A Day Trip to Nantucket Massachusetts: Things to Do on Nantucket
The small island of Nantucket, which is easily accessible by ferry or a small plane from Hyannis, which lies just 30 miles off the southern coast of Cape Cod. In the seventeenth century, the island was home to members of the Wampanoag tribe, along with a small colony of English settlers. The name “Nantucket,” is an anglicization of the Algonquian name for the “distant, desolate” island.
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Nantucket was the world’s most important whaling port. In Moby Dick, for example, Herman Melville writes that: “Two thirds of this terraqueous globe are the Nantucketer’s. For the sea is his; he owns it, as Emperors own empires.” The book’s protagonists, Ishmael and Queequeg, begin their adventure by shipping aboard a whaling vessel in Nantucket.
Get Here by Ferry or Plane.
Dress Code: Optional Khaki.
Check out the Cobblestones.
Today, Nantucket is a popular summer resort that’s rich in natural beauty and history. In the late nineteenth century, the island’s shipping, fishing, and whaling economy collapsed suddenly, so much of the island’s architecture predates 1900. The National Park Service calls Nantucket the “finest surviving architectural and environmental example” of a classic New England seaport.
The Nantucket Whaling Museum is dedicated to the island’s illustrious eighteenth- and nineteenth-century whaling history. The museum occupies a former spermaceti candle factory, where workers converted sperm oil from hunted whales into candles. The museum includes numerous artifacts from whaling vessels, portraits and photos of sea captains, and the reassembled skeleton of a massive sperm whale.
The Jethro Coffin House is, most likely, the oldest surviving residence on Nantucket. The Coffin family built the wooden saltbox house as a wedding gift for Jethro Coffin and Mary Gardner in 1686. At that time, only several hundred English settlers lived on Nantucket and Coffin and Gardner came from rival families. Their marriage helped soothe tensions between the island’s original proprietors and its tradesmen.
Sankaty Head Light is located on the eastern tip of Nantucket island, in Siasconset. The island completed the brick and granite lighthouse, which is still in operation, in 1850. Like other lighthouses in the area, Sankaty Head Light was one of the first American lighthouses to use a Fresnel lens. While, today, the automated lighthouse uses new technology, visitors can view the original Fresnel lens in the Nantucket Whaling Museum.
Brant Point Light is located on Nantucket Sound, facing Cape Cod. The island built the first lighthouse on Brant Point in 1746, although it had to replace this original lighthouse and eight others on the point because fires, strong winds, and erosion destroyed the structures. The island built the current lighthouse, which still stands, in 1901. Today, Brant Point Light is both a popular tourist destination and a working lighthouse.
There are many beaches on Nantucket, but Madaket Beach is one of the island’s most beautiful and serene. The beach is located on the west side of the island, where the waves are higher and rougher, which makes it a favorite spot for surfers, windsurfers, and boogie boarders. The beach is usually less crowded than others on the island, although, in the late afternoon, locals and visitors often gather on Madaket Beach to watch the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.