ADVERTISEMENT

Uh-oh.

The two pups on the beach are so excited to see one another that they knock over the 6-year-old playing nearby, spewing sand everywhere in the process. But the little boy just grins.

No worries on this pup- and child-friendly beach on Nantucket, the famous island 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts (www.nantucketchamber.org). We stayed at Woof Cottage (www.nantucketislandresorts.com), in fact, right on the Boat Basin, a property especially accommodating to families with pooches.

Nearly half of Nantucket -- the island is only 14 miles long and 3.5 miles wide -- is preserved in its natural state with vast open spaces, salt marshes and 52 miles of beaches accessible via free shuttle bus or bike. Visit www.wheelsheelsandpedals.com for info on all of the bike trails.

Come in September when the crowds are gone, the locals advise. The prices drop and the weather couldn't be better.

Nantucket -- the only place in America that has the same name for the island, the county and the town -- does have a well-deserved reputation for being preppy. But while not cheap, Nantucket can also be affordable, especially in shoulder seasons like fall, for a laidback escape in beautiful environs with your choice of places to stay -- a simple cottage with roses blooming in the yard, Jared Coffin's historic whaling captain's house, the deluxe White Elephant -- and good eats. We had a delicious dinner at American Seasons (www.americanseasons.com), where chef Michael LaScola showcases local ingredients and where families with children are welcome.

You'll find every variety of food, from classic New England lobster rolls and chowder to burgers, sushi and Mexican, at Corazon del Mar (www.corazonnantucket.com). Local kids prefer A.K. Diamonds (www.akdiamonds.com) for pasta, pizza, fish tacos and more. Children also like the Crosswinds restaurant (www.crosswindsnantucket.com) at the tiny airport where they can watch the small planes land and take off.

Nantucket is the kind of place where you schlep your own chairs, umbrellas, picnic basket and toys to the beach ... but you can go to a different beach every day of your vacation. The youngest kids like Children's Beach right in Nantucket town, while parents might prefer Jetties Beach, which has a playground and a restaurant where you can sip a drink at sunset while the kids play in the sand.

Tip for teens: Local kids gather on lower Broad Street called "the Strip," where there is great ice cream at The Juice Bar and a hot new store from London called Jack Wills. They also like Surfside Beach.

Keep the kids busy all day with sailing, fishing, kayaking, surf lessons and theater programs at The Dreamland Theater (even for those with special needs, www.nantucketdreamland.org). Visit local Bartlett's Farm (www.bartlettsfarm.com). If it rains, go see The Sea Dogs! Exhibit at the Egan Maritime Institute (www.eganmaritime.org) or teach the kids a little local history at The Whaling Museum (www.nha.org) with its hands-on discovery room.

We arrived by ferry as most people do, though you can fly here, too (www.capeair.com, www.jetblue.com). We took the hourlong Steamship Authority Fast Ferry from Hyannis (www.steamshipauthority.com) and left our car there. Hy-Line Cruises (www.hylinecruises.com) also have ferries.

The entire island is a historic district. From the mid 1700s to the late 1800s, Nantucket was considered the whaling capital of the world where hundreds of workers packed warehouses and made rope, candles and sails.

After a long walk to Jetties Beach -- past one rose-covered, gray-shingled house after another -- we end up at a local favorite, The Boarding House, for brunch (www.boardinghousenantucket.com). Our pup, Trooper, is tethered to the fence where everyone stops to pet her.