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Making the most of the Vineyard before high noon

As it awakens and dresses up for summer, the isle welcomes company at a slower pace

Reaching for the gold ring on the Flying Horses Carousel. Reaching for the gold ring on the Flying Horses Carousel. (Vincent Dewitt for The Boston Globe)
By Julia Rappaport
Globe Correspondent / June 7, 2009
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There's no arguing that Martha's Vineyard is beautiful the whole year round. Sunny and busy in summer, serene and quiet in winter, bursting with golden color come fall, it is an ideal spot for a weekend getaway. But late spring is when the Vineyard truly comes to life: Year-rounders open their stores and restaurants with renewed excitement; daffodils and lilacs explode all over the landscape; and baby lambs find their legs on island pastures. The Vineyard in early June brings two bonuses: fewer crowds and bargains aplenty.

Take a nod from the people who live here. Vineyarders keep things laid-back. Getting dressed up in summer usually means donning a nice pair of flip-flops, and people like to operate on "Vineyard time." So check the ferry schedule and book a hotel before you go, but decide the rest when you arrive.

For tips, we've polled some in-demand and in-the-know islanders on how to get the most out of a weekend - for less.

Plane, train, automobile - forget them all, said Jeff Munroe, manager of the Martha's Vineyard Youth Hostel, where one-night stays start at just $29. "The bus system is by far the best way to get around the island, if you're going to be around for more than one day," said Munroe. The number 6 bus stops across the street from the hostel, a relaxed little compound complete with gardens, volleyball net, and outdoor grill. From there, it's easy to get anywhere on the island. With fares ranging from $1 for a hop to the next town, to $6 for a day pass, and $15 for a three-day pass, taking the bus is also cheap.

Another option? Biking. There are plenty of bike shops here, and most rentals are $25 a day, but Munroe recommends Martha's Bike Rentals, which delivers free of charge. And there's always walking. The hostel is less than a mile from the center of West Tisbury, an idyllic country town with Alley's Store, one of the best general stores around; a vibrant farmers' market perfect for picking up picnic supplies; and a free outdoor art gallery.

"When I'm on the tour, I always wish I could take people into Alley's Store," said Thomas Dresser, author of "Tommy's Tour," a book based on his experience as a guide for Island Transport, which provides a 2 1/2-hour island bus tour. "It's great to meander through, and you always find something you wouldn't expect." Chief among those unexpected items are penny candy, fresh island produce, and some of the best coffee on the Vineyard. Across the way is the Field Gallery, an outdoor art gallery known for its larger than life sculptures of women in the nude. "I always tell people on my tours, if you don't like to look at naked ladies, keep your eyes straight ahead," said Dresser.

After the gallery, walk across the street to the West Tisbury Farmers Market, open on summer Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon, for baked goods, just-picked fruit and vegetables, and great egg rolls. Or, take a nod from caterer V. Jaime Hamlin, whose creative dishes have wowed the likes of Bill Clinton, Mike Wallace, and David Letterman - and put together a perfect summer picnic. Hamlin's go-to spot is the Tisbury Farm Market in Vineyard Haven, where the food is fresh and the prices can't be beat. "Start with really good cheese," Hamlin said. "Get some beautiful pears and apples and sliced meat. You can also get bread, olives, and other picnicky stuff. Just remember, Vineyard Haven's a dry town."

Hamlin's suggestion: Take your picnic, get a bottle of wine, and head up to Menemsha, a tiny fishing village with the best sunset viewing on the island. It's also the home of Larsen's fish market, Hamlin's best bet for the freshest of seafood. "We go up to Menemsha and watch the sunset and eat a couple dozen little necks just standing there," she said. "We have Betsy [co-owner of Larsen's] shuck them and just look out, and it's beautiful, just beautiful."

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Betsy Larsen rarely has a day off. When she does she heads to the Polly Hill Arboretum. The West Tisbury site will set you back only a $5 donation, and it is brimming with beautiful plants both native to the island and from as far away as Asia. Another of Larsen's favorite ways to idle away an afternoon is to head to the Oak Bluffs campgrounds. Just off the main street of the down island town, the campgrounds are made up of tiny gingerbread cottages, winding paths, and a grand old tabernacle. "We go every single time we have guests," Larsen said. "It's so pretty in there with all the gardens, and you just have to find the pink house with all the hearts and take a picture in front of it."

A short walk from the campgrounds is a prime spot for cheap fun: the Flying Horses carousel, one of the country's oldest. "As a parent of a young child, I can safely say there's no more budget-minded place than the Flying Horses," said Chris Scott, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust, an organization that preserves historic buildings, including the carousel. "Rides are a dollar and a half and it's been that way for years. Plus, you've got a fairly good chance of getting the free ride if you catch the brass ring."

Julia Rappaport can be reached at julia.rappaport@gmail.com.

If You Go

What to do

Flying Horses Carousel

15 Oak Bluffs Ave., Oak Bluffs

508-693-9481

Martha's Bike Rentals

4 Lagoon Pond Road

Vineyard Haven

508-693-6593

www.marthasbikerentals.com

Polly Hill Arboretum

809 State Road, West Tisbury

508-693-9426

www.pollyhillarboretum.org

Where to stay

Martha's Vineyard Youth Hostel

25 Edgartown-West Tisbury Road

West Tisbury

508-693-2665

www.hihostels.com

The Nashua House Hotel

30 Kennebec Ave., Oak Bluffs

508-693-0043

www.nashuahouse.com