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Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • Approximately 63% of the Island’s housing stock is second homes for seasonal residents.
  • The first Bible printed in the U.S. was written in the language of the Wampanoag Indians on Martha’s Vineyard.
  • Martha’s Vineyard was part of the New York colony before being transferred to Massachusetts (1692).
  • By mid-19th century 4% of Chilmark residents were deaf, but all knew the now-defunct Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language.
  • Martha’s Vineyard provided settings for the 1975 movie, “Jaws,” and its sequels.

From religious retreat to seaside resort

Martha’s Vineyard, an island and one of a trio of vacation destinations on the Massachusetts coast (along with Cape Cod and Nantucket), is only seven miles from Cape Cod and well served by ferries. Measuring about 100 square miles, it boasts sandy beaches; ponds and tidal shoreline good for a range of water sports, and hilly terrain appealing to hikers and bikers.

The Vineyard’s culture encompasses theater and other arts; emphasis on local foods from farms and the sea; a Native American community, and a devotion to preserving the island’s natural assets and its history. The Vineyard boasts it has no chain stores, restaurants or hotels, and approximately a third of the island is off limits for future development. Five historic lighthouses add character while bespeaking the realities of island life, especially in the 19th century.

Martha’s Vineyard promotes itself as a year-round destination, but for most vacationers, the best times to visit are summer peak season, or spring and fall shoulder season when prices are more manageable.

The island’s six towns can be viewed as two sets of three: the urbane “down-Island” sites — Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven (aka Tisbury) — and pastoral “up-Island” Aquinnah, Chilmark and West Tisbury.

Vineyard tourism got its start in Oak Bluffs in 1835 when Methodists held a camp meeting outside of town. The camp meetings became annual events and were the catalyst for developing the island into a seaside resort. The town’s 330 colorful Victorian cottages recall that era.

Edgartown, its streets still lined with the stately homes of 19th century whaling captains, is a yachting center, while Vineyard Haven, the island’s busiest port and largest town, offers the richest collection of restaurants, shops, galleries, plus numerous historic houses and the Vineyard Playhouse.

Aquinnah is home to descendants of the Wampanoag Indians who helped early settlers learn the ropes here. The Aquinnah Wampanoag are a recognized sovereign tribal nation. This unique culture is on display at annual events. In addition, Aquinnah, the Vineyard’s westernmost outpost, is celebrated for its milelong polychrome cliffs.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Charter a boat at Edgartown or Vineyard Haven, and go sailing. Take sailing lessons if appropriate.
  • Plan a one-day circuit of the island, by bicycle, visiting all six towns and enjoying out-of-the-way bike paths (while avoiding tour buses on the highways). Alternatively, for mountain bikers, consider the trails in the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest in the middle of the island. (Note: mountain biking is prohibited on most of the Vineyard’s other protected land.)
  • Compete in January’s Big Chili Contest. Or, in the fall, create and enter a dish in the Local Wild Food Challenge. Anyone can enter and each entry must include at least one wild ingredient.
  • Windsurf on the waters of Nantucket Sound. Parasailing and jet skiing are options, too. Take your pick.
  • Be a player in the annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, a monthlong event that begins in mid-September.
  • Go fly a kite. In September, participate at the Martha’s Vineyard Wind Festival, at which kite flyers compete in a number of categories such as highest kite or best wind sculpture.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Go birding at the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, which hosts a variety of birds year round.
  • Eat fresh local seafood. Also, take a culinary class that relies on local farms for its produce.
  • Join a kayaking expedition at Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge on Chappaquiddick Island. The island is accessible by ferry from Edgartown.
  • Be intrigued by the story of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Indian population at the group’s Stories of Moshup Pageant in August. The event involves reenactment of the story of Moshup, the giant the Wampanoag believe created Martha’s Vineyard.
  • For lovers of a peaceful float — with some exercise — kayak or move about on a paddle board in the Vineyard’s quieter waterways.
  • Fish from a beach or jetty, depending on season, for bluefish, bonito, false albacore, Spanish mackerel and striped bass. Or, go out with one of the island’s experienced charter captains and cast a line for something bigger.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Make the rounds of the island’s five lighthouses. You can visit the grounds or even visit the interiors of some. They are unbeatable photography subjects.
  • In Vineyard Haven, see a production at the Vineyard Playhouse, operational year round. Also, get a good look at Williams Street’s collection of National Register houses.
  • In autumn, come for the Living Local Harvest Festival or the annual Food and Wine Festival. At the latter, one can seriously dive into seminars, wine tastings and food-and-wine pairings.
  • Play golf or tennis, your choice. Take advantage of the beaches, too.
  • Ride the Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs. It is America’s oldest continuously operating carousel (1876).
  • Choose your film festival; there are three — Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival focused on indies, March; the African American Film Festival, August, and the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, September.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce at www.mvy.com