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Seven miles off the coast of Massachusetts is an island full of unspoiled landscape and plenty of fun, according to Carol Ward, information specialist for the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce.
Martha’s Vineyard, with 124 miles of coastline across six towns — Aquinnah, Chilmark, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven, and West Tisbury — is a vacation destination with a year-round population of about 23,000 that balloons to 200,000 during the summer months, according to the chamber.
The Massachusetts escape has been called one of the most magical island getaways in the U.S. by Country Living and served as a backdrop for New York Times best-selling author E. Lockhart’s books. Boston.com readers recently named Edgartown the most picturesque small town in Massachusetts.
“It is a really, very, very unique place,” Ward said. “It’s a beautiful place on a very human scale that allows you to really connect with what you are seeing and what you are doing.”
The island’s diversity means visitors of all ages and interests can customize a day of fun, Ward said, by choosing from activities such as historic sites, shopping, dining, beaches, hiking, biking, museums, art galleries, farms, lighthouses, following the African American Heritage Trail, and more.
Whether strolling down island through bustling Oak Bluffs or visiting the unspoiled landscape up island at places such as the famous Aquinnah Cliffs, there’s a “sense of timelessness” on the island, Ward said.
“It’s just magic,” she said.
Ward offered the following tips for what to see and do during a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard this season.
A neighborhood full of 19th-century “Gingerbread Cottages” is as well-known as the island’s beaches and lighthouses. The 318 pastel-colored homes are located at the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, a National Historic Landmark.
“It’s lovely,” Ward said about the famous neighborhood.
The Tabernacle, located on the grounds, is the largest covered outdoor performance space on the island and hosts a sunset concert series in the summer. The cottages are privately owned, so visitors must stay on the public pathways.
“They do have a little museum that’s open in July and August where you can see what the inside of the cottages look like,” Ward said.
Summer visitors can also take guided walking tours of the neighborhood on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the months of July and August, and private tours are available by appointment.
“Because we are an island, you are never very far from the beach,” Ward said.
The island offers many beaches, some public and others reserved for residents and town visitors with a parking or beach permit.
Joseph Sylvia State Beach in Oak Bluffs, which runs along the eastern side of the island facing Nantucket Sound, is great for families due to its “gentle child-friendly waves,” according to Ward.
Katama Beach, also called South Beach, in Edgartown offers three miles of barrier beach on the south shore. The public beach is one of the island’s most popular ocean-facing beaches, Ward said, and vehicles with permits are allowed on marked trails.
Menemsha Public Beach, next to Menemsha Harbor, is popular for its sunsets, Ward said (author E. Lockhart called them “magical“). Lobsterville Beach in Aquinnah offers two miles of Vineyard Sound beach and dunes and is a favorite fishing spot.
There are several fantastic museums on the island, according to Ward.
Martha’s Vineyard Museum in Vineyard Haven, just a 10-minute walk from the ferry terminal, houses more than 100,000 items, and current exhibits include “Unfreedom: Stories of enslavement, indenture, and incarceration on Martha’s Vineyard” and “Jaws: Creating Amity Island.” The movie “Jaws” was, of course, filmed on the island in 1974.
“It is very comprehensive,” Ward said about the museum. “It has a little area for kids and it really gives an overview of the island and how it has evolved over the years.”
The Carnegie Heritage Center in Edgartown is “a wonderful little gem of a museum,” Ward said. The restored landmark includes reading rooms, a gift shop, a library, and a revolving exhibition called “Living Landmarks.” Visitors can learn the history of the Wampanoag people at the Aquinnah Cultural Center.
Travelers can also walk through an outdoor sculpture garden in West Tisbury at The Field Gallery, Ward said, which features contemporary art by both emerging and established artists.
There are so many fabulous restaurants across the island, Ward said, and some serve up incredible waterfront views.
The Lookout Tavern in Oak Bluffs is a waterfront restaurant with a festive atmosphere and good food, Ward said. The restaurant, which does not take reservations, serves seafood, burgers, and sushi. It has a raw bar, too.
“It just puts you in that vacation frame of mind,” she said.
“It is an excellent place for dinner and has an excellent view,” Ward said.
“They have a wonderful deck,” Ward said. “The view is stunning. The grounds are stunning. The food is delicious. It’s really very special.”
During the summer months, guests can arrive at the restaurant via water taxi from downtown Edgartown.
A lot of Martha’s Vineyard is rural and the island’s many farms are great places to check out, Ward said.
Grey Barn & Farm is a certified organic farm, creamery, and bakery in Chilmark, which was established in 2009 and offers tours followed by cheese tastings in the garden.
“They have the most extraordinary cheese that they make in-house,” Ward said.
Another excellent island farm is Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown, Ward said, a family farm established in 1975 that grows 60 acres of vegetables and fruits and offers a farm stand and bakery.
“They do a great job with their baked goods and other things that they produce,” she said.
The West Tisbury Farmers Market, which has been feeding islanders since 1974, is open from June to October on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon.
“That’s definitely something worth checking out,” Ward said.
Travelers can get to Martha’s Vineyard by ferry or by plane.
“There’s something very magical about a ferry trip,” Ward said. “It is certainly part of the experience.”
Visitors can take the Steamship Authority, which is a year-round ferry service that also carries cars, or seasonal ferry service out of Hyannis, Falmouth, and New Bedford.
Once there, guests can take advantage of an all-island bus system that generates from Vineyard Haven, Ward said.
“You can take buses to other parts of the island, which is wonderful if you are here for a day trip and don’t have a vehicle,” she said. “You can easily pick up a bus to Oak Bluffs and Edgartown and West Tisbury, and from those points you can continue on to other parts of the island such as Aquinnah and Menemsha.”
Guests can also rent cars and bicycles for the day, and use a ride share service.
Food and beverages:
Aquinnah Cliffs — @bostown66, @mandygrayy, @12numberkejoote
Beaches — @melissam.driscoll
Bicycling — @suzsen, @chrism051901, @pallavikolambkar, @amacattack12
Edgartown shopping — @shophappy
Gay Head Lighthouse — @metal_head_ralfi_ralf
Lucy Vincent Beach — @cryandancebeast
Oak Bluffs — @addisonprimm
Old Sculpin Gallery — @sydcaroline
South Beach — @kbry2000, @colleen_williams
Yoga on the Vine — @sydcaroline
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