If you are one of the thousands who plan to visit beautiful Martha’s Vineyard this summer, this article is written just for you! Martha’s Vineyard is a favorite destination because of its pristine beaches, wonderfully preserved landscape and lots of fun things to do. By reading this guide, you will have information that will grant you access to the best of the Vineyard, save you time and money and make you want to return year after year.
For more information about Martha’s Vineyard, Read my post, Martha’s Vineyard – Off the Beaten Path.
There are 6 towns on Martha’s Vineyard: Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven,(Tisbury), West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah. The towns are grouped into two categories; up-island and down-island. Most Vineyard “first timers” stay in the down-island towns of Edgartown, Oak Bluffs or Vineyard Haven. West Tisbury is also a down island town but it is mostly agricultural and there no hotels and few rentals there. The up-island towns are Chilmark and Aquinnah. These are the more exclusive parts of the island, with large estate sized homes and lots of land.
Martha’s Vineyard is a true island and is not accessible by car. The only two ways to get there are by ferry and air. The Steamship Authority is the major ferry transport provider. Leaving from Woods Hole, MA, the Steamship Authority transports cars as well as people. Its boats make several trips a day, from 6 a.m. in the morning, until 10 p.m. at night. If you need to ferry your car over, make sure to get a ticket in advance – well in advance.
Woods Hole is about 1.5 hours from Boston. If you fly into Logan airport, you can take a bus service to the ferry. The Peter Pan bus can pick you up from the airport and deliver you directly to the ferry.
There are several other, smaller ferries that can get you (but not your car) to the Vineyard, leaving from Providence, Hyannis and other points. Click here for more information.
If you are flying, Cape Air, Delta, United and JetBlue offer service directly onto the island from several cities including Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. Getting a flight directly onto island should be no problem, but it might be costly.
Getting Around on the Vineyard
The Vineyard is a walker and biker’s paradise, with 44 miles of trails all over the island. It’s easy to get to town or to the beach by bike or foot. The Vineyard also has a wonderfully efficient bus system that goes just about everywhere that you want to go; you can even hook your bike to the front of the bus and take it with you! Taxis are available, but are a bit pricey.
If you are a “driver human” and wish to drive the Vineyard, the streets are easy to navigate, although some of them are not paved. Parking, however, is another story. You will need to pack your patience if you intend to park in town or near a popular beach.
Where To Stay
You can find just about any accommodation to suit your taste on the Vineyard. If camping is your thing, there is a campground for you. If you prefer hotel accommodations, that is available too. Most people, however, opt to rent a home. Renting a home can be tricky. The housing stock on the Vineyard is varied – you really have to pay attention to the pictures, read between the lines of the description, and locate the house on the map to make sure you are where you want to be. Many homes are rented yearly by the same families on a recurring basis, so you have to start early to have the best selection. There are numerous real estate agents on the island who can guide you through the process. (My next travel post will be about how to get the best rental on the Vineyard. Stay tuned!
Not all beaches on Martha’s Vineyard are public. There are a number of private beaches that are accessible only by homeowners or renters whose homes are part of the beach community. No worries! There are plenty of public beaches, the most popular of which is South Beach. Located on the outermost tip of Edgartown, it is known for its immaculate sand and robust waves. Also located in Edgartown is Fisher Beach. It’s a bit rocky, but is a great place to watch the sunrise or catch hermit crabs.
Located between Edgartown and Oak Bluffs is State Beach. This vast expanse of beach has gentle waves and is enjoyed by many families. Also located along State Beach on the edge of Oak Bluffs is the Inkwell beach. This beach, immortalized by a movie of the same name, is a popular gathering place for African Americans on the island. Just a few minutes from the center of Oak Bluffs is Long Point Beach. This beach is hard to find; you turn down a barely marked road, then onto a non – description dirt road. Don’t get discouraged though, it is so worth it!
Moshup beach is located in Aquinnah. It is about a 30-45 minute drive from the down island towns. Home to the Gay Head Cliffs, this beach has great waves and even better breezes. It’s a bit of a walk from the parking to the beach, so be prepared.
What to do
1. Ride the Carousel.
It’s a requirement that every first timer to the Vineyard ride the Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs. It is the oldest platform carousel in the country, and if you are lucky, you can catch the brass ring!
2. Eat Ice Cream at Mad Martha’s.
It’s not summer if you don’t eat ice cream, and it’s not summer on the Vineyard if you don’t eat Mad Martha’s Ice cream.
3. Eat Donuts from the Back Door.
Every night, after the Martha’s Vineyard Gourmet Cafe and Bakery closes, they open up the back door and sell donuts in the parking lot – really! The donuts, apple fritters and cinnamon rolls are some of the finest ever made! It’s easy to find the spot – just look for the long line!
4. Take a Walk or Ride a Bike.
The walking and biking trails of MV will lead you along some of the most picturesque beaches, and into some of the most serene woods. This is the best way to really appreciate the beauty of the island.
5. Take in Some Culture.
Culture is everywhere on the Vineyard. There are art galleries in every town. Author talks and discussion forums happen weekly. The new Martha’s Vineyard Film Center hosts film series which often includes “meet and greets” by movie makers and actors. The African American Film Festival happens every August. There is always a top notch performance to be enjoyed at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse .
6. Take the Ferry to Chappaquiddick.
Chappy is known for its connection to the Kennedys, but it is much more than that. It is a beautiful, secluded part of the Vineyard that is still lovingly untouched. Enjoy a kayak or lighthouse tour offered by the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge.
7. Have a Clambake on the Beach.
Nothing says New England vacation more than a clambake on the beach. If you are not skilled at gathering your own clams, get someone to do it for you; heck, just get them to handle the whole thing! To arrange a clambake, try Bill’s Clambake or the Kitchen Porch. Both companies provide everything from “clambakes to go,” to full catered events.
8. Spend the Day on the Water.
Get off the beach and onto the water for a day of sailing or fishing. For a private charter, go aboard the Ishmael. Captain Fred can tailor an experience to fit your needs.
9. Drive Up Island
It’s great to spend the day in the towns of Chilmark and Aquinnah. You can visit the grave of John Belushi, have pizza on the front porch of the Chilmark General Store and enjoy chocolate delicacies from Chilmark Chocolates.
10. Bike through Cottage City
Home to the gingerbread cottages and the historical camp meeting grounds, you will be mesmerized by the cute little cottages, each of which has its own personality. Take a moment and shop in the museum shop for vintage finds and souvenirs.
Enjoy your stay on the Vineyard!
Dont forget to read the conpanion post, Martha’s Vineyard – Off the Beaten Path.