The island of Nantucket has a remarkable maritime and whaling history, scenic and pristine beaches, large areas of conserved and untouched nature, and a unique coastal charm.
While this crescent-shaped New England island is only 14 miles long, it has more historical buildings and sites in such a small area than in any other town or district in the US. The island, 30 miles south of the coast of Cape Cod, has been declared a National Historic Landmark District.
According to some, it has recently become a more desired vacation and second home location than its neighbor – Martha’s Vineyard.
But buying a home or property on the island is almost impossible for the regular person due to the scarce offerings and the record-breaking listing prices.
Luckily, people can enjoy an authentic experience of residing in Nantucket like one of the local homeowners by booking one of the many residences that are up for short-term rent.
Once you arrive at your dream vacation home, you may feel overwhelmed with the beaches, sights, and adventures to experience.
So, here are six of the most exciting and memorable places to add to your program if you want to make the most of your stay in Nantucket.
The Whaling Museum
The people of Nantucket were masters of the sea, and local ship owners, whaling ship captains, and their crews became world famous from the mid-18th to the 30s of the 19th century.
Nantucket was then considered “the whaling capital of the world,” and the local residents became some of the wealthiest people in the country thanks to the whale oil, which the brave captains and crews brought back after long months of traveling to faraway seas and oceans.
Today, the mark that those times have left on the island’s architecture, the lifestyle of its tight-knit community, and the numerous nautical signs and symbols is still very much evident.
The Whaling Museum, located in a restored whale oil candle-making factory Downtown, is the best place to go if you want to learn more about the whaling history of Nantucket.
The museum has thousands of exhibits, including artifacts, artworks, and documents from those years. Some of the most remarkable ones include the first lighthouse Fresnel lens in the USA, a real 46-foot sperm whale skeleton, and the artifacts and art depicting the true story of the Essex whaling ship and its captain, as well as the others who inspired Herman Melville to write his great American masterpiece “Moby-Dick, or the Whale.”
The Old Gaol
An old prison may not seem like the site you would add to an exciting sightseeing tour, but in fact, The Old Gaol is a unique place to go and feel what it was like to be a prisoner incarcerated on the island in the 19th and the first years of the 20th century.
Interestingly enough, the Old Gaol was built as the New Gaol or prison to replace the first one in Nantucket.
The prison building is an excellent and impeccably restored example of the colonial architectural style of those times.
It was built in 1805, and the last prisoner in it was released in the 1930s.
Today, you can take a tour of the prison, spend some time in an actual restored jail cell there and listen to some of the fascinating stories of the prison’s famous prisoners and those held at the House of Corrections right next to it through the years.
Sconset Bluff Walk
This path was developed over a century ago and, thanks to its original owner, is still open to the public today. The Sconset Bluff Walk is a walkway that is only one mile long, but every step on the shell-covered walking path offers fantastic views and sites.
This walking path is the best and only way to pass right by and admire all of those postcard-like summer cottages, with cedar wood sidings and trellises covered with crawling red and pink roses, which we have all seen on photos and films from Nantucket.
The walkway is right next to the white picket fences of the perfectly trimmed and designed gardens of the lucky owners of the rose-covered cottages.
It passes by the dramatic cliffs or bluffs over the east coast of Nantucket, through the historic village of Siasconset, and can lead you to a scenic seal-spotting location on the top of the cliffs or to the beautiful Siasconset Beach and the Sankaty Head lighthouse.
This picturesque walking path is perfect for taking some stunning vacation photos and storing your memories from Nantucket.
Nantucket may be small and located away from mainland Massachusetts, but the island has its own observatory – the Loines Observatory, part of the famous local Maria Mitchell Astronomy Department.
The observatory has two domes with one antique and one state-of-the-art telescope, which you can use to observe the stars, planets, and other galaxies. If you are lucky, you can visit the observatory for stargazing during a significant event in the night sky, such as a meteor shower, a passing comet, an eclipse, or another.
In any case, watching the sky on a clear night in Nantucket is an unmatched experience that you should add to your bucket list.
Great Point Lighthouse
Nantucket is home to three of the oldest fully functioning lighthouses in the USA. Great Point Lighthouse, also known as Nantucket Light, is the island’s brightest and the northernmost one.
This historic lighthouse was built in 1784 and hasn’t stopped guiding ships and mariners passing by the island or arriving and departing it ever since.
Great Point Light is located on the northernmost point on the land of one of the most extensive and most beautiful conserved territories in Nantucket – the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge.
This brings us to the sixth recommendation for visiting places during your stay in Nantucket.
Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge
This wildlife refuge has a size of 395 acres and is set on two beautiful peninsulas on the northern coast of Nantucket.
The refuge is home to the historic Great Point Lighthouse, as well as to one of the most beautiful barrier beaches in the world, and to hundreds of different local trees, the largest red cedar forest in New England, and other coastal plants, wild birds, and animals.
You can hike or pedal to the Coskata-Coatue refuge, or if you obtain a beach driving permit and have a suitable 4WD vehicle, you can reach it by driving.
The trail leading there offers mesmerizing ocean views, and along the way, you can enjoy spotting some amazing local wild creatures and birds.
Make sure to pop by a store, bakery, or eatery before heading to Coskata-Coatue, because the walk or trip can be pretty long, and there are no shops there on the premises of the protected land. There are guided tours of the sanctuary and area if you prefer to learn more about its history and ecosystem and enjoy the most important sites there.
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