Island Description

“The Vineyard is not a way station, it is a destination. It is not a place of rush and hurry, it is a state of rest.”

Henry Beetle Hough, Editor of Vineyard Gazette for 65 years.

Hundred square-mile Martha’s Vineyard lays seven miles off Cape Cod, accessible by ferries or airplane. Whether one visits urbane ‘down-Island’ (Tisbury, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown) or pastoral ‘up-Island’ (Chilmark, Aquinnah and West Tisbury), Martha’s Vineyard—New England’s largest  island—there’s ample enchantment for all. Multiple personalities—summer and other seasons—captivate visitors year-round.
People know summer best, but autumn’s festival season (food & wine, film, fishing, more) is also popular for weddings. Winter’s serenity and spring’s renewal are palpable. Beaches are broad; hills are low; rolling meadows are edged by stone walls and woods thick with black tupelo and red cedar; heathy hinterlands are pond-speckled. No fast food here. New traditions of slow food incorporate farm- and ocean-to-table culinary arts at restaurants island-wide. Visit farms, Edgartown’s Farm Institute and Morning Glory Farm and Chilmark’s Native Earth Teaching Farm, to learn about community supported agriculture.
Originally inhabited by Wampanoag, it was Noepe, "land amid the streams.” Today’s Aquinnah is home to descendants of Wampanoag who helped settlers and their native history is pervasive. Vineyard lighthouses, ports and maritime history testify to its early dominance as a commercial and whaling port. Architecture aficionados revel in its four centuries of architecture.
Most visitors arrive at beautiful Vineyard Haven harbor, beckoned onward by East and West Chop Lights, two of the island’s five distinctive lighthouses (others at Edgartown, Aquinnah, and Cape Poge). This busiest port comprises an inviting Main Street and byways with restaurants, shops and galleries. Named by ArtPlace as a Small Town Art Place in 2013, and cultivating a vibrant Cultural District, Vineyard Haven also boasts the Islands largest year-round population. The Vineyard Playhouse is the year-round island theater troupe. Don’t miss Williams Street’s treasure trove of National Register homes, Owen Park’s harbor views or Beach Road’s drawbridge.

Clockwise from Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs is liveliest of six sibling towns (more high-spirited than haute); harbor bars, restaurants and nightlife are abundant (two Island towns remain ‘dry’). Methodist camps commencing 1835 drew thousands to Trinity Park Tabernacle where communal tents evolved into “Cottage City,” a grid of 330 Victorian wooden “gingerbread” cottages. Their elaborate decoration and painting eventually unfolded as eye-popping treats. Given its religious fervor and brisk sea breezes, Oak Bluffs was an immensely popular and gave rise to the first tourism on the Island.   Today the main street, Circuit Avenue, offers family friendly dining, shopping and entertainment.  The Arts District, Flying Horses Carousel (America’s oldest), game arcade, tumbledown theater and gentle Vineyard Sound beaches make this town one of the Island’s busiest.
Edgartown is an extraordinary repository of elegant black-trimmed, white-clapboard Greek Revival whaling captains’ houses. Venerable Old Whaling Church, and the perfect acoustics of it’s non-denominational sanctuary, sports comely one-story tall 12-over-12 windows. Tuck into the Vineyard Museum for a dose of local history. Dock Street’s On-Time ferry conveys its cross-harbor passengers to Chappaquiddick Island in moments. Spend a day. Visit Mytoi Japanese Gardens, Wasque Reservation but savor Cape Poge—take one of its canoe or kayak expeditions. Back in town, Felix Neck Sanctuary offers sightings of water fowl and shore birds while a bevy of shops, boutiques, galleries, restaurants and Edgartown Light await you.

Up-Island towns move to decidedly slower rhythms. Agrarian Chilmark unfurls its undulating roads and bucolic splendor by the mile. Names such as Beetlebung Corner and Menemsha are onomatopoeic (the latter, a minuscule fishing village, is worthy of daylong explorations; stay for heart-stopping sunsets). Aquinnah is the westernmost outpost; its celebrated, dazzling mile-long polychrome cliffs, a national landmark, are topped by the historic red-brick Gay Head lighthouse. The Cliffs alone merit the trip Up-Island, but intervening terrain is marvelous. West Tisbury is quintessentially New England, with a landmark white church steeple, Alley’s General Store, the iconic Field Gallery Outdoor Sculpture Gallery, and small farms. Polly Hill Arboretum’s stunning 70 acres are filled with flora developed to grow best on the Vineyard.

The Vineyard is a real place, despite its glamorous cachet. People the world over, from presidents and movie stars, to fishermen and the faithful find peace and inspiration here. Visits are too short, and then the longing to return begins.