Martha’s Vineyard is a picturesque island located 7 miles off the Massachusetts coast. It is easily reachable by plane or ferry.
We love the character of the towns, the island’s laid-back atmosphere, and the opportunity to bike scenic, lightly travelled, rural roads, and bike paths. And if biking is not your thing, the island has a very good bus system to get you to the island’s different towns.
Edgartown is our favorite town on the island with its elegant white clapboard buildings, galleries, beautiful harbor, lighthouse, and restaurants. We usually stay here take a combination of bikes and the bus to get to the other towns.
One of our favorite things to do here is to hang out at the top deck of the popular Seafood Shanty. If we are lucky, we can get a seat at the rail for a beautiful view of the boats in the harbor, Chappaquiddick Island, and the two tiny ferries that continually shuttle cars, bikes and passengers from the town to “Chappy’s” remote, pristine beaches.
Downtown is filled with lovely white historic buildings and houses (such as the Old Whaling Church and the Daniel Fisher House). And don’t forget the many shops and galleries.
Walking along one of the town’s beaches provides views of the harbor on one side and the beautiful homes on the other side..
A short, scenic walk down Dock Street takes you to our favorite island cocktail spot–the deck of the lovely Harbor View Hotel. After a short detour out to the Edgartown Lighthouse, which is across the street, we like snagging a couple rocking chairs on the gracious wrap-around deck to relax, have a drink, and take in the lovely harbor view.
One of the 20 island historic sites managed by the Vineyard Preservation Trust, used to be the Carnegie-built town library. It now offers an artifact-rich, visitor-friendly overview of everything from the island’s geology and people to the island’s livelihoods and whaling, its evolving economic base, as well as a small display of art that featured the island’s scenery and towns.
Chappaquiddick Island, aka “Chappy”
Chappy is a rural exurb of Edgartown. A inexpensive short ferry ride takes up to 3 cars plus walkers, bikes, motorbikes to/from the island every five minutes or so. We like to take our rented bikes there and pedal about 3.5 miles to two sites:
- Mitoi Japanese Gardens, a five-acre Japanese style garden which makes for a pleasant stroll through native and exotic trees and plants, a bamboo grove, and alongside and on wooden bridges over pretty ponds.
- Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, 7 miles of generally secluded beachfront of dunes that can be accessed by 14 miles of trails, tipped, in New England fashion, with a light house.
Vineyard Haven is the primary port on the island. Its ferry terminals make it the entry/exit point for many visitors. East Chop Drive, has beautiful stately homes and a lighthouse. A lovely bike path (about 12 miles) takes you between the shore and marshes to Edgartown (about 12 miles each way).
The cute town has a scenic harbor. Its Main Street is filled with interesting shops and galleries.
A 6.5-mile ride along a flat bike path (or bus) from Edgartown takes you to the former Methodist retreat. Once there, it is easy to bike around town or to walk around the charming town that is filled with gingerbread Victorian cottages and mansions.
Methodist Religious Retreat
Oak Bluff’s character derives from the town’s history as a Methodist religious retreat, beginning in the mid-19th century. The central meeting area was initially surrounded by temporary tents in which church members would stay. The meeting area has since been replaced by the more formal Tabernacle, and the tents by concentric streets filled with hundreds of small, brightly painted, gingerbread cottages. The Tabernacle is now used primarily for community events and the cottages, as ornate and brightly painted as ever, are now primarily used as family vacation homes or summer rental properties.
If it is open, don’t miss the Cottage Museum. Inside the cottage, you get a glimpse of what it was like to be here by going through its rooms with period cottage furnishings and clothing. A docent will also answers questions and provide the history of the retreat, houses, and town.
Wandering Through the Campground Neighborhood
The Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association provides guided walking tours of the “Campground” neighborhood. Of course you can just wander through the community and see the homes that people originally bought for $500. If you want to buy one, the tiny homes now sell for $800,000 to well over $1,000,000—and that is atop the cost of leasing the land on which the home is built. However, as families pass these down through generations, few are ever on the market. And if you can buy one, the community has very strict regulations on what you can do with a home and during what time frame. For example, repairs cannot take place during the prime summer season.
Oak Bluffs is More Than the Campground
Closer to the water are large, nicely maintained parks that are surrounded by ornate mansions from the same period.
The town’s main street, Circuit Street, is lined with the typically resort shops (souvenirs, clothes, ice cream parlors and of course, a fudge shop), primarily inexpensive restaurants and, at the base, the ever-popular Flying Horses carousel.
Walk through the Oak Bluffs Art Districts (with some galleries on Circuit Street and others well out of the downtown area on Duke’s Country Avenue) which is home to several galleries and artsy boutiques.
Get a brief dose of history and island relics at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.
And since Oak Bluffs is also a party town, the harbor is lined by cruise and pleasure boats on one side and lively, usually packed bars/restaurants on the other.
West Tisbury has several nice galleries: the Granary and especially the Field (with its quirky sculptures). A wonderful farmers’ market is on Saturdays at the Grange Hall. On Sunday, it houses an artisans’ market. If you run out of things to do, Alley’s General Store and farm market has something for everyone (especially the kids) and the next-door 7a Foods has enticing pastries. Somewhat further out of town, you can find the island’s favorite dairy, the Grey Barn, and the Polly Hill Arboretum.
Although the town of Menemsha isn’t much, but it has a lovely harbor, and a handy little ferry to bring bikers to and from the road to Gay Head.
Aquinnah is known for its Gay Head cliffs and lighthouse.
Chilmark is primarily a residential community. While it doesn’t have much of a downtown, it is lovely, with some beautiful homes, ponds, and views, especially over Chilmark Pond. For us, it was primarily a scenic pause on the way to Aquinnah and the white clay cliffs of Gay Head.
Eating on Martha’s Vineyard
All of that sightseeing works up an appetite. Our Eating in Martha’s Vineyard blog has some ideas of where to eat.