Nantucket is an island off Cape Cod in Massachusetts. It is a popular tourist destination due to its beaches, outdoor activities, historic landmarks, and excellent restaurants. If you are visiting this island for the first time, you will find plenty of recreational activities and attractions to enjoy, and there is something to suit all ages and tastes. Here are the 20 best things to do in Nantucket for first-timers to help you plan your vacation and get the most out of your time in this location.
20. Visit The Old Gaol
The Old Gaol in Nantucket is one of the United State’s oldest surviving jails, as it was built in 1806. To make the jail fit for visitors, it has undergone significant preservation and reconstruction work, including preserving the oak timbers with which the jail was originally built. Visitors to the jail can learn about the jail’s history and the justice system in Nantucket right up until it closed in 1933.
19. Play Golf at the Miacomet Golf Club
If you are a golf enthusiast, then you are in luck when visiting Nantucket, as it is home to the Miacomet Golf Club. It is the only golf course on the island, and it is open to the public. The 18-hole golf course is open throughout the year and boasts well-maintained and lush greens and a driving range. Although there are some challenging sections to the course, it is generally considered accessible to all skill levels. There is also a fantastic on-site restaurant in the clubhouse that overlooks the greens, with Executive Chef Steve D’Agonistino at the helm.
18. Take a Boat Trip
No visit to an island location is complete without taking a boat trip to enjoy the surrounding waters, and there are plenty of options for sailing and day trips when visiting Nantucket. It is possible to hire vessels or to go out on boat trips in larger groups. Not only is it a fantastic way to enjoy the water, but it is also a chance to see Nantucket from a different perspective and to observe the wildlife in its natural habitat.
17. Enjoy a Day at Nantucket Aquarium
One of Nantucket’s top family attractions is Nantucket Aquarium, which you will find on Washington Street. The aquarium showcases various aquatic species found in the island’s waters, including sharks, multiple fish species, crustaceans, and seahorses. Although there are various exhibits and displays to enjoy, one of the most popular aquarium sections for younger children is the touch pool, which contains crabs, sea snails, clams, and small fish. While the smaller indoor tanks house smaller aquatic species, the large outdoor tank contains large fish, crabs, and sharks. It is also known as the Maria Mitchell Aquarium, and it is located on the shoreline. A day at this aquarium is both fun and educational.
16. Explore the Gardens at Greater Light
Gertrude and Hannah Monaghan were two sisters from Philadelphia who bought Greater Light in the 1930s. It was both their home and their art studio, and the Nantucket Historical Association now owns it. The house is open to visitors, and the aim is to showcase the difference between Nantucket when it was a thriving whaling town and the changes that occurred during the art movement. A highlight of the visit is wandering through the gardens, which are styled to reflect the surrounding woodlands. The gardens feature London Plane and Birch trees, pools, flowers, and original garden features that the Monaghan sisters built.
15. Watch the Stars at Loines Observatory
If you want an activity to enjoy in the evening, then a great option is a visit to Loines Observatory to watch the stars. The team at the observatory educates visitors about the constellations, and you can see international space stations, eclipses, comets, meteor showers, and various phenomena that the naked eye cannot see from Earth. Throughout the summer, there is a lecture series featuring some of the United States’ leading astronomers.
14. Visit Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge
For those who enjoy spending time outdoors and appreciate wildlife and nature, an amazing place to visit is the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge, which consists of a pair of peninsulas. There are 16 miles of roads and trails running through the refuge, and you will encounter an array of wildlife along the way. Some of the animals you may see include shorebirds, seals, raptors, and deer. A visit to the refuge is also an opportunity to fully appreciate the beauty of the island’s coastal landscape, as you will see sandy beaches and dunes lined by forests of red cedar and oak. If you visit Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge with children, then you can spend some time exploring the tidal pool and climbing over the rocks on the beach.
13. Go to the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum
Making lightship baskets is part of Nantucket’s history, as people have been making these baskets since the early 1830s, and many people living on the island still make the baskets. Originally, the craft developed onboard the whaling ships. The Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum is devoted to the history of the craft and highlights its role in the island’s wider history. There is a vast display of the baskets in the museum and a display of earlier baskets made by local Native Americans. As the museum is dedicated to preserving the craft, it runs courses throughout the year that teach visitors how to make the baskets, including special courses for children.
12. Sample the Drinks at Cisco Brewers
Cisco Brewers make a vast array of alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine, and various spirits. Visitors to the brewery can take a behind-the-scenes tour to see how each of the drinks is produced. Along the way, visitors also have several opportunities to sample some of the brewery’s local specialties. There is a pretty seating area outside the brewery where visitors can relax with a drink during warmer weather.
11. See The Old Mill
The Old Mill was built in the 1700s, and it is the only smock mill still standing in Nantucket. It was abandoned in the early 1800s, but the Nantucket Historical Association has fully restored it. It is one of the most interesting structures on the island, and it is possible for visitors to take a self-guided tour of the mill.
10. Enjoy the Tacos at Millie’s
There are many excellent eateries to enjoy in Nantucket, and one of the best for casual dining is Millie’s in Madaket. The restaurant is named after a legendary historical figure called Madaket Millie, who is famous for helping other islanders, patrolling the coastline for shipwrecks, and hanging out with Mister Fred Rogers. Millie’s restaurant has a casual vibe, and the seafood-centric menu includes dishes made using locally-caught seafood. However, it is the various types of tacos on the menu that are the most popular choices.
9. Jethro Coffin House
The Nantucket Historical Association has played a huge role in preserving the island’s history, and one of the structures they have preserved is Jethro Coffin House. It is the oldest house on the island as it was built in 1686. Visitors to the saltbox-style house will get an insight into the lives of the early English settlers. A popular aspect of visiting this historic landmark is the kitchen garden to the property’s rear.
8. Hike the Trails at Sanford Farm and Ram Pasture
Sanford Farm covers 780-acres, and it is known for its miles of hiking trails, says Planetware. There are various trails to explore in this part of the island that takes you through forests, acrossfields, past lakes, and along the coastline.
7. See a Performance at the Dreamland Film and Performing Art Center
Whether you want to watch a movie or see a ballet or opera, the best venue is the Dreamland Film and Performing Arts Center. Established in the 1800s, the center shows movies, hosts performances, and has exhibitions, educational programs, and various community events and activities. It is advisable to check what is on before your visit.
6. Go to the Nantucket Atheneum
The current Nantucket Atheneum is an exact replica of the original structure that was burned to the ground in 1846. There were two libraries on the island in the past, and they merged in 1834 to become the Nantucket Atheneum. At that time, the library held 1,235 titles, but the fire destroyed all but 150 items. Now, the library has rebuilt its collection of books, documents, and periodicals and has also added online databases, CDs, DVDs, and audiobooks to its collection, which now has 1.4 million items. It is free to visit the library, and there are various events throughout the year.
5. Visit Nantucket Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum
The unpredictable tides and weather around Nantucket mean that many ships have been lost to the ocean over the years. The Nantucket Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum is devoted to this subject and is a dedication to those who have risked their lives to save stricken mariners. There are models of the shipwrecks that lie on the ocean’s floor, seascape paintings, and various other exhibits relating to shipwrecks and coastal rescue.
4. Enjoy the Charm of ‘Sconset
Although it is officially called Siasconset, all the locals call this village on the east of the island’ Sconset. People visit the village to enjoy its quaint charm, as it has pretty houses, only a few shops, enchanting side streets, and fantastic views from the hamlet’s position on the top of a bluff. L.A. Family Travel recommends calling in for a sandwich at Claudette’s while you are there.
3. See Sankaty Head Light
Sankaty Head Light is one of the most famous and prominent landmarks in Nantucket. It is a lighthouse on the eastern coast of the island that was constructed in 1850. Its purpose was to warn mariners and protect them against the hazards along the eastern coast. It was automated in 1965 and registered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. It now sits 400-feet inland from its original position, as the Sconset Land Trust, who bought the lighthouse, moved it away from the eroding coastline. It is open to visitors, and it is possible to climb to the top of the lighthouse to enjoy the ocean views.
2. Go to the Nantucket Whaling Museum
One of the most popular attractions in Nantucket is the Nantucket Whaling Museum. The museum is in a former candle-making factory which has been fully restored, and a tour of the candle-making factory is included in the visit. Nantucket was once famous for whaling, and the museum is dedicated to this element of the island’s history. The museum is divided into 11 galleries, and one of the highlights of the exhibits is the sperm whale skeleton. There are also plenty of interactive exhibits for children to enjoy, and walking across Tucker’s Roof Walk is a fun activity. The walk boasts sweeping views across Nantucket Harbor.
1. Spend Time at the Beach
According to Vacation Idea, the best thing to do in Nantucket for first-timers is to spend time at the beach, and the beaches are one of the major reasons that people visit the island. Many people consider Nantucket’s beaches some of the best in the United States, as they have fine sand and pretty surroundings. Two of the best beaches for families are Children’s Beach and Jetties Beach, both of which are along the north shore. Those who enjoy surfing should head to the south shore, and some of the most popular beaches there are Tom Never Beach, Surfside, Miacomet, and Cisco Beach. It is advisable to check both the tides and the weather before swimming or surfing around the island.