maria Mitchell, James A. Folger (founder of Folger’s Coffee), and R.H. Macy, (the founder of Macy’s Department Store). Since its whaling-industry peak, the island has survived and prospered. Today it has evolved into a maritime-focused excursion-based island where vacationers enjoy time away from everyday life.
Year-round residents were proud to note that their eastern beach was the first place in the U.S. to experience the sunrise on January 1, 2000 — the new Millenium.
Places to visit
With its rich New England background, visitors can enjoy many historically-based excursions. One popular destination is Maria Mitchell’s well-preserved home which now serves as a museum. Tourists can also stop by the Whaling House on Broad Street or visit the Friends Meeting House, which is also home to the Nantucket Historical Association.
Visitors who want to stretch their legs while exploring the island have a number of options. There are guided walking tours that can provide a close-up view of the Town of Nantucket and allow you to experience many maritime properties topped by roof walks and perched on cobblestone streets.
If lighthouse history is more your speed, there are any number of beach walks and ways to explore those at your leisure. While you’re exploring a lighthouse, you might also see deer, pheasant, geese, and other wildlife that are native to the island.
Beaches are one of the best things about Nantucket summers. With more than 82 miles of beaches, both families and individuals can find their spot on the shore and enjoy the water. Alternately, they can rent a small sunfish boat or charter an afternoon sailing adventure in a professionally managed larger vessel.
As the day winds down, they can also search for a variety of interesting sea life, unearth rare shells and sea glass, and take part in a clambake or simply enjoy dinner as the sun sets over the ocean.
The island was so well-known for whaling that it became the setting for Herman Melville’s iconic novel Moby Dick, despite the fact that the author hadn’t visited when he wrote the book.
As with any resort town, there is no shortage of places to eat for any meal of the day. There are cozy coffee shops, places serving hearty breakfasts or lunches, and fine dining restaurants to close out the end of a restful vacation. Many restaurants feature seafood that befits its ocean location and at least one dish that includes cranberries. The island is known for its cranberry bogs.
Known for seafood, cranberry bogs, and hearty breakfasts, dining options abound in Nantucket.
Some of the places that stand out include the Ship’s Inn Restaurant, Bartlett’s Inn, QueeQuegs, and the Nautilis for fine dining. There’s also Center Street Bistro if you’re looking for something lighter, and Downyflake if you want to linger over a hearty breakfast.
A deeper dive — More from the 101:
- The best uncrowded beaches in North America | Vacations 101
We’ve got suggestions for some of the most peaceful sandy spots in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
- California’s Glass Beach isn’t your typical sandy seaside | Vacations 101
This unique beach features trash that’s been turned into treasure.