Nantucket, MA

Located approximately thirty miles off the coast of Massachusetts, this little gem of an island is an excellent choice for a family beach escape. The island is known for its beautiful beaches and charming little town filled with cobblestone streets and scores of interesting shops. In addition to those features, however, Nantucket also offers miles of paved bike paths, exceptional programs for children offered during the summer months, a wide selection of wonderful restaurants with children's menus, numerous historic sites, and an extensive array of water sports and land activities.

While Nantucket is a popular destination during July and August, families should consider a visit during the spring and fall as well. The island was particularly alluring during my recent September stay, with its warm weather and lack of crowds. In addition, lodging prices are much lower and car or bike rental specials are often available. We enjoyed staying in town to be close to restaurants, shopping and other attractions, and found the beaches easy to reach. We did rent an SUV for one day, however, and spent hours exploring the wide beaches surrounding the island. It proved to be one of the highlights of our stay, but our rental company advised that SUV reservations should be made far in advance if families are coming during the peak summer months.

Bicycling is a very popular pastime here, as cars are expensive to bring to the island. The island is relatively flat, making family cycling relatively easy. Bike shops rent a variety of bicycles for every family type, and the paved trails are well marked. In addition, buses run to the airport, beaches, and town on convenient schedules.

Harbor House Village is probably the island's most family-friendly lodging establishment. Located close to downtown Nantucket and Children's Beach, Harbor House Village offers 104 guestrooms, a heated outdoor pool, and the Village Kids program for children ages 3-13. Plenty of parking is also available for those who choose to bring or rent cars. The Village Kids program operates daily from June 15 to September 2 on a half-day or full-day basis. Experienced counselors and lifeguards lead and supervise activities, which are oriented around Nantucket themes. An evening program is also offered on Thursdays through Saturdays during the summer months. The best rooms for families are in the Village Houses, a group of six traditional townhouses close to the clustered around the center of the property. Many of these rooms feature balconies and most sleep five comfortably. All of the rooms are air conditioned, and cable television is provided as well. Some connecting rooms are available. If you go, request to be lodged in one of the townhouses away from the main road to avoid evening noise. For more information and reservations, call 1-866-325-9300 (toll-free) or visit their website: Harbor House Village.

Another family favorite is The Cottages at the Boat Basin. This collection of 33 cottages is located around Nantucket's Old South and Swains Wharves in the historic downtown area. Many of the one-, two- and three-bedroom cottages are ideal for families, and some can accommodate up to eight people. Since the cottages are built directly on the marina wharves, they are probably best suited to families with babies or with children are old enough to be secure around deep water. Each of the cottage designs is relatively unique. The cottages on Old South Wharf sit up on pilings directly over the water and provide spectacular views of the picturesque harbor. These are our favorites, with their polished pine floors, large kitchens, and bright decor, but they are also the most expensive. On Swain's Wharf, the Veronica cottage has a broad covered porch area for enjoying breezes and marine views, and two bedrooms. The cottage has an open, airy feel, with the second bedroom located in a loft. None of the cottages on Old South Wharf or Swain's Wharf are air-conditioned, but they do provide full kitchens, daily maid service, concierge service, cable television, VCR, and a radio/CD player. A large grocery store is located within easy walking distance. Families on a budget will like the units on nearby New Whale Street. While the location isn't as nice as the nearby wharves, these one-, two-, and three-bedroom cottages and condominiums are air-conditioned, and many of them provide beautiful harbor views. They also might be a better choice for families with toddlers and younger children, since the water isn't quite so close by. The two-bedroom Topside unit has a truly spectacular view, and the Harborview condominiums are perfect for families vacationing together. For more information, visit their website at The Cottages at the Boat Basin or call 866-838-9253.

If you go, make sure to enjoy the spectacular sunsets at Madaket Beach, take the kids to Surfside or Jetties Beach for a picnic, check out the rose-covered cottages of Siasconset, take a family bike ride to see the sights, and wander along the cobblestone streets of Nantucket town. Find a place to call your own. On Nantucket, that's easy -- especially in the off-season. The charm of the island will linger in your memory like a siren's song. Whether you spend one day or two weeks on Nantucket, you'll find yourself wanting to return again.

For more information on vacationing on Nantucket, visit the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce website Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce or call them at (508) 228-1700. Here you'll find contacts for vacation rental agencies, options for transportation to the island, and other important details for planning your visit. Nantucket Online is also an excellent source of vacation information.

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