Seven miles of tranquil beauty and bustling towns.
Jun 12, 2020 at 8:00 AM in Things to Do by
Martha’s Vineyard, The Vineyard, The Island, MV … what’s in a name? Well, it’s one of the oldest English place names in America and it’s variations that are common today. It’s named after the mother-in-law, wife or daughter (or perhaps all three but most likely just the daughter) of Bartholomew Gosnold, the English explorer that led the first recorded expedition to the area in 1602. The origin of the name indicates that this is a place steeped in centuries-old history. And it has never forgotten its roots! Just to confuse you a bit more, Martha’s Vineyard was also referred to as Martin’s Vineyard for a number of years. As for the Vineyard part, wild grape vines did once grow throughout the island when it was first settled.
Now that you have your bearings in that department, plant yourself – figuratively or for real – on this idyllic island about seven miles off the coast of Cape Cod. Despite its popularity as a beloved tourism destination, there are indisputably many parts of the Vineyard today that surely look very much like it did when it was inhabited by the native Wampanoag people. That was before it became an English settlement during the Colonial Era. From its beaches to its wildlife refuges, the Vineyard is a nature lover’s paradise.
Most travel to this almost 100-square-mile island by ferry, which always offers a delightful introduction to the Vineyard. Whether you leave from Woods Hole, Falmouth, Hyannis or any number of other great towns on the mainland and arrive in either Oak Bluffs, Edgartown or another port of entry on the island, it’s always a thrill to feel the sea breeze on your face and spot the charm of the Vineyard from its shores as you embark upon your adventure. If you’re lucky, you have a friend that will take you out and about on a boat because as much as Martha’s Vineyard charms by land, it’s truly magical by water. Or maybe you have your own classic sailboat. Or maybe you want to book a sunset sail with one of the many companies that offer specialized tours. You can also rent a kayak, canoe, paddleboat or SUP that will bring you even closer to nature albeit without covering as much distance. There are as many options for water sports fun on the island as there are shells on the beach.
Tourism took off here toward the latter part of the 1800s just about when the whaling business went belly up. (Couldn’t help that one.) By 1872, the railroad arrived in Woods Hole, establishing this Cape Cod town as an appropriate stepping off point for a quick boat ride to Martha’s Vineyard. (Today it’s only about a forty-five-minute ferry ride away.) It has been a prized place to summer for the affluent ever since and although most is more pricey here (it is an island after all), there are still affordable ways to do the Vineyard for those on more of a budget. Good news is that when the rich and famous adopt a place, good things usually happen. Most of the folks that call the Vineyard home–or second, third or fourth home–are quite socially conscious. So the benefit is minimal development and certainly none of the ugly kind. Do you think that longtime locals such as James Taylor and Carly Simon would go for that sort of thing?
What’s nice, too, is that you’ll find a lot of diversity on the island. The Vineyard has long been a favorite vacation spot for well-to-do African Americans and many Portuguese-Americans and Brazilian immigrants that live here year round. (The latter of whom work largely in the hospitality industry.) This heterogeneity–as well as the influence of many other peoples–creates a unique vibe that adds to the laid-back feel of the island. Plus, it produces variety in the Vineyard’s culinary and entertainment offerings. There’s even, for example, a monthly fish fry at the Portuguese American Club in Oak Bluffs that serves up a whole lot of local flavor.
Martha’s Vineyard is also familiar to many from the movie Jaws. Stephen Spielberg filmed it here in 1974 and cast a lot of locals in this epic work. Scenes from Jaws 2 and Jaws: The Revenge were shot here as well but don’t let that keep you out of the water.
If you do want to stay out of the surf, hit the bike. (Actually it’s especially awesome to take a good long bike ride, arrive at a beach and take a plunge to cool off.) Martha’s Vineyard offers miles of bike paths and off-road trails that crisscross the island providing scenic views through wooded areas and by the beach. Fortunately there are lots of places to rent bikes, so there’s no need to juggle them onto the ferry. Just make sure you bring lots of water, sunscreen and snacks. You can also plan to grab a bite along the way at one of the many seafood, burger and ice cream hotspots along the way. Yum–there’s nothing like that delicious beachside combo of savory and sweet, especially on a hot summer’s day.