The Ultimate City Guide to Nantucket, MA
Located just 30 miles off the southern coast of Massachusetts, the tiny island of Nantucket may as well be situated in a different world. The tiny island – just 14 miles long and 5 miles wide at its widest point – boasts an impressive 82 miles of beach, nearly all of which is accessible to the public. More than 40% of its total area is public conservation land, which guarantees that Nantucket retains its unspoiled natural beauty and offers an endless range of seaside activities, including surfing, sailing, harbor cruises and whale watches.
For those who prefer to stay on land, Nantucket is home to fine restaurants, an array of art galleries, scenic hiking and biking trails, and a host of annual festivals celebrating everything from daffodils to comedy. Whether you're planning to visit the island or thinking of buying a home there, read on to learn more about living in Nantucket, including what to expect for weather, cost of living, education and fun things to do on the island.
Living in Nantucket: An Overview
Best known as a summer travel destination — it was recently named among the eight best places to travel in September by Conde Nast Traveler and the “best island in the world” by National Geographic’s Leslie Thomas — those who choose to live on Nantucket year-round discover two very different towns.
In the off-season, the peak summer population of more than 70,000 people shrinks to around 15,000, and many of the tourist favorites close for the winter. The result is a tight-knit small-town community where, as one travel writer pointed out, everybody really does know your name, and travel to and from the island becomes trickier, with fewer ferry and plane trips and the vagaries of the weather to consider.
Many of the most popular attractions on Nantucket are open year-round, often with discounted off-season prices and less crowding than during the tourist season.
- Population: 14,255 (2020 census)
- Diversity: 85.2% white (non-Hispanic), 6.59% Black or African American (non-Hispanic), 2.1% white (Hispanic), 1.21% Black or African American (Hispanic)
- Median Age: 39.4
- Median Income: $110,473
- Primary language: English
As you might expect from a major summer tourist destination, the population expands exponentially during the tourist season — from fewer than 15,000 to nearly 80,000. In addition, the year-round island population is more diverse than the statistics paint. For instance, 40% of public school students on Nantucket speak a language other than English at home, and GayTravel.com notes that "every beach, restaurant, and shop is welcoming to all genders, colors, shapes, sizes and sexual orientations."
- Year-round: comfortable, humid summers; cold, damp winters
- Best time to visit: mid-July to late August, with warm temperatures and clear days
- Warmest months: mid-June to late September (August is the hottest month)
- Cool season: mid-December to late March (January is the coldest month)
There's a reason Nantucket is nicknamed “The Gray Lady.” Thanks to the influence of the Atlantic Ocean, the summers are comfortable, humid, and windy, while the winters are very cold, wet, and extremely windy, conditions that make fog a frequent feature. Temperatures typically range from 26°F to 75°F, and rarely fall below 14°F or above 81°F. The average snowfall for Nantucket is 23.8”, making it one of the least snowy places in Massachusetts. Snow is most likely to fall from December 12 to March 27th. The snowiest month is February, with an average snowfall of 3.8”.
Summers on Nantucket are typically muggy, particularly from June 23 to September 24, with the muggiest days happening in August, when 13.4 days are muggy, oppressive or miserable.
While the weather may be best for visiting in mid-August, most experienced Nantucket travelers will tell you that the very best time for an island getaway is mid-September, when travelers can take advantage of beautiful weather, off-season discount rates, and fewer crowds.
What’s the Cost of Living in Nantucket?
The island's isolation contributes to a cost of living that is 21% higher than the rest of the state, thanks to surcharges tacked onto basic services and goods to cover the cost of transporting food and fuel from the mainland. The average price of a new home in Nantucket is $2.3M, and there is little affordable rental housing.
- Housing: $3.46M
- Average number of days on the market: 51
- Rent (one-bedroom): $1,761
- Utilities: $240.57
How Expensive Is Renting in Nantucket?
The average monthly rent of $1,761 is skewed by the number of seasonal rentals. An apartment that rents for $800 a month in the off-season commands much higher rents during the summer. In fact, many homeowners choose to leave the island during the summer — or make other living arrangements on the island — in order to take advantage of the summer rental market, when a summer cottage can bring in anywhere from $120 to $365 a night. The Nantucket Housing Authority is attempting to ease the affordable housing shortage with new subsidized housing projects, which will provide 54 apartments and houses for the elderly and middle- to low-income families.
The Best Neighborhoods in Nantucket
Despite its small size, Nantucket offers a surprising diversity of neighborhoods, including the charm of the historic Town neighborhood, the wild, untamed beauty of Madaket, and the family-friendly nostalgia of Naushop. The island also has the distinction of being the only town in the country that is listed, in its entirety, as a National Historic District. Whether you're looking for the perfect place to raise a family or the ideal retirement spot, one of these top neighborhoods in Nantucket may be the perfect spot for you.
The Downtown Historic District and Brant Point are located in the northern part of the island, near Children's Beach and the Nantucket cliffs. The town maintains a quaint historic feel, with wood-shingled homes and boutique shops along the main street. The neighborhood is a major tourist destination, featuring many restaurants, coffee shops, ice cream shops and souvenir shops.
- Population: 7,984
- Average household income: $53,499
- Cost of living: $3.6M to own, $1,646 to rent
- Places to check out: Brant Point Lighthouse, Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum, Nantucket Whaling Museum, The Juice Bar Homemade Ice Cream
On Nantucket's southern shore, the neighborhoods of Surfside and Tom Nevers is home to lifeguarded beaches, and a mix of older cottages and new single-family homes, making the area a popular destination for family activities. Much of the area is conservation land, with well-maintained walking and bike paths, as well as picnic and rest areas. The annual Nantucket Island Fair is held at the Tom Nevers Fairgrounds and features a week of festivities with hayrides, craft fairs, music, flea market booths and other activities.
- Population: 578
- Average household income: $131,729
- Cost of living: $1.7M to own
- Places to check out: Tom Nevers Beach, Tom Nevers Fields, Nantucket Beach
Also located on the southern part of the island, Cisco is surf central for Nantucket. Populated by traditional country cottages in a natural setting, the Cisco neighborhood features rugged beaches and strong currents perfect for surfing and other adventurous water activities. Notable places to visit in Cisco include the Nantucket Surf School, the Nantucket Community Garden, and the Cisco Brewery.
- Population: N/A
- Average household income: N/A
- Cost of living: $1.07M to own, $2,200 to rent
- Places to check out: Nantucket Surf School, Cisco Brewery, Mass Audubon Society, Nantucket Community Garden, Miacomet Beach
At Nantucket's western end, Madaket is best known for its windswept beaches and stunning sunsets. Located eight miles from town, Madaket is easily reachable by bike trail or via NRTA public transportation. Madaket Beach has lifeguards and parking, as well as strong surf that makes it a popular spot for longboarding and surfcasting. Millie's Restaurant, named for Mildred Jewett, a U.S. Coast Guard volunteer credited with several rescues, is famed for its coastal fare and amazing to-go family-style menus that serve six.
- Population: N/A
- Average household income: N/A
- Cost of living: $2.89M to own
- Places to check out: Sunset at Madaket Beach, Millie's Restaurant, Smith Point
Naushop is a small, family-friendly development located between downtown and the Nantucket Memorial Airport. The tree-lined streets, newer homes and community amenities make it especially popular with professionals who choose to make their home on the island. The community features a clubhouse, a community saltwater pool and tennis courts available to residents only.
- Population: N/A
- Average household income: N/A
- Cost of living: $2.95M to own, $2,900/week to rent
- Places to check out: Community clubhouse, saltwater pool, children's beach
What Are the Best High Schools in Nantucket?
The schools in Nantucket are a lively mix of public and private schools, but there is only one high school, Nantucket High School. Children attending grades kindergarten through eighth grade may attend one of three public schools or two private schools. The average graduating class at Nantucket High School is only 120 students. With only about 3,200 school-age children on the island, class sizes are generally small. Both private options accept students from K-8, while students in the public school system attend Nantucket Elementary School (K-2), Nantucket Intermediate School (3-5), and Nantucket Middle School (6-8).
- Nantucket Elementary School
- Nantucket Intermediate School
- Cyrus Pierce Middle School
- Nantucket High School
- Nantucket New School
- Nantucket Lighthouse School
The Job Market in Nantucket, MA
Nantucket's top employer by far is the Town of Nantucket, which employs nearly 700 people in a wide range of positions. Other top employers on the island include Nantucket Cottage Hospital, Nantucket Island Resorts, and Stop & Shop. Nantucket is also a haven for entrepreneurs, with more than 1,000 self-employed entrepreneurs residing there. In light of the unique challenges faced by businesses on the small island, the Chamber of Commerce launched the Nantucket Island Center for Entrepreneurs in 2019.
Top Industries on Nantucket
- Education: $75,335
- Medical: $50/hour
- Retail: $18/hour
- Service Industries: $15-19/hour
- Tourism/Hospitality: $18/hour
Here are some places you can find open positions in Nantucket:
- Find Nantucket jobs on Indeed
- Find Nantucket jobs through Nantucket Classifieds
- Find Nantucket jobs through Glassdoor
- Find Nantucket jobs through LinkedIn
The Best Things to Do in Nantucket
Nantucket is a natural heaven, featuring a host of outdoor activities that range from leisurely to downright adventurous. The island's unique maritime history, conservation status and status as a Historic Preservation Site provide a wealth of museums, historic sites and natural wonders to explore. That doesn't mean the island's dedication to maintaining its quaint charm and natural beauty has prevented it from becoming a world-class destination for dining, shopping, entertainment, culture and nightlife. Here are some of the most popular things to do on Nantucket, including a few suggestions that are off the beaten path.
- Jetties Beach. Named for the large jetty located at this beach, Jetties Beach is one of the most popular family beaches on the island. It's easy to reach by bike, car, on foot or on the NRTA shuttle bus. With lifeguards, changing rooms, showers, restrooms and family-friendly amenities, it's a great spot for young families to spend an entire day enjoying the sun, sand and surf. Jetties Beach also takes accessibility seriously, providing accessible restrooms and concessions, as well as a plastic mat down the center of the sand for easy wheelchair, stroller and cart access. With tennis courts, a playground, and a skateboard park — not to mention the availability of windsurfing, sailboat and kayak rentals — there's plenty to do to keep everyone entertained.
- Shopping. From one-of-a-kind artworks and antiques to the ultimate in kitschy tourist items, Nantucket offers some of the most interesting shopping experiences to be found anywhere. The charming Downtown Historic District features brick sidewalks and historical storefronts offering local arts, artisan foods, exquisite art and unique items, such as handmade baskets and hand-loomed fabrics.
- Christmas Stroll Weekend. A highlight of the off-season, Nantucket's Christmas Stroll Weekend is an eagerly anticipated annual event for locals and visitors alike. Each year, the seasonal shops reopen for the extravaganza that features shops and streets decorated for the holiday, a Santa parade down the middle of Main Street and special events and activities to add to the fun.
Parks & Attractions
- Dreamland Film and Performing Arts Center. Nantucket's Dreamland and Performing Arts Center has been enriching the cultural and civic life of the island's residents and visitors in a variety of guises — and locations — since its original construction as a Quaker Meeting House in 1832. Today's Dreamland is a world-class performing arts theater and cultural center with a year-round calendar of films, live theater, comedy, live music, live dance and public events designed to provoke thought while providing entertainment.
- The Nantucket Daffodil Festival. The Nantucket Daffodil Festival began nearly 50 years ago as a flower show organized by the Nantucket Garden Club. In the years since, it has expanded into one of the most anticipated festivals of the year — an extravaganza of events, displays, contests, exhibits and parades to welcome spring to the island and mark the unofficial opening of the summer season.
- Whaling Museum. The Nantucket Whaling Museum is a step back into the past, when Nantucket was the global center of the whaling industry. It includes displays of the museum's vast collection of paintings, tools, scrimshaw and artifacts. Visitors are treated to daily programs, spotlight tours and films created especially for the Nantucket Historical Association, as well as a gift shop located in the authentically restored Hadwen and Barney Oil and Candle Factory. Before leaving, be sure to take in the breathtaking views of Nantucket Harbor from Tucker's Roofwalk.
- Maria Mitchell Aquarium. Operated by the Maria Mitchell Association, the Aquarium celebrates the natural history and environment of Nantucket Island in tribute to one of the island's most notable historical figures, Maria Mitchell. The 19th-century astronomer, naturalist, and educator's discovery of a comet led to international fame and an appointment as the first American professor of astronomy at Vassar College. In addition to the aquarium, the MMA operates two observatories, a natural science museum, and a research center and preserves the historic birthplace of Maria Mitchell.
Best Places to Eat
- Cisco Brewery & Nantucket Vineyards. The original Cisco Brewers location, the Nantucket Brewery features a no-frills, come-as-you-are vibe and a selection of local food trucks to supplement their own beer, wine and spirits. Live music and excellent, knowledgeable servers make this spot one of the best places to finish off an active day on the island.
- Bartlett’s Farm. Serving Nantucket families for seven generations, Bartlett's Farm is Nantucket's oldest and largest family-owned farm. It offers fresh, locally grown vegetables, flowers and plants. It also includes a farm stand, a garden center and a full-service Farm Kitchen that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. All menus, including catering for small and large events, are also available to order online for pickup.
- Sandbar. For in-season, beachside dining fun, it's hard to beat the Sandbar at Jetties Beach. Close to downtown and easily accessible, the Sandbar offers an open-air dining area and a takeaway menu for on-the-beach dining. Their menu includes sandwich favorites, burgers and hot dogs, and seafood entrees alongside frozen drinks, wine and beer at reasonable prices.
- Nantucket Culinary Center and Corner Table. The Nantucket Culinary Center and Corner Table restaurant is more than a place to eat. Founded by Nantucket locals Greg and Joy Margolis, the Corner Table is a popular grab-and-go restaurant serving sandwiches, salads, soups, pastries, coffee and tea, but also offers a comfortable and welcoming cafe space and outdoor patio. In addition, the NCC maintains a private kitchen and dining room available for events, with their catering or bring-your-own, and hosts visiting chef demonstrations in their teaching kitchen. The menu includes vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
- 167Raw. Founded in 1978, 167Raw expanded from its beginnings as a local fishmonger to become a seasonal specialty shop offering the finest meats, cheeses, seafood, and carefully curated gourmet sauces and items. In addition to the shop, 167Raw also operates a food truck offering what many say are the best fish tacos and lobster rolls they've ever had — quite a feat on an island known for its local seafood. Visitors to the Cisco Brewery can also enjoy 167Raw's fine seafood from the Raw Bar at Cisco's every day but Sunday, from May to October. 167Raw also has a catering menu, and they'll come to you or host you in their event space.
While getting to Nantucket can be tricky, once you're there, it's surprisingly easy to get around the island. You can travel by car — bring your own on one of the ferries or rent one once you arrive — but chances are your car won't see a lot of use on the island. Most people get around on bike or moped, which you can rent from more than a half dozen shops in Nantucket Town, or take the shuttle bus operated by Nantucket Regional Transit Authority. Public transit is robust, with many of the routes operating year-round for the convenience of residents.
Planning Your Move
- Essential Tips for Packing and Moving While You Sell Your Old House
- Tips on Staging a Home for a Quick Sale
- The Essential Guide to Selling on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace
Be sure to download our checklists, too: