When many Nantucket locals head for the beach, they don’t frequent the official destinations you’ll find on the map. With eighty two miles of coastline, the island has countless “secret” beaches — with sand road access, no lifeguards or snack shacks, and informal names like “Gunrack” or “Water Tower.” Here’s a guide to Nantucket’s lesser-known beaches.
The island’s north shore fronts the Nantucket Sound, a calm expanse of water between Nantucket and Cape Cod. North Shore beaches are calm with little to no surf and generally warmer waters than the South Shore, which, on the Atlantic Ocean, has moderate to heavy surf.
Also known as “Fat Ladies Beach,” though that’s not a fair assessment of the beachgoers here (if it ever was). Expect moderate surf and a good number of surfers under the right wind conditions. Pick up a picnic lunch (and a bottle of rosé) from Bartlett Farm on the way.
Access: Take Hummock Pond Road out toward Cisco; turn left on Bartlett Farm Road; just past the farm, it becomes a dirt road. Follow the dirt road to the ocean. Small sand parking lot with additional parking along the road.
Between the previous two beaches, Gunrack is particularly popular with surfers.
Access: Take Hummock Pond Road out toward Cisco; right before the bike path ends, turn left on Heller Way; follow Heller down until it deadends; turn right on Walbang Avenue and follow to the beach.
Closer to Surfside, this beach is a true local’s spot, accessible by a short path through beach shrubs; you’re rewarded by a wide open beach with few other beachgoers.
Access: Take Surfside Road toward the south shore, and turn left just before the Surfside parking lot on Nonantum Road. Go down a block and turn right on narrow Woodbine Street; drive to the water. Limited parking.
Not far from Ladies, and often less crowded. (Allegedly named for the Schneiderman family, who owned the house closest to the beach.) Spectacular views from the access road, over the water and the lowlying moors. The road isn’t wide enough for two cars to pass; drive slowly and be prepared to yield, or get over with two wheels up onto the dunes. (A Jeep is handy here.)
Access: Take Hummock Pond Road out toward Cisco; right before the bike path ends, turn left on Heller Way; take the third right at Austin Locke Way and follow the sand road to the water. Small sand parking lot with additional parking along the road. Biking is possible but can be difficult in the soft sand toward the end.
As might not surprise, a big fishing destination. Has a broad, flat beach similar to nearby Surfside but without the crowds, and is just a short walk from a sizable parking lot
Access: Take Surfside Road toward the south shore, and turn left just before the Surfside parking lot on Nonantum Road. Fisherman’s Beach road is the fourth right. Large parking lot.
Just opposite Nantucket’s youth hostel — yes, this tiny island has a youth hostel, housed in an 1873 former lifesaving station — is another beautiful, uncrowded stretch of Surfside. It’s a long walk down the path and stairs to the beach, but with dramatic views over the water that make it worthwhile.
Access: Take Surfside Road toward the south shore, and turn right on Western Avenue just before the water. Drive to the end of the road past the “Land Bank” sign to a sand parking area; the access path is on the left.
Steps is hardly a well-kept secret, but with no parking lot and no lifeguard, it surely qualifies. With access from the Nantucket cliffs, Steps boasts the most dramatic views of any island beach. Walk through a short sand path and you’ll be met with expansive views out onto the Sound, with a wooden staircase (the namesake Steps, naturally) descending to the sand. A public alternative to the Cliffside Beach Club, with equally calm waters and beautiful sunsets.
Access: From Cliff Road, turn right on Mooers Avenue and left on Lincoln Avenue. Lincoln Avenue wraps into Lincoln Circle; at the point nearest the water is the access path. With little parking in this residential area, it’s easiest to walk or bike.
While Dionis is beloved for its broad beach and calm surf, Water Tower beach (also known as Washing Pond beach; named, fittingly, for the nearby pond and water tower) is a less crowded alternative. Ideal for swimming or shell hunting.
Access: From Cliff Road, turn right on Washing Pond Road, just before the water tower. Follow the road until it turns into a dirt road and dead ends at the beach, with a small dirt parking lot on the right.