Nantucket Harbor has come a long way since its days as a whaling hub. Today the well-protected port welcomes mariners of a very different sort, who come to stroll the narrow cobblestone streets, dine in 5-star restaurants, browse the boutiques and art galleries or relax on the beautiful beaches.
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And it’s surprisingly accessible, even for daytrippers, lying just 26 miles south of Hyannis. If approaching from the west, use the Cross Rip Channel, between Cross Rip Shoal and Horseshoe Shoal. Keep Tuckernuck Shoal to starboard as you plot a course for the red-white “NB” buoy.
The twin jetties flanking the harbor entrance are 1.7 miles south-southeast of the buoy. If traveling after dark, take care to get your bearings and line up the navigational lights correctly before making your approach lest you find yourself hard aground on the jetties or surrounding shallows.
Dock in Style
As you enter the harbor, passing Brant Point Lighthouse to starboard, you’ll see the buildings and docks of the town to starboard. Ahead is the Nantucket “skyline”, dotted with church steeples and historic sea captains’ homes.
Boaters looking for a slip should head for Nantucket Boat Basin, at the southern end of the waterfront just before the town pier. Conveniently located 2 blocks from town, the Boat Basin is a renowned transient marina catering to boaters from around the world, and can accommodate vessels from 35’ to 316’. A full-time concierge service is on-call to make restaurant reservations, arrange tee times and organize special outings, including clambakes on the beach. You can even get a pedicure for your dog! “It’s all about hospitality here, and we make an extra effort to assure guests can truly kick back and relax,” says George Bassett, the director of marina operations for over 27 years.
Slips may also be available at the town pier, adjacent to the Boat Basin, but strictly on a first-come, first-served basis via the harbormaster’s office (VHF 9 and 14). A third option is to rent a mooring from Nantucket Moorings, which also provides launch service. Anchoring may also be possible east of the mooring field.
Great Inns & Restaurants
If you’d rather stay on shore during your visit, there are numerous options near the harbor. Among them are the cozy Cottages and Lofts lining the wharves in and around the Boat Basin. Arrangements can be made through the Boat Basin offices.
In addition, the White Elephant Hotel, at the foot of Brant Point, offers onsite dockage for its boating guests. Once an eclectic mix of cottages, the White Elephant is now one of Nantucket’s best-loved resorts, overlooking bustling Nantucket Harbor and adjacent to Children’s Beach. The hotel’s restaurant, the Brant Point Grill (known simply as “BPG” to locals), serves mouthwatering steaks and lobsters and features an award-winning wine list. Boaters can sometimes arrange short-term dockage in front of the restaurant.
Also close by is Topper’s at the Wauwinet Inn, featuring a romantic atmosphere and breathtaking views. With 1,500 different wines from which to choose, Topper’s has consistently received Wine Spectator magazine’s Grand Award. A more casual choice is the heated Topper’s Deck, or you might elect for a dinner cruise aboard the Wauwinet Lady, which departs from the White Elephant dock with service to and from Topper’s.
If you’re curious about the island’s rich maritime history, pay a visit to the Nantucket Whaling Museum. Less than a half-mile from the waterfront, the museum features a restored 1847 candle factory and a rooftop observation deck overlooking Nantucket Harbor. Among its displays are the 46’ skeleton of a sperm whale that washed ashore on New Year’s Day 1998, and the 1849 Fresnel lens once used at Sankaty Head Lighthouse.
Speaking of lighthouses, you can pay a visit to 47’-tall Brant Point Light, which has stood sentry over the harbor since 1856 and is the second oldest light station in the country. It’s one of many local structures that offer insight to island life in the 17th and 18th centuries. Many of the historic homes are still owned and occupied by descendants of old Nantucket families, and the island boasts the largest concentration of pre-Civil War houses in the country. The Jared Coffin House on Sunset Hill is the oldest. Built in 1686, it’s now an elegant inn where guests can relax in style and immerse themselves in island history.
If it’s more aquatic fun you seek, there are several nearby beaches that are ideal for families. Visiting boaters can beach their dinghies, kayaks and other small craft on the backside of Coatue Point and frolic in the warm, protected shallows on both sides of this narrow strip of land. Children’s and Jetties Beaches also feature protected waters and are within walking and biking distance of town.
For side trips farther afield, you can rent a bike or use the public bus system. On the way to Cisco Beach you’ll pass Nantucket Vineyard, which produces 9 varietals of red and white wine, in partnership with Cisco Brewery, which makes vodka, rum, gin, single malt whiskey and micro-brewed beer and ale. The brewery has a lively beer garden with live music, a raw bar and wood-fired pizza.
Nightbirds on Nantucket
Of course, Nantucket Harbor is also known for nightlife. Some standout places to hang out include the Boarding House, which features an award-winning restaurant and bar with an intimate, neighborhood feel that attracts a hip singles crowd. The Club Car is another fun spot. Built on the site of a former train station, this restaurant and bar has been a Nantucket institution since the 1970s, serving eclectic fare that ranges from rabbit to octopus, while enticing visitors to the piano bar, where the sound of boisterous sing-a-longs often carries to lower Main Street.
For live music, the Chicken Box offers jazz, blues and reggae in a roadhouse atmosphere. Muddy Waters once appeared at the unpretentious setting, which opened 50 years ago. Appealing to a younger crowd is The Muse, which showcases live bands and DJs.
Young or old, day or night, land or sea—whatever your pleasure, Nantucket Harbor serves as a boater’s gateway to an exotic world of magnificent beaches, stunning landscapes, historic streets, good food and lots of fun things to do and see.
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