Brant Point Light, a lighthouse located on the harbor of...

Brant Point Light, a lighthouse located on the harbor of Nantucket Island. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Joaquin Ossorio-Castillo

If you're curious about Atlantic beach destinations not on Long Island, get yourself to the southeast corner of Massachusetts, where summertime feels comfortably familiar and yet distinctly different from the Hamptons, the North Fork and Fire Island. Low-key Cape Cod is famous not for its celebrity sightings, but for its clam shacks. Visitors arrive on Nantucket without cars, and enjoy biking along traffic-free roads. Martha’s Vineyard has a reputation for exclusivity, but has a history reaching back to the abolition of slavery as a haven for African American vacationers. Here's a guide to these quaint destinations and things to explore while you're there.

Getting there

It’s a 240-mile drive, about four hours, from New York City to Onset, Massachusetts, the gateway to Cape Cod. Then you’ll have to take Bourne Bridge or Sagamore Bridge to get on to Cape Cod proper. Route 6, also known as the Mid Cape Highway, links 12 of Cape Cod’s 15 towns. Route 28 passes through the remaining three — Falmouth, Barnstable, and Chatham. As on Long Island, the summer traffic among towns can be brutal, especially on weekends, so plan accordingly.

To get to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket by car, drive to Woods Hole on Cape Cod (250 miles from New York City and 262 miles from Long Island) and take the Steamship Authority ferry (steamshipauthority.com) to Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs or the Nantucket terminal in Nantucket town. Alternatively, fly JetBlue or Delta direct from John F. Kennedy International Airport or LaGuardia  and get around either island by bike, taxi or the Vineyard Transit bus system, which makes stops in all the island towns and runs shuttle service to the beaches and the Nantucket WAVE, which provides free service all summer long to and from the airport and beaches as well as to Sconset on the other side of the island.

Cape Cod

Go to Cape Cod, the “flexed arm” of Massachusetts that extends into the Atlantic Ocean, for the sun and sand. The Cape Cod National Seashore has some of the most beautiful beaches in the country as well as miles of walking and biking trails. Daily beach passes ($15-$25) are available at entrances to beach parking lots.

Beachgoers spend time near breaking waves of a rising tide...

Beachgoers spend time near breaking waves of a rising tide at Nauset Beach in Massachusetts.  Credit: Getty Images/Robert Nickelsberg

To learn about the history and ecology of one special part of the park, the Peaked Hill Bars Historic District Sand Dunes and its famed artist cottages (Jack Kerouac and e e cummings lived in the primitive shacks at one time), take a one-hour SUV tour ($40) with an Art’s Dune Tours guide (4 Standish St., Provincetown; 508-487-1950; artsdunetours.com).

On a shark excursion with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy,...

On a shark excursion with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, guests will travel on Chatham Harbor spotting sharks, seals and other wildlife along the way. Credit: Atlantic White Shark Conservancy

Get out on the water with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (235 Orleans Rd., North Chatham, Massachusetts; 508-348-5901; atlanticwhiteshark.org), which runs hourlong Chatham Harbor receiver tours ($80) with the chance to check a receiver for recent white shark detections. Experts onboard explain the ecology, biology and behavior of marine life.

The Edward Gorey House is the former home of author...

The Edward Gorey House is the former home of author and artist Edward St. John Gorey. Visitors can explore every aspect of the artist's work through frequently rotating exhibitions at the site. Credit: Komako Akai Whitelaw

Don’t miss out on the Cape’s cultural attractions like Edward Gorey House (8 Strawberry Lane, Yarmouth Port; 508-362-3909; edwardgoreyhouse.org), an old sea captain’s home where the acclaimed illustrator lived until his death in 2000. Frequently rotating exhibitions explore every aspect of the artist’s work. Tickets are $10; $4 ages 5-12.

WHERE TO SHOP

Browse the flora and gifts for the home at Fête Among...

Browse the flora and gifts for the home at Fête Among the Flowers in Osterville.  Credit: Marc Sievers

Shop for single-ball Cape Cod bracelets and other seashore-themed pieces of jewelry handmade on Cape Cod at Cape Cod Jewelers in Hyannis (366 Main St., Hyannis; 508-771-7190; capecodjewelers.com). For stoneware inspired by the beauty of the Cape, head to Chatham Pottery. Of note are a large selection of chowder mugs, some with in-glaze cod, crab and scallop decals, others with whale tale handles (2058 Main St., Chatham; 508-430-2191; chathampottery.com). Cape Cod’s newest retail jewel box, Fete Among the Flowers, is stocked with tableware, cheese and caviar and flowers (13 Wianno Ave., Osterville; 774-228-2103; fete.shop).

GRAB A BITE

Local seafood is a Pheasant specialty for those dining at...

Local seafood is a Pheasant specialty for those dining at the restaurant. Credit: Jessica Scranton

Feasting on whole belly clams at a waterside seafood shack is a highlight of a Cape Cod getaway. Enjoy clams and sunsets over Falmouth Harbor at Jim’s Clam Shack (227 Clinton Ave., Falmouth; 508-540-7758). A bit more elevated, The Pheasant in nearby Dennis serves wild caught, seasonal and locally sourced seafood in a cozy, candlelit farmhouse (905 Rt. 6A, Dennis; pheasantcapecod.com).

NIGHTLIFE

These serene Massachusetts vacation spots don’t necessarily roll up their sidewalks after dark. Notable nightlife options on Cape Cod include A-House, Provincetown’s historic gay bar and dance club (6 Masonic Pl. #4, Provincetown; 508-487-3169; ahouse.com), and Liam McGuire’s Irish Pub (273 Main St., Falmouth; 508-548-0285; liammaguire.com) in Falmouth, which hosts karaoke and trivia nights during the week and live music on weekends.

WHERE TO STAY 

Endless Coast, a refurbished midcentury modern motel, is a bikeable distance to the beaches of the Cape Cod National Seashore. The child-friendly option features an indoor pool, a barbecue area, hammocks and a fire pit. Bikes, beach chairs and coolers can be borrowed. Pets under 70 pounds are welcome in some first-floor rooms. Rooms start at $169 per night (2068 State Hwy., Wellfleet; 508-349-2350, endlesscoast.com).

Cape Cod's Chapter House is an historic inn whose origin...

Cape Cod's Chapter House is an historic inn whose origin story dates to 1716. The main house features a bar and a four-season porch. Credit: Jessica Scranton

For old New England charm and history, make the centrally located Chapter House in Yarmouth Port your base. This historic mansion and carriage house have been recently renovated to become a deluxe 21-room hotel. The bespoke cocktail program focuses on classic pre-prohibition cocktails along with fresh takes. Rooms start at $242 per night (277 MA-6A, Yarmouth Port; 508-362-4348; chapterhousecapecod.com).

Nantucket

You can bring your car to Nantucket, but there’s no better way to explore it than by bike. Rent one — conventional or electric if you need a boost at Cook’s Cycles (6 South Beach St., Nantucket; 508-228-0800; cookscyclesnantucket.com). Then follow 35 miles of side paths to discover the island’s many attractions (nantucket-ma.gov).

Summer day on Front Road in Sconset on Nantucket Island.

Summer day on Front Road in Sconset on Nantucket Island. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/grantreig

Learn about Nantucket’s whaling history at the award-winning Nantucket Whaling Museum (13 Broad St., Nantucket; 508-228-1894; nha.org), whose holdings include a 46-foot sperm whale skeleton, restored 1847 candle factory and one of the world’s largest scrimshaw collections. Tickets are $20, $5 ages 6-17.

  A sperm whale skeleton at the Whaling Museum located...

 

A sperm whale skeleton at the Whaling Museum located at the Nantucket Historical Association. Credit: Bill Hoenk

Explore the island’s history as an art colony at Greater Light (8 Howard St., Nantucket, Massachusetts; nha.org), a former livestock barn built in 1790 and transformed into an artist’s studio and magical summer home by sisters Gertrude and Hanna Monaghan, who adorned the space with decorative objects, castoff architectural elements and handmade furniture during the '30s and '40s. Free to all visitors.

Explore the Monaghan Sisters' Greater Light historic property in Nantucket. 

Explore the Monaghan Sisters' Greater Light historic property in Nantucket.  Credit: Bill Hoenk

On foot, traverse the Sconset Bluff Walk, a 2-mile out-and-back public trail that begins in the village of Siasconset at the end of Front Street. Photo opportunities—of clapboard cottages, the red and white striped Sankaty Head Lighthouse and the crashing Atlantic abound.

Another fascinating walk is the Black Heritage Trail, consisting of 10 stops of importance in the history of African Americans on the island. Download the map and guide at maah.org to locate and learn about the Historic Coloured Cemetery, the African Meeting House and Sherburne House, the hotel where Frederick Douglass stayed during his final visit to Nantucket.

WHERE TO SHOP

Erica Wilson’s Nantucket needlepoint store features needlepoint projects, accessories and clothes for women, men and children.  Credit: Nantucket Chamber of Commerce

The Brown Basket Gallery displays the work of Gerald L. Brown, who has been making heirloom-quality Nantucket lightship baskets for over 40 years (9 Old South Wharf Rd., Nantucket; 508-228-9344, glbrownnatucketbaskets.com). Erica Wilson founded her eponymous boutique 60 years ago to showcase her needlework designs. Today it is run by her daughter Vanessa and granddaughters, and still sells Wilson’s original canvases. Also not to be missed is the curated selection of chic clothing and accessories for men, women and kids (25 Main St., Nantucket; 508-228-9881; ericawilson.com).

NIGHTLIFE

Choices for a late-night out include The Chickenbox (16 Dave St., Nantucket; 508-228-9717; thechickenbox.com), a roadhouse-type establishment with live music and dancing and Gaslight (3 N. Union St., Nantucket, Massachusetts; 508-228-6464; gaslightnantucket.com) an upscale venue with local, regional and national touring bands, a pan-Asian menu and fancy cocktail program.

GRAB A BITE 

Nantucket's Sister Ship restaurant and cafe offers elevated cocktails with Mediterranean...

Nantucket's Sister Ship restaurant and cafe offers elevated cocktails with Mediterranean dishes. Credit: Matt Kisiday and Sister Ship

Mediterranean bistro and speakeasy Sister Ship, inside the Faraway Hotel, has taken Nantucket by storm with its seafood paella, dining room and buzzy patio (29 Centre St., Nantucket; 508-203-6889; farawayhotels.com). For a Nantucket meets California meal of lobster rolls and baja fish tacos, Millie’s is the place. The adjacent Millie’s Market sells cocktail mixes, coffee, and ice cream to go (326 Madaket Rd., Nantucket; milliesnantucket.com).

WHERE TO STAY 

21 Broad is an old Victorian structure concealing 27 cheerful and hip rooms. The hostelry is right in the middle of town, steps from Nantucket’s restaurants and shops. On-site amenities include indoor lounging areas, an outdoor firepit and complimentary mixers that guests use to make their own cocktails. Rooms start at $264 per night (21 Broad St., Nantucket; 508-228-4749; 21broadhotel.com).

Travel 10 miles from the center of Nantucket town to Wauwinet, a full-service oceanfront resort with private bay and ocean beaches, paddleboards and kayaks, complimentary bikes, and shuttle service to town and ferry. There are rooms, suites and stand-alone cottages with private outdoor space. Its restaurant, Topper’s, is an island favorite and boasts a 2,000-bottle wine cellar. Rooms start at $725 (120 Wauwinet Rd., Nantucket; 508-228-0145; wauwinet.com).

Martha's Vineyard

The five lighthouses on Martha’s Vineyard collectively tell the story of the island’s maritime past. The Edgartown Lighthouse (121 N. Water St., Edgartown; mvmuseum.org) is a 10-minute walk from the center of town. Visitors who pay the $5 admission can climb to the top.

A look at Seaview Avenue in Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard....

A look at Seaview Avenue in Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard. Martha's Vineyard is an island located south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts and is famous as a summer destination. Credit: Getty Images/OlegAlbinsky

While in Oak Bluffs, take some time to admire the town’s famous gingerbread cottages, which were originally part of a 19th-century Methodist campground and today are among the most coveted homes on the island. Walking tours are offered in July and August ($15) and benefit the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association (80 Trinity Park, Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts; 508-693-0525; mvcma.org).

The summer sunset on Martha's Vineyard.

The summer sunset on Martha's Vineyard. Credit: Getty Images/Bernard Fairclough

If you like theater, check out the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse (24 Church St., Vineyard Haven; 508-696-6300; mvplayhouse.org) outdoor amphitheater, where a Shakespeare play is staged every summer. This year it is “Much Ado About Nothing.” Tickets $20. Movie buffs visiting the Vineyard won’t want to miss the American Legion Bridge, known as the Jaws Bridge (267-125 Seaview Ave., Edgartown, Massachusetts) because it was used as a location in Steven Spielberg’s Vineyard-based summer blockbuster.

Don’t let memories of the film scare you out of the water. Take a two-hour private sail ($600 for up to six passengers) from Edgartown Harbor on a traditional catboat with Catboat Charters (1 Dock St., Edgartown; 508-524-6903; catboatcharters.com). Or join a larger group for a two-hour sail ($100-$130) on the smooth and stable Mad Max Sailing Adventures (25 Dock St., Edgartown; 508-627-7500; madmaxmarina.com) catamaran. Both that provides views of lighthouses, beaches and historic homes.

GRAB A BITE

Red Cat Kitchen serves unpretentious but expertly prepared linguine and clams, buttermilk fried chicken, shrimp and Vermont cheddar grits, along with specialty cocktails like the Cold Brew Caipirinha with cachaca, cold brew coffee, cane sugar, lime juice (6 Circuit Ave., Oak Bluffs; 508-696-6040, redcatkitchen.com).

Soft pretzels, cheese and meat platters, and artisan pizzas (cauliflower crusts are an option) accompany 10 different beers on tap at Bad Martha Farmer’s Brewery (270 Upper Main St., Edgartown; 508-939-4415; badmarthabeer.com).

WHERE TO SHOP

Respoke repurposes designer silk scarves into products like espadrilles, sneakers and more. 

Purchase a black dog-branded sweatshirt (or cap or travel tote or key chain) at the original Martha’s Vineyard location of The Black Dog Tavern (20 Beach Street Extension, Vineyard Haven; 508-693-9223; theblackdog.com). For something a little more elegant, take a look at the espadrilles at Respoke. These beauties are made in traditional workshops in Spain with vintage Hermes and Gucci silk scarves (8 Main St., Edgartown; 508-939-3641; respoke.com).

NIGHTLIFE

The Ritz (4 Circuit Ave., Oak BluffS; 508-693-9851; theritzmv.com) is Martha’s Vineyard’s historic dive bar and music venue. Back Door Donuts (1-11 Kennebec Ave., Oak Bluffs; 508-693-3688; backdoordonuts.com) continues its decades-long commitment to serving mammoth apple fritters and other treats to hungry partiers from 7 p.m. to midnight out of its back door.

WHERE TO STAY

 Summercamp is the largest ocean-front hotel on Martha’s Vineyard and...

 Summercamp is the largest ocean-front hotel on Martha’s Vineyard and features 95 rooms with private baths and views of the harbor.  Credit: Lark Hotels

In continuous operation since 1879, Summercamp in Oak Bluffs was renovated by the Lark Group in 2016 and now features 95 retro-chic rooms with plush mattresses, waffle robes and Bluetooth radios. Porches and balconies offer views of sailboats, a Camp Canteen stocks classic snacks like Cracker Jack and a game room features a Ping-Pong table, Twister and other classic games. Rooms start at $236 per night (70 Lake Ave., Martha’s Vineyard; 508-693-6611; larkhotels.com).

Hob Knob is a luxury boutique hotel on the island of...

Hob Knob is a luxury boutique hotel on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, that has hosted visitors for nearly 100 years. Credit: Hobknob Inn

The historic Hob Knob Inn, in the middle of the action in Edgartown, has been welcoming guests for decades. The 19th-century Gothic Revival building contains 17 rooms and suites, some of them designated as pet-friendly, all smartly decorated in New England nautical style. Farm-to-table breakfast and afternoon tea are included in the room rate. Beach cruiser bicycles, a wraparound porch with rocking chairs and an onsite spa with a fitness room and sauna. Rooms start at $349 (128 Main St., Edgartown; 508-627-9510, hobknob.com).

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