Nantucket with kids: guide to beaches and biking

The island of Nantucket, Massachusetts is well-known as a summer playground for travelers of all ages, but with so much to do in the immediate vicinity of the harbor, the further reaches (only a few miles in any direction!) are often overlooked. Ferrying your car to the island is expensive, rentals even more so, but that’s ok: biking is more affordable, more fun, and easy to do on such a flat and manageably-sized piece of land.

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Because biking is such a great mode of transportation on Nantucket, there are many rental outfits ready to provide you with bikes during your stay. On our most recent visit, we chose Young’s Bicycle Shop, located conveniently near the Steamship Authority dock one block from the harbor. Even more convenient? Young’s will deliver your bikes to your hotel or vacation home for a flat $10 fee. Bike rentals range from $20-50 per 24-hour period, depending on the bike type, and they carry everything from baby seats to ‘tag-alongs’ to trailers.

Finding your way around the island is easy with so many well-marked bike and pedestrian paths. Trails stretch all the way from Madeket to ‘Sconset, Jetties Beach to Surfside, Cisco to Brant Point light, and where the trails don’t lead, biking on the streets is safe and easy. In town, it’s necessary to walk bikes over the cobblestones and on sidewalks to avoid pedestrians, but out of town, biking with the flow of traffic is hassle-free and often faster than fighting traffic in your car.

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We could easily carry our beach equipment on the backs of our rented bikes and in backpacks, and as a result, biked nearly everywhere we went on the island. Nantucket boasts close to a dozen distinct beaches along its miles of coastline, each one with a different personality. Below is a run-down of our favorites for all activities, ages, and interests:

Jetties Beach is perfect for families of all ages. Close to town without being crowded, it’s easy to bike to, the calm water is shallow and warm (you can walk for what seems like miles along a submerged sand bar), and the sand is dotted with seashells. Also appreciated by families are its clean bathrooms, lifeguards, playground, and full restaurant, complete with beach store for all the essentials, like sand buckets, towels, and paddle board. We loved their ‘leave a book, take a book’ shelf, where Nate found great summer reading!

jetties-beach

Surfside Beach is located directly opposite of the town of Nantucket on the island’s unprotected south shore. The lack of the harbor means large waves (which have a habit of breaking nearly on shore). Wide and sandy, Surfside is a great beach for a game of Frisbee or paddle ball, sunbathing, and playing in the surf. Be advised, however, that the depth of the water greatly increases just yards from shore as the sandy bottom drops out abruptly. Lifeguards are on duty during daytime hours, and a snack shack serves fare such as hot dogs, drinks, and ice cream. One of the island’s many bicycle paths deposits visitors directly into the Surfside parking area.

Madaket beaches are great for visitors seeking isolation, crashing waves, and sunsets. A long bike ride from town, the journey to Madeket is beautiful and can be accessed entirely by bike path. Located at the end of the island on the western tip, Madaket is comprised of solitary vacation homes and windswept beaches; don’t expect many more services than a port-a-potty and a bike rack. Bring your own picnic, however, and you might forget you’re on a busy vacation island in the middle of high season on Madaket! Expect big, crashing waves, wind, and
frequent fog!

'sconset-nantucket

‘Sconset beaches are located at the end of another long bike ride, this time to the eastern side of the island. The town of ‘Sconset (short for Siasconset) is far less commerical than the heart of the Nantucket harbor area, but unlike Madaket, some services, such as a small grocery store stocked with ice cream, drinks, snacks, and souvenirs, do exist near the beaches. You’re likely to encounter more company as well; the homes nestled near the shore are almost always occupied in the summer months. Come to ‘Sconset beaches for picturesque beauty (think sand dunes, shingled cottages, and well-kept gardens), the family-friendly atmosphere (there’s almost always a kite or two flying), and the smaller (but still existent) surf.

Children’s Beach is located in the center of the harbor area, just west of the wharfs. Easy to bike or walk to from town, Children’s Beach is always busy due to its protected (though limited) beach access, views of the harbor (kids love to boat watch), and playground right on the beach. With virtually no waves, kids can splash and play in the warm water to their hearts’ content, and parents are within strolling distance to downtown shops and restaurants.

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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  1. Thanks for the article post.Really thank you! Great.

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