Day-tripping to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket

It might be something of a hard sell to journey too far afield when vacationing at the Ship’s Knees Inn. After all, you’re in Orleans, one of Cape Cod’s most eclectic towns. Spectacular beaches. Wonderful theatre. Fine dining. Art galleries. Amateur baseball at its finest. It’s all right at your doorstep.

And not far away are coveted Lower Cape destinations such as Wellfleet, Truro and Provincetown, where you can go on a whale watch, stroll through boutique shops and do some serious people watching.

But even when in Nirvana, sometimes you just want to get away, as the saying goes. The answer? Board a ferry and take a day trip to the idyllic islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, where celebrity-sightings are hardly uncommon and a different feeling washes over you from the moment you step off the boat.

The most convenient way to reach Nantucket is on the Freedom Cruise Line, which departs daily from Saquatucket Harbor in Harwich Port and is just a 12-mile drive from the inn. It arrives on the “Grey Lady” – as Nantucket is known because it’s often shrouded in fog – in less than 90 minutes. You can also depart from the Ocean Street Dock in Hyannis on Hy-Line Cruises, whose high-speed ferry can make the trip in one hour.

Hy-Line is your best bet for traveling to Martha’s Vineyard for what is also approximately a one-hour journey out of Hyannis Harbor. The Steamship Authority offers passage to both islands – to Nantucket from Hyannis; to Martha’s Vineyard from Woods Hole – and is the only ferry line that accommodates automobiles.

Upon arrival, be prepared to be charmed by the quaint cobblestone streets on Nantucket, the unique gingerbread cottages on the Vineyard and the sheer beauty of both islands. You can rent a car, a bike or a moped, or simply choose to stroll along the main drags closest to the dock. Whatever your choice, you’ll find plenty of options to fill your day.

Nantucket’s sandy beaches are among the most stunning anywhere. If you’re seeking waves for bodysurfing, head to the south shore beaches, while the north shore beaches are more protected by Nantucket Sound. For surfers, the best spots are Cisco, Miacomet, Surfside, and Tom Nevers Beach. For families, Jetties Beach is the one to hit.

The 80-year-old Nantucket Whaling Museum is one of the island’s most popular tourist attractions. You’ll discover fascinating artifacts, and even a sperm whale skeleton that dives dramatically from the ceiling.

The Sankaty Head Light, built in 1850, stands as a beacon at the island’s easternmost point in Siasconset Village and is on the National Register of Historic Places. And iconic Brant Point Light dates to 1901.

For something a bit less, shall we say, educational, visit Cisco Brewers, where you can sample world-class wines, beers and spirits. The brewery includes the onsite Triple Eight Distillery and Nantucket Vineyard. You can also tour behind the scenes to learn how it all comes about.

Martha’s Vineyard is more spread out than Nantucket and offers a wide range of options, from dipping your toes into the water where “Jaws” was filmed and visiting boutique shops like Midnight Farm (co-owned by Carly Simon) and the Night Heron Galley to perusing the shelves at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore (frequented by President Obama) and teeing it up at Farm Neck Golf Club (where Obama and President Clinton hung out during their summer retreats).

Oak Bluffs is the busiest village, with all sorts of shopping and dining options, while Edgartown is quieter, upscale and more elegant. Venture out to Gay Head for truly spectacular scenery, and be certain to visit Chilmark Chocolates for handcrafted delights. That is, if you have a sweet tooth, and who doesn’t? You can’t go to the Vineyard without riding the hand-painted horses in Oak Bluffs, the world’s oldest carousel. Don’t be afraid to reach for the brass ring.

For the best view on the island, trek up Prospect Hill to the top of Menemsha Hills, where the views stretch from the cliffs of Aquinnah and across Vineyard Sound to the Elizabeth and Normal Islands.

Looking for something out of the box? Check out Island Alpaca, located two miles from Vineyard Haven, to take a gander at nearly 80 alpacas.

Finally, close out your visit with a spectacular sunset from the Gay Head Lighthouse or the terra cotta colored clay of Gay Head Cliffs, both located in Aquinnah.

And then you can head to the ferry and be back at the inn by dinner. Now that’s truly a day trip to remember.

Orleans Vacation Guide

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