The Old Mill, Nantucket

Nantucket is a tiny, picture-perfect island about 16 miles from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. With a permanent population of about 10,000 people, the island community grows to five times that number in the summer when part-time residents and tourists come to enjoy Nantucket’s magnificent beaches, lively art scene, and great restaurants.

The entire island is steeped in history, from its unpainted cedar-shingled houses and old wharfs to excellent museums and picturesque churches. Here are the best things to do on Nantucket.

»Nantucket Beaches

Nantucket Beaches

Nantucket’s fine sand beaches are among the most beautiful in the country. While the north shore beaches have fewer waves because they are protected by Nantucket Sound, the strong northerly winds can change the conditions in a minute, creating huge and often dangerous waves. When that happens, the south shore beaches, which normally have strong currents and large waves because they are open to the ocean, become much quieter and calmer.

If you are bringing the kids to the popular Children Beach on the north shore, be sure to check the weather just in case. Another popular north shore beach is Jetties Beach, a pretty families beach only a short walk from town with tennis courts, a playground, and a skateboard park. For the surfers, the best south shore beaches, with heavy surf and strong currents, are Cisco, Miacomet, Surfside, and Tom Nevers Beach.

More ideas: 20 Best Romantic Places to Stay on Nantucket and Best Romantic Restaurants on Nantucket.

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»Whaling Museum

Whaling Museum

Wander back in time by visiting the Whaling Museum, which is located in the original candle-making factory in Nantucket. Tour the fully restored candle factory where, until the 1860’s when whaling was outlawed, tallow candles were produced in the thousands. The museum is over eighty years old and houses some amazing artifacts, including a complete sperm whale skeleton that dives dramatically from the ceiling.

The exhibitions are constantly changing and currently include a fascinating exploration into the legend behind Moby Dick. The Whaling Museum is one of the best things to do on Nantucket. Permanent exhibitions include paintings and a superb collection of scrimshaw art.

13 Broad Street, Nantucket, MA 02553, 508-228-1894

Next read: Best Time to Visit Nantucket, Massachusetts & Other Travel Tips

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»Sankaty Head Light

Sankaty Head Light

The Sankaty Head Light is a lighthouse built in 1850 to protect mariners from the hazardous shoals off the Nantucket eastern coast. The lighthouse, located in the Siasconset Village at the island’s easternmost point, was automated in 1965 and is still operating. It was registered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

In 2007, the Sconset Land Trust bought the lighthouse, and in order to protect it moved it about 400 feet from the eroding beach. The lighthouse is today one of the favorite spots of tourists who love the spectacular, although quite windy, view from its top.

Baxter Street, Siasconset, Nantucket, MA 02554, 508-228-1700

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»Nantucket Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum

Nantucket Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum

When they were caught in the extreme weathers of the district, many of the hundreds of ships that passed by Nantucket Island each day were lost to shipwrecks. The Nantucket Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum is dedicated to those who risked their lives to save the mariners. Wander the hallways and marvel at the beautiful paintings that depict the austerity of the sea and models of ships that now lie on the ocean floor.

Exhibits are being added all the time, and there are several films to watch as well as family-friendly programs. The museum caters to all ages, making it a low cost family activity.

158 Polpis Road, 504-228-1885

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»Nantucket Atheneum

Nantucket Atheneum

The fact that Nantucket had two libraries in the early 1820’s says a lot about the place. The libraries merged into the Universal Library Association, which was incorporated in 1834 as the Nantucket Atheneum and featured 1,235 titles at the time. In 1846, the fire destroyed the library and all but about 150 books.

Rebuilt on the same site, the library today has an extensive collection of books, periodicals, online databases, audiobooks, DVDs, CDs, and free access to more than 1.4 million items through the CLAMS network (Cape Libraries Automated Materials Sharing), a network that includes 34 Cape Cod libraries and the libraries of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. The library also offers a range of cultural and educational programs for kids, adults, seniors, and teens, from Tai Chi classes to the annual Dance Festival.

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»Dreamland Film and Performing Arts Center

Dreamland Film and Performing Arts Center

Nantucket’s Dreamland Film and Performing Arts Center has served as a cultural icon since the 1800’s. The center is dedicated to enriching the lives of Nantucket’s residents via film, exhibitions, community activities, and educational programs. With one visit to this center, you can witness art in many different forms. Take in the ballet before seeing a movie and finish your evening with an opera.

See classics such as My Fair Lady and Fantasia brought back to the big screen in the anniversary restoration screenings. For those with children, they offer both performing arts courses and productions suitable for the whole family.

17 South Water Street, 508-332-4822

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»The Old Mill

The Old Mill

The Old Mill is the only smock mill still to stand in Nantucket. Built in the 1700’s and consequently abandoned to the elements in the 1800’s, the mill has since been lovingly restored to reflect its original design. A working mill up to the late 1800’s is also now part of the Nantucket Historical Association.

You can visit the old mill and take a tour by itself or combine it with a Historic Sites self-guided tour that takes in the Oldest House, Old Gaol, Greater Light, and the Fire Hose Cart House. This is an excellent option for those interested in the history Nantucket has to offer.

50 Prospect Street, MA 020553, 508-228-1894

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»Cisco Brewers

Cisco Brewers

Cisco Brewers is a unique place where you can try world-class wines, beers, and spirits, all in one stop.

Take one of their fantastic tours daily where you will go behind the scenes to witness the hard work that goes into making wine, beer, and spirits. During the tour, you will be able to sample some of the local specialties, which is perfect for a low key and relaxed afternoon out.

5 Bartlett Farm Road, Nantucket, MA

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»Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum

Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum

Nantucket is home to the art of lightship basket making. Nantucket has been producing lightship baskets since the early 1830’s, and it was thought this craft began aboard whaling ships. The exhibits in the museum are vast and range from pre-lightship baskets made by local Native Americans from the early 1800’s up to today.

Lightship basket making is still an important art to the locals, and the museum is dedicated to preserving this craft. They run a range of courses that offer children aged 9 -13 a chance to learn the craft and create a basket.

49 Union Street, Nantucket, MA 02554, 508-228-1177

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»Loines Observatory

Loines Observatory

Spend an evening wandering among the stars with a visit to the Loines Observatory. Let the astronomy team help you navigate the night sky, and they’ll point out constellations and other phenomenon not seen on earth. View meteor showers, comets, eclipses, and the international space station.

They offer a summer lecture series where you can hear from some of the leading astronomers. The Loines Observatory is a perfect place for families where you can introduce your children to the world beyond our own.

58 Milk Street, MA 020553, 508-228-9273

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»Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge

Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge

For those of you who adore nature and wildlife, you won’t be able to pass up a trip to the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge. Walk over the sixteen miles of trails and roads where you will encounter deer, raptors, seals, and shorebirds dotted along the coast. The landscape is splendid, and has everything from sandy beaches and rolling dunes to upland forests of oak and red cedar.

Visit the lighthouse and take in the beautiful views of the Nantucket Coastline. Explore the tidal pools with your little ones and watch the horseshoe crabs clamber over the rocks and sand dunes. A visit to Coskata-Coutue is free, making it a perfect day out regardless of your age.

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»Theatre Workshop of Nantucket

Theatre Workshop of Nantucket

The Theatre Workshop has been celebrating the art form of live theatre since 1956. With an average of six plays and musicals each year, there is something for everyone’s taste. Previous shows have included classics such as Oklahoma! and You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown as well as newer pieces such as 39 Steps and Seussical the Musical.

There are many shows that are suitable for the entire family, and each Christmas you will see some of the classics brought to the stage. If you’re a theatre lover, and even if you are not, the Theatre Workshop is well worth a visit.

62 Centre Street, Nantucket MA 02554, 508-2228-4305

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»Greater Light

Greater Light

Greater Light is the summer home and art studio acquired in the 1930’s by Gerturde and Hannah Monaghan, two sisters from Philadelphia. Greater Light is part of the Nantucket Historical Association and showcases the change between the thriving whaling town and the up-and-coming art movement. The garden is styled to reflect woodlands and features large Birch and London Plane trees framing the property.

Wander amongst the pools and flowers and explore the original garden features built by Gertrude and Hannah. Visit the Greater Light home by itself or as part of the Historic Sites self-guided tour.

8 Howard Street, Nantucket MA 02554, 508-228-1894

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»Endeavour Sailing Excursions

Endeavour Sailing Excursions

Head out on the waters of Nantucket on the sloop Endevour. You can relax or participate in the sailing as you tour around Nantucket Sound. You are in good hands with Captain James Genthner, who is a local with over thirty years sailing experience. Listen as James tells you stories of Nantucket’s maritime history and points out the best places to see native wildlife. A sailing excursion is the perfect way to tour the island and is great for the entire family or a group of friends.

You are invited to take onboard refreshments, so take along a picnic or celebrate a milestone on board. For those travelling with children, you might want to ask about the Pirate Hunter Adventure where you will be entertained with stories of Nantucket’s most infamous pirates and can take part in pirate games.

Slip #105 Straight Wharf, Nantucket MA 02554, 508-228-5585

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»The Oldest House

The Oldest House

The Oldest House, as the name suggests, is the oldest home in Nantucket. It is also known as the Jethro Coffin House and was built in 1686 as a wedding gift to Jethro Coffin. The house is settled in a beautiful meadow surrounded by mature trees, and you can spend an hour or two simply wandering around the grounds enjoying nature.

The Oldest House became part of the Nantucket Historical Association in 1923 and has undergone extensive preservation and reconstruction. The mission of the historical association is to provide an experience that accurately depicts the lives of those who lived here in the late seventeenth century. Visit the Greater Light home by itself or as part of the Historic Sites self-guided tour.

16 Sunset Hill, Nantucket MA 02554, 508-228-1894

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»Moors End Farm

Moors End Farm

Moors End Farm is a family run business that specializes in farm fresh produce. Founded in the 1970’s it started life as a small self-serve farm stand and has grown to include a nursery and greenhouse. You can buy freshly cut herbs, flowers, and vegetables at the stand. Moors End Farm specializes in chard, kale, arugala, wasabi, beets, and squash.

Beautiful vibrant flowers fill the greenhouse with annuals, perennials, shrubs, mandavilles and vegetable plants, all of which are available for purchase. After a relaxed visit to Moors End Farm enjoy an ice cream in the sun.

40 Polpis Road, Nantucket, MA 02554, 508-228-2674

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»Nantucket Aquarium

Nantucket Aquarium

The Nantucket Aquarium showcases local aquatic species found in the waters surrounding Nantucket. The displays are constantly changing depending on what species are available for the summer season. Displays range from seahorses and fish to sharks. The aquarium prides itself in returning all animals back to the ocean.

Visit the touch tank where you can explore and touch crabs, fish, clams, and snails, perfect for kids of all ages. The outdoor tank is home to dogfish (sharks), crabs, and large fish while inside you will find smaller tanks showcasing individual species. A visit to Nantucket Aquarium is a fun, interesting day out for the whole family.

28 Washington Street, 508-228-5387

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»Fishing Nantucket

Fishing Nantucket

For avid fishermen, visiting Nantucket would not be complete without getting out on the water to go fishing. Captain Tom has been fishing Nantucket waters since 1971, and his charters have a fantastic reputation of offering clients great adventure in comfort and safety. You can opt to go fishing in the morning or at night, and you have the option of going to fish flats, fishing offshore, or going to the rips and shoreline.

Captain Tom has four boats adapted to the whimsical waters around Nantucket. His specialty is fly-fishing and plug casting shorelines and rips around Nantucket, chasing Striped Bass through the white water near Nantucket’s West End. It is not for the inexperienced as it can get rough, but what a thrill! Another great adventure is tuna fishing offshore, which often means a big catch and seeing whales, dolphins, and turtles.

Captain Tom Mleczko, 3 Hinckley Lane, 508-228-4225

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»Miacomet Golf Club

Miacomet Golf Club

Golfers do not like to travel anywhere without first checking if there is a golf course and a golf club in the area. There is only one in Nantucket – Miacomet Golf Club – but it is a jewel. Miacomet is easy to find – simply drive out of town away from the crowds and turn left at the white rock. It is a public 18-hole course, open year round with meticulously maintained, lush putting greens, driving range, and a first class restaurant in the charming club house overlooking the expanse of undulating greens.

The link-style course is considered “challenging but accessible” and is open to all. The club is a cozy and comfortable place with a wonderful view and a favorite hangout for locals. You can see visiting real estate tycoons discussing their scores with local fishermen and tourists getting fishing tips from the local bank president. The place is very popular for weekend brunch, and Executive Chef Steve D’Agonistino offers an eclectic mix of everyone’s favorites such as burgers and fish-and-chips and treats like Malabar Curry and Black Angus Filet for foodies.

12 W. Miacomet RD., 508-325-0333

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»The Artists' Association of Nantucket

The Artists' Association of Nantucket

The Nantucket identity is strongly linked to the island’s history of whaling and fishing, but the arts and artists have also been part of its life from the beginning of the 20th century. Many renowned artists called the island their home or summer retreat and inspiration, but the true transformation of Nantucket from a fishing village to an art center began in 1945 when the Artist Association of Nantucket was established. The island opened its first gallery and received exhibitions on loan from the Metropolitan and the Whitney Museum, and Thornton Wilder and Tennessee Williams visited as guest speakers.

Today, the town has more than 20 galleries and numerous studios. The Artists Association of Nantucket is the driving force behind the year-round exhibitions at the Joyce & Seward Johnson Gallery, the historic AAN Permanent Collection maintenance, and a full schedule of art-related special events. The association also offers educational programs and workshops for children and adults.

Visual Arts Center, 24 Amelia Drive, 508-228-0722

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»The Old Gaol

The Old Gaol

The Old Gaol, built in 1806, is one of the oldest surviving jails in America and is the oldest remaining jail in Nantucket. The Old Gaol has recently undergone significant reconstruction and preservation work in order to show both residents and visitors the history of Nantucket’s justice system. The Gaol was originally built with beautiful oak timbers and iron bolts and rods, and every effort has been taken to preserve the excellent craftsmanship.

The Gaol closed in 1933 and was deeded to the Nantucket Historical Association in 1946. The Old Goal is part of the Historical Sites self-guided tour, so make a visit here high priority.

15 R Vestal Street, 508-228-1894

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21 Best Things to Do on Nantucket, Massachusetts