When people think of Nantucket, they all dream about bushy purple hydrangeas, bright sunny beach days and over-sized scoops of ice cream from the Juice Bar. The peak of Nantucket Island fun is surely the summertime for most, but for me, I have grown to appreciate the off season months that bring the most delightful events and simple pleasures.
Today on Ladyhattan, I am sharing my five favorite events for the fall season on Nantucket. You can also explore glimpses of my recent weekend escape to our family home on Nantucket at the bottom of this post – the weather was perfect with crisp and salty air. I cannot wait to return to my favorite place in the world to celebrate Thanksgiving with loved ones in just a few weeks.
1 – Nantucket Half Marathon
This half marathon is a great way to motivate yourself to get in shape to do a race, but also to see the island of Nantucket from a completely new perspective. The race typically takes place the first weekend of October when all the summer crowds have left. The island is quiet, but not completely dead, with restaurants and shops still open with just a few exceptions.
As for the race, it is one of the most scenic Half Marathon courses on the East Coast! Set on charming Nantucket Island, the route travels through wooded dirt roads (some with short sandy sections too), tree-lined bike paths, and lightly traveled streets with beautiful ocean views. The course is gently rolling but you are never more than a few feet above sea level. Approximately 40% of the course is on dirt roads with a few sandy sections that can be challenging but there are no significant hills. You may run on roads and see parts of Nantucket you never knew existed!
2 – Cranberry Festival
Taking place in mid-October, the Nantucket Cranberry Festival is a popular event among adults and children alike – the Foundation’s Milestone Cranberry Bog is transformed into the most unique and beautiful of Festival grounds for this special event.
Visitors can expect to learn about the history of cranberry farming on Nantucket through educational displays and harvesting demonstrations, participate in family activities, sample delectable cranberry treats and other New England classics, or simply enjoy the music and the spectacular autumn scenery. Don’t forget to purchase pounds of organic Nantucket cranberries at the event! Admission is free but parking a car will cost you $20.
3 – Scallop Harvest
The sweet and tasty Nantucket Bay Scallop is a delicacy and nothing likes its cousin the sea scallop. If you have a chance to eat them you will see why. Nantucket Bay Scallops are just exquisitely delicious sautéed in butter for a couple of minutes but don’t crowd them in the pan! In October, families and friends gather to celebrate the delicious Nantucket Bay Scallop during the harvest season.
The family scalloping season begins on October 1st, the 2018 and runs until March 31, 2019. Recreational scallopers can take scallops Wednesday through Sunday. To participate in the harvest is quite simple – you just need to know where to scallop, grab a group of friends/family, and obtain a permit and the right equipment.
Every year the crop is different but Madaket and Monomoy are the most popular spots. Ask around town and you can likely find out the hotpot beach for that year’s harvest. Permits can be obtained from the Harbormaster’s office at 34 Washington Street. Equipment can be found at the local marine stores. As for scalloping Nantucket, you will need the following equipment: Waders or a wet suit, a push rake, a clam basket tied to an inner tube to keep it afloat in the water, waterproof gloves, and warm clothes.
4 – Thanksgiving and the Tree Lighting
Thanksgiving on Nantucket is forever my happiest holiday and best memory. There is something about riding the boat over with families holding baskets full of food, treats and casserole dishes. The excitement in the chilly air from the boat to the island is contagious – everyone is eager for a Thanksgiving feast on ACK.
Other memorable aspects of Thanksgiving on Nantucket include the annual Turkey Plunge. This takes place on the morning of Thanksgiving and brave souls run across the beach in bathing suits to dive into the frigid waters of the harbor. One year my late father and sister participated in the plunge and the bumped into Vice President Joe Biden while sprinting out of the freezing cold water – we even snagged a photograph of them smiling with joy on such a fun morning.
Following the morning Turkey Plunge, my family enjoys going to Cisco Brewery to enjoy a cold beer and play some games while we wait for dinner as mom cooks up a storm. Some years we gather with our neighbors who are like family to us and shared a champagne toast. Sitting around a candle lit table in my mom’s historic home (built before 1800) and holding the hands of the people I love most is a moment that I cherish each year – and will cherish for the rest of my life.
And the ultimate part of Thanksgiving on Nantucket, at least for me, is the annual tree-lighting ceremony that happens on the Friday night after the holiday. Affectionately named Nantucket Noel, the Annual Christmas Tree Lighting & Community Caroling begins the day after Thanksgiving. At dusk my family and neighbors run down to the top of Main Street where crowds gather for the lighting of the tree. The town crier rings an old fashioned bell and announces that the season is here – Nantucket Noel. At that moment, the main 20-foot tree at the top of Main Street lights up as the local high school children rejoice in familiar holiday songs. Along with the large tree lighting over hundreds of small trees are bathed in a blaze of colored lights down Main Street. It is the most beautiful sight to see.
5 – NANTUCKET CHRISTMAS STROLL
The stroll originally started over 40 years ago as an effort to keep residents from leaving Nantucket to buy gifts on Cape Cod. In an effort to encourage shopping local, businesses kept their stores open late the first Friday in December. The event now lasts throughout the weekend, and visitors can peruse the quaint downtown shops, plus a craft fair featuring local artists. Some stores even pass out treats (mulled wine, cookies, hot coco) to shoppers.
On the Saturday of the stroll, Main Street is closed off for pedestrians for an array of activities. Costumed carolers will be on hand to bring forth holiday cheer. An ugly sweater competition, a Christmas market, cookie decorating, ice carving displays, an art show silent auction and special tours are also on deck. This is such a festive way to gather with your girlfriends and do a weekend of holiday shopping, celebrating and rejoicing in the seasonal spirit on the most beautiful island in America.
GLIMPSES OF MY OCTOBER WEEKEND
Last weekend I went up to Nantucket to enjoy the perfect October weekend. I enjoyed peaceful shopping throughout downtown, pumpkin sightings at my favorite homes nearby, and easy access to the best restaurants with same-day reservations. Plus, my neighbors are like family to me, and thankfully they were all still on island through Thanksgiving – seeing them made my heart full. On Saturday morning, I woke up early to walk around a deserted downtown and witness another sunrise over the harbor – it was quite a stunning sight – see the last photograph on this post for a glimpse of this moment. Hope you enjoyed my favorite fall events on Nantucket and insider glimpses of off-season delights through my Ladyhattan lens.