Featured Stories & Articles from Cape Cod Travel Magazine: Nantucket: The Colorful "Grey Lady"
As islands go, Nantucket defies generalization. It’s glamorous, but in a sedate New England sort of way. It has no palm trees, but the miles of white sand beaches dotted with picturesque harbors are, quite simply, spectacular. And while there are rarely paparazzi-studded red carpet events here, this island certainly is home to a fair share of celebrities. As anyone lucky enough to actually call Nantucket home, and even every visitor, is well aware, Nantucket is not just an island; it’s an experience.
Frequently fog-shrouded, Nantucket has earned the moniker “Grey Lady,” but centuries ago, the Wampanoag natives named the island, located approximately 30 miles south of Cape Cod, Nanaticut, meaning ‘the faraway land.’ With its still cobblestone covered streets and weathered shingled homes, Nantucket has blissfully defied many incursions of modernity.
Much of Nantucket’s allure is associated with its beaches and harbors of course, but also with its storied history and widely varied architecture. This tiny island was the world’s greatest whaling port from the late 17th century through the early 18th century when it was surpassed by nearby New Bedford. And it’s the whaling industry, long since relegated to the history books, that left an indelible imprint on the island’s architecture. Today’s architecture ranges from simplistic antique Quaker homes to miniscule rose-covered cottages, from dozens of the former residences of those prosperous whaling captains to newer truly spectacular homes, many built by those happy to call Nantucket home all summer.
A tour is a great way to get an overview of the island. The Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) oversees two dozen properties on the island and offers guided walking tours of several of these sites. Most of the NHA’s sites maintain regular hours, some seasonally, allowing visitors to enjoy a wide variety of historically significant properties. Also available are guided motor-coach-style tours that provide a glimpse of much of Nantucket.
The Nantucket Whaling Museum, operated by the NHA, provides a remarkable look back at the once thriving industry along with kid-friendly exhibits, a rooftop observation deck and the 46-foot skeleton of a sperm whale. Other attractions with a sense history include the Black Heritage Trail, comprised of ten sites revealing the heritage of Nantucket’s African Americans, and three island lighthouses: Brant Point, Great Point and Sankaty.
For those looking to experience the remarkable natural beauty of Nantucket, there are variety of options. Nantucket is, perhaps, first and foremost all about the beaches. With this in mind, a beach-ready Jeep rental may be in order. Several companies on the island offer rentals of four-wheel-drive vehicles that come equipped with the required “over-sand” sticker which will allow for a true seaside drive at places such as Coatue and the Coskata Wildlife Preserve. Pack a picnic and get going.
If actually being on the water is more your speed, powerboats can be rented right next to the Town Pier in Nantucket Center or there are several piloted sailing or power cruises to choose from as well. The island is also home to miles of bikeways; rent a bike at one of several spots just off the Steamship Authority docks and consider pedaling out to Siasconset. This miniscule hamlet (pssst…it’s pronounced ‘Sconset), on the southeast part of Nantucket, is where 1930s’ celebrities such as Clark Gable and Carole Lombard summered. Today erstwhile fishing shacks cum doll-house cottages festooned with beach roses, both casual cafés and fine restaurants, and a handful of shops, enthrall visitors.
And, oh, the food: some of New England’s toniest restaurants are located on Nantucket along with classic clam shacks, comfortable pubs and sandwich shops. Naturally, seafood figures prominently on many menus, from fried clams to the haute continental cuisine served in dozens of elegant dining rooms. Many consider grabbing an ice cream cone “required eating” while on a seaside vacation and there are plenty of places to fulfill this need, both in town and in outlying villages.
The art collector, home design aficionado or fashionista will find Nantucket the perfect place to shop for, well, just about anything. The area surrounding the harbor is just chocked-full of exceptional shops offering an incredible
array of irresistible items just begging to be bagged up and brought home. Most of these stores, offering everything from apparel to housewares, designer shoes to darling kids’ items, pottery to fine art, are also happy to pack and ship items back too.
Not to be forgotten is the host of events on Nantucket, starting with April’s Daffodil Festival and running right into the holidays with Nantucket Noel, with film, comedy and arts festivals, Sandcastle and Sculpture Day, and the island-wide “Restaurant Week” sandwiched between.