Nantucket offers a whale of a time

A man wheels his bicycle across the cobblestones in downtown Nantucket, Mass. Cycling is an inexpensive and effective way to explore the island, which is crisscrossed with bike paths.

NANTUCKET — Forget crowded Cape Cod and that other island frequented every summer by the Tourist-in-Chief. If you’re looking for unspoiled ocean vistas and beaches with breathing room, hop a ferry to Nantucket, wander the cobblestone streets and drink in the views and microbrews.

Nantucket tends to get overlooked in the shadow of Martha’s Vineyard, President Barack Obama’s go-to destination for a couple of weeks most Augusts.

Nantucket means “faraway land” in the language of its original Wampanoag natives, but it’s just 30 miles offshore, an hour’s journey via high-speed ferry from the Cape.

Not much, but that’s part of its allure. You won’t find as many cars, fast food outlets, honky-tonk nightclubs and vanilla chain hotels on tranquil Nantucket as you will on the Vineyard or the mainland.

The Nantucket Garden Conservancy leads guided tours of the island’s “secret gardens,” beautifully manicured lawns, flowers (especially the island’s signature blue hydrangeas) and shrubs on private property that gardening buffs otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to enjoy:

The Dreamland Theater, built in 1832 as a Quaker meetinghouse, completed a renovation in 2012. It screens films and stage plays and hosts the Nantucket Comedy Festival, which was July 15-18; Ben Stiller summered here as a kid and sits on the board of the Nantucket Film Festival held each June.

Whaling lifted Nantucket to economic superpower status two centuries ago, and no visit is complete without a stop at the downtown Nantucket Whaling Museum:

Suspended from the vaulted ceiling is the skeleton of a 46-foot sperm whale that washed ashore in 1998. Storytellers will regale you with the tale of the Essex, the doomed whaling ship that sank in the Pacific in 1820 and inspired Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick.”

The museum also boasts one of the world’s largest collections of scrimshaw, the elaborate artwork carved on whale teeth.

On foot, you can wander the warren of streets within walking distance of the ferry landing; they’re studded with art galleries, quirky shops, restaurants and inns.

Even better, explore by moped or bicycle. You can bring your own bike on the ferry for a small fee, but there are several rental shops steps from the wharf, and it’s cheap: $20 for two hours.

For stunning Atlantic views, follow the Milestone Road bike path due east to picturesque Siasconset.

Like any island, Nantucket can be pricey, so brace yourself for sticker shock. Stylish inns such as the historic Jared Coffin House will cost upwards of $300 a night, but more affordable bed-and-breakfast alternatives abound.

That’s the advantage of a day trip: Hop an early morning ferry, rent bikes and explore without worrying about your wallet.

Pro tip: Cobblestones are murder on the feet, so wear comfortable shoes, not heels. And bring a windbreaker; the unrelenting sea breeze can make you wish you had onewhile dining outside at dusk.