Martha’s Vineyard vacations are a goldmine – picturesque villages, stunning beaches, and delight-to-the-eye wildlife reserves. The Vineyard is famous for spectacular views, relaxing times, and unique island experiences. Let’s explore together what to do in Martha’s Vinyard!
Martha’s Vineyard Vacations
Once an active whaling port when the ships migrated from Nantucket, now the migration is of a different kind. It’s mostly people from the mainland seeking memorable Martha’s Vineyard vacations rich in history and luxury In many cases, Martha’s Vineyard is the best example of New England charm available today.
The major towns to visit on your Martha’s Vineyard vacations are Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown. All these towns are on the northeast side of the island. That leaves plenty of areas to nature reserve, beach front, and scenery to explore.
At 20-miles long, and 10-miles wide, Martha’s Vineyard located in Massachusetts, and is the largest island in New England, yet it’s small enough to tour and explore in a week. Day-trippers or a weekend jaunt are a little more harried and may need to decide what they want to see most.
Here’s a question friends ask me all the time… “Can you really see Martha’s Vineyard in one day?”
The answer is both yes and no. The difference boils down to what you want out of Martha’s Vineyard.
Yes, you can take the short ferry ride from Woods Hole to Vineyard Haven. Then you can rent a bike or a moped, and race around the island on a whirlwind tour seeing all the high points and towns.
Yes, you can rush around breathless doing all this touring, searching out restaurants, and even take a dip in the ocean.
All the while keeping one eye on your watch, so you don’t get stranded and miss your ferry back…
… but that’s not what Martha’s Vineyard vacations are all about.
Planning to spend a few days or, better still, a week exploring the delights of this most picturesque of islands helps you relax. Life in Martha’s Vineyard is never hurried, and you should consider adopting the style for your vacation too.
Getting Around on Martha’s Vineyard Vacations
The absolute best way of seeing the island is bicycle. If pushing a pedal is not interesting to you, then touring the island by moped or scooter is another option. Motorized options, however, are not always popular with the locals. Tourists have historically been inconsiderate, so make sure not to add yourself to that category.
You can also take your car over on the ferry but you’d better book well in advance during the summer season. Otherwise, you may find yourself leaving your car on the other side of the ferry simply because there is not space available.
You can rent a car at either of the ferry ports of Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs – but again, reservations are a must. Every other vacationer has shared that same thought about renting rather than trying to bring cars across. Additionally, people do come in through the airport.
The island has a great bus service if you’ll be staying close to the northeast larger towns. I recommend taking advantage of it where possible, whether that’s to give you a hand to the bike trails or coming back after a long day of exploring.
Many visitors on Martha’s Vineyard vacations take their own bike over on the ferry with them. Don’t worry if you arrive without one, as it seems to me every other shop in Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs is a bike and moped rental place. While it may take you a shop or two to find the right transportation for you, there’s no shortage of wheels even at the height of summer.
Okay, now you’ve got wheels of some sort to get around the island. Now it’s time to start exploring its wonders.
The Northeast Towns
The three larger towns of Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown are all on the northeast side of the island. Despite the closeness there’s a different feel and attraction to each town, so don’t miss any of them.
Vineyard Haven is perhaps the hard working and living town on the Vineyard – the commerce center. It’s very active all-year round, Vineyard Haven has the sort of shops and attractions you’d expect catering to year-round residents, in addition to a smattering of specialty shops where tourists can pick up all manner of souvenirs
Take a short ride out from the center to get a close-up view of the Vineyard’s first lighthouse – West Chop Lighthouse. This lighthouse is not open to the public, but savvy visitors can get good views from the road and the ferries as you approach Martha’s Vineyard. The current tower was built over a century ago in 1891.
A short ride over to Oak Bluffs presents a different side of the island. It’s a ten-minute car ride and a twenty-minute bike ride across the harbor. There is also a direct bus route available.
Oak Bluffs has more of a seaside town flavor to it. Here you’ll find charming gingerbread houses and the oldest operating platform carousel in the United States – great for the kids and the child in you. The Flying Horses started on Coney Island, before the carousel was shipped out to Martha’s Vineyard in the 1880s.
Edgartown is more elegant with many fine houses built by whaling captains during a time of their financial abundance. While it’s a little further away from the ferry terminals, it’s worth the trip.
In addition to walking around town and admiring the houses, you’ll also find museums and reminders of how important the whaling industry was to the fortune of the town. Edgartown also offers a thriving local shopping scene, where you might find the perfect gift for your loved ones.
Edgartown also has an unusual ferry ride across to Chappaquiddick Island. It’s a short 100-yard dash across on a ferry with no schedule. It just leaves… when it’s full. They call it the “on-time” ferry because it’s never late. Chappaquiddick Island is home to several celebrities in addition to Cape Poge and Wasque Point. The area used to be accessible by car, but a storm in 2007 damaged the road too significantly.
Try these bike trails and wildlife refuge tours…
Now you don’t need a bike to do any of these tours, a car is fine, but you’ve fathomed out already I have a sweet spot for cycling during my Martha’s Vineyards vacations. It’s no surprise I’ve included a special section here. A bike’s also a neat way to visit the wildlife refuge and parks dotted around the island.
The most popular trails – because they’re almost level – connect Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs to Edgartown, and then onto Katama (South) Beach. This is a very popular bicycle path route, particularly in the summer. However, the picturesque ride the whole length of the route makes any crowding well worth it.
The Manuel F. Correllus State Forest in the center of the island is also laced with great bicycle paths and hiking trails. If you make it to the center of the park, you can find the statue commemorating the last habitat of the heath hen, which became extinct in 1932. The park also supports horseback riding, cross country skiing, and disc golf in its confines.
For something different and requiring more time and planning, hop on the short ferry ride at Edgartown across to Chappaquiddick Island. Here are bike trails that’ll take you out to wonderful beaches and the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge and Wasque Reservation. You’ll find these areas less crowded than others on your Vineyard vacation.
Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge contains over 500 acres of preserved wilderness and the Cape Poge Lighthouse. The whole area is a barrier beach, which makes its ecology unique. The Trustees, which manages the area, offers educational tours of the lighthouse, seaside, and surrounding waters during the summer season.
Wasque Reservation, which is also is referred to as Wasque Point or simply Wasque, is on the Southeast side of Chappaquiddick Island. Since the area is constantly reshaped by the sea and storms, no two visits to this area of sweeping sand are identical. It’s also a bird watcher’s paradise, as many birds use Wasque as their nesting grounds.
Mytoi Japanese Gardens are set in the forest on Chappaquiddick Island. These gardens are a secluded area of serenity open to the public. The gardens are designed to support both native and non-native plant species, so you never know what you’ll see.
Chappaquiddick Island abounds with salt marshes and tidal flats, which makes it a bird-watchers paradise. Several spectacular species call this island home and use it as a nesting ground. Be aware that sometimes areas will close to protect the nests, so be respectful of signage.
When visiting Chappaquiddick Island, and many others on your Martha’s Vineyard vacations, make sure you take along your binoculars and camera. You never know exactly what you’ll spot.
Some other Martha’s Vineyard Vacation attractions…
Not all the best bike rides and wildlife sanctuaries are reserved for the northeast pocket of the Vineyard. Out west, which the local’s call “Up Island”, are less traveled but still beautiful areas to visit on your bike. You can also visit by bus, car, or taxi.
Now the west area of the islands is more challenging on a bike than the east side. It’s hilly and undulating and mostly above sea level. Then again, most things worth seeing demand a little extra effort. Getting to Up Island is well worth the effort. Just be aware you’ll be biking on roads and not paths, but the traffic is light in these areas.
There are several smaller villages located in the Up Island area. Each has a more relaxed atmosphere than you’ll find in the Northeastern villages. The smaller villages each have their unique attractions, from the Field Gallery in West Tisbury to the fresh catches in Menemsha.
While not a bike trail, the Cedar Tree Neck Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the gems out in the West Tisbury area. You’ll have to leave your bike secured at the parking lot near Indian Hill Road. This sanctuary is a collection of smaller properties managed by the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation and is under active conservation.
If you visit, hike the trail to the summit of the sanctuary and marvel at the breathtaking views of the ocean and cliffs of Aquinnah. While swimming is not allowed, the views and the sea breeze more than make up for it, as does any wildlife you spot along the way.
The roads around Chilmark and Menemsha fishing village, and out to Aquinnah make for captivating scenic rides. Allow plenty of time to do these rides if you’ve a ferry to catch. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the splendid time outdoors in this beautiful landscape.
Beaches to see on your Martha’s Vineyard Vacations
There are many beaches to enjoy on Martha’s Vineyard vacations, despite the drawback that many of the island’s beaches are private. Remember to look for signs before entering a beach to avoid any hiccups in your vacation to Martha’s Vineyard.
The public beaches are plentiful, and I’ve listed just a few here to get you started. I’ve also marked them on the map for your easy reference. Each beach has a different feel and view, so don’t hesitate to visit more than one during your stay.
Katama Beach, also called South Beach, is a 3-mile long stretch of barrier sand. This beach is easily reached from Edgartown, and it’s the end point for the bike path running south from Edgartown. Since it does open onto the Atlantic, Katama Beach does have large waves.
Lighthouse Beach is a short walk out to a quiet area of Edgartown near the Edgartown Lighthouse. The lighthouse was renovated in 2007 and is open to the public regularly. Additionally, you can rent out the lighthouse for private engagements such as weddings.
The other side of the island offers two beaches worth a trip at Menemsha and Aquinnah. Menemsha Beach can be reached from the harbor in the town. It’s a great place to watch the boats going in and out of the harbor and just relax. The area was supposed to be the inspiration for scenes from the movie “Jaws,” but you won’t find any sharks in the area.
To reach Aquinnah Beach, you will need to navigate a 10-minute hike through cranberry bogs and scrub. The 5-mile beach is an irresistible walk with breathtaking views of the famous clay cliffs, and the lighthouse that sits atop. You will probably recognize the lighthouse from photographs, though it’s worth the hike to see in person.
And as you’re out here visiting on your Martha’s Vineyard vacations, here’s a little more on Aquinnah…
More about Aquinnah (formerly Gay Head)
In 1998 the town of Gay Head changed its name back to Aquinnah, after the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe. The area is home to members of the tribe and a number of famous people who you can’t meet. The area is the historic home of the tribe.
The Wampanoag tribe was recognized in the 1980s and received over 400 acres of their ancestral land. Today, a tribal council governs tribe activities, though proceedings are open to all members. The Wampanoag own several businesses and are establishing a cultural center near Aquinnah.
Perhaps the main purpose is to walk around and admire the area for the unique and famous multi-colored layer Gay Head Cliffs, the picture-postcard lighthouse, and long beach walks. Here you’ll feel a soothing remoteness and true island feel.
After all is said, that’s the main reason you chose Martha’s Vineyard for your vacation in the first place, right?
Martha’s Vineyard Vacations Travel and Lodging
Getting to Martha’s Vineyard is straightforward. Ferry service is available from Woods Hole and Hyannis in Massachusetts. Service from Hyannis is limited to the summer season, since there is not sufficient demand any other time.
The Steamship Authority ferry arrives at Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs from Woods Hole. You’ll also be able to rent a bike or moped at the ferry terminal for your Martha’s Vineyard vacations. This is convenient for people looking to experience Martha’s Vineyard as I do.
The Steamship Authority is the only service that transports cars. During the summer, reservations are an absolute must. The line quickly books up, and if your vacation plans include a car, you do not want to leave it parked on the mainland.
Hy-Line Cruises runs a passenger ferry service only from Hyannis to Oak Bluffs during the season. During this time, enough people want to go out to Martha’s Vineyard that the line runs a full schedule.
Martha’s Vineyard does have a small airport capable of handling passenger planes. Service is primarily to and from airports in the Northeast, including other regional airports. However, summer does bring in flights from as far as Boston and New York.
To be honest it’s hard to get lost on the roads during your Martha’s Vineyard vacation. Maybe you’ll wander off and must ask directions occasionally. However, everybody is friendly, so relax and have fun.
Accommodation on Martha’s Vineyard is varied. You’ll find inns and bed-and-breakfasts littered throughout the island, but with the largest selection in the northeast area. Remember this is not Boston or even Cape Cod. With a limited supply, places fill-up fast, and so reservations are a must. Many of the best deals require you book early as well, so make sure you reserve your vacation spot once you decide you want to go. You won’t be disappointed!