The Towns of Martha's Vineyard
Tranquil and with rich history, Martha's Vineyard should be your next destination!
Jun 5, 2020 at 8:00 AM in Things to Do by
The Vineyard boasts half a dozen small towns of significance. In addition to the overall view of Martha’s Vineyard, your Discovery Map features the three most significant towns: Oak Bluffs, Edgartown and Vineyard Haven.
The “down island” towns of Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown are three distinctly different towns. The “up island” villages of West Tisbury, Chilmark, Aquinnah and Menemsha each lend unique personalities to an island of beauty, history, arts and culture, a seemingly endless array of outdoor activities and more.
Chappaquiddick, warmly referred to as Chappy, is an island within the Island. It is part of Edgartown and accessed by the Chappaquiddick Ferry at Memorial Wharf in Edgartown.
Aquinnah, previously named Gay Head, reclaimed its rightful identity of Aquinnah, home today for many original Wampanoag Tribal members.
Oak Bluffs is the hub of high energy day and night during both the summer and shoulder seasons. The June to October schedule of ferry landings makes it an easy destination for day trippers. You’ll find a multitude of boutiques, restaurants, bars and ice cream shops within the town, from Oak Bluffs Harbor to the top of Circuit Ave. You can dine on the waterfront and/or book a fishing charter, water sports adventure or boat tour with one of the many “purveyors of fun” located here. It’s a great place to while away some time sipping a gin and tonic and gazing out at all of the boats coming and going. And if you’re into nightlife, you’ll find the most options in Oak Bluffs as well.
Stretch your legs in Oak Bluffs by walking along the North Bluff seawall, visiting Ocean Park and its historic gazebo or by hitting the beach at Inkwell or State Beach. Delight in the wonder of taking a twirl on the Flying Horses Carousel, the oldest continuously operating carousel in the United States or go fly a kite at Ocean Park. History, beauty and whimsical charm reign supreme at the renowned Gingerbread Cottages of Oak Bluffs, iconic little houses–over three hundred of them–built toward the latter part of the 1800s. Officially known as the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association and informally known as The Campground, you can find out about them at the Cottage City Museum.
Situated southeast of Oak Bluffs, Edgartown is the biggest of the towns on the Vineyard, particularly since it also encompasses Katama and the island of Chappaquiddick. Filled with Old World charm, most of which harkens back to the whaling days, strolling around Edgartown is a must. The town’s historic architecture–largely composed of old homes once owned by whaling captains–has remained delightfully intact and many have, in fact, been converted into restaurants, inns and shops. Take in the Old Whaling Church and the Dr. Daniel Fisher House and make your way down Main street toward Dock Street and then over to Memorial Wharf for a nice little tour. There’s lots to see and do on the side streets as well, so don’t be surprised if you end up making a day of it.
History buffs must visit The Carnegie, a restored landmark that includes a visitor’s center, gift shop and a permanent exhibition, entitled Living Landmarks, in their Edgartown tour. This recent renovation coincided with the Martha’s Vineyard Museum pulling up roots in Edgartown and moving to Vineyard Haven. Stroll along North Water Street out to the Edgartown Lighthouse to walk in even more steps of history.
Take the Chappaquiddick Ferry at Memorial Wharf to enjoy beautiful nature at the Wasque Wildlife Sanctuary and Mytoi Gardens on Chappaquiddick. Be sure to visit the Cape Poge Lighthouse when you’re there. On the western side of Edgartown in Katama, you can rejoice in more wide-open vistas at South Beach and at the Katama airfield.
At the northeast tip of the island, it comes as no surprise that Vineyard Haven serves as the primary port of year-round entry for goods and people coming onto the island. (And off, if you sadly have to leave!) This makes it a bustling hub of activity, a beautiful harbor village that boasts a variety of commerce, including historic shipyards on Beach Road known for the wooden sailboats that call it home. Embrace more maritime history in town center along William Street where you’ll find many well preserved homes once owned by whaling captains and other seafaring people.
Immerse yourself in island history at The Martha’s Vineyard Museum newly located in the former Marine Hospital, built in 1895. Founded in 1922, the museum showcases a treasure trove–or rather treasure chest–of memorabilia and information about life on MV over the centuries. From 2016 to 2019, the renovation slowly became a reality. The Fresnel Lens was painstakingly moved piece by piece from it’s Edgartown post to where it now stands proudly intact within the expanded space. This is a not-to-be-missed destination of MV history and art. Plus, there’s even a kid’s space, a courtyard and a café. Conveniently located from the year-round ferry terminal in Vineyard Haven, there’s ample parking as well. Going to the beach on the Vineyard is great but learning about the rich tales of this land is truly fascinating. Here you have the best of both worlds, since overlooking The Lagoon and the scope of Vineyard Haven Harbor from this location is also terrific.
Known as the MV Museum, here you’ll find all kinds of exhibits on history and art as well as a kid’s space. There’s even a courtyard and a café. Going to the beach on the Vineyard is great but learning about the rich tales of this land is truly fascinating.
As you stroll about Vineyard Haven, you’ll discover that this little town is rich in culture and the arts. That includes film and not surprisingly much of what is featured year round at Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. There’s also the Capawock movie house on Main Street, which opens during the season and features family-friendly showtimes and family-favorite films. No wonder Vineyard Haven puts on their own International Film Festival that takes place every September. For the performing arts, check out the year 'round Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse here as well.
The Wampanoag Tribe are the original stewards of Martha’s Vineyard. At the far opposite end of MV from Edgartown you’ll discover the most beautiful and sacred landscape of multi-colored clay cliffs. Erosion is chipping away at the shores of Martha’s Vineyard, so please stay off the Cliffs and take no clay. But do admire them with your eyes and take as many pictures as you like!
At the seasonal Aquinnah Cultural Center at the Aquinnah Circle you can park and take in the views and also enjoy some of the best takeout food and ice cream, shop for souvenirs and beach accessories, many of which are distinctly MV. And best of all, all this is located on the Wampanoag land.
As you cruise around the island, you'll discover many more fine attractions outside of these small towns. Be sure to to got the West Tisbury Farmers' Market just beyond Vineyard Haven and to the nearby Island Alpaca for a cute-as-a-button farm visit and shopping for goods made from Alpaca wool.
Indeed, much of the interior of Martha's Vineyard makes you think of Ireland or New Zealand. Its verdant and bucolic countryside serves as a wonderful contrast to its windswept beaches and charming towns. Whoever thought an island could offer so much diversity? That's surely part of what makes the Vineyard so special.