A short ferry ride from Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard is a special kind of island. Home to celebrities living alongside die-hard island folk, this area is preserved for its stunning natural beauty. Dotted with charming small towns like Edgartown, Vineyard Haven and rural communities like Aquinnah, the island is famous for its gourmet farm-to-table cuisine and beach culture. It's a great weekend getaway for relaxing and chilling by the sea. And for those days when just reading a paperback on the beach makes you antsy, you'll never want for more active things to do in Martha's Vineyard.
A small fishing village within the town of Chilmark, Menemsha is picturesque but most notable as a principal location for Steven Spielberg's iconic film Jaws. Movie buffs can soak up the atmosphere while re-living scenes of the shark thriller. Everyone else can chow down on fresh-caught seafood at a choice of wharf-side restaurants. As you head out of town, be sure to climb the bluffs at Menemsha Hills for spectacular views across Vineyard Sound. The area is part of a protected nature reserve most suitable for sunset picnics.
Vineyard Haven is home to the oldest working cinema in Massachusetts. The Capawock Theater was built in 1913 and restored extensively in 2015. Programmed by the Martha Vineyard's Film Society, the cinema regularly runs limited run arthouse films alongside rep classics. Every summer they host a week-long, Jaws-inspired shark-themed film festival as well as weekly screenings of the Spielberg classic.
Cue the Wurlitzer and hang on to your hat. The Flying Horses Carousel in the town of Oak Bluffs is the oldest working merry-go-round in the US. Built in 1876, it was originally an attraction at Coney Island but moved to its current position in 1884, where it has been delighting visitors and hosting children's birthday parties ever since. Check the workmanship on the painted horses and the carousel's historic hand-painted background panels—they are a fine frame for Insta-photos.
Located on the western tip of the island, the multi-colored cliffs of Aquinnah, formerly known as Gay Head, overlook the ocean and a public beach far below. The elevation creates grand vistas over the water, which is particularly entrancing as the sun goes down. A protected National Historic Landmark, the area is the ancestral home of the Wampanoag first nation. During the summer, check for bike and bus tours leaving from towns on the eastern side of the island.
Many of the towns in Martha's Vineyard are "dry" and have been since Prohibition times. Not Edgartown, which picks up the slack with a vigorous restaurant and bar scene. The town itself is also worth exploring as it features galleries, museums, and some interesting architecture, including the island's oldest home, Vincent House on Main Street, built in 1672.
Notorious for its connection to the ill-starred Kennedy dynasty, Chappaquiddick is a small island that sometimes turns into a peninsula. When there's water the two-minute Chappy Ferry brooks the distance, and periodic very low tides allow for biking across the flats from Edgartown. Once there, beaches, pine forests, and enclaves of expensive cottages beg for exploration. Don't miss the exquisitely groomed Mytoi Japanese Garden.
One of the quirkiest and most photogenic sites in Martha's Vineyard is a collection of Victorian gingerbread cottages in Oak Bluffs. Built by the island's Methodist community, The Campground, as it's known locally, is now privately occupied. You can get a sense of the interiors at the Cottage Museum, or simply enjoy the charming candy-colored exteriors. Watch for The Grand Illumination in August, when each porch is hung with Japanese lanterns.
The farm to table culinary ethos is big all over Martha's Vineyard. One way to enjoy excellent cuisine made with island-grown products is by booking an experience with Farm.Field.Sea, based in Vineyard Haven. The company hosts seasonal pop-up dinners with local farmers, chefs, and fisherfolk. Many of the dinners are huge alfresco affairs, with everyone sitting communally around harvest tables and soaking up the fresh sea breezes.
For its size, Martha's Vineyard has a huge amount of protected natural landscape. Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary near Edgartown is 194 acres of marshes, beaches, and woodlands that are home to many native species of plant and animal. Four miles of groomed trails make it easy to hike this birdwatcher's paradise. For those who worry about rough seas, there are also kayaking facilities on idyllic and calm Sengekontacket Pond.
Once upon a time, Martha's Vineyard was largely rural and agricultural. There are still surprisingly numerous farmsteads and small-batch fisheries in operation on the island. One of the most charming is Morning Glory Farm, just outside of Edgartown. The mostly organic 50-year old farm produces fruits, vegetables, and cut flowers as well as raising pigs and other livestock according to traditional agricultural values. Stock up at their on-site market and bakery, or sign up for one of their educational Field Trip tours.