by Ron Anders -
SGN Contributing Writer
Treasure Island. The Mysterious Island. Shutter Island. Pop culture, classic literature, and movies have fostered our fascination with islands - big or small, real or fictional, they provide safe havens from stormy seas. In Puget Sound, we can live on Bainbridge or Vashon, vacation in the glorious San Juans, or wend our way to the Hawaiian Islands when gray skies get too much for us.
I'd like to add two islands to our vacation menu: Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, two small gems nestled in the Atlantic, off Cape Cod. While not high on Seattleites' radar/Gaydar, they provide just about everything you could want in a vacation spot. Once the whaling capitals of the world, they give visitors a chance to relax on pristine beaches, swim in the bracing Atlantic, roam the verdant landscape, wander or bike on countless paths, chow down in splendid restaurants (chic or funky), and shop in a myriad of emporiums.
Forty percent of the islands' land is conserved, much of which is open to the public. Often touted as expensive playgrounds for the rich and famous (yes, they are here), you can easily visit the islands without breaking the bank (especially if you visit off-season, when there are many discounts available). While there are no Gay-only establishments on these islands, I found them all to be welcoming. The New England 'live and let live' attitude is apparent here, indicative of Massachusetts being the first state to allow Gay people to marry.
AND GETTING AROUND
The Steamship Authority (www.steamshipauthority.com) and Hy-Line Cruises (www.hy-linecruises.com) provide ferries (both high-speed and conventional) that you can board in Hyannis. The Nantucket-bound voyage takes a little over two hours. The high-speed ferry will get you there in less than half the time. Getting to Martha's Vineyard takes a mere 45 minutes by ferry from Woods Hole. If you want to bus it to Woods Hole, take the Peter Pan bus from Boston, New York City, or Providence. I avoided traffic jams and long ferry lines by flying to Nantucket via Cape Air/Nantucket Airlines (www.flycapeair.com) from Boston. The flight (on a spiffy Cessna) lasted a little less than an hour and gave me some spectacular bird's-eye views. Cape Air can also take you to Martha's Vineyard in about a half-hour.
Repeat after me: 'Leave your car at home.' This is the mantra I quickly learned from locals and tourists. Excellent transportation options make getting around the islands easy - and the terrain makes it a bicycler's dream. If you need additional motivation to leave your car behind, there are the requirements of advance ferry reservations and steep fees.
Thirty miles off Cape Cod and 50 square miles large, the seemingly endless stretches of pristine (public) beach set the tone for this sun-filled playground. The main (and largest, by far) town is also called Nantucket.
One of several luxurious properties of The Summer House of Nantucket (www.thesummerhouse.com) is 29 Fair Street. I stayed in the cozy 'Gardenia' - a charming, secluded one-bedroom cottage with original antique wide plank pine floors, skylights, and a neighboring garden for secluded relaxation. For your time indoors, a flatscreen TV and wireless internet are included. To help you luxuriate, Knightsbridge London bath products are on hand, as is a hearty self-serve breakfast. Accommodations range from $135 to $375, depending upon the season. Only a short five-minute walk to town, you will feel pampered - especially since your stay includes free access to the Summer Hotel (in Siasconset), which boasts a spectacular multi-level setting on the ocean, beach access, swimming pool and sundeck.
For a delish lunch and fresh-baked desserts, check out Provisions (3 Harbor Square). I took my tangy curried chicken salad sandwich to an outside bench and people-watched. Lola 41 (www.lola41.net), a Gay-owned restaurant, is the essence of hip. While you're seeing and being seen in the softly lit, brown-hued dining room, try their renowned burger - the best in town - smothered in red onion compote. Overlooking the harbor, the Brandt Point Grill at White Elephant Hotel (www.whiteelephanthotel.com) is elegantly appointed, but casual dress is fine. Their New England clam chowder (with smoked bacon) is peerless, and they have the most creative cocktails in town. Try the succulent fluke with crab and chive crust, a side of mashed potatoes (which could easily serve three), and the moonpie dessert (three small 'cookies,' each with a different type of sweet filling).
Nantucket has more beaches than you can shake a Speedo at. For convenience, take a short walk from town to Jetties Beach, a full-service location (i.e., calm surf, restrooms, and a lifeguard). For the more adventurous, Miacomet Beach is a popular beach for some Gay vacationers, but rough surf and strong currents make swimming a challenge. If you're in the mood for an old-fashioned shopping spree, a walk around Nantucket will satisfy your itch. Thanks to some watchful municipal planning, no chain stores are in sight.
A walk around the winding streets of Siaconset ('Sconset' to natives) will give you a marvelous view of some quintessential wood-shingled Cape Cod houses. The atmosphere was so enchanting that I missed my shuttle back to town. The Cisco Brewery (www.ciscobrewers.com) is a great place to quench your thirst after a serious day at the beach. With separate tasting facilities for beer, wine and liquor, you are certain to find a taste that hits the spot. The Club Car (www.theclubcar.com), an eatery that has been around for over 30 years, gets high marks from some Gay travelers - as do watering holes such as The Muse (44 Atlantic Avenue) and the Chicken Box (www.thechickenbox.com).
The 100 square miles of 'the Vineyard' contain several unique towns, each of which has its own Yankee character. The Obamas and the Clintons vacation here, but us ordinary folk are also made to feel welcome.
Housed in an imposing Victorian-inspired home built in 1892, the Fallon Hotel (www.thefallon.com) is a new boutique hotel in the heart of Edgartown, with eight beautifully appointed rooms. Depending upon the season, rooms may range from $125 to $495. The front porch, overlooking a lush flower garden, is a great place to recharge after a day of touring. AMBR Green Tea Spa organic bath products, HD TV, iPod docking stations, complimentary WiFi, and plush bathrobes will make your indoor experience wonderfully rejuvenating. For those that insist on driving, there is on-site free parking - a much-sought amenity.
If you've slept in after a night of revelry, the whimsically atmospheric ArtCliff Diner (39 Beach Road, Vineyard Haven) serves its bounteous breakfast until 2 p.m. Savoring the almond-crusted French toast is a sweet way to wake up. For lunch, the pulled pork sandwich (on grilled ciabatta) will satisfy even the most discriminating foodie. Cozily ensconced on the main floor of the Fallon Hotel, the elegantly stylish and soothingly lit L'etoile restaurant (www.letoile.net) prides itself on its use of local food sources. The flash-seared Atlantic salmon was mouth-watering, and the buttermilk shortcake with mixed berries set a new standard for dessert. When I entered the bustling Atlantic Restaurant (www.atlanticmv.com), with its enchanting harbor view, and noticed bacon strips (hog heaven!) poking out of a metal bucket - instead of the usual peanuts - I knew that I was in a cheerfully trendy establishment. My seafood fix of the day started with the jumbo lump crab cake, followed by swordfish with a lemon-thyme garlic sauce. Overlooking Edgartown lighthouse, Henry's Hotel Bar (www.harbor-view.com) - located in the Harbor View Hotel and Resort - has an intimate vibe. Its tapas-style dishes are delectable, as are its staples, like the juicy brisket sandwich I feasted on.
Here, beaches abound - those on the north shore having gentle surf, the southern shore having stronger undertow for skilled swimmers. Lighthouse aficionados can get a magnificent view of the ocean from Gay Head Lighthouse at Aquinna (formerly Gay Head), where sandy cliffs rise regally over the landscape. A one-minute crossing on the ferry will get to you Chappaquiddick Island where,a magnificently scenic tour (www.thetrustees.org) gets you to the Cape Pogue Lighthouse tour.
Alley's General Store (299 State Road, West Tisbury) is one-of-a-kind and has been in business since 1858(!). Indulging my taste for both the practical and kitschy, I picked up a campy trinket along with my quart of milk. Nearby is the Field Art Gallery (www.fieldgallery.com), where the gorgeous, bucolic setting rivals the beauty of the artwork in this light, airy space. In Oak Bluffs, hundreds of dizzyingly colorful gothic/gingerbread cottages stretch out as far as the eye can see. If you still want more color, ride the close-by Flying Horses Carousel, the nation's oldest.
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