There's something about the feel of being on an island. You are in a special world where time slows, the sun brightens, and the salt air refreshes. When in Massachusetts, there is no easier way of experiencing this phenomenon than with a trip to Martha's Vineyard.
Depending on the point from which you measure, the Vineyard, as we Cape Codders call it, lies only 7 to 9 miles from the mainland. If you are riding on the Falmouth ferries on a clear day, you never lose full sight of either the Cape or the Vineyard. Martha's Vineyard is a convenient respite full of spectacular views, quaint villages, charming gingerbread cottages, and elegant sea captains' homes.
While the island certainly embraces the visitor, it has not fallen victim to the tourist traps that have infested many seasonal communities, reaching and grabbing for that fleeting tourist dollar. Like the Cape and its island neighbor Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard represents a unique balance between active commerce and peaceful conservation.
Perhaps that is one reason why this unique island has attracted famous stars of stage and screen for years. Some of the more popular islanders include singer Carly Simon, political humorist Art Buchwald, actress Patricia Neal, retired news anchor Walter Cronkite, and actors Dan Ackroyd, and Jim Belushi (his late brother John lies in an unmarked grave on the island).
While you might come to the island in search of the rich and famous, your gaze will likely be diverted very quickly by the striking charm each town possesses. You may find yourself replacing your search for the stars with a tour of the town's real celebrities: its five unique lighthouses.
If you are rooted to your automobile, you had better do some planning. Only a limited number of vehicles can make it over on the Steamship Authority ferry. You have to make a reservation several months in advance if you hope to take a car over in the summer season. Sometimes you can get a spot at the last minute on one of the first ferries out in the morning, but don't bet your vacation on it. Also, once driving on the island, you'll have to practice a lot of patience as intersections are crowded with pedestrians and bicyclists.
Even though Martha's Vineyard is New England's largest island at 20 miles long and 9 miles wide, you'll find it is easy to negotiate on foot or pedal. The island consists of six towns, each with its own personality. Some 16,000 year-round residents call the island home, but, during the busy summer months, that population swells to nearly 100,000. Together with the town of Gosnold on Cuttyhunk Island (the only public island of the Elizabeth Island chain just west of the Vineyard) and No Man's Island (an uninhabited island off Aquinnah, the island's westernmost community), the six towns of Martha's Vineyard are part of Dukes County. FYI: You can get to Cuttyhunk Island from the Vineyard: See the "Excursions" section of this chapter.
The island's northernmost town is incorporated as Tisbury, but most call it by the name of its busy harbor, Vineyard Haven. The gateway to Vineyard Haven is marked by two spits of land, West Chop, the northern tip of Tisbury, and directly across the harbor, East Chop, the northern tip of the town of Oak Bluffs. Southeast of Oak Bluffs is the town of Edgartown, which includes the island of Chappaquiddick, known locally by its nickname, Chappy. "Up island" (or sometimes "outer island") refers to the more rural towns of West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah. Chilmark includes the fishing village Menemsha. The term "up island" can be confusing to visitors. Up, in this case, refers to longitude. The further west one travels, the higher the longitude--it's a nautical thing.
You'd expect prices to be a little higher because Martha's Vineyard is a resort, but since it's an island most of the goods have to be shipped over by ferry or plane increasing the prices a bit, too. Do your essential shopping on the mainland to help you save money for mementos and entertainment.
As far as the weather goes, don't be caught off guard at night. A cool ocean breeze and dropping temperatures can demand an evening sweater, even in midsummer.
Continue to Martha's Vineyard history -->
To learn more about all that Martha's Vineyard has to offer, stop by, call or write the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce,
24 Beach Road, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568, (508) 693-0085.
The chamber is open Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 5 PM, year-round. From Memorial Day to Labor Day the chamber's satellite office, located on the Vineyard Haven pier as you come off the ferry, is open on Saturdays and Sundays. You can also visit www.mvy.com
If you are interested in visiting Edgartown, you can contact the Edgartown Visitors Center at
29 Church Street, Edgartown, MA 02539 (no phone). The center is open seven days a week from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Alcoholics Anonymous (508) 693-2150
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