With perfect summertime weather, spectacular vistas, charming shops and gingerbread cottages, Martha’s Vineyard is a popular destination for day trips and vacations. Located about seven miles off the southern tip of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard annually draws thousands of visitors in the summer months to enjoy historic sites, outdoor activities and New England hospitality. To acquaint visitors to this fascinating island, this travel guide offers the best Martha’s Vineyard has to offer, from a range of options for dining and lodgings to transportation information and the island’s most popular attractions.
How to Get There
A handful of transportation companies offer ferry service to Martha’s Vineyard but the Steamship Authority is the only one providing year-round service to Martha’s Vineyard and the only service that transports autos. It’s also the most affordable, at $16 round-trip, $8.50 for children ages 5-12 and $8.50 for active military. Children under five years old ride free if accompanied by a fare-paying adult. The Steamship Authority offers several departures from Woods Hole.
Transportation companies offering seasonal service to Martha’s Vineyard include Island Queen, with ferry service from Falmouth, Hy-Line Cruises from Hyannis, SeaStreak from New York and New Jersey and Martha’s Vineyard Fast Ferry from North Kingstown, Rhode Island.
Private boats can dock at any of the four harbors on Martha’s Vineyard, based upon availability. Interested parties should contact the harbor master at Edgartown, Menemsha, Oak Bluffs or Vineyard Haven.
The only year-round service to Martha’s Vineyard by plane is with Cape Air. One of the largest independent regional airlines, Cape Air provides service to Martha’s Vineyard from Logan Airport in Boston, in addition to seasonal service from Westchester, New York, T.F. Green Airport in Rhode Island and New Bedford Airport in Massachusetts.
Jet Blue and Delta Airlines provide seasonal service direct from JFK Airport in New York City and US Airways provides seasonal direct service from Reagan National Airport in Washington DC.
How to Get Around
Martha’s Vineyard Regional Transit Authority operates 13 bus routes year round, with more frequent service from June 21 to September 1. Fares are described as $1 per town, each way, including town of origin. Senior citizens 65 and older and people living with disabilities are eligible for a 50-percent discount. The transit authority also offers passes, such as a $7 day pass, $18 for a three-day pass and a 31-day pass for $40.
A number of travel operators provide a variety of tours from short one-hour tours to full island tours. Martha’s Vineyard Sightseeing, Martha’s Vineyard Tours and Excursions and Martha’s Vineyard Tours and Transport are among notable travel services operating on the island.
Taxi and Rental Cars
Stagecoach Taxi and Martha’s Vineyard Taxi are among a handful of taxi companies available on the island. AA Island Auto Rental and Sun ‘n’ Fun are two locally owned and highly rated auto rental companies.
Where to Stay
Budget-minded visitors can actually camp on Martha’s Vineyard. Martha’s Vineyard Family Campground offers reasonable rates for seasonal camping and online reservations are strongly recommended. Daily rates are $54 and weekly rates are $329 and additional adults are $15 per night. Trailer sites are $60 daily and $371 weekly. The camping season runs through October 15.
The only hostel on the island is Hosteling International-Martha’s Vineyard in Vineyard Haven. Summer nightly rates range between $18 and $200. Hi-Martha’s Vineyard was selected as Hosteling International’s Most Efficient in 2010 and World’s Most Friendliest in 2011.
Most every moderately priced hotel and B&B are in Oak Bluffs, the location for the island’s largest marina. But excellent moderately priced accommodations can be found throughout the island. Among the best-rated overnight accommodations on the island are Edgartown Inn in Edgartown and Nashua House, Pequot Hotel, Martha’s Vineyard Surfside Motel and Tivoli Inn, all in Oak Bluffs.
Martha’s Vineyard has a wealth of upscale accommodations, primarily in Edgartown, with overnight rates ranging from about $200 to nearly $700. Hob Knob Inn, Vineyard Square Hotel and Suites and Winnetu Oceanside Resort in Edgartown and The Beach Plum Inn and Restaurant in Menemsha are among the most acclaimed.
One last recommendation are the world famous cottages at Oak Bluffs Campground, operated by Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association. A National Historic Landmark, the campgrounds features more than 300 19th century Carpenter Gothic cottages, of which many are available for rent into October.
Where to Dine
Good choices for the budget-minded diner include Larsen’s Fish Market in Chilmark, Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown, Waterside Market in Vineyard Haven and Back Door Donuts and Linda Jean’s in Oak Bluffs.
Moderately priced food can be found all over the island. Recommendations include Sharky’s Cantina in Edgartown and Oak Bluffs, The Blackdog Tavern in Vineyard Haven and Offshore Ale Company, Red Cat Kitchen and Slice of Life in Oak Bluffs.
Like overnight accommodations, there are several choices in the four-star category. Here is a sampling of the best upscale restaurants on Martha’s Vineyard – L’etoile Restaurant, Water Street at the Harbor View Hotel and The Terrace at the Charlotte Inn in Edgartown and Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company and Sweet Life Café in Oak Bluffs.
What to See
The top shopping destination on the island, Circuit Avenue is the primary center of activity in Oak Bluffs. Just a short walk from the marina, the street is lined with interesting boutique shops in addition to some outstanding restaurants, including the aforementioned Slice of Life and Sharky’s Cantina and Back Door Donuts on Park Avenue, inside Martha’s Vineyard Gourmet Café and Bakery. Oak Bluff visitors should also take time to visit Ocean Park, with its row of stately Victorian mansions.
Located about six miles south of Oak Bluffs, Edgartown is an attraction in itself. The first colonial settlement on the island, Edgartown has been the county seat since 1642 of Dukes County, comprising Martha’s Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands to the north. Top attractions include the many breathtaking 17th century homes, Edgartown Lighthouse, South Beach, Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, Old Whaling Church and the Mytoi Gardens on Chappaquiddick Island.
Flying Horses Carousel
Not far from the marina in Oak Bluffs, the Flying Horses Carousel is the oldest operating platform carousel in the country. Completed in 1876, the carousel was moved from Coney Island to Martha’s Vineyard in 1986. During the summer, the carousel, featuring beautifully restored horses and chariots, operates daily through Labor Day and on weekends through Columbus Day weekend. A very popular attraction for children, America’s Oldest Carousel is one of the few remaining carousels that features a brass ring toss.
Martha’s Vineyard Film Center
Located in Vineyard Haven, Martha’s Vineyard Film Center is the island’s venue for current and classic films, live theater and film festivals. Founded in 2002, the non-profit film society has presented more than 200 feature films and hosts the annual Martha’s Vineyard International Festival and this year’s event takes place September 4 to 7. Also during this summer, Martha’s Vineyard Film Society hosts a week-long, educational Film Critics Boot Camp for children ages 10 to 15 from August 11 to 15. Also in Vineyard Haven is Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, featuring year-round live theater.
Oak Bluffs Campground Walking Tours
A half-mile walk from Oak Bluffs Harbor, the Oak Bluffs Campground is a National Historic Landmark District. Located on 34 acres known as Wesleyan Grove, the campground features more than 300 colorful Victorian gingerbread cottages and historic Tabernacle, one of the country’s largest buildings made of wrought iron and wood in Trinity Park. Ninety-minute campground walkings tours are offered Tuesdays and Thursdays in July and August. The fee is $10, which includes free admission to the Cottage Museum and children under 10 are free. A more comprehensive tour allowing visitors to enter many of the cottages will be held Wednesday, August 13.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.