Just four miles off the coast of Massachusetts lies the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Though it’s a short distance, Martha’s Vineyard is a world apart from the mainland of New England. A trip to the island, whether it’s a day trip or a Martha’s Vineyard vacation, will refresh you and fill you with wonder. There are so many unique things to do in Martha’s Vineyard for everyone in the family to enjoy.
I’ve lived in New England almost all my life but only visited Martha’s Vineyard a handful of times. This week we spontaneously decided to spend a day biking the island. We called our puppy sitter, booked a ticket on the Island Queen ferry, and headed off the next morning for the 9 a.m. departure. Less than 45 minutes later we were riding our bikes through the charming town of Oak Bluffs and on toward Edgartown. We had an early lunch in town, a later snack in Vineyard Haven, and arrived back in time for the 3:45 ferry back to Cape Cod. On this recent trip we biked 23 miles of easy well-paved cycling trails. What a great day!
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>> Uniquely Martha’s Vineyard: facts about the island
Unique and fun things to do on Martha’s Vineyard
Visit the historic lighthouses of Martha’s Vineyard
Edgartown Lighthouse – Within walking distance of the town of Edgartown, this lighthouse was originally located on Crane Beach in Ipswich on the North Shore of Massachusetts. It was relocated to Edgartown to replace a deteriorating two story lighthouse keeper’s home with lantern in the same spot.
East Chop Lighthouse -(photo below) The East Chop Lighthouse was originally nicknamed the Chocolate Lighthouse because of the exposed bricks. Now white, it is located on the site of the first telegraph transmission from Nantucket to the mainland in 1828.
West Chop Lighthouse – the West Chop Lighthouse was the first lighthouse to be automated on the island. It is not open to the public.
Gay Head Lighthouse – This unique lighthouse, a favorite of photographers, is red brick. It was moved back from the ocean in 2015 but still rests on a rapidly eroding bluff in Aquinnah.
Cape Poge Lighthouse on Chappaquiddick Island. Due to the precarious position on the Atlantic Ocean, this lighthouse has had to be rebuilt several times, with the present structure moved 4 times since its construction.
Explore the Unique Towns of Martha’s Vineyard
There are six towns on this small island. Aquinnah, Chilmark, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and West Tisbury. Each of these communities has its own style, personality, and interesting places to enjoy.
The Town of Aquinnah, located on the far western side of the Island. The town was called Gay Head until 1998 when it reverted to the original Wampanoag name of Aquinnah. The lighthouse on the cliff of Aquinnah is still called the Gay Head lighthouse.
If you’re visiting the town of Aquinnah, make sure to see the cliffs. It’s a spectacular sight and nice place to take a walk.
Chilmark is on the western side of the island and has a quaint fishing village, Menemsha, which will be familiar to “Jaws” fans.
BTW, Menemsha Beach is the perfect place to watch the sunset. Get there early with a picnic supper to enjoy the show.
Edgartown is the county seat for Dukes County which includes all of Martha’s Vineyard. It’s the oldest town on the island, established in 1642, and was once an important whaling port. Today it’s a bustling tourist and sailing destination. Enjoy a walk around the town to admire the elegant ship captains’ homes and charming cottages.
Chappaquiddick Island is part of Edgartown and is a very short distance by ferry from the center of town. There is also a bridge to Chappaquiddick, made infamous by the accident, and subsequent scandal, that ended Ted Kennedy’s path to the presidency.
Hungry? The Seafood Shanty in Edgartown has great seafood with views to match.
Oak Bluffs was originally known as Cottage City. In the 18th century former slaves came to Oak Bluffs where they established homes and worked in the fishing and whaling industry.
As you explore the town of Oak Bluffs you’ll see many ‘painted lady’ Victorian homes and Inns (especially around Ocean Park where the town’s band stand is located). The tradition of colorful Victorian architecture is inspired by the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association community.
Getting hungry? Visit Back Door Donuts in Oak Bluffs for great treats during the day AND night!
Marvel at the cottages at the Camp Meeting Association
What began as a Methodist meeting ground in 1835, with participants staying in tents, grew to a charming enclave of more than 300 colorful gingerbread houses. The cottages are centered around the community’s green and Tabernacle. The community is still active with religious services held in the Tabernacle. (now listed on the National Register of Historic Places)
No visit to Martha’s Vineyard is complete without a visit (or a tour) of the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association.
Ride the historic Flying Horses carousel
The historic Flying Horses Carousel is the oldest platform carousel in the United States. It was originally located on Coney Island, NY, before being moved to the island in 1884.
The carousel is open in the summer on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am to 4:30 pm. And open for tours and photography every day from 11-2pm.
Take a tour of an oyster farm
Cottage City Oysters runs tours of their oyster farms during the season. If you’ve never seen how people grow and harvest oysters, you’re in for a treat. It’s definitely one of the unique things to do on Martha’s Vineyard.
Barn Bowl and Bistro Oak Bluffs Rainy day? Or have an evening free? Stop by the Barn Bowl and Bistro in Oak Bluffs.
Tisbury is the official name, but many locals use the name of the village on Vineyard Haven harbor. Go with Vineyard Haven and everyone will know what you mean.
Walk with an alpaca at Island Alpaca
Looking for a really unique thing to do in Martha’s Vineyard? How about Alpaca Yoga? Or just a pleasant Alpaca Walk and Talk? The Island Alpaca farm on Head of the Pond Road in Vineyard Haven is a fun activity for all ages. They’re open seven days a week, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Stop for a drink at the Black Dog Tavern
Go anywhere in New England and you’ll see the logo of the Black Dog. The simple silhouette of a black lab with red collar adorns baseball hats, tee shirts, and decals on cars. Well, Vineyard Haven is where it all started. Enjoy a meal at the Black Dog tavern, sail on one of the Black Dog schooners, or just visit the gift shop for your own Black Dog souvenir. (Note: there are now Black Dog shops in Edgartown and Oak Bluffs.)
West Tisbury is the farming area of the Vineyard. In West Tisbury you’ll find the Agricultural & Grange Halls, and the historic Alley’s General Store.
Find the “Jaws” filming locations
The ultimate shark thriller “Jaws” was filmed on Martha’s Vineyard. Film buffs will enjoy finding the familiar spots as they travel the island.
The Town of Amity = Edgartown
Lighthouse = Gay Head in Aquinnah
The Jaws Bridge = American Legion Memorial Bridge – Beach Road between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown
Captain Quint’s fishing village = Menemsha in Chilmark
Get out on the water
- Boat tours and sunset cruises
- Whale watching excursions (what to expect on a Whale Watch off the coast of Massachusetts)
- Charter a boat for a fishing expedition
- Pirate Adventures from Oak Bluffs for the little ones
- Rent a kayak or a stand up paddleboard to enjoy Sengekontacket Pond.
Nearly 40% of the land on MV is protected open space.
Enjoy Martha’s Vineyard’s open spaces
Martha’s Vineyard’s beautiful beaches,
Here are a few of the public beaches on the island. If you’ve got a few days to explore, you’ll find lots more spots for sun and sand.
- Aquinnah Public Beach – Aquinnah
- Eastville Point Beach – Vineyard Haven
- Joseph Sylvia State Beach – On Beach Road between Edgartown and Oak Bluffs
- Katama Beach – Edgartown, also known as South Beach.
- Lighthouse Beach – Edgartown
- Menemsha Beach – Chilmark
Mass Audubon Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary
4 miles of trails with marsh, meadow, and Senge Pond habitat to explore.
Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, 100 Felix Neck Drive, Edgartown
Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge
Managed by the Trustees of Reservations, the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge is a barrier beach on Chappaquiddick Island. 516 acres of beach, marsh, and red cedar woods to explore.
Long Point Wildlife Refuge
Long Point Wildlife Refuge in West Tisbury is another beautiful spot maintained by the Trustees of Reservations.
Manuel F. Correllus State Forest
5300 acres of state forest right in the middle of Martha’s Vineyard! There are miles and miles of trails to hike. Keep your eyes out for the memorial to the heath hen, a bird last seen in Martha’s Vineyard in 1932.
Polly Hill Arboretum
From the arboretum’s website – “Polly Hill … was a practical gardener who learned from trial and error. At the age of 50 with patience and determination she decided to grow an arboretum by sowing a seed.”
Polly Hill Arboretum, 809 State Road, West Tisbury
Bike over 44 miles of gorgeous trails
Biking is our favorite way to experience a location and we’re fortunate to have many gorgeous cycling destinations in Southern New England. On the small island of Martha’s Vineyard cycling is the definitely the best way to explore. The miles of trails are well maintained and marked. You can rent a bike once you’re off the ferry or bring your own.
For an easy ride, follow the eastern coast of the island from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown. You can hop right onto this trail (route C on map) from the Oak Bluffs ferry and enjoy 6 miles of flat and very scenic cycling to Edgartown.
If you’ve had enough of ocean views (???) bike the miles of trails through the state forest. (route F on map)
And if you’re looking a real bike challenge, consider cycling the far western roads – the Up-Island routes (G on map). This route is for experienced cyclists, as it’s on windy and hilly roads. But what views!
Golfing on Martha’s Vineyard
Tee off on one of the three public golf courses on the island – Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs, Mink Meadows Golf Club in Vineyard Haven, and the Royal and Ancient Chappaquiddick Links in Chappaquiddick. (As the name implies, the Royal and Ancient Chappaquiddick is over 100 years old)
There are over 50 farms on the island.
Farm tours and locally grown products
- Grey Barn and Farm in Chilmark
- Morning Glory Farm, Edgartown
- Native Earth Teaching Farm, Chilmark
- Shop the West Tisbury Farmers Market
Martha’s Vineyard’s Museums and Historic Tours
- Aquinnah Cultural Center with a museum on the Wampanoag tribe who’ve inhabited the island for over 10,000 years.
- Historic and Literary tours of Edgartown
- African American Heritage Trail
Arts, Crafts, and Island Entertainment
- Featherstone Center for the Arts, Oak Bluffs
- Field Gallery and Sculpture Garden, West Tisbury
- Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Haven
- Ocean Park bandstand has regular events during the season.
- Vineyard Sound – an a cappella group
>> Uniquely Martha’s Vineyard: multi-cultural history
There are no chain restaurants on the island.
But no worries, there’s a Mad Martha’s ice cream in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs AND Vineyard Haven.
Treat yourself to a piece of iconic Martha’s Vineyard
- Visit the many art galleries in Edgartown and West Tisbury.
- Outfit yourself in New England prep at the original Vineyard Vines in Edgartown.
- Shop the Black Dog stores in Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs
Festivals and Fun on Martha’s Vineyard
Grand Illumination Night – this annual event, held on the third Wednesday on August, is a must-see if you’re on the island. there’s singing and music by the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association’s band, but the main draw are the gingerbread houses all lit with Japanese lanterns.
MV Food and Wine Festival – Four days and nights of uniquely Martha’s Vineyard food.
Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby – mid-September to mid-October.
Lobster Roll evening at Grace Church in Vineyard Haven – Friday evenings in the season.
Martha’s Vineyard Wind Festival – A celebration of kiting held annually in September. Another unique thing to do on Martha’s Vineyard.
Edgartown Race Weekend – one of the top regattas in the U.S., held annually in June.
Getting to Martha’s Vineyard: by sea or air
Ferry service: During the tourist season Martha’s Vineyard is accessible by ferry from Falmouth, Hyannis, and New Bedford. It’s a short ferry ride from any of these Massachusetts towns (35 minutes from Falmouth on Cape Cod). If you’re visiting from out of state, there are ferries from Quonset Point in Rhode Island and New York City. In the off season, the Steamship Authority ferry runs daily from Woods Hole in Falmouth.
Air transportation: There is year-round service from Logan Airport and seasonal service from NYC and Washington, D.C.