The secret that used to be Nantucket has long been out. Each summer, the island receives an increasing influx of tourists in the months between Memorial Day and Labor Day who come to experience this unique place. Outside that time period, though, Nantucket is a much different world. In fact, a long weekend in early to mid-May may be the perfect time to experience the real Nantucket.
Sitting on the deck of the slow ferry this time of year for the trip is by no means a sunny ride, but braving through it will be worth it. Thick fog and brief, intermittent rain storms occur seemingly every day this time of year, but bundled up inside a sweater and jacket, the ocean spray and salty wind can be comfortably enjoyed. After a two hour ferry ride through a dense cloud covering the sound, the small lighthouse at Brant Point is the first structure that peaks through the early spring fog as the ferry nears the island. The wharf, which will soon be loaded with yachts and other conspicuous boats in the coming weeks for the annual Figawi race, is quiet. The docks are sparsely occupied with small watercraft and fishing vessels. Compared to peak season, the island is semi-deserted; it feels calm and is quaint in appearance.
On land, the island feels remarkably cosier without the usual bustling mass of summer visitors. In the absence of crowds, the real Nantucket can be appreciated: rugged nature, unique ecosystems and history hidden in nooks and crannies. A leisurely jog through the trails and tall grasses of Madaket is accompanied by a remarkable number of birds – robins, cardinals, sparrows, doves, finches – all squabbling and flitting around the entire way. A walk around the town center is also lovely, the soft pink flowers of the trees along Main Street and surrounding streets having fully bloomed by early May, their arms cascading and casting shadows over cobblestones.
Though island inhabitants are comparatively few this time of year, you can still manage to find a party if you’re in the mood for some fun. Cisco Brewery, Nantucket Vineyard and Triple Eight Distillery, located all together on Bartlett Farm Road, are the perfect place to engage in a little festive behavior. Though the vineyard is not yet open, the friendly local bartenders from the brewery will happily serve a large assortment of freshly brewed craft beer, including their famous Whale’s Tale Pale Ale. As for dining, spots like Millie’s and Fresh won’t be serving until the season starts, but Boarding House is open and ready to conjure up tasty dinners and celebratory champagne for early comers. Club goers may not be able to find a wild crowd, but if you’re up for a bit of dancing and a few Dark N’ Stormies, several bars in town are filled with fun groups of locals.
There is something remarkably cozy and calming about heading 30 miles out to sea and casting yourself away on an intriguing island that feels a few centuries behind the mainland. Maybe it’s the mysterious gray fog or maybe it’s because Nantucket is home to one of America’s largest concentrations of pre-Civil War structures. Maybe it’s the test of getting there – if you’re travelling to the Gray Lady from anywhere else besides Cape Cod, you can expect a full day dedicated to travel. Or maybe it’s something completely intangible that makes this island so enchanting. Regardless, when you arrive and step onto the dock, you can’t help but feel like you’ve travelled back in time and removed yourself from reality.