12 Best Beaches in Nantucket and Insider Tips
The best beaches in Nantucket are found on an strip of nirvana 30 miles off the shores of Cape Cod. This island paradise is one of the most unique destinations in the world. Generations of families have written their summer stories on the Grey Lady, so named for the fog that often mysteriously rolls about the dunes and grey weathered cottages.
Originally founded in the 1600’s as a fishing village and whaling capital, the island today is a three season tourist destination. Along with the magnificent beaches in Nantucket, visitors will find world class restaurants, shopping and museums. With a strong historic foundation, Nantucket has retained much of its original late 18th and early 19th century charm. The town of the same name is designated a National Historic Landmark District, its grey shingled cottages covered with fragrant roses intoxicating even the most jaded traveler.
Off the beach, most of the activity takes place in the historic downtown district. In fact, many day trippers never venture off the cobbled streets and clam shell paths of this quaint New England seaside community. But then of course, you’d be missing the main event–the best Nantucket beaches.
Beaches in Nantucket
With over 82 miles of coastline, the beaches in Nantucket make up one of the most unique vacation spots in the world. Of course, the largest draw to this island paradise is fun in the sun and sea. Whether you are a wave rider looking to hang ten or a family looking for a safe place for kids to enjoy the ocean, there are a wide variety of sandy stretches from which to choose.
Don’t expect to see the same swells you would in world class surfing destinations like South Africa or even California. That being said, beaches in Nantucket are still a great place enjoy water sports and surfing, especially for the beginner.
Depending on your skill level, the calmer waters of the North Shore are more popular with stand-up paddle boards (SUP) and kayakers. Those looking for adventure can head to the South Shore, with its larger swells and smooth sandy bottom. Those looking for lessons can contact either the Nantucket Island Surf School and ACK Surf School.
Tips for the Perfect Beach Vacation in Nantucket
- Bring a beach umbrella. Even though there is usually a breeze on the beaches in Nantucket, getting out of the sun for a bit is helpful. Especially if you have little kids.
- Sunblock–Readers know I am always preaching about sun protection. Of course, my favorite variety is sun protection you can wear like Coolibar. In addition, use a type of reef safe sunblock that won’t pollute our gorgeous ocean.
- Signage & Safety–As you enter the path to each beach, there is a parking type sign with a beach # on it. Make a mental note of the number. If you ever have an emergency, help will be able to locate your position by the #.
- Water Shoe–especially for little ones. The sand can get hot and walking thru the dune paths can be a challenge in the height of summer heat.
- Drinks–pack lots of water so no-one gets dehydrated.
- Bug Spray–depending on the wind direction, there can be annoying bugs at the beach. Bring an eco-friendly spray just in case. I love this natural one that combines sunblock and bug repellant and is great for skin and the environment.
- Land Bank trails are marked by the post shown here. Most Land Bank trails are created as loops and if you follow the arrows—the trail should return you to where you began.
- Timing–Get thee to the Nantucket beach before noon.
Here are a few of my favorites to suit a plethora of every need.
North Shore Beaches in Nantucket
Children’s Beach is located on the North Shore and is a great choice for families. Close to town, the water is calm and a perfect introduction to the ocean for those just beginning to get their feet wet. In addition, fun family-friendly activities like yoga and live music are sponsored by the town. The Hungry Minnow snack bar provides food and lifeguards are on duty mid-June through August. Check the Nantucket Parks and Recreation website for a listing of additional offerings.
Location: Harbor View Way across from Steamboat Wharf
Another beach popular with families and small children is Jetties Beach. Playgrounds, changing rooms and the onsite restaurant make for a restful Nantucket beach on the Sound side of the island. Visitors will have a ringside view of the ferries, pleasure boats and monstrous yachts coming in and out of the harbor. The location is also home to the annual Cottage Hospital fundraiser featuring the Boston Pops concert.
Location: 4 Bathing Beach Rd.
Walking distance from town, this stretch of sand is a relaxing spot to watch the boat “traffic” come into the harbor. While a quick dunk for a cool off is permissable, swimming is not recommended because the location is so close to the channel. This is a favorite spot for artists to set up an easel and interpret the iconic Brant Point Lighthouse. It’s also a favorite location of the instagram set.
Location: 2 Easton St.
White Water Tower
I can remember the first time I went to White Water Tower. I was looking for a family friendly and uncrowded spot where my young kids could spend the day safely in the water. The directions were vague, and it took me a while to find the right path, but it was well worth the struggle. A wide beach, warm water and a fun accessible sandbar awaits!
The road in to this beach in Nantucket is on the right side of the white water tower on the north shore of the island and swings around behind it. Look for theLand Bank marker on the right after that. The beach and dirt parking area are jointly owned by the Nantucket Conservation Foundation and the Nantucket Land Bank. There is a footpath through the dunes that provides access to the beach. No ammenities are available.
Location: Behind the Water Tower off Cliff Road
Steps beach is a bit of a hidden gem with the beaches on Nantucket. It took me at least 10 years to get there. You’ll find this spot on the Nantucket Sound side of the island where the water is usually calm and a bit warmer. The beach is off Cliff Road about four miles from town, sandwiched between Dionis and Jetties, and is not on most people’s radar.
Before you take on the impressive set of stairs leading down to the beach, enjoy the view of Great Point Light off in the distance. The famous lighthouse has saved many a ship from the dangerous shoals off the point. Steps Beach offers protected shores with gentle waves washing onto the sandy beach.
Fragrant rosa rugosa frame the gray-shingled mansions dotting the surrounding dunes and sea grass sways gently in the breeze. Come prepared, as there are no lifeguards or facilities, and make sure to save some energy to make the climb back up the steps.
Location: 9 Kimball Ave.
South Shore Beaches in Nantucket
Nobadeer is geared more towards teenagers and young adults looking for an active and often loud Nantucket beach experience. There are no lifeguards or amenities, except the heavy party scene the area is known for. Waves can be challenging. The big draw here is you can kick your vehicle into 4 wheel drive and off-road on the beach.
Location: Near the airport-at the end of the runway.
The Land Bank maintains three beaches along the south shore near Surfside Beach. The first is opposite the youth hostel on Western Avenue. The other two are accessed by Nonantum Avenue and are known as Stones and Footsteps. All three have dirt parking areas and paths/stairs for beach access. The long path to the Snack Shack at the main beach is rewarded with some great snacks and burgers. Although the menu changes, shrimp tacos and yucca fries were two of my favorites.
The waves and current along the south shore make these beaches are ideal for strong swimmers and surfers. The beach is one of the most popular on the island and visitors should get there early for a parking space. Lifeguards, restrooms, public phone, parking and a food stand are amongst the amenities. If you don’t have your own car on the Island, you can take the Nantucket Regional Transit Authority (NRTA) shuttle bus from town or bike along the 3 mile Surfside Bike Path directly to the beach.
Location: At the end of Surfside road. 160 Surfside Road
If you’ve made your way to Bartlet Farm turn right when leaving the entrance and follow the unpaved road all the way to the end. You’ll arrive at Ladies Beach. Like so many of the beaches in Nantucket, there are no facilities here. You will find however, a wide-open space perfect for gatherings with friends and family. The surf is often unpredictable but rarely suitable for young children.
There is often a sandbar in the distance, although the shifting sands move the location frequently. When the golden hour arrives, everything calms down; you might see a few seals feeding just offshore. This is one of the best beaches in Nantucket to enjoy a perfect sunset to finish off the day and toast a great vacation.
Location: Unnamed Dirt Road
Nantucket’s popular Cisco Beach is one of the best surfing beaches in all of Massachusetts. Pounding waves and strong currents have made this area of the southern coastline especially popular with body surfers, seasoned SUP riders and surfers. In the summer, there is a well cycled path for riders along Hummock Pond Road’s 4-mile bike path from town.
Stop at the popular Bartlett Farm about ¾ of the way out and load up on picnic ingredients. Their selection of sandwiches and salads is extensive and often features local ingredients from the adjacent fields along with plenty of freshly baked goods.
At the end of the road, there is a large parking lot. Amenities include a lifeguarded beach and port–a-johns. A surf school operates from this location, so if you’ve always wanted to learn to pop-up and Hang 10-this is the perfect opportunity. Be aware that rip currents and the undertow can be strong here.
The beach is connected to many dirt roads where you can find additional beaches in Nantucket with more secluded locations. Just be warned, in certain places you can get stuck. The tow trucks have a field day with city slickers who think they are know the tricks of off-road maneuvers in deep sand.
Location: End of Hummock Pond Road
East End Beaches in Nantucket
Found at the western end of the island, past Tom Nevers, Siasconset (better known as Sconset) has a unique vibe that combines a laid back personality with a bit of upper crust. Visitors will find it a wonderful change from some of the more populated beaches. It offers gorgeous sunrises and one of the places on the island where you can regularly spot seals frolicking in the sea.
Climbing roses adorn the petite cottages along shell covered lanes. Perfectly manicured hedges form protective coverings enveloping jaw dropping mansions. Dunes are covered with grasses and the main beach has a lifeguard during the season. The expansive bluffs at this end of the island appear ready to be reclaimed by the sea. The waves on this beach vary depending on the prevailing winds.
Location: Cod Fish Park Road
Getting to Great Point is worth every bit of effort. It requires a permit and fairly long drive in the sand out past the famous Wauwinet Hotel. Alternatively, you can book a tour with the Trustees (check the web site for updates regarding tours/COVID-19) pack a picnic and relax while someone else does the driving. Either way, this is the quintessential Nantucket experience. The ruggedly beautiful coastline is home to deer, raptors and shorebirds. With over 16 miles of trails, the sand dunes and small coastal forests are a nature lovers dream that combines two long and narrow fingers of a peninsula.
On the point, the beach is pristine, has a grand lighthouse and often a bevy of seals frolicking off the point. Fisherman are especially drawn to this end of the island, although the seals take care of most of the fish. Caution should be exercised when swimming, and stay away from the strong currents at the point. Because this is the tip of Nantucket, beach lovers will be able to settle on either side of the strip and can make their decision based on the tides. Seasonal portable toilets are near the lighthouse.
Location: off Wauwinet Rd.
West End Beaches in Nantucket
For access to the far south west end of this lovely island, visitors will need a four-wheel drive vehicle, a bit of driving know-how and a beach permit. If sunsets are your jam, plan to be there at the golden hour, as seeing the sun dip below the horizon from this point is memorable. Pack a cooler and make a plan.
This large open space can have powerful surf and an occasional undertow, so make sure to check conditions, especially if little ones are in tow. Lifeguards are sporadically placed along the area, but there are no facilities available.
Views of nearby Tuckernuck Island can be seen in the distance. The strong rip current through the channel draws many a fisherman to brave the tide and drop a line. Therefreshingly cool water is perfect on a hot summer day of building sandcastles and games on the beach.
Hearty sun worshippers who are looking for a workout can also get to the area via the bike path (approx. 5 miles from town) or the seasonal NRTA shuttle bus. Be aware that sand hiking with a pack can be exhausting. Very limited parking can be found at the end of the road, thus the reason for driving on the beach. Check the local paper, as certain areas are often restricted because of the piping plover, a shorebird that nests on the coast.
Location: Off Madaket Road
This picturesque New England island provides the best in an exclusive beach vacation. Visitors will have their choice of beautiful locations to sink into a beach chair and relax with a good summer read. With such a wide variety of beaches in Nantucket, you can rest assured this island destination will provide fun in the sun and a good dose of Vitamin SEA for everyone.
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