The island of Martha’s Vineyard has great natural beauty and a rich history that is reflected in its six towns: Aquinnah, Chilmark, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and West Tisbury. When visitors spend time here, be it up-island, down-island, walking on the beach or riding a bike, their experience is visceral. The smells of the sea, the views of the sunset, the taste of blueberry pie, all begin the association of pure summer escape.
It is rare that our work and responsibilities can be completely forgotten, but people who come to the Vineyard feel the levity and purity in the seascapes and the winding roads. Faces relax and laughter comes quickly. See also About MV, Beaches, Traveling to Martha's Vineyard and Events.
AQUINNAH (GAY HEAD)
Aquinnah is known for its striking clay cliffs, natural dunes and its Wampanoag Indian history. With beaches on the Atlantic Ocean, the Vineyard Sound and Menemsha Pond, this small quiet town is treasured by athletes, naturalists, and artists alike. Located on the southwest tip of the island, Aquinnah is fairly remote compared to the busier towns on the Vineyard, but this is a benefit to those who stay here. The unspoiled environment is a paradise for bicyclists, runners and walkers and the water lures eager fishermen.
One can experience panoramic views from the historic Gay Head Lighthouse which is open to the public daily in the summer season. An active navigational beacon which has been in operation since 1799, the Gay Head Light is perched on the cliffs overlooking the Elizabeth Islands. Near the cliffs are many colorful shops and restaurants that bring together fashion and native Wampanoag art. The fresh local cuisine keeps year-rounders and summer people returning again and again to enjoy delicious oysters, sushi, chowders and ever-changing meals while watching the sun set…
The rural town of Chilmark is known for its rolling hills and meadows and its spectacular beaches and ponds. People come here to enjoy the scenic beauty and the low key lifestyle. There are two town beaches, Lucy Vincent and Squibnocket, both on the Atlantic, as well as Menemsha beach which is a public beach offering calm waters on the north shore, great for small children and anyone who enjoys swimming in tranquil waters. The fishing village of Menemsha offers several lively retail shops, restaurants and fish markets where one can order freshly caught lobster and other delicacies for takeout or for picnics on the beach. Every night people set up their blankets to watch the sun set, applauding as it sinks into the ocean.
Beetlebung Corner, the center of Chilmark, has a post office, library, playground, community center, general store, restaurant, and chocolate shop. You can get your newspaper at the Chilmark Store, have a coffee or slice of pizza and sit on the porch on a break from your busy schedule of going to the farmer’s market and hitting the beach.
Edgartown is beloved for its charming village of beautiful white Greek Revival houses built by the whaling captains in the early 19th century. The town’s narrow streets lined with manicured gardens form a quaint grid to the north and south of Main Street. Now filled with restaurants, galleries and shops, residents and visitors take pleasure in walking through town to shop, dine and appreciate the harbor activity. The Old Whaling Church hosts many cultural and musical events, as does the Dr. Daniel Fisher house nearby. The fourth of July parade is a summer highlight concluding with an evening of fireworks over Edgartown harbor.
Edgartown is renowned for its yachting history. There are many regattas through the summer that bring local and foreign sailors to compete. Edgartown also has rural areas of great natural beauty. Just across the harbor is Chappaquidick island, an incredible complement to the activity of the village… quiet and unspoiled, it offers pristine beaches and habitat for all kinds of birds and wildlife. It is another world…
Outside the village, South Beach in Katama has miles of pure sandy ocean beach. A bike path from the village offers people of all ages a leisurely ride. There is an airfield where the Red Baron will fly courageous passengers high above the ocean and amaze people below with his tricks. Katama Farm Institute, celebrating its 10th year, welcomes people of all ages to learn more about growing food and raising animals through their camps, activities and welcome center.
Oak Bluffs, or Cottage City as it was called, became a summer destination early in its history. In the 1830’s Methodist church groups set up tents during the summer in an open field where they congregated and preached the gospel. They named it Wesleyan Grove after their founder, John Wesley. Eventually the small tents of individual families were replaced with “wooden tents”, colorful gingerbread houses, and their central meeting tent was replaced by an all-steel Tabernacle in 1879.
Unique within the growing trend of summer tourism was the special history of a small elite African American population who sought, to experience the same joys and simple pleasures that their white counterparts appreciated, gathering with family and friends at summer homes or hotels and bathing at Inkwell Beach. They were scientists, physicians, educators, scholars, authors and artists with families who enriched the island and deepened its history.
Today the Campgrounds, centered by the Tabernacle, offers concerts, political events, community sings and inspirational speakers. The Flying Horses carousel built in 1876 takes children around and around as it has for generations. Ocean Park brings the beach and the park together with space to have a picnic, fly a kite, walk the dog and enjoy band concerts at the gazebo. Oak Bluffs harbor continues the lively activity with souvenir shops, bars and restaurants.
VINEYARD HAVEN (TISBURY)
Vineyard Haven is the busiest year-round town on the island. Originally called Holmes Hole during the 17th century, the town was a busy and active port, serving as a safe haven for fleets up and down the coast. Today it is the primary port for the Steamship Authority, welcoming visitors to the island.
The beauty of its past remains with its traditional buildings like the white steepled Tisbury Town Hall (which is also the Katharine Cornell theatre), the West Chop Lighthouse, the Vineyard Playhouse and the Old Stone Church. Owen Park offers a town beach on the harbor and a bandstand with summer concerts. The Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center sponsors a popular summer speakers series and film festival. The village has fine restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, b&b’s , wonderful ice cream and gourmet shops. Beyond the village are two popular bodies of water.... Lake Tashmoo, a stunning lake which opens onto the Vineyard Sound and Lagoon Pond over which the draw bridge crosses.
Five Corners, near the Steamship Authority, is the meeting of five roads and zero traffic lights (there are no traffic lights on our island).
The town of West Tisbury developed in the 18th century around its streams and ponds. The settlers spread out to herd sheep and grow crops but came together in the town center. People still come to this picturesque hub. Alleys General Store has been in business “dealing in almost everything” since 1858. The West Tisbury Congregational Church, with its distinct white spire, has been here since 1865. The Grange Hall hosts antique shows and the farmer’s market. Across from Alleys are the new West Tisbury library and the Field Gallery which showcases Tom Maleys’ playful dancing sculptures. This is a lively location that brings art, food and neighbors together throughout the summer and off season.
Polly Hill Arboretum and the Cedar Tree Neck nature preserve attract visitors and locals while Lambert’s Cove Beach is beloved by town residents and renters who covet its sandy beach and tranquil waters. The topography varies greatly in West Tisbury; Lambert’s Cove area is hilly and wooded with tall oaks, pines, ponds and streams. The southern part of the town is flatter and leads to many secluded coves and ocean beaches. Long Point Wildlife Refuge, a spectacular 600 acre property owned by Trustees of Reservations, is open to the public and includes access to Tisbury Great Pond, the Atlantic Ocean and miles of walking trails through woods and beach.