“Here in New England, the character is strong and unshakable.”– Normal Rockwell
In 2015, my wife Corinne and I finally took a weekend trip to Nantucket Island, located off Massachusetts’s south coast. There we celebrated our anniversary but did so in a distinctive style. Although the weekend followed no primary schedule, we took in the history, scenery, and beauty of this fantastic island. When we left, we were not surprised by how wonderful the trip was, but wondered why it took so long to visit in the first place. We knew we found a place where we would travel again. If for no other reason, to feel the majesty of the island environment and be taken aback by the splendor of the ocean water as it crashed onto our feet as we walked along the lovely beach.
I am a born and raised New Englander, one who grew up able to see the local harbor from the bedroom window. I do not feel calm or at peace if I am without access to an ocean. This need to live “oceanically” is one reason I found myself living in Hawaii by 2010. If I was going to work towards a Ph.D., I thought, why not study on a gorgeous tropical island surrounded by water. After my wife and I moved back, we found ourselves living in Salem and, once again, had a window with views of the ocean and a sense of peace. The ocean is essential to me, and being as close as possible to it, is vital to who I am as an individual. Nantucket is the perfect example of a location that can instantly recharge my core emotional battery in that way. Just by setting foot on the island, feeling the ocean breeze, and observing the ocean’s vastness from the roof of the Whaling Museum or coastal road, I appear centered.
Planning Our Weekend Sojourn
“To this boy of New England the May morning was like faint music in the woods again, some unspeakably exciting foregathering of events far in the deep shade of morning pines, all of it stirring there. He could hear it all faintly in the woods from far away, from across the fields and pastures, in the cool misty morning air, and he wanted to go there too.”– Jack Kerouac
My wife and I were married on Cape Cod, although we were living in Hawaii at the time. Nothing like leaving Hawaii to get married down the Cape and then returning to Honolulu and reverting to everyday life. So, while we eventually took a Hawaiian cruise celebrating our wedding, which I will discuss later, we delayed our honeymoon. Yes, living in Hawaii did not qualify as a honeymoon. At least that’s what my wife told me when I pondered the thought several years ago. We decided when the time was right, we would travel someplace special, but doing so once we moved back to Massachusetts. It took us a little while to get settled, and then the thought faded. That was until 2015 when my wife came to me with an idea.
My wife plans the best trips. I mean, she is fantastic. Her ability to choose lodging, eateries, and entertainment is a truly impeccable skill, one I share only slightly. I have discussed her abilities endlessly on this blog, but since she is the first person to read all my posts, I will do so again because it’s true! In all sincerity, Corinne came to me one afternoon to suggest a weekend trip to Nantucket. While we had been to Martha’s Vineyard numerous times together and with family, Nantucket always seemed at arm’s length. More expensive, a little further away, and not nearly as crowded or business-oriented, we constantly bypassed Nantucket for its seemingly more energetic neighbor island. As someone who loved my trips to Cape Cod, I never wanted to waste time being transported, by ferry, to Nantucket. Older and inspired, when Corinne suggested it, I immediately supported her idea.
Once we decided to go, my wife took it from there. First, she selected the weekend, which would be one week after Memorial Day, classified as offseason and lower prices. This “offseason” mark was necessary since where we stayed and what we did, for the most part, would have been outside our modest budget. With prices low, my wife jumped at booking us our lodging. She chose, The Nantucket Hotel & Resort. For now, I will say that it recently ranked number one for the best luxury hotel in America according to TripAdvisor users as part of the 2020 Travelers’ Choice Awards. While many New England and Massachusetts hotels were recognized, the Nantucket Hotel was on top, and I will admit, is well deserved. It is easily my favorite hotel and stands beside the Waikoloa Beach Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii, The Liberty Hotel in Boston, and Aulani Disney Resort & Spa on Oahu, as my top hotel stays. While I will say more about the resort in a moment, once my wife chose the hotel, we picked out some of the things we wanted to accomplish without a plan written in stone.
Corinne booked the hotel, transportation and found some eateries. Once the weekend arrived and our bags were packed, we departed from our home to Hyannis, Massachusetts. We decided to stay over on Cape Cod the evening before our departure to Nantucket since we loved Hyannis and our ferry to the island was early in the morning. This way, we were only a short drive to the dock, rather than a nearly two-hour drive. When we did arrive at our hotel in Hyannis, we checked in, went and grabbed some dinner, and then drinks at Cape Cod Beer. Cape Cod Beer is a staple in the area, a regular stop on my Cape’s brewery tours during the summer months. This fact is especially true when my wife’s family, including me, do a week’s long family vacation in Mashpee each summer. The brewery has a few year-round regular options and often a couple of seasonal choices – all of which are delicious. Overall, it was a brief stay on the Cape, but it did what we needed it to do.
Day ONE: A Beautiful Hotel, Nantucket History & Cisco Beer
“The Nantucketer, he alone resides and rests on the sea. He alone… goes down to it in ships… There is his home.”– Herman Melville
We got up early for our ferry from the Hyannis Cruise Terminal to Nantucket. We grabbed Starbucks, which included coffees and breakfast sandwiches, and then drove a couple of miles and parked at the terminal lot. We only had to walk a couple of blocks to the ferry boarding entrance, but once there we handed over our tickets, and boarded the ferry. The ship departed not long after. The Hyannis to Nantucket ferry is part of the Steamship Authority, and you can leave from the same dock to go to Martha’s Vineyard. Still, you can, just as quickly, travel from New Bedford or Woods Hole if those locations are more convenient. Hyannis’ trip to Nantucket is slightly longer than two hours, but there is a high-speed option, much faster, under an hour, and more expensive. We took the leisurely choice with plenty of time and enjoyed the voyage to the island. Onboard we could sit either inside or on the deck, and food/drink was available, which allowed us to get another coffee. Out on the deck, with our coffee, we enjoyed the morning air as the ferry cut across Nantucket Sound, which is 750 square miles of water and seabed, known for the “remarkable richness of biological diversity… the Sound remains an area of significant scientific research.”
After a smooth journey, we arrived at Straight Wharf, the ferry terminal on Nantucket. There we departed, and to our astonishment, The Nantucket Hotel & Resort shuttle van was waiting for us. The amazing resort staff had contacted us a few days before, seeking our arrival details, and told us they would be waiting for us when we arrived, and sure enough, they were. Sure, we probably could have walked from the terminal to the resort, but, “when in Rome!” It was precisely a five-minute ride, and the driver was terrific and offered some helpful hints and suggestions to make our stay easy. We were grateful, and when he pulled into the main driveway, outside the hotel’s front entrance, we could not get over how truly stunning the building was.
Located on Easton Street, one block from White Elephant Village, two blocks from another luxury hotel, the White Elephant, and a ten-minute walk to the beach and Brant Point Lighthouse, The Nantucket Hotel & Resort has a classic New England architectural design. With shingles, rocking chairs on the deck space, a whale weathervane, and a stunning front staircase with a grand entrance, we did feel we were walking into a luxury hotel. After being greeted at the front door by a hotel manager and offered coffee or water, we checked in. The main lobby was gorgeous, with a beautiful nautical theme throughout and decorated perfectly to reflect the area, history, and beaming with a vibrancy Nantucket is known for, and guests appreciate. Once checked in, the manager informed us that since our trip was to celebrate our anniversary, the hotel graciously upgraded our room from a studio to a suite, with some goodies thrown in. Although we were excited to examine the room, the manager told us that the room needed a few more minutes to prepare since we had arrived well before our check-in time, but they could easily accommodate us. They let us know that, in the meantime, we could enjoy the complimentary breakfast, even though this was still not technically our check-in time yet. So, refusing to miss out on a made-to-order breakfast buffet on a three-season deck with views of the ocean, Corinne and I sat down for coffee and delicious food.
Breakfast was superb, and while I had coffee, eggs, toast, tons of fruit, and plenty of other things, the best part was sitting outside with my wife in Nantucket. Shortly after finishing our breakfast and with our room ready, we decided to drop off our bags before making our way to the Nantucket Downtown Historic District, where we would explore for the next couple of days. With our room upgraded and excited beyond belief, we entered the room, or should I say suite, and were impressed by what we observed and felt, well, lucky. The suite was beautiful with exquisite decorations, including blue/white color combinations, plenty of ocean imagery, and whales, which are my favorite. Hey, I grew up in New Bedford, MA. I have to love whales and nautically-themed decorations. In the end, the room was genuinely high-end, and we were delighted to spend two nights/three days in these accommodations.
Although stunned by the hotel’s glamorous esthetic and our beautiful room, we decided to explore downtown. Departing the hotel, we walked down the cobblestone-laden path of N. Water Street, lined with historic homes offering a classic New England feel. This street is a perfect connector and a scenic route to take since it brought us to Broad Street, where we observed the traditional brick Town Clerk office building and our next destination, The Whaling Museum. Housed in an 1846 candle factory, the museum focuses on the island’s history and its link to the economic behemoth that was early American whaling. As I have written before, I grew up in New Bedford, the whaling capital, so I thought very little about Nantucket’s position and history within the early-American industry. Still, it had a large part to play in the development and advancement of the trade before New Bedford took over by the early to mid-1800s. Since Nantucket had a Whaling Museum and my wife and I are historians, this made for a logical first stop.
With several permanent and “rotating exhibitions in 9 premium galleries, with over a thousand works of art, artifacts, and treasures on display,” the Whaling Museum tells Nantucket Island’s “fascinating stories over four centuries.” Home to a “46-foot sperm whale skeleton, a massive Fresnel lens… and a relaxing, fully-accessible rooftop deck offers stunning views of Nantucket harbor.” The spectacular views of Nantucket Harbor from Tucker’s Roofwalk are incredible. Corinne and I spent a few hours at the museum exploring every inch and taking more pictures than is humanly needed. The artifacts on display were outstanding. The staff was well versed and helpful, and the rotating exhibit that day was designed around the 1820 sperm whale attack, which sunk the Essex, thus inspiring Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. It’s a haunting and horrifying true story of survival, one that shaped Nantucket’s history since the ship, its captain, and most of the crew hailed from Nantucket. I am knowledgeable about the historical event ever since I read Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, which I recommend to everyone.
I could have spent days at the museum, and if anyone from the museum is reading this and wants to offer me a job, call me! Seriously though, the museum was marvelous, and while my heart will always be with the New Bedford Whaling Museum, the one in Nantucket is one of the best museums I have ever visited. After merely hours on the island, Nantucket offered one of the best hotels and best museums. What on earth could top any of that? Well, once departing the museum Corinne and I required lunch. Corinne selected the eatery based on some online sleuthing and the fact that we wanted sandwiches, but in a unique setting. So, she chose Nantucket Pharmacy.
I know that may sound strange; lunch in a pharmacy. Yes, the eatery does have a pharmacy, but it has a cute lunch counter where you can get sandwiches and frappes. I had a tuna sandwich, which hit the spot. After several hours of history and emotional interaction, a nice leisurely and quiet lunch at an old-school type of soda shop was what we wanted. Once we had satisfied our lunch needs, we had one more thing to do before going back to the hotel. Sure, we had more walking “history” to do later, but we required something to drink. Outside of the US Postal Service Office on Federal Street is a pick-up area that offers a complimentary shuttle to Nantucket’s only brewery, Cisco Brewers. I have enjoyed, oh let’s be honest, loved Cisco flavored beers for many years but had never appreciated it from the tap. So, with our first day on Nantucket going fantastic, Corinne and I boarded the shuttle, and about ten minutes later, or 2.5 miles away, we arrived at Cisco Brewers.
“Established in Nantucket, Brewed for New England,” Cisco Brewers is a beautiful brewery. Rustic and located on Bartlett Farm Road, adjacent to Nantucket Vineyard, this is an outdoor brewery in every way. The brewery has several places to order beer, tons of tables, both outside and under large tents, and one cabin where you purchase merchandise, and an area where food trucks and other outside vendors set up so patrons can buy food. My beer of choice is the “Whales Tale,” a Pale Ale and ABV 5.6% | IBU 40. As the website explains, the beer was named to honor “Nantucket’s whaling history.” The beer is perfectly “balanced with Maris Otter malt, hints of crystal malt, and generously hopped with East Kent Goldings, it has a rich honey color and fruity hop aroma. A wink to Melville’s Moby Dick, Whale’s Tale is full of character,” and not only “goes down easy,” but with enjoyment each time. Corinne and I sat outside, with live music playing, and drank a few delicious beers as the sunset beyond the shore in the sky.
With our beers consumed, the ocean savored, and the sun setting, Corinne and I waited for the complimentary shuttle. Once aboard, we traveled back to downtown Nantucket, only about 2.5 miles away. Soon we were at the Nantucket Hotel and anxiously sprinting into our epically awesome room. There we took a breather after what was a full day, and it wasn’t even dinner. As we often do, no matter the trip, we took a rest, although truth told, we did walk around the hotel to explore. After a successful break, we departed the hotel, again, to do a slight walking tour before going to dinner. Upon leaving the hotel, we gallivanted towards the Jethro Coffin House, known as the “Oldest House on Sunset Hill.” According to the website, Built-in 1686, the Jethro Coffin House is understood to be the “oldest residence on Nantucket still on its original site.” This time frame was when Nantucket’s English population was roughly five hundred, but the local Wampanoag numbered nearly two thousand. After walking the grounds, we strolled back towards downtown along Lily Pond Park, on N. Liberty Street. Then headed up Lily Street and took a moment to observe the First Congregational Church in Nantucket, which has served the local communities’ religious needs since the early 1700s.
After this enjoyable walk, we went back to the waterfront/dock area and visited The Rose and Crown, a pub on S. Water Street. Known for its burgers, seafood, and live music, The Rose and Crown’s located in an entertaining space, with lots of energy and something for everyone to eat. Corinne and I ordered the New England Chowder to start, as well as a beer, and then dug into some burgers and fries, which were delicious and cooked perfectly. Corinne and I walked around the waterfront area with dinner done, observing historic sites, monuments, and gorgeous old homes. We finished our evening taking pictures at Gardiner’s Corner City Sign, located on the corner of Salem and Washington, which I posted below, because, well, words cannot describe this wicked excellent sign. With more walking to do the next day, Corinne and I strolled to The Nantucket Hotel and called it a night. It was a phenomenal first day on Nantucket, but day two awaited us, and we were excited to greet it with smiling faces and, of course, our walking shoes.
Day TWO: A Walk Around Historic Downtown, Beach Visit & Delicious Food
“[The Nantucketer] lives on the sea… For years he knows not the land; so that when he comes to it at last, it smells like another world, more strangely than the moon would to an Earthman.”– Herman Melville
I woke up on day two with an energy that is not uncommon when I travel. So, I went for a jog. Departing the Nantucket Hotel, I headed down Easton Street towards the water and then took a left on Hulbert Avenue, keeping the ocean to my right and tons of beautiful homes to my left. I headed towards “The Shoe,” which is the Nantucket Cliff Range Lighthouse, and Steps Beach. Once I reached the beach, I headed back to the hotel. In total, I put in a four-mile run, which is impressive for a vacation run. But surrounded by the beautiful ocean, warm sun, blue sky, and the Nantucket landscape, it might have been the most leisurely run I have accomplished on vacation. When I returned to the Nantucket Hotel, Corinne was already outside, sitting in a rocking chair, coffee in hand. She suggested going for smoothies, and I was game! So, we walked about 1.5 miles and visited The Green, where we ordered delicious smoothies. We sat outside and enjoyed ourselves in what was a beautiful Nantucket sun, with no clouds in the sky.
After our smoothies, we went back to the hotel to clean up, get a full breakfast and coffee in the hotel, on the patio similar to our first day, and eventually descended on the downtown area. We first headed to the center of town by way of Center Street, another beautiful street lined with historic homes. The first stop was the Captain George Pollard House, owned by the man who captained the Essex on its fateful voyage to the South Pacific. Then we continued to the Nantucket Downtown Historic District’s direct center, where we stopped by the Nantucket Atheneum. On August 10, 1841, the incredible Frederick Douglass, who had traveled from New Bedford, attended the island’s first anti-slavery meeting after having impressed William Coffin. The latter heard Douglass speak in New Bedford. His address at the Great Hall of the Nantucket Atheneum changed his life, as he met Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, and, well, the rest, as they say, is history. Being able to gaze upon such a significant historical landmark, where Douglass, one of the most influential American figures, spoke on the horrors of slavery, was an emotionally reflective moment.
In the downtown center, we walked by several famous homes, like the Hadwen House, Thomas Macy House, and the Historic Mitchell house, which included a short walk to the Loines Observatory. While observing these homes, we took a quick detour to examine the Soldiers and Sailors Civil War Monument, located in the center of a corner downtown. The monument is uniquely and strangely ideally situated near some outstanding homes, but its placement ensures people will stop, read the inscription, and offer respect. Then, only a short walk through Mill Hill Park, we came upon Old Mill. Old Mill’s a restored 1746 windmill that we walked around, with no one else insight, which allowed us to survey the property and take our time alone. The morning’s weather was beautiful, and this opportunity for Corinne and me to take in as much of the historic area as possible was meaningful. But, feeling hungry, we walked to Corinne’s choice of eatery for lunch. Sure, it required a little extra walking, about 1.3 miles from Old Mill, but Something Natural was naturally worth it.
Around 1 pm, Corinne and I made our way to Something Natural, where we ate incredible, healthy, and unique sandwiches on picnic tables outside on a spacious property. Something Natural is a pretty well-known restaurant and a popular place frequented by locals. We were eager and excited to give it a try. It did not disappoint, and we ended up spending over an hour eating, relaxing, and enjoying this time together outside, on Nantucket. Once we finished, we walked down Cliff Road towards The Nantucket Hotel, but we continued past and stayed on Easton Street to the ocean rather than going in. We took off our shoes at the water and let the sand bury our feet as we walked near the 1901 Brant Point Lighthouse, the 9th light station built on this spot since colonial times. After walking the lighthouse’s exterior grounds, we found a nice area, mere yards away, and sat down overlooking the ocean. As we breathed in the ocean air, this was probably one of the most relaxing, emotionally fulfilling thirty minutes we spent on Nantucket. Still, to this day, I fell in love with Nantucket at that moment. I became struck in the same way I fell for Hawaii as I sat near Sandy Beach, just outside Honolulu.
As you can imagine, this time at the beach, even though the waves were choppy, the water chilly, and we didn’t go in, was relaxing. After some time at the beach, we headed back to the hotel to rest before walking downtown for dinner. If you are going to take an opportunity to relax at a hotel, please do it at The Nantucket Hotel. Oh my, this is a relaxing place. While we didn’t nap the entire time, we did take the opportunity to get ourselves a coffee and sat outside on a private deck overlooking the historic district. Coffee enjoyed and rested, with some sweet moments on the patio with thoughtful contemplation experienced; we departed for dinner in Downton Nantucket. We had initially expected to go to a seafood eatery but were in the mood for chicken, ribs, and steak, so we decided to call an audible and visit a barbecue restaurant. We went to B-ACK Yard BBQ. The perfect name for a restaurant on Nantucket.
Offering homemade craft beers, great BBQ plates, and great sides, B-ACK Yard BBQ offered up plenty of delicious options. Chicken, pulled pork, brisket, and more, we were both impressed and easily satisfied. We were able to check off our food needs and do so in a way that provided unique options. That evening, we had a great dinner and some excellent ice cream as we walked around the waterfront and visited several local merchant shops. We ended the night that way, walking the town with no real goal and taking in the crisp cool air on a beautiful night. Once back at the hotel, we relaxed and called it a night, knowing that our departure time would be upon us by lunch the following day. The sun was setting on Nantucket, the hotel, and our stay on the island, but there was still one last sunrise remaining, and we were excited to lay eyes on it.
Voyaging Across Nantucket Sound, One Last Time
“With the landless gull, that at sunset folds her wings and is rocked to sleep between billows; so at nightfall the Nantucketer, out of sight of land, furls his sails, and lays him to his rest, while under his very pillow rush herds of walruses and whales.”– Herman Melville
We spent our last morning on Nantucket Island with an early rise and a visit to the impressive hotel gym. Then Corinne and I enjoyed our last opportunity to eat the hotel’s fantastic breakfast. It didn’t disappoint. There is nothing like eating an inspired breakfast with piping hot coffee outside with wonderful ocean breezes. We spent an hour at the hotel restaurant and then begrudgingly went back to the room to pack. We said our goodbyes to the lovely room and proceeded to the lobby, where the hotel provided us a free shuttle to the ferry terminal for our journey back to Hyannis. Once we boarded the ferry, we had a pleasant, relaxing two-hour voyage, and after departing, in Hyannis, we retrieved our car and traveled home. There, officially, ended our Nantucket weekend.
Often, on this blog, I reserve the first post of the month for a travel story. Thus, April kicked off with my travel memory of that incredible weekend, with my wife Corinne, on the island of Nantucket. April will become a month, somewhat, devoted to New England in some way. Since travel is not possible, these travel posts regularly allow me to relive those moments, those that make life worth living. Even my half marathon posts enable me to step back to a time when I could and did travel to broaden my horizons and expand my understandings.
Whether a trip to Philadelphia to watch a baseball game with friends or to traverse Denver and Brooklyn with my brother to run 13.1 miles or exploring Ireland with my mother, or Guatemala with my wife’s family – these trips make me who I am and who I plan to continue being once the pandemic ends. I will continue to relive more trips and bring you all along as I document the places I have been, things I have seen, foods I have eaten, and of course, honor those who joined me on these ventures. Until next time…