The Top Things to See and Do in Martha's Vineyard

Spend a tranquil afternoon in Oak Bluffs
Spend a tranquil afternoon in Oak Bluffs | © Major Pix / Alamy Stock Photo
Natasha Chang

Just off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, lies the idyllic island of Martha’s Vineyard, a rarefied summer-resort favorite of the well-to-do, only accessible by boat or air. (Ferries operate from locations including New York, while flights operate from Boston, among other destinations.) Made (in)famous as the film set of 1975 Spielberg epic, Jaws, it is anything but scary in reality, home instead to laid-back elegance, photogenic clapboard architecture and sensational sandy beaches. Craving a vacation to remember? Here are the top things to see and do in Martha’s Vineyard.

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Lobsterville Beach

Small crowds make Lobsterville Beach one of the quieter shores on Martha’s Vineyard, especially since parking is very limited. If you can find a spot for your vehicle, you’ll be able to enjoy 2mi (3km) of beach – the calm waters of the Vineyard Sound make snorkeling, fishing and floating a tranquil experience. Furry friends are welcome on a leash if they need to stretch their legs. If you’re lucky, you may witness egg-heavy seagulls nesting nearby.

Vineyard Golf Club

Vineyard Golf Club, one of the few organic golf courses in the USA, is a spectacular walking course stretched over 235 acres (95ha) of Edgartown’s rolling landscape. But don’t think for a minute these links are a walk in the park. Varied greens, 112 bunkers and plenty of risk/reward shots will set you back a few strokes if you’re not careful. Keep in mind that Vineyard Golf Club is a private club, so be sure to follow the rules as you may not have the opportunity for a mulligan.

Long Point Wildlife Refuge

For nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts there’s a heavenly haven at Long Point Wildlife Refuge. The prairie was cleared and used for farming and hunting in the 1700s, but regrowth from the 1900s until today has allowed many rare plants and wildlife to continue calling Martha’s Vineyard home. The refuge is open to the public and you can even rent kayaks or paddleboards for exploring Long Cove Pond. Birdwatchers and photographers can stick to the 2mi (3km) hiking trail, but be sure to bring a swimsuit so you can take a refreshing post-walk dip at Long Point Beach before you leave.

Katama General Store

Don’t let the name fool you; Katama General Store is no ordinary beach bodega. Immersed in clouds of seasonal flowers in historic Edgartown, it’s in an enviable position, just a short stroll from South Beach. You could pop in for a sandwich or salad from their Grab’n Go cooler, but it’s better by far to sit back and tuck into a hot meal. While you wait for your fish tacos or lobster roll, have a browse in the shop and grab a few souvenirs so you can give your friends more than just envy on your return.

Cuttyhunk Island

Where do Martha’s Vineyard residents go when they want to get away? They head west, to Cuttyhunk Island. With the exception of a few shops and houses, there is simply nothing here – merely intimate isolation. People tend to go hiking or fishing or sit alone by the sea, lost in their thoughts. Visit The Ice Cream Stall; an essential stop after you’ve taken the kids out for sailing lessons with the Cuttyhunk Yacht Club and you’re all desperate for a cooling bite.

Lake Tashmoo

As an island, Martha’s Vineyard is surrounded by shores – and yet one of the best-loved outings is to a lake; Lake Tashmoo on the northern side, just west of Tisbury. You can, if you fancy, sunbathe along the Vineyard Sound at the Lake Tashmoo Town Beach, however, it’s fun to get stuck into the lake proper. There’s nothing quite as serene as hiring a boat, pootling out to the middle of the water, dropping anchor and drifting off for a couple of hours.

Morning Glory Farm

You’ll find plenty of wine but no vineyards in Martha’s Vineyard. No matter, you can still sample island flavors by grazing on the fresh fruits and vegetables at Morning Glory Farm. This family-run affair has been at home on the island for half a century, and its 65 acres (26ha) produce masses of herbs, squash, pumpkins, beets, grapes and flowers; eggs and meats, too, all available to buy at their farm stand. Foodies and families alike will love the farm tours, but you’ll adore the pies, muffins and cookies for sale at the farm stand even more.

Inkwell Beach

Also known more prosaically as Town Beach, this historic African-American summer resort community in Oak Bluffs is a picturesque public strand with a lifeguard on duty. Even in the colder months, when swimming is off the schedule, a leisurely stroll along the jetty is every bit as pleasurable. From here, Waban Park is on the opposite side of Seaview Avenue and you’re close to other popular Martha’s Vineyard attractions such as The Overton House – the former home of Joe Overton, a union organizer from Harlem, New York – and Flying Horses Carousel – the oldest platform carousel in the country, dating from 1844.

Lighthouse Beach

No visit to New England is complete unless you return with the famous snapshot of a lighthouse overlooking the sea. The aptly named Lighthouse Beach is ready-made for a scenic selfie. Wake up and head here for an amazing sunrise, or consider a twilight picnic against the historic lighthouse backdrop – watching the last dregs of daylight burn away into the night. Should you have a little solo time, there are few places better for spending solitude with a book, a drawing pad or a journal.

Joseph Sylvia State Beach

Bordering Nantucket Sound, Joseph Sylvia State Beach was the famous backdrop for quite possibly the most haunting two notes of any movie soundtrack: the F and F Sharp heard in the 1975 film, Jaws. If you remember the bridge under which the monster shark swam before biting the leg off the hapless boatman, you’re here! No great whites are known to prowl the 2mi (3km) of sandy beach; on the contrary, it’s fishermen who are on the hunt for albacore. Known more simply as State Beach, this is a fine spot to cast a line and spend quality time with the family.

See the Gingerbread Houses of Oak Bluffs

For a scene right out of a fairytale, head to the beachside town of Oak Bluffs. Here you’ll find a strip of houses slathered with sugary-candy colors, interwoven with whimsical details in an array of shapes. It’s no wonder this photogenic scene goes by the name of The Gingerbread Houses. Don’t pass up the opportunity to post a fabulous shot on Instagram to make the folks back home sigh with envy.

Take a ride on the Flying Horse Carousel

Dating from 1844, this historic landmark is the oldest continuously operated platform carousel in the United States. Whether you’re a kid or simply young at heart, a ride on one of these painted beauties is the essence of holiday nostalgia in Martha’s Vineyard. You’ll be following in the hoof-steps of generations of islanders and summer visitors. As an extra challenge, see if you can grab one of the proffered brass rings – if you manage it you get a free second ride.

Have the Martha’s Vineyard “Picnic”

You really can’t say you’ve been to Martha’s Vineyard unless you’ve had a meal featuring lobster while watching the sunset on Menemsha Beach in the pretty little town of Chilmark, at the tip of the island. It might be an idea to call somewhere such as Larsen’s Fish Market in advance to book your dinner. The gorgeously gooey, buttered lobster roll they do here is a winner, gobbled down by the sea’s edge as the sky goes golden, then black.

Experience the Gay Head Cliffs of Aquinnah

If you’re stopping in the town of Aquinnah, you can’t leave without admiring the Gay Head Cliffs (aka Aquinnah Cliffs). These fabulous formations of multicolored clay, carved by glaciers millions of years ago, are one of the top attractions Martha’s Vineyard has to offer. You can take the upper trails to the top to spot Gay Head Lighthouse or explore the lower beach paths, where soon you’ll find the perfect place to sit and watch the sunset, admiring the beauty of the cliffs up close.

Rent a Bike

The best way to explore the six little towns that make up Martha’s Vineyard is on two wheels. You can rent bikes, jeeps and mopeds from the many rental spots scattered around the island. Make sure you park your bike once you hit Jaws Bridge, the dividing line between Edgartown and Oak Bluffs. This is the infamous landmark where some of the most vicious attack scenes were filmed. Whether you jump, flip or belly flop into the water from this bridge, this serves as a summer rite of passage for many tourists. And no, you won’t end up as a shark’s lunch – they’re not known to hunt humans in these waters.

Visit the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary

The Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary is a pristine habitat for a menagerie of winged beauties. Here you’ll find miles of hiking trails through marshlands, reptile ponds and unspoiled seashore. Bring your binoculars and keep your eyes peeled for oystercatchers, ospreys and red-tailed hawks. Sunset hikes, stargazing, canoeing and snake or bird walks are also part of the sanctuary’s appeal, so bring your packed lunch and anticipate a full day at one with nature.

Marvel at the Edgarton Harbor Lighthouse

Take a break and a moment or two to admire Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse. This famous island beacon marks the harbor’s entrance between Martha’s Vineyard and Chappaquiddick. Silhouetted like a giant chess pawn against a purple dusk or blood-red sunset, the lighthouse creates a heart-stoppingly magnificent scene – a crisp motif epitomizing the magical allure of coastal New England.

Discover Mytoi Japanese Garden on Chappaquiddick

Hop on the Chappy Ferry 527 and make for the protected hideaway of Chappaquiddick – a historic little island tucked behind Edgartown Harbor – where you’ll find secluded beaches and the fantastic Mytoi Japanese Garden. Pack a picnic and pick a spot among the 14 acres (5.7ha) of walking trails and flower gardens – perhaps beside the sedate waters of Poucha Pond.

Eat at Martha’s Vineyard Gourmet Cafe & Bakery

After a long day exploring the island, you’ll be ready to sleep, but don’t bed down without heading to Martha’s Vineyard Gourmet Café & Bakery (also known as Back Door Donuts after the sun sets). Between 7pm and 10.30pm, you can grab fresh pastries straight from the oven. It’s a pretty bakery with a singular appeal that draws crowds, so go prepared to for their cinnamon rolls, croissants and donuts.

Nick Dauk contributed additional reporting to this article.

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