A “white elephant” is a treasure that the treasure-keeper is reluctant to give up. After staying at the White Elephant Nantucket, a classic waterfront resort on one of New England’s most beloved islands, it’s easy to understand how the property’s name came into being.
I visited over a rainy summer weekend, and even though the sun only occasionally peeked out, my beach escape didn’t feel spoiled at all. If anything, the gray skies helped me appreciate the hotel’s luxuries — proximity to town, delicious food and drinks, and rooms that feel like home.
White Elephant Nantucket
- The hotel is just blocks from the best bars, restaurants, and shops on Nantucket.
- It also has everything you need to stay put: it’s close to several beaches, has its own pool, and has an expansive lawn for lounging with a cocktail in the sun.
- The design is New England-chic, with lots of white linen, and there are dozens of original artworks throughout the property.
- A can’t-miss experience: taking a boat from the White Elephant to its sibling property, The Wauwinet, for a decadent sunset dinner.
The idea for the hotel was dreamed up in the early 1920s by Nantucket socialite Elizabeth T. Ludwig, who wanted to create one of the island’s best places to stay. Over the years, as new buildings were added to the original rustic cottages, the property became known as “Mrs. Ludwig’s white elephant.” The modern incarnation took flight in the 1960s, and today, the White Elephant is the flagship property in a portfolio that includes two other Nantucket hotels — the Jared Coffin House, an elegant three-story mansion downtown, and The Wauwinet, a resort on the island’s northeastern shore— as well as the White Elephant Palm Beach.
This May, to celebrate the White Elephant’s 100th anniversary, the resort debuted a renovation of the 54-room and suite hotel and adjacent cottages, led by the Boston firm Elkus Manfredi Architects. New original art was installed throughout the rooms and hallways from the property’s artist-in-residency program, which launched in August 2022. The artists were invited to explore the island for two weeks and created works from those experiences.
One of my favorite pieces is the specially commissioned large-scale painting by Orit Fuchs that hangs in the lobby, showing a woman in a rowboat, wearing nautical stripes, a straw hat, and, naturally, the Nantucket red shorts for which the island is famous.
For the renovation, White Elephant also partnered with Arhaus, the home decor company, to freshen up the property’s outdoor furniture and public spaces. Plus, a lot of the new decor is shoppable; the brands created embroidered throw blankets, available online and in the hotel’s shop, and guests can purchase White Elephant’s assortment of Arhaus furniture.
Here, everything you need to know about the White Elephant Nantucket.
It’s all about choice at the White Elephant, which has multiple accommodations spread throughout the property. I stayed in the Inn, which has 20 rooms and suites (including a Penthouse Suite) and is near the pool. My Harborview Suite had a king-size bed, separate living room with a fireplace, and an outdoor patio with — as you might expect — a postcard-perfect view of the lawn and the harbor.
I liked that the room’s decor felt beachy (white linen, subtle stripes), but not boring: there was a vibrant pink, green, blue, and purple lobster claw painting above the couch, and graphic buoy designs in the corridor. I also appreciated thoughtful touches like one of the cozy Arhaus blankets, and a stack of three books by the bedside. Since the weather was not ideal for beach-going, I spent time reading and enjoying how spacious my room was and, in between breaks in the rain, popping out for quick stroll for an ice cream or coffee.
The main hotel has 54-room and suites overlooking the harbor. Families might consider the 11 Garden Cottages, which range from one- to three-bedrooms and are tucked amid lush hydrangea gardens, with shaded sitting areas.
Larger groups might want to book one of the 25 one-, two-, or three-bedroom Residences, which operate more like private beach homes, with full kitchens and washers/dryers. Finally, if you’re looking to stay right in the action of downtown, you can check into one of the three-bedroom lofts at the Loft at 32 Main.
All accommodations are within a few blocks of each other, as well as the restaurant, pool, and beach.
Food and Drink
You’ve come to Nantucket, so you’re going to eat seafood. A lot of it. In town, a lobster roll from Walter’s Deli or a cup of clam chowder is a must.
For dinner, the White Elephant’s Brant Point Grill offers New England classics like pan-seared halibut with little neck clams, white bean stew, and fried leeks, or a seafood tower with shrimp cocktail, oysters, king crab Louie, lobster tail, tuna poke, and smoked fish rillette (there’s also a caviar service add-on).
I started with — what else? — a White Elephant cocktail, a refreshing concoction of tequila, pineapple, coconut, lime, and Thai chili pepper. After a burrata panzanella salad, I went for the indulgent lobster risotto.
At the pool, there’s a casual menu of smoothies, salads, paninis, and cocktails like frozen daiquiris. In-room dining is also available.
One of the island’s best dining experiences is at The Wauwinet, on the island’s northeastern side. At White Elephant Nantucket, you can hop aboard the Wauwinet Lady, a 26-foot boat, for a scenic 45-minute ride over to Topper’s, The Wauwinet’s elegant restaurant.
The sun finally came out on my last night on Nantucket, and I headed to Topper’s for a decadent send-off meal. I ordered oysters, harvested in the water right in front of the resort, and a lobster-and-crab gemelli with bottarga and citrus butter. After dinner, I took a glass of J. de Villebois Sancerre to the lawn chairs to catch the end of the sunset, which I’d argue is the island’s best.
Experiences and Amenities
At White Elephant, relaxation is the name of the game. The resort has a pool with cabanas, plus complimentary bikes for cruising around the island. There is free Wi-Fi and parking — though, if you come without a car and need a ride, the property has a partnership with BMW offering guests complimentary rides within one mile.
The Spa offers massages, facials, and body treatments like salt scrubs, algae wraps, and reflexology, and there’s also a boutique where you can pick up a piece of Nantucket for home.
For a standout experience, the staff can also arrange a yacht cruise with the island’s Barton & Gray Mariners Club.
Accessibility and Sustainability
The hotel offers bamboo to-go packaging in the restaurants and does not have single-use plastics in guest rooms, but White Elephant also participates in a sustainable project that’s close to home: Nantucket’s oyster shell recycling program. Because of climate change, and several decades of disposal in landfills, shells have become a limited resource, and baby oysters need empty shells to complete their life cycle.
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In 2014, the Nantucket Natural Resources Department developed a shell recycling program, where restaurants, bars, and events were asked to save their empty oyster and clam shells for replacement in the water. Brant Point Grill and Topper’s both participate (as does the Tap Room at the Jared Coffin House).
White Elephant has seven ADA-compliant guest rooms — which include features not always seen in hotels, like room placards with alternative text, and 20 accessible parking spots. All entrances and doorways are accessible, and the property has fire alarms for those with audio and visual impairments.
Parents can breathe a sigh of relief: the White Elephant is within eyesight of a shallow beach with lifeguards. White Elephant is also one of the few in-town resorts with a pool, if preferred to the open ocean. Families can load up with complimentary beach toys, boogie boards, and Radio Flyer wagons for beach days, and cribs and pack n’ plays are available. For something different, the staff can arrange scavenger hunts around the island.
A can’t-miss Nantucket experience is the Whaling Museum, which tells the story of the island’s most famous industry. Kids will marvel at the 46-foot sperm whale skeleton — it really is a showstopper.
If the little ones want to take home a souvenir, the hotel’s shop sells children’s pajamas with a custom print of an ice cream cone and pairs of Murray’s Nantucket red shorts.
The hotel is on the island of Nantucket, 30 miles off the shores of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Many people take the ferry from the mainland, but the hotel is also an easy 20-minute drive from Nantucket Memorial Airport, which has seasonal service from American, Delta, JetBlue, United, and Tradewind Aviation from New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA) and John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK); Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International Airport (IAD) and Reagan National Airport (DCA), Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD), and North Carolina’s Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT). Cape Air provides year-round service.
The White Elephant is just a few blocks from the shops, restaurants, and bars downtown, so it’s the perfect choice for those who want to go car-free. The island has many beaches: the closest is the Children’s Beach, just a two-minute walk, and Jettie’s Beach is a few blocks north. Madaket Beach, on the southwestern part of the island, is great for sunsets, but for a full day enjoying the sand and surf, it’s worth heading farther east to Sconset Beach, which has uninterrupted Atlantic Ocean views.
Finding the Best Value
While summer is the most popular time to visit Nantucket, the months of September and October can also bring lovely beach weather. Winter is a cozy, and largely tourist-free, time on the island. In the low season, rates start at $375 for a guest room, $675 for a suite, $775 for a one-bedroom cottage, and $1,275 for two- and three-bedroom cottages.