When searching for an idyllic summer setting to film the beginning of the movie Jaws—before the shark shows up—Hollywood chose Martha’s Vineyard for a reason. A quaint New England island peppered with shingle-sided houses and well-trodden paths between town and beach, the Vineyard has been a utopian seaside escape for vacationing families, artists, writers, and hippies for decades. And if hiking to hidden beaches and dining with a view of the waves isn’t enough, there’s more here than the summertime tropes. The island has deep historical roots, vibrant arts, and music, and is home to a booming foodie scene, with local farms and fishermen delivering their goods directly to a bevy of world-class restaurants. So slide into your boat shoes, hop a ferry from Cape Cod, and follow this guide away from the tourist traps to your best Martha’s Vineyard vacation.
Forget the beaches: Real locals get into the water with a leap off of the Big Bridge (on Beach Road between Edgartown and Oak Bluffs). Okay don’t actually forget the beaches, but the best ones are worth walking to. Stock up on picnic supplies at the General Store in Chilmark before you head north to Great Rock Bight Preserve, where an easy hike will lead through the woods to a pristine beach overlooking Vineyard Sound. For a more unique tanning experience, try Moshup beach, where you won’t find many tourists, but nudity is allowed.
Sunset at Menemsha
The fishing village of Menemsha is worth the trek to the west side of the island. In addition to dramatic cliffs and quiet beaches, it’s one of the best places on the island—and the East Coast—to watch the sunset. Most Americans don’t get to see the sun sinking into the Atlantic, and you should enjoy the occasion with your favorite seafood snack from Menmesha Fish Market or Larsen’s Fish Market. While you’re on the far side of the island, take in the dramatic clifftop views at Gay Head Lighthouse, which has been in operation since 1856 and had to be moved away from the eroding cliffs in 2015 to avoid toppling into the sea.
Out on the Town
Drink and dance in a dive with local fishermen and musicians at the Ritz, or enjoy some southern hospitality (and more music) at Lola’s. Beer nerds (and families) will love Offshore Ale, a brewery and restaurant where tossing your peanut shells on the floor is encouraged while you toss back some local suds (hop heads should order the Lazy Frog IPA). For a more upscale experience, try the international comfort food at Beetlebung in Oak Bluffs, or dine on New American plates on the porch at Alchemy in Edgartown. Alternately, take a trip out to State Road Restaurant, one of the best venues serving new American fare on the island.
The middle of the island has plenty to offer visitors willing to stray from the sand. Find out where all the restaurants get their delicious produce with a trip to the Farmer’s Market in West Tisbury (Wednesdays and Saturdays in the summer, Saturdays only in the Winter: rain, snow, or shine), then poke around the area’s galleries to see paintings and sculptures by Vineyard artists. On a rainy day, you could explore the island’s rich whaling history in Edgartown at the Dr. Daniel Fisher House and the Old Whaling Church. If the kids get bored, take them for the island’s best pancakes and watch the small planes land at the Right Fork Diner by the Katama Airfield, then visit Island Alpaca, a working alpaca farm where you can buy handmade sweaters and the kids can pet and pose for pictures with the mellow mammals.
Jarone Ashkenazi is a freelance writer who covers restaurants, bars, travel, dating, relationships, sports and other lifestyle topics. View more work at www.jaroneashkenazi.com. Connect with him on Twitter at @JaroneAsh