Thirty miles off the coast of Cape Cod lies a little island called Nantucket. It's small by island standards at just 14 miles long by 3-5 miles wide (on average), but on this small piece of land lies the dreamy kind of holiday that leaves you yearning to go back even as the ferry pulls away from the dock.
Last week I returned to Seattle after magical three days on Nantucket and as I sit here at my desk watching the sun rise, I can't help but think of this island that the Algonquians called "Faraway Land." It is a place of such history and beauty.
I've traveled close to a million miles for my job as a reporter and I'm often asked "Where is your favorite place in the world?" My answer is of course, with my husband. Wherever he is, is my home. As a vacation spot though, Nantucket is special. When I am here my soul feels settled and happy, as if this is where I am supposed to be. Each day unfolds exactly as it should and with such wonder. A simple thing like sipping an iced espresso early in the morning on a bench on Main St. takes on such lovely significance. Especially when there are cobblestones under your feet and weathered grey shingled buildings around every corner.
Come with me to Nantucket, a happy place.
Day 1 Traveling to Nantucket
Should you bring your car?
Unless you're renting house out on 'Sconset or elsewhere away from the center of town, you don't need a car. If you do choose to bring a car be prepared to purchase your ferry tickets for you and your car far in advance. Obey every single parking sign because the parking enforcement officers mean business. There is a good bus system and cabs if you need them.
There are two ways to get to Nantucket -- boat or plane. Unless you have your own transportation, most people take one of the island ferries. Two choices are The Steamship Authority ($17.50 each way from Hyannis) or Hyline Cruises fast ferry ($41 each way from Hyannis). Purchase your tickets online to ensure that you get first choice of ferries. The 9:10am Hyannis to Nantucket fills up fast as does the 7:20pm from Nantucket to Hyannis. Leaving your car in one of the lots near the ferry terminal will set you back about $20 each calendar day.
Where to Stay
Nantucket has some of the most beautiful hotels in the world. I chose The White Elephant Hotel on the harbor and got a great deal from their Specials & Packages promotions. The Tip: (I signed up for their email list and received their Hot Dates Cool Rates emails and secured a great rate for my two nights.) The White Elephant Hotel is centrally located on the waterfront and within walking distance to everything (except the astronomy night at the Maria Mitchell Observatory) I had on my busy itinerary. A White Elephant driver met me at the wharf when I arrived but most of the in-town hotels are an easy walk from the ferry terminal.
White Elephant Hotel reservations 800 445 6574
Other hotels include:
The Wauwinet 800 426 8718
The historic Jared Coffin House (in town) 800 248 2405
76 Main (recently renovated) 800 Nantucket
The Nantucket Hotel 877 807 6011
What to Bring
As with any beach vacation, bring comfortable, breathable clothing. (Real Simple has a great Beach Vacation Packing Checklist.) In addition to your basic shorts and t-shirts, think about bringing a maxi dress or a blazer if you plan on going out to dinner at one of the fancier restaurants.
If you want to look like a Nantucket native, wear Nantucket Reds or for men: khaki shorts, a worn in blue or pink oxford, a navy blue blazer and boat shoes. For women: a linen shift dress and sandals.
The Tip: The most important item to bring is a good flat pair of shoes. Nantucket has charming cobblestoned and brick streets that are notorious for destroying heels. One evening as I had dinner at Met on Main I saw six different women taking off their heels just so they could walk without tripping. Also handy? A small backpack.
What to Do
The two best resources for planning my trip was the Nantucket.net events site and The White Elephant Hotel concierge. Before I left for Nantucket I checked out the lists of events happening on the island during my stay and chose the ones I thought would be most interesting. Then I stopped by the concierge desk the moment I dropped my bags off at The White Elephant. I went through my schedule with the concierge and she gave me some invaluable tips.
The things to do on Nantucket are wildly varied. You can take a walking tour of historic homes, learn about whales, visit lighthouses, take a Figure Method class, shop for new art, go sailing, visit a farm stand, go stargazing or take a ghost walk through some of the oldest cemeteries on the island. I tried to do as much as I could in 3 days but I know I barely scratched the surface on the wonders of Nantucket.
Stop into Mitchell's and head up to the Nantucket Reading Room
when you need a quiet moment.
Nantucket Day One
10:10am Arrive on Nantucket. Drop bags off at White Elephant Hotel and meet with concierge to review itinerary.
11:30am Walk up to Something Natural (50 Cliff Road, 508 228 0504 @somethinnatural) for a sandwich. It's a good hike (a few hills, nothing strenuous) with a reward of a Sprouts, Vegetables & Avocado sandwich. Order inside then take your enormous Lobster Salad or Salami & Provolone sandwich out on one of the many picnic tables for a delicious, hearty lunch before a serious afternoon of sightseeing. Get a chocolate chip cookie to go (huge and the best on-island) and throw it in your backpack for a mid-afternoon snack.
12:30pm I walked around town to get a lay of the land and stopped into Peter Beaton Hat Studio. I bought a collapsible straw hat. It came in a lovely black and white striped hat box that they shipped home for me. I browsed some of the shops, and stopped into Murray's Toggery to get Larry a pair of Nantucket Red shorts. (When you buy Nantucket Reds, it comes in a stiff wash. The key to the perfect Nantucket Reds is to wash your shirt or shorts every time you do a load of laundry. In no time they'll soften into the perfect shade of salmon.)
This elderly couple took the walking tour of historic homes with me.
They never stopped holding hands. Aren't they sweet?
2:15pm Meet at The Whaling Museum for a walking tour of historic homes (2:15pm) followed by The Whaling Museum tour. Both the walking tour and the museum were wonderful activities for the first day on Nantucket. The walking was easy and there were kids and senior citizens on the walking tour. It was an easy pace and everyone seemed to get something different out of visiting 18th, 19th and 20th century homes. After the walking tour I took my time in the Whaling Museum. Learning about Nantucket's history was fascinating. After the tour I sat out in the garden and enjoyed the chocolate chip cookie I had bought at Something Natural.
4:30pm I walked back to The White Elephant and checked into the hotel. After a lovely shower I stopped into the library for complimentary port and cheese before dinner at Met on Main.
Order the biscuits at Met on Main. They're enormous and warm. So good.
6:00pm Dinner at Met on Main. I arrived just in time to score the table in the window. I wasn't terribly hungry but I had heard about their infamous biscuits which I enjoyed before my Caesar salad came. Along with an iced tea, it was perfect and filling. There is also a backyard patio. Try to be seated outside if possible. (Met on Main, 38 Main Street, 508 325 5111)
7:30pm There are so many activities in the evening to choose from. There are ghost walks, historic talks, live bands. . .but one thing intrigued on this night. At the Nantucket Atheneum was a concert of young artists. It was the year-end music recital for Nantucket children. I smiled when I read the description of the recital on the events page. I had to go. I made my way up to the Atheneum (library) and took a seat towards the back of the room. The room was full of parents. I think I may have been the only non-family member there. As each teacher presented a student, I sat back and smiled. I watched the parents as they watched their child play the violin or sing. My favorite was the last little girl. At just six years-old she played the ukelele and sang "I Wanna Be Like You" from "Jungle Book." I looked around and I wasn't the only one with tears in my eyes. I had goosebumps. In this historic domed room, on the second floor, we saw simple joy in the form of music. We applauded. Loudly.
After the concert I walked back to The White Elephant. It had been a long day starting at 4am for the drive to Hyannis for the ferry. I arrived back in my cool room overlooking the harbor and fell into the biggest, softest, most wonderful bed. That night I dreamed of little girls and whales and blue oceans. It was perfect.
Tomorrow: Breakfast at Black Eyed Susan's, bikes and ghost tours.