Go off the beaten path on Star Island

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Updated 03.26.2020:  It’s always a good idea to have a travel bucket list with a nice mix of popular travel destinations and way off-the-beaten-path locations. Of course, when we say off-the-beaten-path we don’t necessarily mean hiking through a dense jungle on the edge of the world. 

Guest contributor Erika L. Nelson shows us how to explore an incredible chain of islands just off the coast of New Hampshire—the Isles of Shoals. Seven miles off the coast of New Hampshire, and the southernmost tip of Maine, the Isles of Shoals are made up of 9 tiny islands, some of them uninhabited.

But some of the islands have at least one hotel, including Star Island. Erika shares her tips for exploring Star Island—a perfect location for both active travel and a romantic getaway.

Exploring off-the-beaten-path Star Island

map of the isles of shoals
The island chain is known as a great place for a serene weekend getaway.

Seven miles off the coast of New Hampshire and the southernmost tip of Maine are nine tiny islands called the Isles of Shoals. Some are not more than rocky bumps in the Atlantic Ocean but on one of them, Star Island, a visitor could spend some time getting away from the stresses of modern life. All of these islands are stark, beautiful places which make an interesting day trip or a few days escape.

A few islands are uninhabited. A few have some private homes or facilities on them, but on Star Island, there is a classic Victorian Hotel called the Oceanic Hotel. It has vintage beauty and is an interesting place to escape from modern life when you are looking for an old fashioned island get away.

The Isles of Shoals were named by Captain John Smith (of Jamestown and Pocahontas fame) in 1614. At one time these islands were a busy and populated fishing port.

During the American Revolution the islands were mostly evacuated and not repopulated until the Victorian times. This is when Star Island became a summer resort, which is now known as The Oceanic Hotel.

The Oceanic Hotel on Star Island

view of large seaside hotel
View of the Oceanic Hotel on Star Island from the water.

The Oceanic Hotel runs a variety of summer programs including various retreats, art classes as well as family vacations. The island is also a place that can be visited for just a day.

How to get to Star Island

To reach Star Island, travel from Portsmouth, New Hampshire aboard the Isles of Shoals Steamship Company. And if you are lucky enough to have access to a private boat, visitors can also make the easy trip out from the New Hampshire seacoast and set anchor in Gosport Harbor.

large passenger ferry docked
The Isles of Shoals Steamship Company passenger ferry, the Thomas Laighton, docked at Star Island.

For those who are lucky enough to travel by private vessel, there is a launch which will pick you up at your boat, take you ashore to explore, and then return you to your boat.

large sailing boat on the water
Sailing around the islands is a wonderful way to see this incredible area of the world.

The Best of the Oceanic Hotel

various boats on the water
The islands are well known by east coasters who vacation in their beautiful waters.

Whether spending the night or visiting for the day, a stroll up onto the large old fashioned porch is worth it for the views of the ocean and other islands. Grab a rocking chair and relax.

Not only is the lighthouse pretty, but so is the view into Gosport Harbor. Spending time at the Oceanic Hotel is a great way to get away from the modern world. It may not be for everyone, but if you are looking for an old fashioned escape, with no television or other electronic distractions, it may be for you.

rocking chair looking out over water
The view from the porch of White Island Lighthouse.

At the hotel, meals are served family style to the registered guests, and there is a snack bar next to the dining room which anyone can eat from, including day trippers. Many of the meals are made with island grown produce or from the hotel’s own garden.

sunday dinner chalk board
The meals served at the hotels are incredibly fresh and delicious!

The rooms are simple and plain, but this is not a place for sitting indoors. The bathrooms are down the hall, and those facilities are modern. I didn’t take photos there as I thought that might be a little strange.

two single beds and a dresser
The rooms are simple, but offer a good, comfy place to come home to after exploring the island.

Simple, old fashioned pleasures are the way here. Picture a summer’s day in the early 1900’s. Or maybe the 1920’s. The hotel does have a 1920’s Jazz weekend so dig out your grandmother’s old trunk and practice your Charleston.

What to do on Star Island

sign with map of star island
There are plenty of things to see and do locally. Active travel options such as fishing and sailing are especially popular.

Exploring the island is both incredibly interesting and entirely relaxing. Even in its New England starkness, the island has a certain undeniable charm.

The country cottages on the island are not only quaint but also have some beautiful gardens. The island is clean, safe and fairly accessible. Spend an afternoon sitting on the rocks watching the boats go by.

sign that says help feed our chickens
The hotel is the perfect place for a digital detox.

Or visit the Island’s Art Barn to paint the waves or stop by the small Science Center to learn about the local fauna. In this world of too busy, too connected, here is a place that lets you escape from all of those modern but not always pleasant conveniences.

garden area on the coast
When you don’t want to venture too far, enjoy a stroll around the hotel’s gardens.

(And by the way, if being too disconnected is not for you, depending on your carrier, you might pick up service from the mainland. But I think once you arrive, you might wish you’d never brought your phone along.)

Looking for a place to stay on the Isles of Shoals? Start your search for hotels on the Isle of Shoals with us!

So pack a couple of good books, maybe your watercolor paints, and definitely your binoculars and camera.

Tips for Visiting Star Island

Reservations for the Oceanic Hotel can be made on the website, Star Island. Their most recent summer program list posts early each new year.

Star Island can be reached by private boat or by booking a trip with Isles of Shoals Steamship Company out of Portsmouth. New Hampshire. Their website is Isle of Shoals. The hotel opens in late spring and the closes in September, so plan accordingly. 

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