Your Travel Guide to Martha’s Vineyard

Laid-back and lovely, bustling yet bucolic, this island offers plenty for everyone.
The Harbor View Hotel overlooks a 130-year-old lighthouse. Photograph by Barry Grossman

Martha’s Vineyard is a fun, quirky place: Until recently, alcohol could not be sold in any town that did not have an “o” in its name. But rest assured, there’s plenty of fine wining and dining to be had. Accessible only by ferry, boat, or plane, the island’s population of 17,000 swells to more than 150,000 in the summer, with nary a stoplight in sight. Famous residents abound, including the Obamas, whom you might spot enjoying a chef’s tasting dinner at The Sweet Life Cafe in Oak Bluffs or browsing at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore.

Fishy Business
Larsen’s Fish Market in Menemsha, a small fishing village, is the place to go for fresh seafood, straight from sea to boat to table (or beach blanket). Luscious lobsters, chunky chowder, and awesome oysters are among the to-go choices for a delicious sunset picnic. Scenes in “Jaws” were filmed at this very spot. Check out funky stores, including cedar-shingled Beetlebung, featuring island-inspired graphics by local artists. The town’s quaint bike ferry has carried many famous folks such as Bill Murray, Billy Joel, Ted Danson, and Mary Steenburgen.

Artistry and History
The Field Gallery in West Tisbury features contemporary art by emerging and established artists in three galleries, but best is the large field replete with whimsical sculptures designed by its founder, Tom Maley, and others. For insight into the island’s history and its lighthouses, visit the eponymous museum in Tisbury ($18 for adults).

Low Key or Luxury?
The island is the perfect place for families to hang out, so consider reserving a vacation rental in residential West Tisbury or Vineyard Haven. The rich and famous stay in Edgartown at the Harbor View Hotel with a view of the iconic lighthouse. The historic 130-year-old structure is close to the town’s stately Greek revival houses, restaurants, and boutiques with attitude. It offers one-, two-, and three-bedroom suites and cottages ($1,000 and up) and a Presidential Skyhouse. The Lightkeeper’s Inn, with six rooms ($300 and up), offers a great location and amenities at a more affordable rate.

There are nearly 300 colorful houses like this in Oak Bluffs. Photograph by Benjamin Rascoe

A Carousel and Cottages
Visit the Flying Horses Carousel, one of the oldest in the country, which was built for Coney Island in 1876 and moved to Oak Bluffs in 1884. The brilliantly painted horses boast tails and manes of real horsehair and glass eyes that glint a welcome. After a whirl, wander nearby streets and wonder at the 300 candy-colored gingerbread houses, which evolved over the years on the site, originally a Methodist campground in the 19th century. At night, paper lanterns light the streets, adding to the magic.

Hiking From Tree To Sea
Forest-bathe and meditate as you meander 4 miles near meadows and beneath leafy canopies along John Presbury Norton Farm’s trail, ending at Blackwater Pond. Little-known Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary has several interlinked trails at the end of a 1-mile dirt road. Glimpse high-end homes through the trees and a wealth of birds as you trek toward a white-rock beach fringing the multihued ocean.

Biking and Beaches
Bike 6 miles along Beach Road between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, a paved trail with the Nantucket Sound on one side and the 7-acre Sengekontacket Pond on the other. It’s flat—the island’s highest peak is only 311 feet at Peak Hill in Chilmark. Enjoy rarely visited Tashmoo Beach for a family picnic. Long Point and Lucy Vincent are two of the most beautiful Atlantic Ocean beaches on Martha’s Vineyard.

Back Door Donuts offers amazing apple fritters and plenty of traditional doughnut options. Photograph courtesy of back Door Donuts

Brilliant Breakfasts
The Artcliff Diner in Vineyard Haven serves creative American diner food made from scratch. You might have to wait a bit, but it’s worth it to savor your choice of coconut banana pancakes (four for $12), or spicy chicken hash with two eggs, red onion, and avocado ($15). Or enjoy heavenly apple fritters, the claim to fame at Back Door Donuts.

Tip From a Local
“The Barn and Bistro in Oak Bluffs is so wonderful that I get emotional just thinking about it—and the beers! It’s where the locals go—best menu on the island. They also have bowling.”
—Ken Watson, longtime resident

Mark Your Calendar
Oyster Fest, Oct. 1 and 2. Enjoy demonstrations, music, a five-course dinner, and learn recipes while mingling with local growers, chefs, and wine folks. A portion of the proceeds supports oyster habitat restoration.

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