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Martha's Vineyard Island Guide

The favored resort of presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and their families has a long history of hosting families—and US presidents—in summer.

Victorian houses in Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
Victorian gingerbread houses in Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard MA.

Hotel & Rental Map:

 

Vacationers flock to Martha's Vineyard for its beaches, its fine old New England towns, its golf courses, for sailboat cruises, nature walks, sunset views and seafood dining.

To most of the world, Martha's Vineyard is a New England island where Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and their families have gone to rent a cottage for a summer vacation., following in the footsteps of President Ulysses S Grant (1874), Grover Cleveland and Chester A Arthur.

To Bostonians and denizens of Cape Cod, it is simply "the Vineyard," an island larger than neighboring Nantucket, and a great place to go for a few days.

Like Nantucket, its maritime history is long and eventful, but so is its history as a summer resort. Specifically, it was a favored resort for Christian camp meetings during the late 1800s and early 1900s, as you'll realize when you visit Oak Bluffs.

Today, besides US presidents and celebrities from the worlds of entertainment, sports and finance, Martha's Vineyard has many summer residents whose homes have been handed down from generation to generation. It also hosts hordes of day-trippers and visitors looking for summer rentals.

Plan Your Visit

Enjoy Martha's Vineyard island for a day, a weekend or a week, but you need to plan your time and budget.

In high season—July and August—you need reservations for everything: space for your car on the ferry, or for a weekend mainland-to-island flight, or for a hotel room.

On high-season weekends, chances of finding a room at the last minute are not good. On weekdays you may find a room for a few nights because of a cancellation, or a gap between reservations, but you'll have to take what's available, not what you prefer. It's always better to reserve your hotel, inn or B&B room well in advance. More...

You can't reserve passenger space on the Steamship Authority ferry, so the thing to do is get to the Woods Hole docks 20 to 30 minutes early, buy your ticket, and get in line. If the ferry's passenger capacity is reached, the remaining passengers in the line will have to wait for the next departure. (Note: there's also the passengers-only m/v Island Queen and Patriot Party Boats' Quicksilver shuttle boat sailing from Falmouth. See below.)

Towns & Villages

Edgartown Lighthouse, Martha's Vineyard MA
Edgartown Light

Martha's Vineyard's three principal settlements are Edgartown, with its graceful 18th- and 19th-century ship captains' and merchants' houses; Oak Bluffs, filled with 19th-century Victorian gingerbread architecture; and Vineyard Haven, the commercial and light-industrial settlement., and tall-ships port.

Then there's "Up Island," the western half of the island with its little fishing villages (including menemsha, where Jaws was filmed) and the multicolored clay cliffs of Aquinnah; and Chappaquiddick, the separate, less-developed island to the east.

Getting to "the Vineyard"

Martha's Vineyard is close enough to the Cape Cod town of Woods Hole (7 miles/11 km) that strong swimmers hardly need a boat to get there (map), but most visitors come by ferry.

Steamship Authority Car Ferry, Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard MA
A Steamship Authority car & passenger ferry from Woods Hole docks at Oak Bluffs.

Ferries run to Martha's Vineyard from Woods Hole, Falmouth, Hyannis, New Bedford, Nantucket, and Quonset Point (North Kingstown RI). Ferries arrive at the island ports of Oak Bluffs or Vineyard Haven (map).

Planes fly from Boston (BOS), Hyannis (HYA), Nantucket (ACK), New Bedford (EWB), and Providence (PVD) to Martha's Vineyard Airport (MVY).

Take Your Car?

You don't really need to take your car to Martha's Vineyard. You can rent a car, bicycle or scooter on the island, or use the convenient island buses. In fact, to get your car to the island on a ferry, you must make your car reservations months in advance for summer trips —January is not too early! Besides, it's expensive: $202 to $250, round-trip, in summer.

Mainland Parking

If you need to park your car before taking the ferry to Martha's Vineyard, be sure to calculate the cost of parking for the time you will be away from the mainland. This cost may be $15 to $20 or more per calendar day.

From New York/Boston by Train

From New York City

Amtrak trains run from Penn Station's Moynihan Train Hall to Providence RI, from which you can take a rideshare app car or taxi 22 miles (35 km) south to Vineyard Fast Ferry's Quonset Point dock (see below); or change at Providence to an MBTA Commuter Rail train south to Wickford Junction, which is 7 miles (11 km) west of the dock.

From Boston

Some MBTA Commuter Rail trains on the Providence line terminate at the Wickford Junction station south of Providence at 1101 Ten Rod Road, 7 miles (11 km) west of the Vineyard Fast Ferry's Quonset Point dock (see below), reachable by rideshare app car or taxi.

From New York/Boston by Bus

From New York City

You can ride Peter Pan buses from New York City (Port Authority Bus Terminal) to Woods Hole (Steamship Authority docks), with transfers in Providence RI and Bourne MA. The journey takes about eight hours.

From Boston

Peter Pan Bus Lines runs buses from Boston's South Station Bus Terminal to Woods Hole and the Steamship Authority ferry to Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs (map).

New Bedford Passenger Ferry

From mid-May through mid-October, SeaStreak operates four daily fast-catamaran passenger ferries from New Bedford in southeastern MA to Vineyard Haven on Martha's Vineyard. The voyage takes 50 minutes and costs $45 one-way, $79 per adult, round-trip, with reductions for children 3 to 12, military, and island residents. More...

Woods Hole Car Ferry

The Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket Steamship Authority runs the car & passenger ferries from Woods Hole on Cape Cod to Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs (map) year-round. The 45-minute voyage costs $17 per adult, round-trip. More...

Falmouth Passenger Ferries

m/v Island Queen

The m/v Island Queen passenger ferry sails from Falmouth Harbor on Cape Cod to Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard seven times daily in summer. It's a comfortable, fun and inexpensive way to go. More...

Peter Pan buses from Boston arrive at Falmouth's Peter Pan Bus Terminal (map), 1.6 miles (2.6 km) west of the Island Queen Ferry Dock, a 30-minute walk.

Patriot Party Boats

Patriot Party Boats (tel 508-548-2626, patriottoo227@gmail.com) runs small, fast boats from Falmouth (227 Clinton Avenue, water-shuttle dock; map) to Oak Bluffs (Island Queen dock) primarily for small freight, but they also take a limited number of passengers. The voyage normally takes about 25 minutes and costs $16 per person, one way. The boats are small, with minimal comforts, and in windy weather the ride may be choppier than on the much larger Island Queen. About eight boats make the voyage on weekdays, three on Saturday and only one on Sunday. The boats are also available for charter and as a water taxi for private trips. Parking is available. More...

Hyannis Passenger Ferries

Hy-Line Cruises operates six fast, comfortable catamaran passenger ferry trips daily in high summer between Hyannis on Cape Cod and Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard. The voyage takes one hour and costs $59 per adult, round-trip.

In spring and fall there may be only two or three sailings per day in each direction. More...

Quonset Point RI Passenger Ferry

From Memorial Day weekend (late-May) through Columbus Day weekend (mid-October), fast catamaran ferries operated by Vineyard Fast Ferry run from Quonset Point, Wickford (North Kingstown) RI south of Providence to Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard. The 90-minute voyage costs $89 to $99 per adult, round-trip.

Quonset Point is just off I-95 about 15 minutes' drive south of Providence's T F Green Airport (map).

Although the Quonset Point ferry service does not run as frequently as the Woods Hole, Falmouth or Hyannis services, and it runs only in the warm months, it has an advantage: all parking is right at the dock and costs only $10 per day.

Inter-Island Passenger Ferry

From late-June to mid-September, Hy-Line Cruises, Ocean Street Dock, Hyannis MA (tel 508-778-2600) operates at least one and as many as three daily Inter-Island passenger boats (morning, noontime and afternoon) in each direction on the 2-1/4-hour voyage between Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket island.

Bicycles and pets are carried on Hy-Line vessels, but not cars. Buy tickets in Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard (tel 508-693-0112), on Straight Wharf, Nantucket (tel 508-228-3949), or at the Hy-Line office at Ocean Street Dock in Hyannis. More...

Flights

Cape Air (tel 800-227-3247 or 508-771-6944) flies frequently in summer to Martha's Vineyard Airport (MVY) from Boston's Logan International Airport (BOS); Hyannis MA (HYA); New Bedford-Fall River MA (EWB); Nantucket MA (ACK) and Providence RI (T F Green, PVD).

Cape Air flights also connect Westchester County Airport (HPN) in White Plains NY, near New York City, with Martha's Vineyard. Limo service is available between and 35th Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan.

Cape Air's airline partners include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, jetBlue, Seabourne Airlines and United Airlines. More...

On-Island Transportation

Bus

Martha's Vineyard Regional Transit Authority (VTA) operates buses among Martha's Vineyard's various settlements, with major stops near the Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven ferry docks.

Vineyard Transit buses, Martha's Vineyard MA.
Vineyard Transit buses waiting at the ferry dock.

Most rides cost about $2.00 to $4.00, so the $10 all-day unlimited-travel pass will save you money unless you're just going from one town to another, and back.

Reduced fare tickets and passes—half-price—are available to Seniors (65+), persons with disabilities, and members of the military with proper ID. Children aged 6 and younger ride free with an adult.

Ticket agents sell tickets in advance at major stops, making change if you don't have the correct fare. You can also pay in cash right on the bus (no credit cards), but change is given only in the form of stored value cards good for future fares. If you don't have the exact amount of the fare (in coins, bills or both), you will may pay more than necessary for your ride. More...

Bicycle

Rental shops abound, and you can't walk for two minutes from the ferry without coming across several. They rent electric bikes (see below) as well as pedal bikes, and prices are competitive.

Bike & scooter rental shop, Martha's Vineyard MA.
Bike & scooter rental shop just steps from the ferry on the island.

I think Martha's Vineyard and bicycles were made for each other, and islanders have helped this relationship along. There's a fine shared-use path (pedestrians and bikes) between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, right along the beaches, and bike paths along the major roads linking the three large towns.

Massachusetts law requires bikers 16 and under to wear a helmet, and it's simple good sense for every biker to do so. Here's a map of Martha's Vineyard shared-use paths, plus official town rules of the road for bikers. Motor vehicle drivers are generally courteous and cautious in situations where they share roadways with bikes.

Motorized (Electric) Bicycles

Electric bikes are prohibited on shared-use paths by Massachusetts law (General Laws, Part I, Title XIV, Chapter 90, Section 1B): "Motorized bicycles may be operated on bicycle lanes adjacent to the various ways [streets & roads], but shall be excluded from off-street recreational bicycle paths."

Electric bike laws also require riders to (a) have a valid driver's license or learner's permit; (b) wear a helmet at all times (passengers, too); (c) not exceed 25 miles per hour (40 kph). So, in effect, the rules are similar to those for mopeds (see below).

Scooter & Motorbike (Moped)

Motorbikes allow greater ease and range, but are a good deal more expensive and dangerous than pedal bicycles, and entail greater responsibility as well as some limitations: you must have a driver's license, wear a helmet, observe speed laws, etc. Also, they're prohibited on shared-use paths and on some island roads.

Motor scooters for rent on Martha's Vineyard island.
Motor scooters and bicycles for rent right neat the dock in Oak Bluffs.

Should You Rent a Motorbike?

Before you rent a motorbike, see if you can answer "yes" to at least two, and preferably all, of these questions:

—Do you have experience riding motorbikes or motorcycles?

—Are you familiar with the roads, regulations, and traffic habits on Martha's Vineyard?

—Are you willing to ride with extreme caution?

Do you have, and will you wear, a helmet?

Car Rental

As you walk from the ferry dock into town on the island, you'll pass rows of shiny vehicles for rent. You can rent one right on the spot, but you may get a better deal by comparing prices online before you arrive:

Where to Stay

Summercamp Hotel, Martha's Vineyard MA
Summercamp Hotel, Oak Bluffs MA.

Lots of good hotels, inns and bed-and-breakfast houses on Martha's Vineyard. Here they are...

 

Oak Bluffs

Oak Bluffs began as a tent camp for summer meetings of the Methodist Church. The Tabernacle, surrounded by Victorian cottages, is still the town's heart.

Victorian cottages, Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard MA
Ornate Victorian houses in Oak Bluffs.

If Edgartown is Martha's Vineyard historic heart and status address, and Vineyard Haven is its down-to-earth get-things done town and tall-ships port, Oak Bluffs is for active creativity, spirituality...and fun.

Although the camp meetings in the Tabernacle are still the most important part of the summer's activities here (your hotel will have a schedule), many other nighttime pleasures are available as well, including movies, a game arcades, ice cream shops on Circuit Avenue, and an antique merry-go-round called "The Flying Horses."

Circuit Avenue at night, Martha's Vineyard.
Circuit Avenue is the place for a stroll and some ice cream.

During the daytime, stroll straight in from the ferry docks and along the shores of the marina and town beach for a view of the fantastically ornate Victorian "gingerbread houses" (map).

Turn left into the grounds of the Methodist Camp Meeting Association, observing proper decorum as you are on private property.

Victorian Gingerbread Houses, Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard MA
An ornate cottage near the Tabernacle.

As you continue farther into the settlement, the houses become ever more ornately decorated.

Your goal is the Tabernacle, a large open-sided pavilion at the center of circular Trinity Park, filled with benches to hold the faithful who come for religious revival meetings.

The Tabernacle, Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard MA
The Tabernacle of the Methodist Camp Meeting Association,
Oak Bluffs MA.

Vineyard Haven

Though the most popular vacation bases on Martha's Vineyard are Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, Vineyard Haven has its attractions.

Vineyard Haven Beach, Martha's Vineyard MA
The beach next to the ferry dock in the center of Vineyard Haven.

A settlement within the town of Tisbury (incororated in 1671), Vineyard Haven has the fine Martha's Vineyard Museum (see above), and is the destination for some Steamship Authority car ferry voyages. Many of the island's commercial services are here, as is Vineyard Wind, the USA's first industrial-scale offshore wind farm to produce electricity for over 400,000 homes.

Island VTA buses begin and end their routes right at the landward end of Vineyard Haven's Steamship Authority dock, convenient to the town and the big boats.

Vineyard Haven has its own collection of hotels, inns and B&Bs if you plan to stay overnight.

Also here is the famous Black Dog Tavern restaurant and (more to the point) T-shirt and apparel shop, as well as the tall ships Shenandoah and Alabama.

Edgartown

Edgartown was the first colonial settlement on Martha's Vineyard, and is therefore the island's oldest town. It has been the county seat of Duke's County since 1642.

Plan to stroll along Main Street, North Water Street and South Water Street to admire the fine 19th-century Greek Revival ship captains' houses (map).

Many of the houses were built by whaling captains with the profits of their voyages, and these same profits provided the funds to build the Methodist ("Whaling") church (1843) on Main Street. For the full story, visit the Martha's Vineyard Museum.

Whaling Church, Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard MA
The Whaling Church in Edgartown.

Jaws

In more recent times, Edgartown came to national prominence as one of the locations where the movie Jaws and its first sequel were filmed, and many island residents made the daily stroll down to the harbor to look at the small mechanical shark in its special rack, covered by a canvas tarpaulin. (Much of the filming took place Up Island in Menemsha.)

Edgartown Light

Walk northeast on North Water Street and Starbucks Neck Road to reach Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse. Built as the Essex Light at Ipswich MA, it was dismantled, shipped to Martha's Vineyard and reassembled here in 1939 to replace the decrepit former lighthouse on this spot.

Edgartown Light, Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard MA
Edgartown Light

Beaches

Joseph A Sylvia State Beach, three miles (4.8 km) northwest of the town center along the Edgartown-Oak Bluffs Road, can be reached via the Edgartown-Oak Bluffs Shared-Use Trail, and has its own parking lot.

South (Katama) Beach at Norton Point (map), 3.5 miles (5.6 km) south of Main Street, is a l-o-n-g barrier beach washed by the surf, great for a refreshing, vigorous splash and some sun time.

Wildlife & Nature

The 250-acre (101-hectare) Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary of the Massachusetts Audubon Society is three miles (4.8 km) from Main Street at 795 Vineyard Haven Road (map). Go for its two miles (3 km) of nature trails excellent for bird watching, and exhibits and talks on nature and preservation.

Chappaquiddick

The island east of Edgartown (map) has scrub oak & white pine forest, some houses, two fine nature reserves good for hiking, picnicking and fishing, and great beaches. Wander down to the wharf and take the Chappy Ferry (see below) on a five-minute voyage across the channel to Chappaquiddick Island for a bike ride or nature walk in the two unspoiled nature areas, Wasque Point and Cape Pogue, owned and maintained by the Trustees of Reservations.

"Chappy," as it's called, is about three miles (5 km) across, (from the Chappy Ferry to East Beach) and has only one paved road named, creatively, Chappaquiddick Road. The rest of the roads are single-lane sand tracks okay for bicycling in most places. There is one sort-of shop in a house that sells a few necessities (milk, etc.), but no other commerce or emergency services, so bring everything you need: water, picnic/food, drinks, sunscreen, etc.

The people who live on Chappaquiddick (CHAP-ah-QUID-dick) value the isolation. The island receives few of those who arrive by ferry in Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, and who stroll Main Street and North Water Street in Edgartown.

Chappy Ferry

The channel between Edgartown Harbor and Katama Bay is not wide at Edgartown (map), allowing simple three-car ferryboats to shuttle cars, passengers and bicycles across the water to Chappaquiddick Island in only a few minutes.

The Chappy Ferry makes the voyage from Edgartown (53 Dock Street) to Chappaquiddick Island in less than five minutes for $5 per passenger, $7 per bike with rider, $9 per moped with rider, $15 per car, cash only. All fares are round-trip. The line to get on the ferry is usually long in summer, especially on weekends.  (On the Chappy Ferry website, click on the webcam logo in the upper-right corner to see how long the lines are.)

Ferry service starts around 6:30 am and continues until 10:00 pm in summer, with one additional trip at 11:00 pm. I'd suggest that you get your car (at least) across as early as possible in the morning—passengers can cross later if necessary; and don't wait until late in the day to return from Chappaquiddick to Edgartown, or you may have to wait an hour or more for your turn.

Chappy Ferry, Chappaquiddick, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
The Chappy Ferry returns from Chappaquiddick to Edgartown.

The twin ferries On Time II and On Time III are indeed always "on time," because the ferries have no set schedule. Except for late at night, ferries operate whenever cars and passengers need to cross.

Unless you're a great hiker, you'll need a vehicle to get to most of the attractions on Chappaquiddick. A bicycle is fine on the paved road, and possible on some of the sand roads, though you may hit some soft patches and have to walk your bike for a few minutes.

Mytoi Garden

This tranquil Japanese-style botanical garden on Chappaquiddick Island is perfect for quiet contemplation.

Mytoi Garden, about 3 miles (5 km) from the Chappy Ferry along Chappaquiddick Road and Dike Road (map), is a wonderful place to stop for an hour's peace and quiet among beautiful trees, bushes, mosses and flowers by a tranquil pool spanned by a wooden bridge and walkway.

Owned and maintained by The Trustees of Reservations, Mytoi (MEE-toy) is open for free to the public (donations accepted) every day of the year, from sunrise to sunset.

Pick up a weatherproofed guide page at the entrance (and return it to the attendant before you leave).

A different kind of yoga at Mytoi Gardens, Matha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
Gymnastic yoga at Mytoi...

Parking at Mytoi

The parking lot at Mytoi holds only 15 cars, and this limit is strictly enforced, meaning that if you are the 16th or later car, you will have to turn around and depart, and perhaps come later when there is a parking space available.

Thus, in summer, especially on weekends, if you're coming by car, it's best to plan your visit for early morning or late afternoon.

This limit on cars helps to maintain Mytoi's tranquility. If yours is the 15th car, you'll appreciate it. If the 16th, you'll dislike it.

Wasque Reservation

Wasque Reservation at the southeast corner of Chappaquiddick Island, is great for walks, picnics, and surf-cast fishing.  

Wasque Point, at the southeastern end of Chappaquiddick Island (map), is a nature reserve with picnic tables, good surf-casting, and plenty of sand beach.

Wasque (WAYSS-kwee—rhymes with PLACE-key) Point is not the place to swim, however, despite all that great sand beach. There's a dangerous, deadly undertow, so swimming is prohibited.

Fishing is encouraged, however, and you'll see several vehicles driving on the beach, their tires semi-flat to deal with the sand, to get to good surf-casting locations.

However, there's great swimming just to the north at Leland Beach to the north, operated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and at Norton Beach, a Dukes County beach to the west of Wasque Point.

For me Wasque Point is the place to go for a bike ride, a picnic, a walk on the beach, and to enjoy the sound of the surf.

Sound of the Surf on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
Sound of the surf...

Cape Pogue Wildlife Refuge & Beach

Wildlife, beaches, walking trails, picnics, and a historic lighthouse at the eastern edge of Chappaquiddick Island on Martha's Vineyard.

The eastern edge of Chappaquiddick Island, the barrier beach running from from Wasque Point in the south to the Cape Pogue Lighthouse in the north (map), is protected in the Cape Pogue Wildlife Refuge, a property of Chappy Ferry east to the nearest point in the wildlife refuge, but several miles more to reach the lighthouse at the northern extent of the barrier beach.

The Trustees organize guided and self-guided Natural History Tours of the wildlife refuge, including a natural history tour, surf-casting fishing tour, Cape Pogue Lighthouse tour, and canoe/kayak tours.

A Trustees tour is a great way to visit the wildlife refuge. You take a free tour shuttle van right from the Chappy Ferry to the tour departure point, so you don't need your own transport on Chappaquiddick Island.

The Poucha Pond Self-Guided Discovery tour, for members of The Trustees of Reservations only, provides half-day or full-day canoe or kayak rental and a waterproof map for exploration of Poucha Pond.

Visit The Trustees website for information on how to become a member.

Up Island

Get away from the crowds and feel the serenity of Martha's Vineyard by spending time "up island"—in West Tisbury, Chilmark, Menemsha, and Aquinnah (Gay Head).

Aquinnah (Gay Head), Martha's Vineyard MA
The Gay Head Light watches over the colored cliffs of Aquinnah.

The scenery Up Island on Martha's Vineyard (actually the southwestern half of the island) resembles parts of the English countryside.

You'll find stone walls, forested roads, and plenty of space, a few small inns, restaurants, art galleries, and far fewer people than in the northeastern half of the island with its three ppulation centers.

Aquinnah (Gay Head)

Multicolored bands of glacial clay mark the westernmost promontory of the island, complete with beaches. Owned by the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head - Aquinnah, these multicolored bands of fine glacial clay form a striking promontory at the western tip of Martha's Vineyard island, open to the public for free.

Aquinnah (Gay Head) cliffs, Martha's Vineyard MA
The colored clay cliffs of Aquinnah. Note the public beach below.

You'll probably want to combine your excursion to Aquinnah with a visit to nearby Menemsha. VTA buses make the run out here from Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven. I'd suggest you take an early morning one to beat the crowds, or a late afternoon one to enjoy the warm western light on the clay cliffs.

The walk along the trail from the Aquinnah Cliffs Overlook (near the bus stop) to the beach below the colored cliffs takes 10 to 15 minutes. Stands near the Overlook provide snacks, drinks and light picnic meals.

The Cliffs

It's very important to follow the rules and not dig or climb the clay. Please help to preserve this beautiful natural attraction for others.

Don't expect a dramatic, towering wall of land staunchly resisting the thundering waves: the 150-foot-high (46-meter) cliffs of Aquinnah are dramatic only when set against the more-or-less level terrain of the island. The colors range from near black to off-white, with a range of blues, reds, browns and oranges between.

From the Overlook, in view of the red-brick Gay Head Light (1844), the bands of earthen color in the cliffs seem like sand. At the base of the cliffs on the public beach you see that the colored earth is actually very fine, almost greasy-feeling clay.

Chilmark

A relatively quiet residential village with a few inns. Unfortunately, Lucy Vincent Beach, the best on the island, is open to Chilmark residents only.

Menemsha

The first thing that struck me about Menemsha is that it really does look like a small old-time fishing village: well-used, weather-tested fishing boats are tethered to its short wharves, and small knots of no-nonsense workers in big rubber boots gather at the cafes, the fuel pumps and the Coast Guard station.

Menemsha Harbor, Martha's Vineyard MA
Menemsha Harbor

The perfect little Martha's Vineyard fishing village is heavily visited, and rightly so: nice views, delicious clam chowder and lobster bisque, anJaws filming sites, and a good beach...but watch what you do! Signs, hundreds of them, tell you not to do things. Most were about parking, but others included where not to eat food, where not to dispose of trash, where not to walk or sit.

Can't blame the Menemshans for wanting to preserve the quaint charm of their tiny village in the midst of a tsunami of summer visitors, but as a casual visitor one feels a bit constrained.

A "quaint little fishing village" with far more tourists than fishermen, Menemsha is worth a visit for its beach, for views of its little harbor, and for a seafood picnic lunch.

Turn right off South Road in Chilmark at Beetlebung Corner; the harbor is a mile or so down the way.

  Whaler Statue, Menemsha, Martha's Vineyard MA
  Whaler Statue, Menemsha, Martha's Vineyard MA.

If you saw the movie Jaws, you may recognize Menemsha, its prime setting.

What everyone wants you to do—and what's worth doing in Menemsha—is to buy an ice cream cone, a lobster roll or a cup of clam chowder at one of the tiny fish markets, sit outside on an old wooden crate and eat it, take a few photos and, if you've got towel and bathing suit, go to the fine beach for a swim.

And, oh yes, come by VTA bus (so you don't have to park a car), don't dispose of any trash, and watch where you sit.

Of course, if you have a summer rental cottage right in Menemsha, you'll have fewer worries.

You'll probably want to combine your Menemsha excursion with a visit to the colored clay cliffs of Aquinnah (Gay Head), nearby.

West Tisbury

Just west of the center of the island (map), West Tisbury extends from Vineyard Sound on the northwest to the Atlantic shore to the south.

Alley's General Store has been serving local needs since 1858, the town's few art galleries and inns are well regarded, and the Cedar Neck Sanctuary, Polly Hill Arboretum and Long Point Wildlife Refuge let you enjoy the area's forests, fields and bogs. You can swim here in the chill waters of the Atlantic at South Beach, or in the warmer waters of Long Cove Pond.

The town is also known for its artisans, art galleries, and the West Tisbury Inn provides lodging well away from the tourist crush of the three major settlements.

What to See & Do

Guided Tours

Several companies operate daily sightseeing bus tours of the island, including the Vineyard's six towns and two villages, the sea captains' houses (from the outside), and even a stop at the multicolored cliffs at Aquinnah (Gay Head).

Tours leave the ferry wharves in Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven after the arrival of the ferry, and tickets may be purchased on board the ferry or on the sightseeing bus. A typical tour takes about 2 hours, and covers 56 miles (90 km).

Martha's Vineyard Tours & Transportation

One-hour, two-hour, full island and custom tours available. More...

Martha's Vineyard Tours & Excursions

One-hour tour if your time is short, or a 3-hour full-island tour to see everything. More...

MV Sightseeing

MV Sightseeing (formerly Gay Head Sightseeing; 23 Lake Ave., Oak Bluffs MA, tel 508-693-1555, iti@mvtour.com) operates daily sightseeing bus tours of the island, including the Vineyard's six towns and two villages, the sea captains' houses (from the outside), and even a stop at the multicolored cliffs at Aquinnah. Tickets are sold online, and at most ferry docks both on the island and on the mainland.

Trustees of Reservations

The Trustees of Reservations runs tours of its wildlife refuges and nature reserves on Chappaquiddick Island. The tours are among the best ways to see the island, as there is no public transportation on Chappaquiddick (except the Chappy Ferry to get there from Edgartown). More...

Beaches

The three large towns of Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown all have public beaches, and there are even better ones outside the towns.

There's a good beach at Menemsha—but very little parking—and another at Aquinnah, but otherwise the smaller towns and villages may reserve their beaches for local property owners, or charge a beach-use fee.

Aquinnah (Gay Head)

Moshup Beach (Aquinnah Public Beach) is the stretch of sand extending southeast from the colored clay cliffs to Philbin Beach. There's parking (for a fee) near the cliffs, and a path for the 10-minute walk to the beach.

East of the cliffs on the way to Chilmark, Lobsterville Beach faces Vineyard Sound, and there's some parking, but very little. This is a great destination to get to by bicycle.

Edgartown

You can walk from the town center to Lighthouse Beach—and you should walk because there's nowhere to park. Walk northeast on North water Street to Starbuck Neck Road, which leads to Edgartown Light (you'll see the lighthouse).

Fuller Street Beach is the northern extension of Lighthouse Beach. Walk northeast along Fuller Street to the end, where there's access to the beach.

The Joseph A Sylvia State Beach, a two-mile (3-km) beach with Nantucket Sound to the east, Sengekontacket Pond to the west, is on Beach Road between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. It's probably the first beach you'll see, whether you take a bus along the road or a bike along the bike path. Bend-in-the-Road Beach is the name of the Edgartown portion. You can access the beach from the bike path, and there's parking for cars.

South (Katama) Beach at Norton Point (map), 3.5 miles (5.6 km) south of Main Street, is a l-o-n-g barrier beach washed by the surf, great for a refreshing, vigorous splash and some sun time.

Cross the channel to Chappaquiddick for a bike ride or nature walk in the two unspoiled nature areas, Wasque in the southeast and Cape Pogue to the northeast, with East Beach in between, all owned and maintained by The Trustees of Reservations.

Menemsha

Right next to Menemsha Harbor is Menemsha Public Beach, on Vineyard Sound: convenient to the village (and its restaurants), gentle surf, and—if you stay till evening—a fine sunset.

Oak Bluffs

Facing east toward Nantucket Sound, Oak Bluffs Town Beach , called Inkwell Beach, is supremely convenient: just look south from the Steamship Authority ferry docks from the town center along the road to Edgartown and there's the beach, which extends southward to where the Joseph A Sylvia State Beach begins.

Take Beach Road toward Vineyard Haven to reach Eastville Beach, just before the drawbridge.

West Tisbury

Long Point Wildlife Refuge, a property of The Trustees of Reservations, has South Beach, a long stretch of sand sloping down to the churling Atlantic Ocean.

There are two entrances:

Thumb Point Road, the off-season (mid-September to mid-June) entrance, 1.3 miles (2 km) from Scrubby Neck Road to the Visitor's Center and parking area, then a 10-minute walk along a grassy path through grassland heath and dunes to the beach.

Hughe's Thumb Road, the summer-only entrance (mid-June to mid-September), 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from Scrubby Neck Road to Hughe's Thumb Gatehouse. This entrance is wheelchair-accessible.

There are no facilities and no shade on the beach itself. Parking and toilets are at the Hughe's Thumb Gatehouse, a few minute's walk inland from the beach. More...

Biking

The bicycle was made for Martha's Vineyard: no big hills, some shared-use paths, and pretty back roads. Bring your own bike on the ferry, or rent one here. Here's a map of Martha's Vineyard bike routes, plus official town rules of the road for bikers.

Bicycling on Martha's Vineyard is particularly good on the shared-use path between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown (6.1 mi/10 km) passing Inkwell Beach and Joseph Sylvia State Beach; and East Chop Drive (3 mi/5 km) and West Chop Loop (4 mi/6.4 km).

Wildlife preserves are dotted about Martha's Vineyard, particularly on Chappaquiddick and at Menemsha, Felix Neck, and Cedar Tree Neck.

The 17-mile (27-km, one way) excursion from Vineyard Haven to the strikingly beautiful multicolored clay cliffs at Aquinnah (Gay Head), with a stop at quaint Menemsha along the way, is a must, but you'll need stamina for this 34-mile (55-km) round trip on a bike, and should devote most of a day to it. From Oak Bluffs to Aquinnah, it's 20 miles (32 km), one way.

Hiking

One of the best things you can do on Martha's Vineyard is to walk: stroll through the towns, walk along the beaches, and take short hikes in the many wildlife and nature reserves.

Hiking in the wildlife and nature reserves requires a few special instructions. In order to protect these areas from over-use, parking is limited, and when the (usually small) parking lots fill, you cannot stay.

The roads to many of the best nature reserves are narrow single-lane sand tracks that can be traversed easily enough by a normal car, though the going can be slow: when cars going in opposite directions meet, one may have to reverse along the road to a turn-out to allow the other(s) to pass.

So the wise summer hiker goes early or late in the day, especially on weekends, and the wisest hiker gets to the nature reserve by bicycle (or bus and bicycle), as there may be no limit on people coming by bike.

Some nature reserves have a water fountain and toilets, but check in advance, or don't depend on it: bring your own water. Virtually none have snack/drink stands or other shops.

Some reserves allow picnicking, some don't. If you plan to take a big picnic, check the rules in advance.

Also, poisonous ticks are a concern on Martha's Vineyard. The blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis; also called the deer tick) can carry Lyme disease, babesiosis, erlichiosis, and more.

Read these important tips on how to prevent tick-borne disease.

Sailing

Two classic sailing ships take you on thrilling cruises reminiscent of the island's 19th-century whaling heyday.

Shenandoah

A grand way to sail the seas around Martha's Vineyard Island is aboard the extreme clipper schooner Shenandoah, owned by the non-profit Martha's Vineyard Ocdean Academy. The Academy takes youths (9 to 17 years) on 5.5-day (5-night) learning voyages along the New England coast, offering lessons for a lifetime. School group, family and charter sailings are also available.

The Shenandoah, built at South Bristol, Maine, in 1964, is no small boat, measuring 108 feet (33 meters) along the rail, a classic 19th-century sailing ship without engine or any of the other modern assists. With all nine sails set in a classic square topsail rig, Shenandoah can make 12 knots, but...no wind, no movement. More...

Alabama

The Alabama, is a 90-foot (27-meter) gaff-rigged fore-and-aft schooner built in 1926 that calls Vineyard Haven,'s Black Dog Wharef her home port. Completely restored and rebuilt in the late 1990s, she has twin diesel engines so she can cruise on a schedule, wind or no wind.

The Black Dog Tall Ships Company (tel 508-693-1699, office@theblackdogtallships.com) welcomes you aboard for day, sunset and themed half-day cruises.

Martha's Vineyard Museum

The Martha's Vineyard Historical Society operates the island's most interesting museum with scrimshaw, china, glass, paintings, boats, a first-order Fresnel lens, nautical paraphernalia, a library and boating barn.

Martha's Vineyard Museum & Rose Styron Garden, Vineyard Haven, Tisbury, MA
Martha's Vineyard Museum & Rose Styron Garden

Housed in a former mariners' hilltop hospital at 151 Lagoon Pond Road, Vineyard Haven (map), the modern museum is a must-visit for anyone interested in the island's history and its relationship with the sea. Changing exhibits highlight aspects of island life. The gigantic Paris-made first-order (ie, largest-type) Fresnel lens (1854) that revolved in the Gay Head lighthouse from 1856 to 1952 has pride of place.

The Library has books, manuscripts, and a maritime exhibit. The First Light Café offers drinks, snacks and light meals, with in- and outdoor seating.

The Main Campus (museum, 151 Lagoon Pond Road, Vineyard Haven (map) is open from 10 am to 5 pm in summer, to 4 pm in winter; closed Monday. The Historical Society also cares for the Edgartown Lighthouse and Children's Memorial, the East Chop Lighthouse, and the Cooke House (1766) & Legacy Gardens.

A Bit of History

The island of Martha's Vineyard got its odd name in the early 1600s, when mariner and explorer Bartholomew Gosnold stopped here.

It's said that Bartholomew Gosnold found wild grapes, and it's thought he had a daughter named Martha.

Voilá!

Vineyard residents are proud that their island is the County of Dukes County, not part of some mainland county, and they guard the anachronistic redundancy of that title.

For a long time Martha's Vineyard had its own representative in the Massachusetts General Court (state legislature), and when redistricting made the island a part of the Cape Cod legislative district, the islanders threatened to secede from Massachusetts and become part of another state, one that would allow them their own representative.

Islanders get their exceptional sense of independence from a history of struggle with and mastery of the sea, from the days when whale-hunting brought great wealth to an otherwise poor island.

Just about the time the whaling industry declined, the tourist industry began, and Martha's Vineyard found its place in the modern world. At first it was only a local Massachusetts resort, with most visitors coming from New England, but during the latter part of the 20th century New York celebrities, eschewing the Hamptons, bought houses on the Vineyard.

Jaws (the movie) showed Martha's Vineyard to the world in 1975 as the fantasy town of Amity Island. Many local Vineyard people participated in making the movie, some even taking on small roles, or as extras, or providing support services. Jaws was the highest-grossing movie of all time until the release of Star Wars.

When President Bill Clinton and his family vacationed here in the 1990s, Martha's Vineyard became world famous. The visits of President Barack Obama and his family brought the Vineyard back into the news.

Today the big ferries that ply the waters of Vineyard Sound are packed with visitors every day in summer, and are also crowded on weekends in spring and fall.