There is something almost ceremonial about the first ferry ride of the spring/summer season, especially after a long New England winter. If you’ve only ever thought to visit Nantucket during the peak of summer, you’re missing out on the quiet beauty of the spring and fall shoulder seasons. Here’s a look at why you should visit Nantucket in the spring, based on my visit last year.
After an hour-long ride from Hyannis, I arrived in Nantucket harbor with my husband (and expert travel partner) to beautiful spring weather. Our island getaway took place the weekend before the island’s famed Daffodil Festival in late April. From the moment we took our first steps onto Nantucket, we knew that our island experience would be a slice of calm and relaxation before the wonderful chaos of the festival.
Waiting at the dock was the complimentary shuttle service to The Nantucket Hotel & Resort and a short distance away, the hotel’s shingle-style façade greeted us as we pulled up. Its appearance remains similar to when the hotel first opened its doors in the summer of 1891. Vintage automobiles lined the driveway and the Adirondack chairs on the long, winding porch signaled the summer weather to come.
The interior of the hotel, designed by Kevin O’Brien and fully renovated in 2012, was instantly welcoming. Crisp, blue and white furniture, nautical details and decorative elements give a nod to the island’s classic style and historical black and white photographs lining the seagrass walls are a reminder of how Nantucket has evolved over the years.
In the lobby, a mechanical whale sculpture, created in collaboration by steampunk artist Bruce Rosenbaum and Sam Ostroff, serves as the hotel’s honorary mascot. It blends modern technology with Victorian design, just another way that the hotel melds history with a modern sensibility.
Hungry from our journey and early morning in Hyannis, our first day on the island commenced with brunch at the Breeze Café & Bar at The Nantucket Hotel & Resort. Executive chef Josh Schoen treated us to a few of his favorite dishes off the spring menu, including a roasted beet salad and chicken carnitas cake with black bean hummus, avocado and cotija cheese.
We couldn’t get enough of the chicken carnita and black bean hummus – the wonderful mix of the crunchy carnita and the salty/sweet black bean hummus was one of our favorite bites on the island. Lunch inspired us to make a mental note to visit Bartlett’s Farm, the source of many of our meals ingredients.
When you visit Nantucket, in any season, one of the most enjoyable activities is a simple stroll. After lunch, we took a short walk from the hotel to the center of town and the cobblestone lined Main Street with its many restaurants and shops including the Nantucket Pharmacy and its Rockwell-esque lunch counter. The shingle-style storefronts and window boxes were already in full bloom in anticipation of the Daffodil Festival.
While some of the local shops hadn’t yet opened for the season by mid-April, we were pleased that there were still plenty of local treasures to choose from. We found our way into Mitchell’s Book Corner, an independent local bookstore located in downtown Nantucket. Mitchell’s first opened their doors nearly 50 years ago and featured a selection of books by local authors, beach and rainy day reads, and the charmed children’s area perfect for gifts to bring back home.
Across Main Street, we made a stop at Nantucket Looms. In addition to the signature cotton, mohair and alpaca blankets made in a loft above the retail space, the beautifully and thoughtfully curated selection of pottery, art, and the work of local food-makers make Nantucket Looms the kind of place you feel lucky to have discovered and dream of returning to between visits.
While we were there we met one of the shop’s featured artisans, local carver Marcus Foley, who had brought some whale carvings in for consignment. Featuring the work of over 35 artists, including sailor’s valentines by Betsey Braun and Nantucket baskets by Dale Rutherford, the shop captures Nantucket’s place in New England craft and the value of locally made products.
Back at the hotel, our room was ready and we were drawn in by the cozy reading nooks and the inviting corners both in our room and throughout the hotel.
Plush chairs and seating areas are set up for games of chess and Monopoly and the lobby’s library is fully stocked with the owner’s favorite selection of books and movies which can be taken to your room. Families out on the terrace roasting marshmallows and making s’mores only added to the warm, relaxing atmosphere – making it feel like a home away from home. Although child-free on this trip, we appreciated the thoughtfully-designed family spaces for children and the scheduled activities that were offered.
A short walk from The Nantucket, we had our dinner at American Seasons. The charming cottage-exterior and dark candlelit interior felt both romantic and casual. The 2015 season marks the arrival of new chef and owner Neil Ferguson, who purchased the restaurant from its long-time owners last year. Located on Centre Street, the menu focuses on seasonal and local ingredients. We enjoyed an entrée-sized appetizer of plump roast sea scallops with an herb and leaf salad and a main entrée of roasted hake with ruby chard.
Our first morning on the island, I explored The Nantucket’s fitness and health club and we enjoyed a light breakfast at the hotel before renting a car and making the drive to Bartlett’s Farm. Despite a little rain and overcast skies, the island seemed to be in full bloom, with fields of daffodils adding color to our drive. If you’re going to visit Nantucket in spring, you had better be prepared for lots and lots of daffodils.
At Bartlett’s, the prepared food section provided the perfect place to put together a picnic lunch including offerings like lobster salad, grilled veggies, and fried chicken. As it was starting to drizzle outside, we chose to go the comfort food route, with grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup which we brought to nearby Cisco Breweries to enjoy while sampling their seasonal brews.
One of Nantucket’s year-round destinations, Cisco Breweries is part of a family-run operation that started with Nantucket Vineyards back in the early 1980s. While tours and a regular schedule of live music hadn’t started yet for the season, the hospitality of the servers and easy conversation with other patrons made it a favorite stop.
During our last morning on the island, we visited a friend near Nantucket Harbor and picked up a bouquet of yellow tulips at Bartlett Farms for our visit. At the recommendation of Yankee’s food editor Amy Traverso, we stopped to buy a box of fresh donuts for the ferry ride home before we made the mad dash to the ferry. All of our island walking merited a trip to local favorite Downyflake’s Doughnuts for a sampling of their old fashioned, chocolate dipped, coconut and sugar creations. Located in the mid-island area, their unpretentious, petite confections – were, in fact, light as a downy flake. You can’t visit Nantucket without one (or two, or three).
Our visit would not have been complete without a few souvenirs to bring home. We stocked up on treats at award-winning chocolatier Sweet Inspirations, including hydrangea-covered tins and milk and dark chocolate whale shaped truffles.
A novice chocolate maker myself, I enjoyed seeing the chocolate artisans at work behind the counter. Open year round, Sweet Inspirations holds a special significance to my husband and I as they provided the chocolate favors for our wedding. If I’m going to visit Nantucket, you can bet I’m going to stop there.
Still wondering if you should visit Nantucket island in the spring? By now, the answer should be yes!
This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated.