Nantucket was the whaling capital of the world back in the 18th and 19th centuries. But today, the shimmering coastline and fine sandy beaches, not the promise of defeating Moby Dick, draw tourists from around the world to the Island.
Where are Nantucket’s best beaches? That depends upon what you (and those traveling with you) are hoping to do once you stake out your spot and secure the corners of your beach blanket with your shoes, bag, and cooler. The good news is that whether you are looking to soak up the sun with a good book, surf the waves, bury your toddler’s feet, collect shells, or test out the four-wheel drive on your new Jeep, Nantucket’s beaches have something for everyone.
The Calm and Gentle Beauty of Nantucket’s Best Beaches on the North Shore
Nantucket’s North Shore Beaches face the Nantucket Sound or The Bay side of the Island. The surf is gentle and a bit warmer than the Island’s south shore. These beaches are popular with families with young children, SUP boarders, and kayakers.
Brant Point Beach
Brant Point is quintessential Nantucket. It looks out over Nantucket Harbor and Brant Point Lighthouse – the second oldest lighthouse in the United States, welcoming visitors to the Island traveling by ferry and serving as the perfect spot for family and friends to wave goodbye to their guests. Of the North Shore beaches, Brant Point may not offer the best swimming (there is often a strong current and the wake of passing boats), but it is picturesque and a perfect spot for small children to play at the shore and watch the ships sail by.
Children’s Beach or Harbor Beach
Just a short walk from town and boasting all the amenities – showers, restrooms, food, lifeguards, and even a playground for the littles, the calm surf and soft sand of Children’s Beach make it a perfect destination for families with you guessed it – children.
Jetties Beach easily makes the list of Nantucket’s best beaches. It is a short bike ride from town or accessible by the Nantucket Rapid Transit Authority (NRTA) shuttle in the summer, and there is plenty of parking if you choose to drive. Soft rolling sand bars under clear water stretch out before you, making Jetties Beach gloriously swimmable. The Sandbar at Jetties Beach features outdoor seating and serves all the New England seafood favorites.
Steps Beach gets its name from the iconic weathered gray steps lined with beach roses leading down to the beach. There is a lovely view of Great Point Light from the top before you descend to the beach. Located between Jetties Beach and Dionis Beach and accessible by Cliff Rd., Steps Beach is off the beaten path and quieter than Jetties but beautiful for swimming. Note that there are no lifeguards or restrooms, and those who travel down the stairs to Steps Beach must be prepared to climb them at the end of the beach day.
Dionis may be Nantucket’s best beach for nature lovers and shell collectors. A three-mile drive by car (there is parking, but it fills up quickly), there is also a walk along a narrow, soft-sand trail that some may find challenging to access the beach. Dionis is home to federally-protected nesting shorebirds. Visitors must respect the fences and signage that protect their nests. Still, the dunes and the sprawling shoreline make it a popular destination. It is the perfect beach for walking and gathering smooth stones, shells, and sea glass.
40th Pole Beach
The hot summer sun creates warm waters in July, August, and September at 40th Pole Beach. It is nicknamed “The Bathtub” and is a favorite of families with young children. Although there are no lifeguards here, the water is calm. If you have a 4WD vehicle and a beach permit, you have the best way to access 40th Pole Beach. Why the name 40th Pole? Count approximately 40 telephone poles heading west on Eel Point Road from Madaket Road to arrive at the beach.
Nantucket’s Best Beaches on the South Shore– Crashing Surf and Rugged Beauty
While Nantucket may not be a world-class surfing destination, there are still many who come to Nantucket for the waves, and Cisco Beach is among Nantucket’s best beaches for surfing. There is a surf school on the beach for those eager to learn, but be aware that swimming at Cisco means crashing surf, strong currents, and a rip tide. Cisco is not the place for novice swimmers. In the summer, a four-mile bike path will take you on a beautiful ride along Hummock Pond Rd. from town to Cisco.
Ladies beach is another destination for body surfers and boogie boarders. The surf can be unpredictable, and while the spacious sandy beach area is perfect for families, the surf can be too dangerous for children. It is often less crowded than some of the more popular South shore beaches, like Madaket and Nobadeer. Like many South Shore beaches, Ladies Beach does not feature restrooms or amenities other than a parking lot. However, it is a stunning place to watch the sunset.
For those looking to enjoy a family-friendly south shore beach complete with lifeguards, restrooms and showers, a picnic area, and a restaurant, Surfside checks all the boxes. The Nantucket Land Bank maintains three beaches along the south shore, including Surfside Beach. This beloved beach is the place to break out the Kadima or Spike ball game before diving into the waves, but get there early because the lot fills quickly. If you don’t have a car on the Island, you can take the Nantucket Regional Transit Authority (NRTA) shuttle bus from town or bike along the 3-mile Surfside Bike Path directly to the beach.
A lively party destination for the under-25 crowd competing for space with surf casters who come for the excellent fishing, Nobadeer makes Nantucket’s Best Beaches list due to its beauty, abundant surf, dog-friendly status, and over sand vehicle access for those who have a permit. Those arriving on foot should be aware of the steep incline to reach the beach.
Public access was recently closed to Madaket Beach, located on the far western side of Nantucket, due to beach erosion which has created a steep and dangerous drop-off. It appears on Nantucket’s Best Beaches list because it has long been considered the best location to catch an island sunset. Some argue that Dionis, Ladies Beach, or 40 Pole Beach sunsets are equally spectacular.
For those who may be mourning the closing of Madaket Beach -take heart. Miacomet Beach offers the exciting south shore surf and the calm waters of Miacomet Pond for those less inclined to be thrill seekers. There are lifeguards on duty, and parking is available, but be sure to visit the facilities before you arrive because you will not find any at Miacomet Beach.
Located between Surfside and Nobadeer, Fisherman’s Beach has all of the dramatic surf and beautiful dunes but with fewer crowds. While there are no lifeguards or other amenities, the concession stands, restaurants, and restrooms are just an enjoyable walk along the shore to Surfside Beach.
While the charming Island of Nantucket may conjure images of privilege -polished 36 ft. sailboats moored in the harbor and men and women dressed in cuffed khakis with pastel sweaters tied around their shoulders. Unlike most New England coastal communities, Nantucket’s 110-mile coastline is free and open to the public. Nantucket’s best beaches are among the most magnificent in the world, and all are welcome to stand at the water’s edge and experience their unique beauty.