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Nantucket, MA

Out to sea lies the island of gray clapboard, whaling history, old salts, and great restaurants

Busy approach to Nantucket past Brant Point Light.
Nantucket is a town, a county, and an island. The Nantucket year-round population is a little over 10,000, yet at the peak of the summer there are as many as 56,000 people...many with their cars. Its most famous native was probably RH Macy, who made his fortune off island. But the real mark on Nantucket was made by the whalers.

The truth is that Nantucket is a wonderful destination, but it used to be much better before the crowds and without the "globalization." Somehow, the GAP just doesn't fit on cobblestoned Main Street, but perhaps I am a bit of a nostalgic purist. The trouble is that I remember what it was like in the 1970's. There was a peg-legged ancient sailor who graced the waterfront each day, dreaming of going back to sea and spinning yarns for anyone who would listen. Artists perched their canvases along the docks and sketched the day's light.

There were great restaurants and historic inns, but the paparazzi were not in evidence yet, and the shops all evoked images of a different era. You can still find much of that here, but you have to look past the modernization to see it.

The great thing is that the harborfront is so compact that it is difficult not to enjoy all it has to offer. This is one place where we'd absolutely recommend taking a slip, even though it may break the bank to do so. If you have several crew who may want to go their separate ways, it is so easy to jump on and off your boat and be right in the middle of town on a whim. You can keep your bikes tied on the dock beside your vessel and have instant transportation at hand. It is truly one of the most convenient harbors we've ever visited.

Getting there

Click to view larger charts.
Nantucket Harbor chartlet
Nantucket lies 22 miles south of Cape Cod. Nantucket waters can be a little tricky to navigate. There are numerous shoals enroute so it pays to have accurate charts and to follow the government marks carefully. The area also experiences frequent fog so be prepared. Because the approaches are relatively shallow, the waters can get churned up for a fairly rocky ride. Once you get there the anchorage can be crowded so do make reservations for moorings or slips well in advance of your planned trip.

Approaching Nantucket from the west across Nantucket Sound, you will pass along the Cross Rip Channel between Cross Rip Shoal and Horseshoe Shoal. Stay within the channel markers. As you approach the entrance to Nantucket Harbor, you will pass Tuckernuck Shoal to starboard, which is marked by the red and white "NB" buoy. Proceed down the channel, rounding Brant Point Lighthouse to starboard. Nantucket Boat Basin is located on the western side of the harbor.

For further information, check the Embassy Cruising Guide by Maptech or The Waterway Guide.

What to do

There is so much information available about Nantucket that our job here is relatively easy. The Nantucket Chamber of Commerce website has a wealth of information and their booklets are so handy and easily ordered by mail in advance of a planned visit. Click here to download a pdf of a great brochure put out by Nantucket Basin.

We have five favorite things to do in Nantucket:

The harborfront leads right into the Main Street. We took a slip and kept our bikes tied up right next to the boat. It could not have been more convenient.
One of the attractions of a Nantucket vacation is escape from the fast lane. Mid-summer the main streets are clogged with traffic (and parking spaces are filled), and residents beg you to leave your car at home. You might find yourself walking a lot more than usual and taking advantage of the island's miles of scenic bike paths and beaches. If your visit will be short and spent mostly in town and on the beaches, taxis and beach shuttles can supplement foot power adequately.

Note that some businesses have a street address with no number, especially if they're in an outlying area and services are not readily available around the island. One day, we headed toward 'Sconset (Siasconset) for lunch and almost starved looking for a place that was open at 2:00 pm. Take refreshments with you.

Don't rent or drive a moped. Even if you have experience, the cobblestone streets in town are not at all conducive to smooth riding. Accidents, many of them serious, are all too common. We found ourselves pushing our bikes through town to avoid jarring our teeth, then getting on to ride outside. We also have wide tread tires which helped immensely on the dirt trails we used for exploration.

Getting Around

By bicycle

Bicycle paths are very clearly marked. Both the Chamber of Commerce and the visitor information bureau have maps and free guides. Bike rental shops have maps, too. The main bike trails are paved, but mountain bikes (or street-and-mountain-bike hybrids) are best if you plan to explore the dirt roads; cobblestones on Main Street make for rough riding, too. There are several places to rent bicycles in town. Look for bike stands along Main Street, as there aren't many on side streets.

Obey all bike rules, including signaling for turns, giving a clear warning when passing, and observing one-way roads. You must walk your bike if you're going the wrong way or you can be fined. Note that Massachusetts law requires the use of protective helmets for children under 13 when operating a bike (or riding as a passenger), and that Nantucket also requires helmets for adults.

Click here to read about the main bike tours.

By bus

The Nantucket Regional Transit Authority (22 Federal St., Nantucket 02554, 508/228-7025 for information; 508/325-9571 other business; runs shuttle buses in town and to Madaket, mid-island areas, Sconset, Surfside Beach, and Jetties Beach. Service is usually from mid-May to mid-September. Each of the five routes has its own schedule (you can pick one up at the Chamber of Commerce, Visitor Services, the NRTA office, or at most any bus stop); service usually begins at 7 AM and ends at 11:30 PM. All shuttle buses have bike racks and lifts. Fares are 50¢ in town, $1 to Sconset and Madaket. Multiple-day and seasonal passes are also available. Children under six ride free.

Picturesque Brant Point Light.

By car

Please consider not bringing your car to Nantucket - foot power, bikes, scooters, taxis, or public transportation can take you anywhere you need to go with much less hassle.

If you're determined to rent a car during the high season - not a great idea, given the cost and congestion - book early, reserving such amenities as child or infant seats and bike racks. For a midsize car with air-conditioning, you'll spend about $80 a day or $350 a week in July, or $50 a day, $250 a week in the off-season. This does not include tax, which is 8.5%. Due to freight costs, gas on-island is pricey. Except for the airport gas station, all stations are mid-island; that is, there are none in town.

Four-wheel drive rentals, available at Young's Bicycle, Nantucket Jeep (which has pickup and drop-off service), and Nantucket Windmill are $150 a day, $760 a week in the peak season, $90 a day or $450 a week in the off-season; Jeep Wranglers are even more because of their popularity. To drive on the beach or north of Wauwinet Road toward Great Point, you'll need an approved four-wheel-drive vehicle (and a vehicle pass, which can be purchased for $85 at the Wauwinet Gatehouse). Make sure your rental vehicle meets the park standards before you pay for your pass.

In Nantucket you must be 21 or older to rent a car, and rates may be higher if you're under 25. You'll pay extra for additional drivers (about $10 a day) and for child seats (about $5 a day), which are compulsory for children under five. Non-U.S. residents will need a reservation voucher, a passport, a driver's license, and a travel policy that covers each driver, when picking up a car.

In Massachusetts the car-rental agency's insurance is primary; therefore, the company must pay for damage to third parties up to a preset legal limit, beyond which your own liability insurance kicks in. However, make sure you have enough coverage to pay for the car. If you do not have auto insurance or an umbrella policy that covers damage to third parties, purchasing liability insurance and a CDW or LDW is highly recommended.

To drive on the beach or north of Wauwinet Road to Coatue, Coskata, or Great Point, you'll need an approved four-wheel-drive vehicle and a North-Shore Vehicle Permit, which you can buy ($85, checks accepted) at the Wauwinet Gatehouse (End of Wauwinet Rd., 508/228-0006). You'll be expected to deflate your tires here for easier beach driving, too.

During high season, parking in town is practically impossible. Park-and-ride locations are plentiful on the island. The Nantucket Regional Transit Authority can supply information on locations and connecting shuttle schedules.

Rules of the Road

Be alert for Nantucket's numerous one-way streets, "no left turn" intersections, and blocks closed to car traffic. Keep vehicles (and scooters and bikes, for that matter) on roads and paths. In Massachusetts, you may turn right at a red light after stopping if there is no oncoming traffic. When in doubt, wait for the green.

State law requires that you always strap children five years old or younger, or who weigh 40 pounds or less, into approved child-safety seats that are properly secured and installed. Children who are 12 or under must wear seat belts regardless of where they're seated.

By taxi and limousine

Taxis usually wait outside the airport or by the ferry on Main Street . Rates are flat fees, based on one person with two bags before 1 AM: $5 within town, $8 to the airport, $16 to Sconset, $18 to Wauwinet.

Limo services are mainly based on-island but reservations are necessary.

Useful Links

General interest
Nantucket Chamber of Commerce
Nantucket Beaches
Figawi Race Weekend & Ball
Nantucket Online
Nantucket Airlines
Nantucket Historical Association
Nantucket Live Cams Home
Nantucket Film Festival
Nantucket Newspapers

Marine Services

Town Pier/ Harbormaster

Brant Point Marine

Boat service, supplies and accessories, plus marine electronics, shell-fishing gear and mooring supplies. Online shopping available. 508-228-6244

Madaket Marine

New and used boats and services, supplies store and parts department. 508-228-1163

Nantucket Boat Basin

The full service marina for Nantucket island. 800-NAN-BOAT


Nantucket Marine

New and used boat sales and services. 508-228-5510

Nantucket Moorings

Includes information on services and rates with online reservations. 508-228-4472


Taxi Service

  A-1 Taxi (508/228-3330).

Aardvark and Lisa's Cab (508/228-2223).

All Point Taxi (508/228-5779).

Betty's Tour & Taxi Service (508/228-5786).

B. G.'s Taxi (508/228-4146).


Limousine Service


Cranberry Transportation (508/825-9793).

Dolphin (508/325-4229).

Highland Drivers (508/228-9556).

King's Coach (508/771-1000). Serves the Cape.


Car rentals


Budget (Nantucket Memorial Airport, 508/228-5666 or 888/228-5666,

Hertz (Nantucket Memorial Airport, 508/228-9421 or 800/654-3131,

Affordable Rentals (6 South Beach St., 508/228-3501 or 877/235-3500).

Nantucket Jeep Rental (508/228-1618).

Nantucket Windmill (Nantucket Memorial Airport, 508/228-1227 or 800/228-1227).

Young's Bicycle Shop (6 Broad St., 508/228-1151).


Gas Stations

  Airport Gas Station (Macy's La., 508/228-1742).

D&B Auto (43 Sparks Ave., 508/228-1571).

Hatch's Package Store (129 Orange St., 508/228-0131).

On-Island Gas (34 Sparks Ave., 508/228-7099).


Bike Shops


Nantucket Bike Shop (4 Broad St., Steamboat Wharf; Straight Wharf; 1-800-770-3088, 508/228-1999, open April-October, rents bicycles and mopeds and provides an excellent touring map. Daily rentals cost $12-$16 for a children's or youth bike, $18-$30 for an adult size, and $40-$75 for a moped, though half- and multiple-day rates are available. Ask about free delivery and pickup.

Young's Bicycle Shop (6 Broad St., Steamboat Wharf, 508/228-1151) rents bicycles, including tandems and children's ($15-$50 daily), plus cars ($75-$85 daily, in season) and the very popular 4x4 Jeep Wranglers ($179 daily); weekly rates are available. They will send you off with everything you need - a touring map, a helmet, and a Portuguese basket for your handlebars.


Van Tours


Several tour companies based out of Nantucket Town offer air-conditioned van or mini-bus tours of Town and the Island.

Gail's Tours is a favorite because of Gail's long standing family history on the island (she's a sixth-generation Nantucketer) and her deep insider knowledge of all things historical and current. Her tour is as likely to include a stop at the Oldest House as it is to point out Tommy Hillfiger's summer home.

Barrett's, Grimes, and Nantucket Island Tours also all offer the air-conditioned, motorized tours of the Island's favorite sites.

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