6 Family-Friendly Nostalgic Activities To Do During Your Nantucket Vacation

Sunset over harbor in Nantucket

A well-rounded family vacation can take time to plan right. With the kids craving an endless variety of adventures and adults seeking a calming and rejuvenating escape, striking a balance can leave either party frustrated and short-changed. Thankfully, Nantucket has mastered the art of family vacation.

Vacation Nantucket style with a stay at one of the island’s charming family-friendly home rentals. The Grey Lady is famous for its shingle-style houses, and locals go the extra mile to preserve this tradition. You can rent a home for a week or more and enjoy a unique, refreshed, timeless ambiance that stays true to the island’s original charm and heritage.

New England’s most sought-after travel destination has been creating a buzz recently, with good reason. The visually stunning landscapes, rich history and culture, sun-kissed beaches, and fascinating sunsets make this scenic island worth exploring with the kids.

Here’s a round-up of Nantucket’s most nostalgic activities that will satiate your entire family’s travel bug. Your tots will be compelled to get off their phones and live in the moment.

This post is part of our series discover the USA

1. Explore the Beaches

The perfect way to soak in the rejuvenating island breeze is by heading out to the beach. With over 80 miles of idyllic coastline, one thing is sure- the pristine Nantucket beaches are where the action happens. 

Prepare to throw down a towel and soak up the sun in this little slice of New England paradise. Hit up family-friendly beaches like Children’s Beach, Siasconset Beach, and Jetties Beach. These beaches are magnets for vacationers with tots, thanks to their jaw-dropping swathes of pillowy sand, mellow crowds, calm surf, and a playground. 

Beach in Nantucket

When you’re not swimming in the calm waters or building sandcastles with your brood, stop by Cisco Beach. A surfer’s paradise, Cisco beach is a hot ticket for strong swimmers who enjoy paddle boarding and body surfing.  

Nantucket is famous for its stunning beaches, but that fame means a more crowded and noisy swathe of sand. Ditch the chaos and head over to White water tower Beach for a calmer experience. There’s nothing much on the beach which makes it even more appealing.

2. Visit the Whaling Museum

If you need a break from the sweeping beaches, head to the Whaling Museum. Nantucket’s rich history and culture make this an appealing choice for kids. A must-visit in its own right- the iconic whaling museum is devoted to showcasing Nantucket’s whaling history, the rich marine life, and shipwrecks dating back to 300 years. 

Located at Broad Street along Nantucket, the Whaling Museum is home to over a thousand pieces of artifacts, arts, and treasures paying homage to the island’s fascinating heritage spanning over four centuries.

The Museum is undoubtedly a masterful balance; on board is an intriguing 46-foot sperm whale skeleton, a restored 19th-century candle factory, and a large Fresnel lens. While making a beeline for the sperm whale relic, don’t miss the galleries and exhibitions which tell ancient tales. Enjoy films, spotlight tours, and explore the Discovery center. 

Before you leave, climb the staircase or take the elevator to Tucker’s rooftop deck and take in postcard-worthy views of the Nantucket harbor. 

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3. Embark on a Cruise Tour

If you are a thrill seeker eager to explore Nantucket’s hidden seaside gems, it’s worth setting sail aboard a cruise. You’ll find several all-suite cruise lines on the island, each with unique sailings to suit specific tastes.

cruise boats in the harbor Nantucket MA at sunset

Exploring Nantucket on a cruise gives you an up close and intimate view of the island. Behold rare sightings and the staggering beauty of the island’s sea life when you book a cruise tour. Even the surliest kid will be intrigued by the exotic marine life, such as seals, dolphins, and whales, and drop at once-in-a-lifetime views. It’s no wonder family expedition cruises are soaring in popularity.

There are several kid-friendly cruise tours available, including a critter cruise to fish and catch crabs and lobsters or an oyster tour to learn about the history of oyster farming and, while at it, sample a few oyster delicacies. Another failsafe option is to book a whaling history tour and see the iconic landmarks of the Nantucket Whaling era.

Alternatively, sign up for a kids’ boating and fishing trip, a clamming excursion, a harbor eco-tour, or an ice cream cruise and savor various ice cream flavors, including gluten-free and non-dairy options waters.

4. See the Lighthouses

Perched at the entrance to natural harbors and gorgeous bays, lighthouses have been navigation safety aids for decades. They alert seafarers of rocky reefs, coastlines, and invisible shoals and sandbars during high tide. Lighthouses are distinct landmarks because they stand out with their distinct shapes and colors. 

Nantucket is home to some of the most captivating lighthouses. At the northern tip of the island within the Coskata Coatue Wildlife Reserve, you’ll find the historic Great Point Lighthouse. The 60ft lighthouse was built in 1818, and although it is difficult to access, the rip currents create one of the best fishing spots.

Lighthouse in Nantucket

Another is Sankaty Head Lighthouse, which sits at the island’s eastern end in Sconset. At 70 ft tall, it overlooks a steep eroding bluff. While on the ground, you can enjoy stunning views of the Sankaty Head Golf Club. 

Finally, Brant Point Lighthouse is a few miles from the heart of downtown. Built in 1756 and at 26 ft tall, Brant Point is the place to watch boats and ferries come and go at the harbor. This lighthouse is the most popular of the three since it’s visible to every ferry vacationer.

5. Go Shopping

Shopping is the antidote if you want to experience a travel destination more intimately. You get to soak in the local fashion and culture while picking up stylish reminders and timeless souvenirs of your vacation.

When it comes to shopping, options are limitless in Nantucket. You’ll find everything from haute couture stores showcasing designer brands to ultra-luxe boutiques, eclectic stores, antique shops, and thrift stores. Your family will find vintage trinkets, handmade jewelry, and souvenirs to suit every style and taste.

If you’re looking for something gorgeous with a bit of history, pick up an authentic Nantucket Reds from Murray Toggery Shop. The best part is you can get matching outfits for the entire family to serve as a memory of your vacation.

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Nantucket Looms is the best place for luxury handwoven textiles, including upholstery fabrics and mohair throws, garments and quilts, local artworks, and antique furniture. Don’t leave the island without snapping up a bargain on one of the Nantucket Lightship Baskets.

6. Biking

A fun way to experience Nantucket and feel the island’s pulse is by bike. Hop on bikes with the tots and gaze at the island’s wonders from two wheels. Nantucket is your quintessential biking paradise, complete with spectacular vistas and serene landscapes as a backdrop.

The island has over 30 miles of paved paths and bike trails that snake through scenic beaches, historical sights, and lighthouses. Favorite paths include Madaket, Nobadeer, Sconset, Milestone, Polpis, and Cliff loops.

Ride through the Polpis trail for a glimpse of Nantucket’s cranberry bogs. The Sconset trail is a tad longer at about 18 miles so pack up a water bottle or two before exploring this scenic route. If you want a shorter path that won’t wear down the kids, try out the Madaket loop. At 14 miles, you get to see some of the island’s most diverse and dramatic scenery.

Alternatively, you can join a guided bike tour and explore the island stress-free. No bike? There are numerous bike rental shops on the island. You can rent a bike from Wheels of Delight, Young’s Bike Rental, or Nantucket Bike Shop.

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bridge to famous lighthouse in nantucket MA
lighthouse at sunset on Nantucket island cape cod - nostalgic family activities in Nantucket

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