Best Things to Do in Martha's Vineyard
Encompassing just 100 square miles, Martha’s Vineyard has six classic Cape Cod towns surrounded by farms, forests, beaches, and harbors. On the west side, locally referred to as “up-Island,” are the rural villages of Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury. On the east side, or “down-island,” are the historic port communities of Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Vineyard Haven.
Katama Beach/South Beach
Katama Beach, also known as South Beach, is a three mile stretch barrier beach south of Edgartown that is popular for its strong surf on the ocean side and buffered salt pond on the other side. The beach is open to the public year-round with free parking, lifeguards are on duty in the summer months, a limited number of beach wheelchairs are available, and vehicles with permits are allowed on marked off-road trails.
Mytoi offers a stunning tribute to nature. The 14-acre Japanese garden is nestled in among Oak and Pine. Peaceful paths take you through the skillfully landscaped property with its colorful flower beds and picturesque settings featuring exotic and native plants. The woods, pond and island attract a wide variety of birds and provide a home to turtles, frogs and the resident goldfish. Mytoi is a fun, relaxing way to spend an afternoon on Martha’s Vineyard.
On the east end of Marth’s Vineyard, separated from the main island by a small channel at the north and a long, narrow, beach at the south, Chappaquiddick is the perfect place to get away from it all. The island, affectionately known as “Chappy,” has long stretches of beach, quiet nature trails and abundant raw wilderness. It’s a peaceful retreat and an ideal place to relax, explore, or do nothing at all.
Ferry to Chappy
Until the ferry from Edgartown started operating in the 1930s, Chappaquiddick was practically unknown to tourists. To this day, the island is still remote enough that it remains rugged and natural. There is no business district, the ferry carries three cars at a time, and there is only one shop on the island that’s open seasonally and has an understandably limited selection. Be sure to bring along everything you need for your visit to explore this once unheard-of escape.
Lighthouse Beach wraps around Edgartown Harbor Light, the cast-iron tower that marks the entrance to Edgartown Harbor and Katama Bay. From the sandy beach, beachgoers can watch ships sail in and out of the bay or take the short walk to North Water Street and downtown. When the lighthouse is open to visitors, you can climb the stairway up to the lantern room and take in the panoramic view of Edgartown Harbor.
Oak Bluffs - Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Assoc. for Gingerbread Cottages
In the heart of Oak Bluffs, visitors are greeted by a village of about 300 gingerbread houses that will whisk you away to a fairytale setting. While many of these adorable little houses are now rented out as summer cottages, they were originally constructed to serve as lodging for religious retreats. The most magical time to visit is on Grand Illumination Night in August when the gingerbread houses are decked out with paper lanterns and fairy lights.
Circuit Avenue is the main commercial route through Oak Bluffs and offers a large selection of unique shops and delightful restaurants in a setting that’s pure Martha’s Vineyard. The pedestrian friendly street is lined with classic Cape Cod style buildings and enticing storefronts to explore. Between the shops, you’ll find restaurants, cafés, and bars where you can take a break and enjoy your favorite Cape inspired dishes and delicious creative cocktails.
Inkwell Beach – Oak Bluffs
Inkwell Beach is usually bustling with swim clubs, yoga classes, wind surfing, kayaking, and jet skiing. Near downtown Oak Bluffs, Inkwell Beach inspired a 1994 film celebrating its history as a vacation spot for affluent African Americans. The beach features warm, shallow waters, a rock jetty, and views of the ferry terminal. Inkwell Beach also has lifeguards on duty and is open to the public year-round.
Ocean Park sits on the edge of town between Oak Bluffs Town Beach and the vibrant retail district along Kennebec and Circuit Avenues. The park has an unobstructed view of Nantucket Sound and the ferry terminal that you can enjoy over a picnic on the green, while relaxing on one of the park benches, or from the raised gazebo at the center of the park.
West Chop Lighthouse – Vineyard Haven
Near the northernmost point on Martha’s Vineyard, the West Chop Lighthouse overlooks Vineyard Sound. Originally built in 1817, the tower was rebuilt further inland on higher ground in 1846 and only became automated in 1976. While the lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard and closed to the public, it is a fine example of a Cape Cod lighthouse that you can easily spot from Tisbury’s Main Street, from nearby homes and cottages, or from the open water as you make your way around the island.
Menemsha (fishing village)
Menemsha is home to Martha’s Vineyard’s fishing fleet and locals who live on the island year-round. Here, the wine and art scenes give way to lobster pots, nets, fishing boats, and people who love the fishing life. For visitors, it’s a place to relax, visit the beach and meet the authentic characters of Cape Cod.
Abel’s Hill Cemetery - Tisbury and West Tisbury
Tucked away in the woods along South Road near Chilmark you’ll find an aging rural graveyard. With many headstones dating back to the early 1700s, Abel’s Hill Cemetery is more notably known as the resting place of actor, comedian and singer John Belushi. Visitors are welcome to stop and see the grave which has been moved near the entrance to minimize disturbance of other graves. Another noteworthy interment at Abel’s is that of playwright and communist sympathizer Lillian Hellman.
Gay Head Lighthouse & Cliffs- Aquinnah
West of town, the historic Gay Head Light looks down from the beautiful red-clay cliffs of Aquinnah over Moshup Beach and Vineyard Sound. Gay Head, so named because of the gaily colored cliffs overlooking the massive Atlantic Ocean, is perched at the very peak of those multi-colored cliffs at the western end of the island of Martha’s Vineyard. The Lighthouse occupies a nearly picture-perfect location that exhibits vivid hues of green, yellow, black, brown, red, and white and draws visitors from around the world like a magnet. The area around Gay Head has been home to Wampanoag Indians for thousands of years, and to this day, many local residents are members of the tribe. In 1998, the town nearest the lighthouse changed its name from Gay Head to Aquinnah, which is Wampanoag for “end of the island.”
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