The island’s Wampanoag Indian name means “faraway land,” and Nantucket seems just that. Its only 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, but the 49-square-mile island floats in its own insular world of time and space. Some 10,000 year-round residents accommodate more than five times that many visitors each summer, yet the island retains an unspoiled atmosphere. Here the descendant of the practical Yankee sea captain meets the cultured offspring of New England old money—and, increasingly, new money. They bond over their shared affection for the windswept island, with its abundant salt marshes and pristine beaches.
Stringent zoning laws help maintain the traditional New England appearance of the “Little Gray Lady of the Sea”—so named for the color of its cedar-shingled houses muted by exposure to the sea air. Movie-set—perfect Nantucket is one of the country’s finest protected historic districts, with more than 8(H) Georgian, Federal, and Greek Revival houses and Quaker sea captains’ homes, constructed between 1740 and 1840.
Nantucket was once the whaling capital of the world, and the small but interesting Whaling Museum preserves Nantucket’s eminence in the “blubber boiling” industry. Displays include a skeleton of a 46-foot finback whale, a whaleboat, a collection of 19th-century scrimshaw, and artifacts from the Essex, sunk by a sperm whale in 1820, inspiring the story recounted in Moby-Dick.
Heading the list of the island’s finest hostelries is the Wauwinet, standing in romantic end-of-the-world isolation on a windswept spit of land between the ocean and Nantucket Bay. Cottages and manicured lawns surround the rambling 1860 main house, adjacent to 26 miles of shoreline protected as a wildlife sanctuary. The inn’s restaurant, Topper’s, is celebrated for its creative take on regional favorites (the smoked seafood chowder is a signature), enjoyed outdoors in warm weather or by a crackling fire when it’s chilly, with an award-winning wine cellar to top the experience.
Under the same ownership, the White Elephant is right in town on the waterfront. Most of its 53 light, airy rooms and 1 I guest cottages are decorated in chic country style and face the water. Like its sister property this island-chic inn emphasizes service, from the hotel operation to its well-known restaurant, The Brant Point Grill. For a cozier, more intimate alternative, visit the 12-room Pineapple Inn, an 1838 whaling captain’s home where the guestbook is full of raves about the baked goods at breakfast.