Cruising Nantucket

Off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Nantucket retains its historic charm while appealing to modern-day cruisers.
Nantucket museum
Even with its land-based attractions, Nantucket is connected to the sea. Courtesy Visit Massachusetts

Cruisers planning their summer family sojourns are guaranteed a whale of a time on historic Nantucket, Massachusetts. Nearly 30 miles of paved bike paths make it easy to explore the island’s riches, from endless beaches to harborside restaurants to a picturesque downtown. 


The Nantucket Historical Association’s Whaling Museum offers a fascinating perspective on the island’s heyday as the whaling capital of the world. The collection includes a 46-foot sperm whale skeleton, a scrimshaw art gallery, and an exhibition on the whaling ship Essex, which inspired Moby-Dick. Don’t miss the rooftop panoramic harbor views.

Museum guides also lead hour-long walking tours through historic downtown Nantucket twice daily, Monday through Saturday, from spring through early September. (You can buy a piece of Nantucket cultural history by detouring along Main Street at Four Winds Craft Guild for a lightship basket, or at Murray’s Toggery Shop for instantly identifiable Nantucket Reds apparel.)

A 15-minute stroll from the museum takes you to Brant Point Light Station, built in 1901 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Among Nantucket’s 82 miles of beautiful beaches, Jetties Beach is popular with families for its calm surf, wide sand and solid public facilities. It hosts some of the island’s most cherished annual events, including the Sandcastle and Sculpture Contest and the Boston Pops concert.

Surfside Beach, along the southern shore, is one of Nantucket’s most popular beaches. Beachcombers gather up the bountiful shells found there in the mornings. Its choppier waters attract surfers and boogie boarders. Fishermen, especially surf-casters, gravitate here in the evenings.


Four-wheel-drive vehicles are the preferred way to explore the 1,117-acre Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge. Car-rental agencies in town can supply a 4×4 vehicle (not an all-wheel-drive) and the required permit if you want to drive between the gatehouse and Great Point Lighthouse on your own. Or reserve a two-hour natural history tour offered by the refuge and hop in the passenger seat as a guide explains the flora and fauna of the refuge’s entire barrier beach system. Keep an eye out for piping plovers and terns on the maritime dunes and seals along the shore.


An upscale Nantucket landmark for nearly six decades, Straight Wharf offers stunning harbor views and seasonal prix fixe two-course meals. The swordfish, clambake and scallops are among the stars of the seafood-focused menu. Breeze Restaurant in The Nantucket Hotel and Resort draws in diners at all times of day, from its popular weekend brunch, acclaimed clam chowder for lunch or dinner, or a nightcap at its friendly bar.