Globetrotting is a no-go this summer, so thank goodness our own backyard is pretty sweet. In New England, we’re incredibly lucky to have so much diversity — mountains, beaches, woodlands, rivers, and ocean — within a short drive away.
Of course, some of our glories are far-flung, like Nantucket, that luscious little landmass that lies 30 miles out to sea. Nantucket has its posh side, for sure, but there’s so much more to this 49-square-mile island than mega-yachts and mansions. Namely, it’s the landscape, with its moors (some 400 acres are known as Nantucket’s Serengeti), coastal heathlands, and magnificent birdlife, including migrants you won’t see anyplace else in the region.
All of this makes Nantucket Island an amazing outdoor playground — and a wonderful place to bring kids. “It was primarily families who built Nantucket into the world-class destination it is today. Since whaling’s decline, Nantucket reinvented itself as a family destination,” says Kristie Ferrantella, acting CEO of the Nantucket Chamber. Here’s how to experience the best of the island with small fry in tow.
Brewskis and babies
Head to a brewpub these days, and prepare to be astonished by the number of: a) big shiny tanks; b) varieties of beer; c) children. The answer is c. Brewpubs have become Family Central these days. Not just about the beer anymore, they often sell elevated pub grub and host live music outdoors. In Nantucket, Cisco Brewers (508-325-5929; www.ciscobrewersnantucket.com) fills the bill, with food trucks and (with luck) live music later this summer.
Yay! For beach days
It’s named “Children’s Beach” for a reason. Located near Steamship Wharf, this beach is lapped by gentle, shallow water, perfect for family swimming and tide pool exploration. There’s also a grassy field for romping around, a playground, restrooms, and a snack bar. If the kids are older, and into boogie boarding and body surfing, head to Nobadeer Beach, a reliable spot for wave action.
Follow a fairy trail
Inspired by a third-grade class at Nantucket Elementary School, the Fairy House Trail is a short loop managed by the Nantucket Landbank properties (508-228-7240; www.nantucketlandbank.org). Kids make these enchanting little abodes with natural materials — there are five so far — and set them up along the trail. A sign marks the trailhead, located off Milestone Road (directly across from Tawpoot Road).
. . . Or take a storybook walk
Let this be the summer you get acquainted with the Linda Loring Nature Foundation (508-325-0873; www.llnf.org), a local advocate for bird research, conservation, and education. Along the Story Walk, families hike a nature trail with a series of posted pages from a children’s storybook. New stories are posted regularly. There’s also a self-guided interpretive Nature Walk on property, and naturalist-led biodiversity walks on Fridays at 10 a.m. “For me the intrinsic beauty of Nantucket’s nature is what makes the island truly special,” says Seth Engelbourg, naturalist educator and program manager at the foundation. “With over 50 percent of the land in permanent conservation, the island has successfully protected its rare and endangered species for generations to come.”
A playground and then some
Surely you didn’t come all this way to go to a playground — or did you? Opened in September, the Discovery Playground at Hinsdale Park (50 Old South Road) is accessible for children of all abilities, and it offers fun elements galore: three ziplines, plus swings, slides, and climbing structures. The picnic tables are topped with checkerboards. The playground abuts a trail system (more hiking!), a labyrinth, and a ball field. After all this, everyone will need a nap. Please follow social distancing guidelines, and if the playground looks crowded, come back another time. 508-228-7240; www.nantucketlandbank.org
Visit a lighthouse (or two)
Seeing a lighthouse — not something most of us have in our own backyards — is always a fun diversion. Nantucket’s Brant Point Lighthouse is a long walk (or short bike ride) from Nantucket Town. At this plummy spot, watch ferries and pleasure craft come and go, collect seashells, and enjoy the pleasures of sandy toes and sunshine. Then there’s the ‘Sconset Bluff Walk, a stroll that winds from the rose-covered cottages of Siasconset to Sankaty Head Lighthouse along the bluffs of the eastern shore. You’ll go through a small neighborhood of homes, sticking to a marked public way that begins near 21 Front St. that leads down a bluff to the Atlantic Ocean. Due to erosion, the last half-mile of the trail is gone, so you’ll walk the last bit along Baxter Road (not a busy route). Be mindful of where you’re going so you don’t end up tromping through someone’s yard.
Walk on the wild side
Are we overdoing the hiking stuff? Sorry! But on Nantucket, it’s easy to get carried away. One of the most pristine places on the entire island is the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge (508-228-6799; www.thetrustees.org). This two-fingered peninsula sits between the Atlantic Ocean and Nantucket Sound, a wondrous setting that showcases Nantucket’s natural bounty. Deer, seals, shorebirds, and horseshoe crabs reside here, within a wonderland of habitats: coastal forest, red cedar savannah, salt marsh, sand dunes, uplands, and tidal ponds, laced with 16 miles of trails. For a kid-friendly hike, try Coskata Woods Trail, best explored at low tide.
Whale of a time
Now open for the season, the Nantucket Whaling Museum is a portal to four centuries of island history. Its nine galleries are stuffed with more than 1,000 objects, including one so massive, you can’t miss it: a 46-foot-long sperm whale skeleton. The new Discovery Center is an indoor-outdoor space designed for families. Neptune’s Grotto has the appeal of an old curiosity shop, with its tusked walrus skull, whale’s jaw, and other intriguing artifacts. Enjoy panoramic views of Nantucket harbor and downtown Nantucket from Tucker’s Roofwalk. To experience it this year, reserve a time to visit (occupancy limits are in place) and purchase tickets online. Open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; $20 adults; $5 youth: 508-228-1894; www.nha.org
This year, it’s all about eating outdoors. One of the island’s primo lunch spots is Something Natural (508-228-0504; www.somethingnatural.com). Order inside and dine al fresco on their shaded lawn. A sunset picnic on Madaket Beach is one of Nantucket’s pure pleasures. For a DIY feast, try Millie’s in Madaket (508-228-8435; www.milliesnantucket.com), purveyor of tasty sandwiches and salads packed to take away. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (outdoor dining only), Island Kitchen (508-228-2639; www.nantucketislandkitchen.com) boasts one feature that most kids adore: house-made ice cream. Bartlett’s Farm (508-228-9403; www.bartlettsfarm.com), Nantucket’s oldest and largest farm, offers a selection of grab-and-go dinner specials; between that and their beach cookout fixings (and lovely produce), you’ll make out just fine.
For more information: www.nantucketchamber.org
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com