Nantucket is well known for its summer fun and beautiful beaches, but make no mistake, the island is alive and well all year long. In fact, some travelers find the off-season to be the best time to grace the Grey Lady.
The crowds have dispersed, lodging prices are often reduced and leaves decorate the cobblestone streets. There’s something rather alluring about the island after summer’s warm breeze has passed. Before you push your travel plans off to next June, explore some of these incredible off-season attractions:
Nantucket is home to three operating lighthouses, all with their own unique stories and appeal.
Those arriving by boat may pass the Brant Point Lighthouse, which stands proudly on the island’s edge along all ferry routes. This historic wonder was built at the height of the island’s whaling boom in 1746 to help guide vessels into and around the inner harbor. The structure has been rebuilt nine times, making it the site of the second oldest lighthouse in America. It’s just a short walk from town and a beautiful spot to watch the sunset, year-round.
If you have access to a car (or opt to rent some bikes), the Sankaty Lighthouse on the east side of the island is another picturesque stop. Unlike the Brant Point Light, this structure was built in 1850, and has not been replaced since; however, in 2007, it was moved 400 feet back from the cliff's edge. Its crisp red and white paint against the open blue ocean makes this a sight definitely worth seeing in Siasconset.
The last of Nantucket’s three remaining lighthouses in operation today is the Great Point Lighthouse, on the far northeast tip of the island. Off-season, this scenic seven-mile drive across the thin strip of beach, where the Atlantic Ocean and the Nantucket Sound meet, is a great way to see great views of the dunes, marsh grasses— and even seals basking on the shoreline. Learn all about what makes this 200-year-old lighthouse a Nantucket institution here.
Though the island certainly quiets down as summer travelers dissipate, locals keep the culture alive with seasons full of island celebrations.
Every fall, locals gather to celebrate the last two remaining commercial cranberry bogs on the island with the best in cranberry fare, live music and historic traditions at Nantucket’s Cranberry Festival. Learn about the island’s past and present berry farming practices, enjoy family-friendly activities like harvesting fruit, hayrides, Nanpuppet shows and historic tours. Best of all, it’s free, with all proceeds collected by food vendors going directly towards supporting the local community. Read more this annual October celebration.
Also during autumn, there’s an entire week devoted to recognizing the island’s art community. The Nantucket Arts Festival is hosted by the island’s Arts Council, and with a different theme each year, no two events are the same. For those who love all things nautical, the Maritime Festival celebrates the island’s coastal heritage with seafood favorites, music, and aquatic-themed games. There’s also a number of Halloween festivities like the downtown parade, ghost walks, and pumpkin carving. Explore our top recommended activities to enjoy this fall on Nantucket.
Spring holds its own charm and unique exclusivity on the island. During the last weekend of April, locals dress in their best yellow attire and gear up for Nantucket’s Daffodil Festival. Antique car and dog parades, a hat pageant, a mile-long picnic: all lead up to the prestigious judged flower and flower art show. Learn more about the weekend’s activities, as featured in Yankee Magazine.
As the weather gets cooler, there are plenty of indoor attractions to help you enjoy and embrace Nantucket’s off-season culture.
The Nantucket Whaling Museum, for example, attracts history and nautical aficionados from April through December. Learn about the island’s rise to prominence as the world capital of the whaling industry through stories, tours, and educational experiences, or go up on the rooftop overlook to see a view of the town. This well-known historic collection contains unique artifacts you’ll see nowhere else, but that’s not all. Check out seven more reasons why you should stop by the Whaling Museum during your trip.
The music scene is alive and strong all year-long here too, with venues such as Cisco Brewers. This Nantucket staple is a great place to enjoy a freshly poured island beer or snacks at one of the island’s famous food trucks while enjoying both local talents as well as various artists touring the country.
The Dreamland Theater is more than just a local movie theater, it’s Nantucket’s nonprofit film and cultural center, offering modern film screenings and theatrical productions even during the off-season. Come watch a popular new release in front of the big screen, or attend one of their spotlight performances to experience a moving musical or traditionally staged show featuring local artists.
Some restaurants close their doors as fall beckons and remain closed until late spring, but there are still plenty of dining experiences to enjoy all year long.
Dune’s fall menu, for example, serves up locally-sourced cool-weather staples like stews, braised meats and seasonal vegetables including beets, mushrooms, and squash. Their Broad Street establishment remains open even during the winter— and since it can be hard to get a table here during prime season, off-season visitors have the luxury of enjoying their fine dining and craft cocktails without the wait. Read more about what makes Dune one of the island’s best seafood restaurants.
Also on Broad Street, Brotherhood of Thieves' dark wood and warm fireplace make it the perfect tavern escape as the cold finds its way to Nantucket. Casual fare and their wide selection of craft beer bring in friendly locals in from the New England cold to share a meal and pint. It’s also a well-known watering hole for happy hour goers. In fact, we’ve featured it alongside these other great spots to enjoy happy hour on the island.
Past the famous Cisco’s Brewers, you’ll find Bartlett’s Farm. Not only is it the place to go for Halloween pumpkin carving off-season, but it’s a go-to for many to-go orders on Nantucket. Pick up a freshly made sandwich with ingredients grown right on the farm or indulge in bite-size desserts as an evening treat. Download our Complete Guide to Nantucket Restaurants for details on all the island’s dining options.
Don’t rub elbows with tourists your entire trip. Visiting Nantucket during its off-season means less waiting and more exclusivity. Experience the island like a real local by booking your stay between September through April.
Rent a home and immerse yourself in the day-to-day lifestyle of your neighbors. There’s a number of advantages to renting instead of staying in your typical hotel or inn. Download our Rentals Guide to discover all the perks.