Winter here is cozy, calm, and romantic. The Little Grey Lady of the Sea says goodbye to its summer hordes and turns back to its laid-back, small-town roots. It’s exquisitely peaceful and scenic (think mist-shrouded walks on the beach, crashing surf, twinkling street lights, and warm log fires).
“The serenity of the island in winter is incredible,” says Amy Roberts, a year-round resident. “The quiet streets and near-empty beaches provide ideal settings for experiencing the essence of Nantucket — both its heritage and its natural beauty.” Added bonus: Restaurants and shops are blissfully uncrowded and lodging prices plummet. (Visit www.nantucketchamber.org for a list of lodgings and restaurants open in winter.)
But should you take the kids? You bet. On the way, stop at Pain D’Avignon (15 Hinckley, Hyannis, 508-778-8588, www.paindavignon.com), minutes from where the ferry docks, for a bag of just-baked cookies, flaky croissants, and to-go sandwiches. Then bundle up — and enjoy. Here are family-friendly things to do when the mercury drops.
Close encounters Come winter, animals outnumber people. Join Captain Blair Perkins (Shearwater Excursions, 508-228-7037, www.explorenantucket.com, adults $95, children age 12 and under $75) on a 2½-hour seal cruise to Muskeget Island, home to a year-round population of up to 3,000 grey seals. You can also look for seals swimming close to shore and sunning on exposed rocks at Madaket Beach, near the western tip of the island. Return to the beach at dusk to watch huge black clouds of long-tailed ducks — with estimates of up to a million birds — fly overhead. Even young children are awestruck by this amazing sight — and sound. Also fun is what locals call the “winter gull show,” when thousands of seagulls swoop in and out of the crashing Atlantic Ocean waves, scooping up fish in a cold weather feeding frenzy. Best spot to watch the show is on Low Beach near the southeast corner of the island.
Walks on the wild side “The beaches are stunning in winter,” says Roberts. And, empty. Hunt for seashells on Dionis Beach on the north shore and visit Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge (Wauwinet Road, 508-228-5646, www.thetrustees.org , free), with 16 miles of trails along the beach and through the woods. Sign up for a guided winter walk with the Nantucket Conservation Association (118 Cliff Road, 508-228-2884, www.nantucketconservation.org, free). Walks are offered sporadically throughout the season; call or check the website for schedules. You can also pick up a self-guided map of conservation lands. Trails along beaches and through open spaces crisscross 9,000 acres of protected land, where you will have far-reaching views not possible during the leafy summer months.
Whale of a time Head straight for the Discovery Room at the Whaling Museum (13 Broad St., www.nha.org, adults $17, students $15, 6-17 $8), where kids can draw and participate in hands-on activities. Then, check out the cool 46-foot-long sperm whale skeleton and watch the film “Nantucket,’’ entertaining for all ages. The museum is open Thu-Mon through December, and weekends February through March.
Much to do Visit Bartlett Farm (33 Bartlett Farm Road, 508-228-9403, www.bartlettfarm.com), the oldest and largest family-run farm on the island, for fun events like kids’ cooking classes and arts and crafts workshops.
If there’s snow on the ground, join locals in Dead Horse Valley for sledding. There’s also indoor skating at Nantucket Ice (One Backus Lane, 508-228-2516, www.nantucketice.org, adults $8, high school students and under $5, skate rentals $5) Sat-Sun noon-1:35 p.m. and a DJ Skate Party every Saturday evening 6-7:20 p.m. Families can watch first-run movies and live performances at Dreamland Film and Performing Arts Center (17 South Water St., 508-228-1784, www.nantucketdreamland.org).
Things are looking up Clear winter skies and little light pollution make for fantastic star gazing. Join a professional astronomer with the Maria Mitchell Association (4 Vestral St., 508-228-9198, www.mmo.org, adults $15, 18 and under $10) at the Loines Observatory for a narrated look at the starry skies. You may see meteor showers, comets, far-away planets, and shooting stars through the high-powered telescopes. The association also hosts guided nature walks and other events throughout winter, like the Electricity Extravaganza, where kids learn how to build a motor and tamper with Earth’s magnetic field.