The kid-friendly perfection of Nantucket
In Nantucket, the White Elephant Hotel sits next to Children’s Beach. (Stephen Boitano/LPI)
Nantucket, that handsome, blue blooded island off the coast of Massachusetts’ Cape Cod is the “just right” Goldilocks choice of kid-friendly summer destinations along the United States’ eastern seaboard.
At three-and-a-half miles by 14 miles long, the island is contained enough to navigate without a car, but big enough to explore for days. It has great beaches, quality family attractions and is devoid of could-be-anywhere low-quality amusements like go-karts, hair braiding and mini-golf. While mostly residential, the island has a wide selection of low-key accommodation options. And it has dining choices that eschew fast food chains -- though perhaps they should make an exception for Starbucks given the island’s role in the inspiration of the novel, Moby-Dick. It has everything you need for a family vacation, and brilliantly, nothing more.
The only downside is the high cost of vacationing there, but with great expense comes great service, and it has done a good job of curtailing modern commercial blight and crowds. The island’s long slow trend from being a romantic getaway to a family one has merely extended its high standards to a wider age range.
Despite the wealth and exponentially increasing property values on the island, none of Nantucket’s more than 80 miles of beach are privately owned. The first, and most revisited, on our four-day trip this June, was Children’s Beach. The only beach in the island’s small main town (also called Nantucket and the loci for the whole island since the early 1700s), Children’s has a playground, a small field and a stage with organized activities for kids. I was initially underwhelmed, because it is more of a park than a beach and moored boats float 30ft from the sand, but my four-year-old daughter, Alice, found something that made it hugely attractive to her: fast new friends with whom to splash in the shallows and climb on the jungle gym.
Jetties Beach, just north of town, was the family crowd pleaser with a far expanse of warm, shallow water, a decent concession stand and -- while we were there -- seal sightings. Less crowded Surfside, directly south from Nantucket town, was farther away and had fewer food options, but the waves were bigger, which is more fun for the boogie board set. Public buses can take you there, Jetties and Madaket, on the western end of the island, which has no on-beach services other than a portable toilet, but is the best spot to watch the sunset.
Our only overly ambitious parenting decision (read: mistake) was to bike nearly eight miles out to the east end of the island, to the village of Quidnet, where my wife stayed on family trips throughout her childhood. Its beach is lovely, and the neighbouring Sesachacha Pond offers an alternative to chilly ocean temperatures, but the hot journey and lack of lunch options made the children overheated, cranky messes.
My heatwave folly aside, biking is a fun way to get out of Nantucket town, especially to areas not serviced by the local buses, such as Quidnet. There are more than 30 miles of wide, dedicated bike paths that cross the island, some running along the route of an old tourist railroad which ran from 1881 to 1917. I thought the $69 price tag for two adult bikes and a Burley child trailer for the kids from Nantucket Bike Shop was a bit steep, but when we got a flat tyre on the far side of the island, the price more than paid for itself with the free and quick roadside assistance.