The Islands: A Perfect Fall Weekend on Nantucket
While the rest of New England sees frost on the pumpkins in September, nearly 30 miles out to sea on Nantucket it’s endless summer.
Just as spring comes late to the island because the massive body of water around it takes awhile to warm up, late summer lingers well into October on Nantucket.
Locals agree this is the best time of year to savor the island, a time when the crowds are gone yet the days are warm enough to have the beach all to yourself—or the bike path, which is the best way to see Nantucket. Start your perfect fall weekend on Nantucket with a visit to Young’s Bicycle Shop (Steamboat Wharf; 508-228-1151). There, for $25 a day, islander Harvey Young and his friendly staff will set you up with a bike, a helmet, a lock and a map of the island’s many miles of wide, flat bike paths. Some bikes also come with baskets. “Some people, that’s all they want is that basket,” Young laughs.
If you’re feeling energetic, as many are when a day in the fresh salt air stretches before them, then set out for Siasconset (affectionately referred to as ‘Sconset), a charming village at the island’s easternmost end. On your way, pick up lunch at the wholesome Daily Bread Bakery (147 Lower Orange St.; 508-228-8961), or take a quick detour past the rotary up the new Old South Road bike path to Amelia Drive, where Annye’s Whole Foods (14 Amelia Drive; 508-228-4554) prepares fresh organic take-out lunch and dinner every day. There you can stock up on everything you’ll need to fortify you for the bike ride ahead.
Take the scenic route to ’Sconset on the Polpis Bike Path, a winding, gently hilly 10-mile route past fields and salt marshes.
Along the way, stop at the Nantucket Life-Saving Museum (158 Polpis Rd.; 508-228-1885), a tribute to the U.S. Life Saving Service men whose motto was “You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.” A special exhibit this year commemorates the 50th anniversary of the sinking of the Italian luxury liner the Andrea Doria, which collided with the MV Stockholm on July 25, 1956 in the fog off Nantucket.
Also on the way out to ‘Sconset look for the cranberry bogs on the right, where, if you’re lucky, you’ll see pickers harvesting the bright red berries. You’ll know you’re getting close to ‘‘Sconset when you see the red and white stripes of the Sankaty Lighthouse. Once in ‘Sconset, cruise slowly down the narrow lanes past the usually rose-covered cottages, some of which have changed little since the 1800s.
Though less scenic, Milestone Road is a straight shot from ’Sconset, and pedaling at a steady pace will put you back in town within an hour. On the way, watch for the stretch of moorland islanders affectionately call “The Serengeti” and try to find each of the mile markers the road is named for.
An alternate adventure is a trip out Hummock Pond Road to Bartlett’s Farm (33 Bartlett Farm Rd.; 508-228-9403), Nantucket Vineyards, (3 Bartlett Farm Rd.; 508-228-9235) and Cisco Brewers (5 Bartlett Farm Rd.; 508-325-5929). A large-scale renovation and expansion completed this year at Bartlett’s now means people can pick up fresh produce and prepared foods year-round, and through Christmas the brewery and vineyard on the same road add to the ease of shopping for island-made items. Located next to each other on the edge of the farm fields, Nantucket Vineyards and Cisco Brewers offer relaxed tastings on low stools at their matching mahogany bars. All beer is made on premises, and in the fall a pumpkin beer called Pumple Drumkin is available.
Few island holiday celebrations are without Celebration Libation, a spiced ale that also makes a great gift for beer lovers. Vintner Dean Long has been making wines on premises since 1981 from West Coast grapes and now has a chardonnay, a pinot gris, four red wines and a port on his list. With tables and Adirondack chairs outside, taking in the laid-back atmosphere of these unique island businesses is a great way to spend part of an afternoon. “It is a little bit of a destination,” says Long.
Fall is the time when fishing is high on the list of favorite activities. In town on the corner of Candle Street, Thurston’s (Harbor Square; 508-228-9595) rents surfcasters with full tackle for $20 per 24-hour period. Barry Thurston is also happy to point you in the right direction. “We get a great run of false albacore and bonito in the fall,” he says from his colorful shop, stacked to the rafters with fishing rods.
If you’d rather watch sea life, or if you want more than a glimpse of the grey seals, you might have seen basking on the jetties when you arrived, call Capt. Blair Perkins at Shearwater Excursions (508-228-7037) to meet the resident grey seals of Muskeget Island, an uninhabited island half an hour to the west that’s home to an estimated population of 2,500 grey seals. Blair’s wife, Rachael, says seal cruises run through January, when many of the pups are born. “People actually get to see pups being born or just having been born,” she says. “The amazing thing about these grey seals is they’re very rugged.” Shearwater, a family-run business, also offers whale watches through mid-October.
Whether or not you caught or observed any sea life, you can certainly sample it at Sayle’s Seafoods (99 Washington St.; 508-228-4599), where you can savor award-winning fried clams at a table on the covered porch overlooking the picturesque creeks at the south end of Nantucket Harbor.
Of course, it does rain on Nantucket and, when it does, one of the most enjoyable places to spend time is the Nantucket Athenaeum (1 India St.; 508-228-1110), the cultural heart of the island since 1834. Inside this impressive example of Greek Revival architecture, listen for echoes of long-ago lectures by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Horace Greeley, Lucretia Mott, Frederick Douglass and Maria Mitchell, the Athenaeum’s first librarian and the first woman elected to the Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Another indoor attraction worth seeing no matter what the weather is the Nantucket Historical Association’s Whaling Museum (13 Broad St.; 508 228-1894). After reopening in 2005 to much fanfare, the renovated and expanded Whaling Museum features the articulated skeleton of the 46-foot sperm whale that washed ashore in ’Sconset on New Year’s Day 1998. An interpretive lecture, illustrated on a big screen beside the whale, takes you through the history of whaling on the island. Other treasures include a collection of scrimshaw, the detailed ink drawings sailors carved on whalebone to pass the time; a South Seas exhibit; the original town clock; and the original fresnel lens from Sankaty Light. See where the end result of the whaling industry was produced with the oldest and only surviving spermaceti beam press in the world—still in its original location. Also available are guided tours of historic downtown sites.Back to Cape Cod Travel Guide Stories