Every summer our family rents a house in Nantucket, an island 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where we spend our vacation riding bikes along cranberry bogs, bodysurfing waves in the Atlantic, and kayaking to Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge to look for shells.
This summer, all three of my kids went away to camp and the annual family trip was sidelined. I’ve been visiting Nantucket since I was in college, and until I dip my toes in the ocean at Surfside Beach, it doesn’t feel like summer.
JetBlue was offering affordable midweek fares to Nantucket from Washington, D.C., so I booked a ticket and took a chance on whether the island would hold the same appeal on my own. I discovered that a short trip flying solo was even more relaxing than our family trips: there was no cooking, no driving, and no one to ask me for anything.
Instead I had time to myself. There was time for leisurely breakfasts at my charming inn. Time for long walks and bike rides through the moors. And, time for reading a novel at the beach until I fell asleep.
Here are the key takeaway from those three nights away on my own:
1.) Stay close to town.
The recently renovated Union Street Inn sits a block off Main Street and steps away from a stop for the NRTA shuttle, the island’s public transportation service to the outer beaches and Siasconset, a tiny outpost with a general store, a handful of restaurants, and a bluff walk that takes in seaside mansions and old cod-fishing cottages overlooking the Atlantic. Union Street was a home away from home, with a new garden patio and smart amenities like beach chairs with handles and totes stuffed with thick towels and water bottles.
There’s been a surge of stylish new inns on the island from the nautical-themed 76 Main Street inn to the pristine, white clapboard Gate House with its inviting courtyard. Both inns feature interiors with seagrass wallpaper, white duvets, and vintage island photos. Most inns on the island serve a continental breakfast, the Union Street Inn (zoned for a commercial kitchen) serves a full, made-to-order breakfast — Eggs Benedict, French toast with berries, herb and cheese omelets — satisfying enough to last you through dinner. All three of these inns are a 15-minute walk to Jetties Beach, where you can view sailboats and the ferry as it makes its way into the harbor.
2.) Dine alone, the natives are friendly.
Most of the island’s restaurants serve dinner right at the bar, and grabbing a seat elbow-to-elbow with others may feel less awkward than sitting alone at a table. Black-Eyed Susan’s, Slip 14, and Lobster Trap are all small and convivial with tight tables filled with locals and families. Brant Point Grill offers the island’s best setting with a stellar outdoor patio boasting views of the sailboat-dotted harbor, while The Proprietors, the island’s new hottie restaurant, features craft cocktails, farm- and sea-to-table fare (try the smoked Bluefish fritters), and divine fresh-pulled soft serve in flavors like fromage blanc with vanilla olive oil and sea salt.
Wherever you dine, scope the menu for any dishes made with produce (especially tomatoes) from Bartlett’s Farm, the island’s oldest family-owned farm. Bartlett’s sells fruit and veggies from a pick-up truck on Main Street most mornings and their new pop-up shop at Old South Wharf, where you can snap up prepared soups and salads to pack in your bike basket for a day at the beach.
3.) Rise early to get the light.
Head out by 6:00 a.m. to capture the golden light that makes the island so magical. Colorful boats bob on glassy water and window boxes filled with flowers pop against gray-shingled houses. Walk up cobblestoned Main Street, virtually carless in the early morning, and check out island locals reading the newspaper on benches in front of the Hub, where you can grab a coffee or smoothie to go.
Just a block away from Main Street lie several architectural beauties. Don’t miss the 19th-century Greek revival-style Hadwen House and the identical historic “three brick” mansions that whaling-oil merchant Joseph Starbuck built for his three sons in 1839 at the sum of $40,000. And be sure to make time to meander the small lanes that shoot off Main Street to admire pretty hidden gardens and read the sometimes-humorous names of houses carved on quarterboards (Tucked Inn, Hunky Dory, Fantasea, to name just a few).
Susan O’Keefe is an associate editor at National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow her story on Twitter @sokeefetrav.