Last week when I wrote my column, I thought I was going to be home for a month (a very rare occasion), but right after I pressed send my dad, brother, and nephew called and asked me to jump on a plane and join them in Nantucket. My brother has a house there, and Nantucket is just too difficult to pass up in the summer. Also, spending time with just the boys was possibly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I cashed in some United miles and I was off the following morning.
Getting to Nantucket
Getting to Nantucket from the West Coast is a long trip because you have to make at least one stop, and if you use miles it will probably require more. I flew L.A.-Chicago-New York-Nantucket (LAX-ORD-LGA-ACK), which took 13 hours door to door, but when I landed at 9 p.m. and my family was waiting in Nantucket’s cute airport I knew it was worth it. If miles weren’t available all the way to Nantucket I was going to fly to Providence or Boston and jump on a Cape Air (tel:800-352-0714) or Nantucket Airlines (tel: 800-635-8787) flight for $144 each way (last minute). I could’ve also flown via one of New York’s airports and hopped on either a Delta, Continental, jetBlue, or USAir regional jet. Philadelphia was an option too.
Most people get to Nantucket via the ferries. There are two ferry companies offering nearly identical service to Nantucket, but one is much cheaper than the other. One is Hy-Line Cruises (tel: 800-492-8082). Their year-round fast ferry takes an hour and is $39 one-way for adults; the traditional seasonal slow ferry takes two hours and costs $22.50 one-way. The other company is Steamship Authority (tel: 508-477-8600) and their ferries take the same amount of time but the prices are considerably less. One-way summertime fares for adults on the high-speed boat are $35, and it’s $17.50 for the slow boat. Rates for cars start at $140. Frequent travelers should look into getting a coupon book (ten trips) for a considerable discount. The local airlines offer them too.
Background on Nantucket
Nantucket lies 30 miles off the Massachusetts coast. It’s an island, a town, and a county–the only place in the U.S. with the same name for all three. It is 14 miles east to west, 3 1/2 miles north to south. That sounds tiny, but driving around, it sure doesn’t feel that way. The name Nantucket is derived from a Native American word meaning “faraway island” or “land far out to sea.” The population of Nantucket is 12,000 year-round, but during the summer, it swells to over 60,000. But it’s still not crowded, except in the Town Center, as those people are busy enjoying over 82 miles of pristine beaches, almost all of it open to the public. More than 36 percent of the island’s land is protected and will never be built on. These areas are open to the public for hiking and bird-watching. When my brother bought his house, he had to pay 2 percent of the purchase price to The Nantucket Land Bank, the first of its kind in the country, so they can acquire more open space.
Where to Stay in Nantucket
Nantucket has about 1,200 rooms in bed-and-breakfasts, inns, and guesthouses. If you go, you shouldn’t have a problem finding a place, as long as you book in advance. But here’s my advice: Because hotel rooms and restaurants aren’t cheap, it’s better to rent a house for your stay. There are all kinds of houses available (not just my brother’s!) and you can rent by the weekend, week, month, or season. According to my brother, if you want a top-notch Nantucket real estate agent who is linked to a 15th-century Nantucket family, contact Christine Whelden (508-221-5541).
My brother’s seaside cottage is in Madaket and sleeps six people comfortably. Madaket is five miles from Town Center and is where native Nantucketers actually used to have their summer houses… get this… because it’s cooler. Madaket is the perfect place for a family vacation. It’s quiet, the unpretentious houses are not right on top of each other, and it’s on the beach.
Warning: The Madaket beach is rough, so you really have to watch out for the little ones. But there are excellent beaches for children, including one five minutes (by bike) from my brother Frank’s house. It’s called Smith’s Point Children’s Beach and is right before Mister Rodgers Crooked House, which is where he used to summer. Another great family beach is Jetties, but that’s near town. BTW: Frank and most other owners have tons of bicycles for renters to use.
What I love about Madaket is that when you go to sleep with the windows open, you can hear and smell the ocean waves crashing nearby. I also love Frank’s outdoor showers. Depending on the time of year, Frank rents his place for $2,000 to $4,500 a week.
Nantucket Grocery Stores
The best part about renting a house is that you can live like a local by going to the grocery store and cooking at home. The island has two major supermarkets: Grand Union and Stop & Shop. The Grand Union is dirty so no one goes there, so you will probably end up at Stop & Shop. The prices are at least 10 percent higher than on the mainland.
To get some local produce we went to Bartlett’s Market (website), which is on Nantucket’s oldest (early 1800s) and largest family-owned farm. The market offers a wide selection of organic foods and ready-made meals but it’s not cheap. My dad paid $19.99 for a blueberry pie–but it was darn good.
We ate most of our meals at home, but one night we didn’t feel like cooking so we ordered a takeout clambake from Sayle’s Seafood. For $29, you can get Nantucket clam chowder, half a pound of steamers, half a pound of mussels, corn on the cob, steamed red potatoes, and a one-and-a-quarter-pound lobster with butter and broth. Sayle’s Seafood, 99 Washington St.; tel.: 505-228-4599.
The other place we ate was a house-turned-sandwich-shop called Something Natural. It is half a mile from Town Center and might be the best spot for sandwiches on the island. They serve tasty breads, sandwiches, and cookies. It’s the perfect place to grab food for the beach or to enjoy at one of the outdoor picnic tables spread all around their yard. The sandwiches, which cost between $5.50 and $10, are huge! Be sure to order just half a sandwich, unless you’re starving or sharing. Call ahead if you don’t want to wait. Something Natural, 50 Cliff Rd.; tel.: 508-228-0504.
The one reasonably priced thing on Nantucket is the shuttle service, called NRTA (Nantucket Regional Transit Authority). It operates every 30 minutes from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. and makes stops all around the island. From Madaket, it’s about a 30-minute ride into Town Center and costs $2 each way.
Nantucket Ice Cream
The Juice Bar
Once in the town center you will want to hit the Juice Bar. At peak times there’s a line out the door to get a scoop(s) of their fantastic homemade ice cream (there are a ton of flavors to choose from) in fresh-baked waffle cones. The Juice Bar, 12 Broad St.; tel.: 508-228-5799.
What’s dangerous about renting my brother’s house is that a new restaurant opened up about 200 yards from his place, and in addition to serving the best striped bass tacos they have a takeout window with some delicious ice cream ($3.95 for one scoop or $4.95 for two scoops; sprinkles are free). Millies.
My brother’s favorite place to shop is the Madaket Mall. It’s located next to the Nantucket Landfill and is a place where goods of all values change hands, free of charge. That’s right–everything is free. The sign says “Take It Or Leave It” (there’s also another sign that reads “Be Nice or Go Home”). Here you can get bikes, clothes, furniture, and whatever else people leave behind. My brother grabbed these two old windsurfers so his renters can use them as paddleboards, and my dad got a sweatshirt and a toy for baby Dane. Here’s more info on the Madaket Mall.
More Nantucket Info
This was my fourth trip to Nantucket and hopefully not my last. I honestly think it’s one of the best summer vacation spots in America, especially for families. My previous Nantucket newsletters can be found here: 2005, 2006, and 2007. I also have an old Madaket video I made of our 2006 family vacation.