Situated off the coast of Cape Cod, the cozy island of Nantucket, Massachusetts welcomes visitors year-round. Walk along cobblestone streets and see the Jethro Coffin House,which boasts a rich history that dates back to the 1600s. There are so many attractions, including the Whaling Museum and Brant Point Lighthouse, that you might not ever want to leave the island. Beautiful beaches and parks make this a family-friendly destination that achieves high rankings on many travel guides and surveys. Book a stay at one of numerous Nantucket vacation rentals today. Check out a few of the great things to do on this must-visit New England island.
1. Nantucket Whaling Museum
First-time visitors to Nantucket should include a tour of the Nantucket Whaling Museum, run by the Nantucket Historical Association. Using artifacts, movies, and exhibits, this fascinating museum housed in a restored candle-making factory tells the story of the island’s centuries-old whaling history. A short walk from the Nantucket Hotel and Resort connects you to this unique museum experience featuring a 46-foot sperm whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling. The museum gift shop offers great souvenirs to commemorate your visit.
2. Brant Point Light Station
Lighthouse-lovers and history buffs head to Nantucket to see Brant Point Light Station, one of the island’s most popular attractions. Walk about 10 minutes from downtown to the tip of the island to view this structure, the second oldest lighthouse in the United States. Built in 1746, this building’s beacon of light has guided ships and sailors for more than 250 years. Owned by the U.S. Coast Guard, Brant Point Light Station on Nantucket Harbor is an active lighthouse closed to the public, but the grounds are open to the public.
3. Sankaty Head Lighthouse
Another favorite of Nantucket vacationers, Sankaty Head Lighthouse sits on an island cliff 90 feet above sea level, about 7 miles from town. It’s a great place to view the Atlantic Ocean, the Sankaty Golf Course nearby, and the surrounding area. Built in 1850, this brick lighthouse was moved back from the ocean in 2007 by its owners, the ‘Sconset Trust, to protect it from storms and soil erosion.
4. Cisco Brewers
Tour Cisco Brewers in Nantucket, and see how they make beer. Ride your bike or take the free shuttle from downtown to this local farmland brewery. With origins in the 1980s, its companion companies Triple Eight Distilleries and Nantucket Vineyard are close by and feature tours of the distillery and winery.
5. Oldest House (Jethro Coffin House)
True to its popular name, “Oldest House,” the Jethro Coffin House dates back to 1686 and is Nantucket’s oldest standing residence. Located near Coffin Park, this centuries-old structure and tour give you a sense of what early settlers experienced while living on the island. If your family rode over on bikes, relax on the bench under the tree before heading to your next stop.
6. Island Bikes Tours with Young’s Bicycle Shop
If your family wants to see the island by bike, rent them from Young’s Bicycle Shop. As the island’s oldest bike shop, the owners and staff know every Nantucket nook and cranny and offer exciting bicycle tours. Ask for an area map featuring routes to lighthouses, beaches, cobblestone streets, and lovely residences if you decide to chart your own course.
7. The Wauwinnet
Tucked in Nantucket’s northern corner about two miles from the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge you find The Wauwinnet, named for a chief one of the island’s original Native American tribes. A top-rated Massachusetts luxury resort, this historic facility opened in 1875 and resembles an iconic old-style New England mansion. Two private beaches and TOPPER’s, a popular restaurant, make it a frequent stop for island visitors.
8. Surfing at Beaches on the South Shore
When you’re ready to surf, visit Nantucket’s south shore beaches, such as Cisco, Surfside, and Tom Nevers Beach. Beaches on the south shore face the Atlantic Ocean, so they typically have heavy surf, large waves, and strong currents. No surfboard? Nantucket Surf Club, owned by an experienced surfer, offers surfboards for rent and sells apparel for men and women. They’ll bring the boards to you, so you can opt to bike to the beach.
9. Family-Friendly North Shore Beaches
For family fun, sample Nantucket’s north shore beaches, which usually have fewer and milder waves than south shore beaches because Nantucket Sound protects them. At the end of Harbor View Way, Children’s Beach features seasonal games and activities. Head off everyone’s thirst and hunger with drinks and snacks from The Hungry Minnow before returning to your vacation rental. A short walk from town gets you to Jetties Beach and its tennis courts, skateboard park, and playground. Cape Cod Beach Chair Company offers chairs, umbrellas, and all the beach gear you need.
10. Dreamland Film and Performing Arts Center
Operating since the 1800s, Dreamland Film and Performing Arts Center at 17 South Water Street enriches Nantucket Island’s cultural scene. Classic movies, exhibits, live music, ballet, and theater performances are among the attractions at this favorite stop for locals and family vacationers.
11. Moors End Farm
Treat your family to fresh veggies, herbs, and flowers at Moors End Farm. This family-owned and operated Nantucket business started as a small farm stand in the 1970s, and now features a greenhouse and nursery on 28 acres. Take a tour and take plenty of organic produce back to your vacation rental to enjoy during your stay.
12. Nantucket Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum
At the Nantucket Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum, you can view models of ships that met untimely ends at sea. This family-friendly museum features paintings, exhibits, and films that show how shipwrecks occurred and honors the efforts of dedicated people who worked to save those on board.
13. The Nantucket Atheneum
Nantucket’s library was called the Nantucket Atheneum in 1846, when fire destroyed it and left about 150 books. A new library built on the same site in 1847 now holds books, magazines, audiobooks, DVDs, CDs, and offers automated access to more than 1.4 million items. This community gathering place features classes, festivals, and programs for all ages, and includes the Weezie Library for Children, added in 1996.
14. The Old Mill
Built in 1746, The Old Mill remains as Nantucket’s only standing smock mill, with a stationary body and a top that revolves to face the wind. Owned by the Nantucket Historical Society since 1897, this historic structure was originally made from scrap metal and wood beams of wrecked ships. This environmentally-friendly machine is the United States’ oldest working wind-powered grain mill. Take a tour run by the society and see the mill in action.
15. Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum
Before you check out of your vacation rental, take the family to the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum. Making lightship baskets is a significant local art-form that started in the early 1830s. This museum features baskets created by Native Americans in the early 1800s to baskets made by local artists today. Nine- to 13-year-old children can take classes at the museum to learn the craft and make baskets, which are wonderful takeaways for your trip back home.
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