West Chop Lighthouse Martha's Vineyard

Exploring Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

In Travel Diaries, Travel Inspiration, USA by KerrynLeave a Comment

Lighthouses, white picket fences and clam chowder:

If I could retire anywhere in the world, this would be it.

Martha's Vineyard

Photo: Andrew F. Kazmierski

My love affair with Martha’s Vineyard began with a road trip along Massachusetts’ Cape Cod. I’ve always been fascinated with lighthouses, which is why I was thrilled when the friend I was travelling with suggested we take a detour to Martha’s Vineyard. I didn’t care that it was in the middle of summer and overrun with tourists; I could hardly contain my excitement at seeing the five lighthouses scattered along its coast. But I discovered that there’s a lot more to the island than just lighthouses: before I knew it, I was already planning my retirement in my still-to-be-bought summer home.

Martha's Vineyard

Photo: Jack Torcello

Getting around Martha’s Vineyard

Our detour began with a 45-minute ferry ride from Woods Hole on Cape Cod to Vineyard Haven, a harbour in the north of the island. I have to admit that even though I’m not really a boat person, the ferry trip was surprisingly pleasant, and on our way into the Vineyard Haven Harbour I even got to see my first lighthouse! We’d left our car at the Woods Hole parking lot ($10 for the day), but the ferry does accommodate cars (just be warned, you have to book months in advance). I also saw a few people taking bicycles with them on the ferry, which I discovered is an awesome way to see what the locals just call “the Vineyard” thanks to the well-maintained bike paths that hug the coastline.

If we had planned to stay 3 or 4 days I definitely would have hired a bike, but we only had one day to explore.

Martha's Vineyard

Photo: Jack Torcello

Thankfully, getting around the island is easy even if you don’t have a bike. There are regular Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) buses between the six main towns (Tisbury, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah), as well as some of the beaches. We bought a useful one-day pass from the Steamship Authority when we got off the ferry, which allowed us to hop on and off the buses without having to worry about paying each time. The best thing about them (and I have been on many during my travels) is that they were clean and always on time.

Gingerbread houses and white picket fences

Martha's Vineyard Photo: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

The island is divided into the districts of up-Island (the western part of the island) and down-Island (the eastern part of the island). We started the day exploring the down-island town of Tisbury (which includes the village of Vineyard Haven). A stroll down Main Street will take you past clothing boutiques, bookstores (including the amazing Bunch of Grapes bookstore) and restaurants. Not far from where the ferry docks you’ll find Beach Street Extension where there is a local favourite known as Black Dog Tavern.

The thing that struck me about the town (which I found to be true everywhere we went on the island) is how friendly the locals were and how laid-back the atmosphere was even with the summer crowds.

On the other side of Vineyard Haven Harbour is Oak Bluffs, where there are the most delightful gingerbread cottages. It was probably my favourite place on the Vineyard. Do your taste buds a favour while you’re there and head to Lookout Tavern, where you’ll enjoy beautiful views while you eat the most delicious clam chowder you’ll ever taste! For more amazing views, there is an excellent lookout spot from the East Chop lighthouse. Oak Bluffs is also one of the only two towns on the island that sells alcohol – which means it has a vibrant nightlife scene.

Edgartown Photo: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

The last of the down-island towns is Edgartown, where you’ll find white picket fences and charming New England homes. There is an easy walk to the Edgartown lighthouse, and the area has some beautiful beaches like South Beach and Katama Beach. If you have any interest in learning about the history of the island you should visit the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in School Street. It’s small but very interesting and it gives you a taste of the island’s whaling history and life on the Vineyard over the years.

Exploring up-Island

Martha's Vineyard Photo: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

From Edgartown we headed west to the up-island town of West Tisbury. Even with the hustle and bustle of summer crowds the town somehow managed to retain its rural charm. If you’re looking for peace and quiet Polly Hill Arboretum is a great spot to find it. My grandmother would love all the azaleas, camellias, hollies, rhododendrons, crabapples, and magnolias that are scattered between meadows and stone walls. Although we didn’t go there, I believe that Sepiessa Point Reservation is a great place for avid birdwatchers.

From West Tisbury we took the bus to Aquinnah, with a quick stop in Chilmark, which is more of a village than a town. It is home to the Great Rock Bight Preserve which has some fantastic trails that are perfect for families with kids. Best of all, it’s free. Aquinnah is located in the southwest corner and has the most incredible beach and multi-coloured clay cliffs at Gay Head. From there we headed back to the port at Vineyard Haven and hopped on our ferry back to the mainland.

Martha's Vineyard

Photo: Gary Brownell

After a full day exploring Martha’s Vineyard I needed to put my feet up. All that walking left my legs sore for days, but it was worth the pain.

I only enjoyed a fleeting glance of Martha’s Vineyard, but I would love to call it home. Now I just have to work out how I’m going to make enough money to buy that summer home and retire there…

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KerrynExploring Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

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