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Plan Your Martha's Vineyard Vacation: Everything You Need

Plan Your Martha's Vineyard Vacation: Everything You Need

There's something for everyone, and there's always a great excuse to do nothing.

Last Updated June 19, 2022

Martha's Vineyard is an island located 7 miles (11 kilometers) off the southern coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Ancestors of the Wampanoag people have lived for at least 12,000 years in Aquinnah and throughout the island of Noepe, meaning “land between the streams,” the original name for Martha’s Vineyard. The island was renamed in 1602 by a British sailor named Bartholomew Gosnold, who gave it its present-day name after his daughter Martha. Vineyard is a misnomer as the island does not produce wine. Instead, the name comes from the abundance of viney undergrowth that can be found along the coast.

The island of Martha's Vineyard is divided into six towns, and those towns are colloquially divided into “up-island” and “down-island” towns. For the up-island towns, we have Chilmark, Aquinnah, and West Tisbury, while for the down-island towns, we have Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Vineyard Haven. Don't think the up and down wording has anything to do with how they are located geographically in relation to North and South - it's not. It's actually a longitude and latitude thing, but as a reminder, when you hear “up-island”, it refers to the western, most rural towns (West Tisbury, Chilmark, Aquinnah) and “down-island” refers to the rest. If you take a look at a map, down-island looks like it should be up-island, but then you're back to the longitude/latitude thing.

Martha's Vineyard Towns

Chilmark

Chilmark is a beauty of a town, home to seemingly endless rolling hills and rambling stone walls, as well as the rural fishing village of Menemsha. Chilmark is quiet and tranquil, but it boasts a storied history. Chilmark was the first of the up-island towns to split from the original two towns of Martha's Vineyard, Edgartown and Tisbury; Chilmark was incorporated in 1694. Interestingly Chilmark once had one of the highest instances of deafness in the world. At one point in the 1800s, it was said that one in every 25 people in Chilmark was deaf. Martha's Vineyard Sign Language was developed in the early 18th century and was used in daily life by both deaf and hearing people alike until as recently as the 1950s. The language served as a precursor to what we know of as American Sign Language today. Today Chilmark is home to just over 1,200 residents, and is known for its stunning views and rural landscape. Many Chilmark homes are tucked away out of sight on multi-acre properties. Think more sprawling rustic estate, less contemporary beach houses. While other parts of the island are places to show off, Chilmark is a place to hideout. Many celebrities have homes in Chilmark and enjoy the anonymity of its untouched landscape.

Edgartown

Once a major whaling port, Edgartown has been preserved throughout the decades and visitors can breathe in the history as they walk along the streets, viewing whaling captains' homes. This is the fabric of Edgartown - its history is steeped into every step you take in town. From the last names of the locals you meet in town to the Greek Revival architecture you look up to, it's a town that once started as a colony. In 1642, Rev. Thomas Mayhew, Jr. led a few families to start a colony on the island his father, Thomas Mayhew, had purchased. At first, it was named Great Harbor, but by 1671 it had been incorporated as Edgar Town. Along with Tisbury, it was one of two of the original towns on the island. Similar to Thomas Mayhew, Jr., when you're planning a trip to Edgartown, you'll most likely arrive on island via a ship, but in today's day and age, it will be a motor vessel, not a wooden ship. Edgartown is known for its gorgeous downtown, sprinkled with locally owned shops, restaurants, and more - but there's much more to this New England town. Within Edgartown, you'll also find the area of Katama, as well as the adjacent island of Chappaquiddick, two great destinations while in town. Edgartown is also host to a few well-attended, annual events, such as the 4th of July Parade & Fireworks, Bass in the Grass (usually takes place in September), Martha's Vineyard Food & Wine Festival (annually in October), and Christmas in Edgartown. Discover Edgartown events by clicking the link.

Oak Bluffs

Oak Bluffs, or “OB” as the locals call it, is one of Martha's Vineyard's busiest and most bustling towns. Nestled on the northeastern shore of the island, Oak Bluffs offers something for everyone, and during the summer months, everyone wants to be there. Originally incorporated in 1880 as Cottage City (and a part of Edgartown before that), the town has been attracting residents and visitors alike for generations. In 1907 the town's name was changed from Cottage City to Oak Bluffs, in response to the growing year-round population and the expansion of the resort community; it wasn't just summer cottages anymore. Today Oak Bluffs boasts miles of public beaches, ponds, several accessible parks, a busy seasonal waterfront and downtown district, a golf course, expansive hiking trails, rich arts and cultural offerings, and more. You Could spend your entire Vineyard vacation in the town of Oak Bluffs and still not experience all it has to offer.

Vineyard Haven

Vineyard Haven is the island's central location for coming and going, year round. It's where the Steamship Authority Ferry docks in, day in and day out, and is the town that welcomes most visitors to the island as the main port of entry. Once you dock, you arrive into the Vineyard Haven Harbor Cultural District, with a working harbor with New England charm, walkable village center, and so much to do. The area was called “Nobnocket” by the Wampanoag people, and referred to by the colonial settlers as “Homes Hole”, which then evolved to “Holmes Hole”, named after the descendants of John Homes, who had settled in the area in the late 18th century.

The names Tisbury and Vineyard Haven can be and are used interchangeably, so don't be confused! Its local abbreviation is VH, for Vineyard Haven.

West Tisbury

West Tisbury is centrally located in the middle of Martha's Vineyard and offers a more agrarian landscape than the down-island towns of Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown. Many homes are built on larger lots, and businesses are a bit more spread out in this rural town. Driving through West Tisbury is where most visitors start to be in awe of the vast open space and bucolic landscapes prevalent on the island–it's not all beaches and ice cream shops! West Tisbury was first incorporated in 1892, though the first English settlers in this area can be recorded back to 1669. Historically this was an agricultural hub for the island, and the agricultural scene is still very much alive here. Known for the annual Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Fair that takes place in August and the Vineyard Artisans Fair that takes place seasonally, West Tisbury is a treasure trove of farm and flower stands at every turn. Today West Tisbury has a year-round population of approximately 3,500 residents, and offers a range of shopping, beaches, farms, restaurants, and activities.

Aquinnah

If you're looking to reach the most western town of the island, Aquinnah is your town. Known world-wide for its incredible sunsets that you can view being perched on the deep red clay cliffs, it truly feels like you are in another world when you are experiencing a sunset in Aquinnah. The natural beauty of this town is not like anything you've ever witnessed, we can promise you that. Not only is the natural beauty overwhelming to the point of leaving you speechless, but it's also home to the native tribe of the Aquinnah Wampanoags, and you can discover and learn more about them by visiting the Aquinnah Circle Cultural District.

Getting to Martha's Vineyard

Taking a ferry to Martha's Vineyard is the most common and economical way to arrive to the island, while the second and only other option would be to fly (it's a true island after all!). This article will explain all the options in regards to ferries that travel to and from Martha's Vineyard, along with travel tips associated with each ferry. Note that other than the Steamship Authority which operates year round, many of the other ferries are seasonal and have specific dates associated with their services. Please make sure to check the official sites for the most updated information. As a reminder, the Oak Bluffs port only operates during the peak summer months. Traveling by ferry is a carefree way to arrive to the island, because you can eliminate the stress of driving and start your vacation as soon as you hop aboard. You'll enjoy top-notch services on any of the ferries you board to the island. Note that boats will be canceled in inclement weather and high winds - be sure to check the weather report and the individual ferry website for up-to-date information. While most inclement weather occurs in the winter months, some of the seasonal boats will cancel sailings in the summer months as well. For a full list of ferry options and schedules, check out our Martha's Vineyard Ferry Guide.

Checking the Weather on Martha's Vineyard

Seasons mark the passing of time and every New Englander on Martha's Vineyard will tell you that each season has a special place in their heart. Spring brings the hope of warmer temperatures, summer ushers in the hustle and bustle of the busy season, fall is a respite moment to catch their breath, and winter is the calm time to get organized for the next season ahead. Martha's Vineyard, the idyllic island located south of Cape Cod, has a climate range that might seem interesting to inquiring minds. Designated by the Koppen Climate Classification system, it is said that the climate of Martha's Vineyard borders between a humid continental climate, a humid subtropical climate, and an oceanic climate. An oceanic climate might be a shock to climate and data nerds, because it's a type of climate that is rarely found on the East Coast of North America. Highly influenced by the surrounding Atlantic Ocean, which is in charge of moderating the temperatures of the island throughout the year, Martha's Vineyard has a moderate climate in comparison to other New England locations. Here, we're exploring each season's weather, with a sprinkling of travel tips so you can be best equipped for your travels whenever you plan your time on Martha's Vineyard. Below you'll find a few of the outstanding events that take place throughout the year on the island as it relates to the season on Martha's Vineyard. For the most updated and comprehensive event listings, make sure to check the local newspapers such as The Martha's Vineyard Times and The Vineyard Gazette. When booking your trip to Martha's Vineyard, weather is incredibly important as it dictates the activities you will be taking part of while visiting, so the best way to narrow down when to visit the island is to make a list of the types of activities you'd like to do and take it from there! We've put together a Martha's Vineyard Weather Guide to help you determine the best time to visit.

Getting Around Martha's Vineyard

Martha's Vineyard is a roughly 120 square mile island off the coast of Cape Cod. The island is accessible by boat or aircraft, and no bridges or tunnels connect it to the mainland. Many people arrive on Martha's Vineyard with the idea that the island is much smaller than it actually is. While many things around our local harbors and downtowns are walkable, there is still a lot of Martha's Vineyard that is best explored in a vehicle. For reference it's about a forty five minute drive from one end of Martha's Vineyard to the other. There are six distinct towns on the island and each of them is worth visiting. Getting around Martha's Vineyard is quite easy but requires a little planning. As a cautious reminder, the highest speed limit on island roads is 45 MPH, while there are many 25- and 30-MPH areas. Take note of this, as you're on island time and rushing anywhere isn't the norm unless you're running to get in line at Back Door Donuts!

Where to Stay on Martha's Vineyard

Deciding on where to stay while visiting Martha's Vineyard is almost a full-time job, with the vast amount of offerings, so we decided to list them out in an organized fashion that will make the decision easier for you. Booking accommodations should be simple, and we're here to help make it extra simple with our travel concierge services. Reach out to us if you'd like us to help you navigate the world of accommodations on Martha's Vineyard. Take into account not only the dates you are visiting and your budget per night, but also who you are traveling with (elderly travelers, as well as young children might have specific needs), what town you are looking to stay in, as well as your mode of transportation while on the island. Booking well in advance of your travel is also advisable, as accommodations tend to get filled quickly and early. Check out our Martha's Vineyard Accomodations Guide to find the best place to stay.

Boutique Bed & Breakfasts

Boutique Bed & Breakfasts and Inns are the ideal stay for couples or solo travelers looking to reconnect together or with themselves. The island has a wide variety of bed & breakfasts and inns that are independently owned and offer not only exclusive accommodations in some of the best locations on island, but also delight guests with curated breakfasts experiences.

Resorts

Resorts are the ideal accommodations for families and friend groups looking for not only accommodations, but also dining and activities within the property. On Martha's Vineyard, there are only two actual properties that can be considered resorts, and they are the Winnetu Oceanside Resort and the Harbor View Hotel. Both are located within the town of Edgartown and offer amenities such as pools as well as being extremely close to beaches. They also have delicious restaurants within the properties themselves, making vacation meals simple to book.

Vacation Rentals

Vacation home rentals are the perfect lodging for anyone staying for more than a week on the island. Extended stays tend to work best with vacation home rentals because travelers will not only have a larger space to enjoy, but having access to kitchen, outdoor space, and other amenities that rentals normally provide is key to spending weeks on island. Vacation home rentals are usually managed by real estate companies on the island.

Motels & Hostels

One of the most affordable options for lodging on Martha's Vineyard are motels and hostels. They're great options for solo travelers that don't need many amenities, won't be spending much time in the room, or just need an inexpensive space to crash for the night. While the island doesn't have many of them, including only one hostel, HI Martha's Vineyard, it is a great option for simple travelers. Amenities include free WiFi, an outdoor area, proximity to public transit, luggage storage, a game room, free towels & bed sheets, free parking, and even a guest kitchen.

Campgrounds

The Martha's Vineyard Family Campgrounds are a great option for those looking to connect with nature! They have a great amount of amenities, but space is limited and books quickly, so make sure to reserve your cabin or space in their lot with enough time.

Cottages, Studios, & More

A good option for those looking for last minute booking would be to check rental sites like VRBO or AirBnB. Although these lodging accommodations are not as regulated as the classic hotels and inns, they do offer a variety of options, whether you are looking to rent a single room, an entire apartment or condo, or a home.

Where to Eat on Martha's Vineyard

Deciding where to eat on Martha's Vineyard can be overwhelming, but we're here to guide you in the most delicious direction, no matter what you're craving! The island is packed to the brim with independently-owned eateries - you won't find those mainland fast food chains anywhere here and we love that about the island. Every spot you visit and dine in is special, unique, and unlike anything you've ever tried. From the simplest sandwiches to the most luxurious meals, there's something for everyone on Martha's Vineyard. As a note to off-island visitors, the island had yet to partake in the common mainland apps such as Uber Eats or Caviar, and food delivery is far and few in between. If you're craving food and need it delivered, the best idea is to call a local taxi company and ask if they can do the pickup and delivery for you - not as uncommon of an ask as you think!

Coffee Shops

Starting with the best part of waking up on Martha's Vineyard, a fresh cup of coffee, a well-made latte, or a hot tea, alongside freshly baked goods, is an essential part of your vacation.

Bakeries

Whether you're looking for a morning croissant, an afternoon slice of cake, or a late night cookie, the island has a few of the most delicious bakeries in New England! Each one with their own recipes, tried and true, tested throughout the seasons, we couldn't choose one to love the most. If you're looking to order a birthday cake or a special occasion cake, make sure to call ahead a few days in advance, especially during peak season. There are times you can swing by Black Dog Bakery or Sweet Bites and they'll have cakes in their display case ready to go, but that's not always promised!

Ice Cream & Candy Shops

While on vacation, you'll always feel the desire to treat yourself, and taking a walk down any Main Street town on Martha's Vineyard will help you stumble into one of the many ice cream and candy shops on the island. Typically, these two are paired together, offering guests a selection of candies, handmade fudge, sugary candies, and more, alongside the classic ice cream offerings.

Delis

Hoping to discover the best sandwiches of Martha's Vineyard? Then this category is for you! Delis on island are plentiful, normally paired up with a fresh food market, wine shop, or even full dining options within them! The island has a diverse palate when it comes to sandwiches, and you'll find something from almost every corner of the world.

Pizzerias

Nothing like a slice to snack on while walking around town or grabbing a few pies to bring to the beach. On the island, you'll find diverse types of pizza, such as NY Style, Pan Pizza, and a few more. Not only will you find traditional pizzerias, but we also have a great mobile pizza truck that normally bakes from the West Tisbury Farmers Market, called Stoney Hill Pizza, which you can also book for private events, how fun is that!

Fine Dining

No trip to Martha's Vineyard is complete without a splurge and splurging on a fine dining meal on island is truly a pleasure to be had by everyone that enjoys the culinary world. You will find award-winning chefs and restaurants across all towns on Martha's Vineyard, acclaimed by the top food experts in the region, alongside up and coming culinary talent that use the island as the stage for their growth and experience. For fine dining experiences on island, always make sure to book a reservation with plenty of time in advance, as most places fill up quickly.

Clambakes & Raw Bars

If you're on island for more than a couple of days and are staying in a vacation rental, one of the best experiences you can book is having a clambake or raw bar in your rental backyard or on the beach (where permitted). These are two of New England's most incredible culinary traditions that showcase the diverse and deliciously fresh and local seafood of Martha's Vineyard.

Catering

Catering on Martha's Vineyard is the most delicious treat - forget about trying to find parking in town, and enjoy a catered meal in your rental, by either a catering company or island private chef.

Shopping on Martha's Vineyard

Although the beaches, hiking, and outdoor recreation are often thought of as the best part of visiting the island, shopping on Martha's Vineyard can be an adventure in itself. For many years local lawmakers have done all they can to preserve the rural, small-town character of the island. Because of this, the majority of the businesses on the island are truly local. Even some of the businesses that have blossomed into bigger brands (think Black Dog) are rooted on the island.

Shopping in Vineyard Haven

Many of the businesses in Vineyard Haven are concentrated on Main Street, just one street inland from the ferry terminal. This historic street has accommodations, restaurants, shops, galleries, coffee shops and more. Highlights include the Night Heron Gallery and Martha's Vineyard Made where you can find a wide collection of island made products from our talented makers and creators. When it comes to needing basics like socks, underwear and basics checkout Brickmans, a Main Street institution since 1913.For a wide variety of Vineyard souvenirs, quality gifts and homegoods don't miss a chance to browse Rainy Day or Coastal Supply. For the outdoor enthusiasts stop in to Green Room, a beloved outfitter that got started as a surf and skate shop and now sells popular brand name clothing, sportswear, accessories and footwear with something for everyone.

Shopping in Oak Bluffs

Oak Bluffs has its most densely populated downtown shopping district on Circuit Avenue, with a bit more on nearby Kennebec Avenue. Circuit Avenue is the “throughfare” in Oak Bluffs with a plethora of retail businesses stretching for almost a half mile, including favorites like the Black Dog, Vineyard Vines, Basics and Eastaway Clothing, Stefanie Wolf Designs and more. From clothing to beach essentials and games, jewelry, art, and fast-casual to fine dining, this street has something for everyone. It was revitalized in 2022 to make parking, walking, and window shopping a more accessible and enjoyable experience. At the bottom of Circuit Avenue you will find even more opportunities to shop along the Oak Bluffs Harbor at Dockside Marketplace & Marina, and ample ice cream and candy shops to fuel your spending spree.

Shopping in Edgartown

Downtown Edgartown is loaded with historic homes and storefront buildings dating back to the age of early whaling captains in the 1800s. Explore their many shops and galleries while appreciating the architecture of the stores themselves. Start your shopping at “The Triangle” where you'll find Granite Five & Ten, the closest thing you'll get to a department store on Martha's Vineyard, with everything from fabric, to hardware, party supplies, home furnishings and more. Nearby Donaroma's offers a tranquil space for shopping for plants and unique gifts, and you can treat yourself to a beer at Bad Martha's along the way. Travel down Upper Main Street to Main Street and you will find the idyllic streets of Edgartown dotted with high-end boutiques from local designers, artists, jewelers, clothiers. From sunglasses to swimwear, beach essentials to fine art, shoppers delight in all the quaint local businesses that Edgartown has to offer. You'll also find beloved national brands like Lululemon, Vineyard Vines, Black Dog and Charleston Shoe Co for your shopping pleasure.

Shopping in West Tisbury

As you get farther “up-Island” the landscape becomes more rural, and opportunities for shopping are fewer and farther between, which we think makes them more special. We love to pop into Middletown Nursery for a wide selection of plants but also a well curated selection of gifts and homegoods. Nearby Martha's Vineyard Glassworks is a state of the art glass blowing facility where you can watch artists at work and shop their gorgeous gallery of wares and sculptures. Don't miss a chance to find joy in Tending Joy, a vibrant and uplifting gift shop that sells inspirational fair-trade gifts from around the world. West Tisbury is also home to the famedAlley's General Store, the island's oldest retail business since 1858 and has been described as “purveyors of everything.” This shop has always offered a wide collection of merchandise and even to its own set of fully functioning Post Office boxes. When it comes to food shopping you'll find Cronig's Market up-island location here as well as North Tisbury Market, both of which offer many local and organic staples sure to satisfy.

Shopping in Chilmark

Shopping opportunities in Chilmark are more limited than the bustling Main Streets of our down-island towns but its outposts are unique and beloved. The Chilmark General Store is an institution in its own right, offering groceries, provisions and their popular pizza, which has been known to be enjoyed by a handful of celebrities on the store's busy front porch. Chilmark is also home to Menemsha, the island's iconic fishing village where you'll recognize scenery from the movie JAWS. You'll find the freshest seafood around at Larsen's Fish Market and Menemsha Fish Market with local catches coming into the dock located right behind them. Menemsha is also home to a handful of galleries and boutiques including the Ruel Gallery home to the work of painter Colin Ruel and his talented jewelry designer wife Nettie Kent.

Shopping in Aquinnah

The shopping district at the Aquinnah Cliffs was originally built up as the popularity of the Gay Head Light grew and today it's home to a short strip of galleries, food stands, and gift shops. While you are visiting the majestic landmark that is the Aquinnah Cliffs, the Aquinnah Shops offer a unique place to look for a memento. Many of these shops are owned by members of the native Wampanoag Tribe and some of the items for sale, like Wampum jewelry, have been created as time-honored traditions for generations. There is also a restaurant that sits atop the cliffs, aptly named the Aquinnah Shop Restaurant, with the best views of any dining destination on-island. Like the other up-island towns, Aquinnah is very rural and other businesses located in Aquinnah require some driving.

Lighthouses of Martha's Vineyard to Explore

Martha's Vineyard is home to five distinct lighthouses and their unique character and histories offer a glimpse into the island's significance as a famed whaling and fishing hub in the 1800s. A visit to any one of our lighthouses reminds visitors of the days long before GPS and electronic navigational systems. From the early 18th to the mid-19th century the whaling industry was big business on Martha's Vineyard and the surrounding areas off of Cape Cod, Nantucket, and the South Coast. Before the construction of the Cape Cod Canal, the waters of Martha's Vineyard were nautical superhighways for mariners to pass through en route to the large port cities of Boston and New York. Each one of Martha's Vineyard lighthouses were constructed at a time when lamps and lenses served as important beacons for navigational assistance, to help boat captains avoid dangerous coastlines and help ensure safe entry to harbor. The island's captains and crews were some of the most sought-after mariners in the industry and there was an abundance of whales off the coast of Martha's Vineyard. At a time when whaling and fishing were significant contributors to the island's economy, our five lighthouses provided critical support and safety to some of the busiest waterways in New England.

The Cape Poge Lighthouse: Worth the Trip to Get There

The Cape Poge Lighthouse is one of the oldest lighthouses and also the hardest to reach. The Cape Poge Lighthouse is located on the northern tip of Cape Poge, a barrier beach on Chappaquiddick, a small peninsula and occasional island off of Edgartown. The Cape Poge Lighthouse sits on land straddled between Cape Poge Bay and Nantucket Sound. Those wanting to visit the Cape Poge Lighthouse will likely need to begin their excursion with a ride aboard the Chappaquiddick Ferry.

Edgartown Lighthouse

Located across Edgartown Harbor from the Cape Poge Lighthouse you'll find the Edgartown Lighthouse occupying a more protected patch of sand on an inlet off of Edgartown village, and residing on a beach aptly named Lighthouse Beach. The original Edgartown Lighthouse was built in 1828 and featured a white light shining from a lantern room atop a two-story keeper's house. The structure was built on a man made artificial island a quarter mile out to sea and was originally accessible only by boat. Two years later a wooden causeway was built to connect the lighthouse to the shore. The bridge out to the lighthouse was repaired and rebuilt several times over the years and became a popular place for swimming and leisure.

Gay Head Light

The Gay Head Light is the oldest lighthouse on Martha's Vineyard and its story is a fascinating and precarious one. The lighthouse stands high atop the majestic red clay cliffs of Aquinnah, a National Historic landmark and one of the most scenic views on the East Coast. The lighthouse committee worked with the town of Aquinnah and the island community in 2015 to raise approximately $3.5 million to relocate the lighthouse about 129 feet from its former location, and a documentary, Keepers of the Light, was filmed about the move.

East Chop Lighthouse

East Chop Lighthouse has a very interesting history. This iconic light sits atop a large bluff in Oak Bluff on a peninsula known as East Chop. The location was first established as a privately owned signal, purchased and operated by Captain Silas Dagget in approximately 1869. The last of the lighthouses on the island to be erected, Captain Dagget built the lighthouse, and funded the project and its operation by collecting fees from those who benefited from its service. The original lighthouse burned down just two years after its construction. In 1872 the second lighthouse was built on “Telegraph Hill.” Three years later it was purchased by the United States Congress, and became federally managed. The current day white cast iron conical lighthouse structure was built here in 1875.

The West Chop Lighthouse

West Chop Lighthouse is prominently visible from the Steamship Authority ferry boats that come and go from Woods Hole. First established in 1817, the current white painted stone tower was built in 1896. Due to erosion, the current tower is over 1000ft south and west of the original 1817 light. West Chop is one of two large peninsulas that protect Vineyard Haven Harbor. At the time the light was established, Vineyard Haven was known as “Holmes Hole,” one of the first modern settlements on the Island. The light was established to help guide vessels into the already working port in Holmes Hole. The lighthouse was automated in the mid 70's, but the original buildings including the keeper's house still stand on the property. The well maintained buildings are also painted white with red roofs sitting roughly forty feet atop a large bluff. Today, this lighthouse is not open to the public, however it can be viewed from the road as well as from boats passing West Chop.

Beaches on Martha's Vineyard

Martha's Vineyard is a roughly 120 square mile island located several miles off the coast of Cape Cod. The island features vast unadulterated landscapes, rural farm country, quaint New England downtowns, and of course, top-rated beaches. There is no shortage of beaches on the island of Martha's Vineyard. From family friendly easy-to-access beaches with shallow water and soft sand, to big waves, and miles long walks to rock covered secluded shorelines, there truly is a beach for everyone.

A Bit About Island Geography

There are six towns on Martha's Vineyard, with Vineyard Haven (Tisbury), Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown generally being referred to as “down-island.” West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah make up what locals refer to as “up-island.” These colloquialisms do not refer to north and south on a compass, they actually reference population and topography, with the up-island towns being slightly higher in elevation and less densely populated. In fact, looking at a map down-island is more of the eastern side of the island while up-island constitutes the west side. If you arrive by ferry to Martha's Vineyard you will arrive in either Vineyard Haven, our year round ferry terminal, or to one of our seasonal ports in Oak Bluffs or Edgartown.

Hiking on Martha's Vineyard Beaches

There are a number of beaches that are not suitable for a beach day, but offer exceptional views, interesting geology, and shore fishing access, making for great hiking destinations. Much of the land on Martha's Vineyard is protected land with hundreds of miles of hiking trails. Sheriff's Meadow, The Trustees of Reservations, and the Land Bank manage many of the island's trails. A fantastic resource for finding and navigating the many trails on-Island is the TrailsMV app. Some of our favorite hiking trails that also offer beach access include Menemsha Hills, Middle Road Sanctuary, Great Rock Bight Preserve and Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary.

Martha's Vineyard Beach Access

If there's one thing we can tell you about accessing a Martha's Vineyard beach, it's get there early in the summer. Things are pretty relaxed on Martha's Vineyard, and things wind down fairly early in the towns at night. This makes for a lot of early birds so expect parking to be limited after 10AM just about anywhere you go in season. Don't get discouraged if you can't find a spot right away, there is plenty to do on the island, and you can always check back in a bit, as people come and go all day long. One important thing to remember before planning your trip to the beach on Martha's Vineyard is, not all beaches are public. There are a handful of “town” beaches, which simply means you must be a town resident and have a pass to access these beaches. These beaches include Philbin Beach (Aquinnah), Lucy Vincent Beach (Chilmark), Squibnocket Beach (Chilmark), and Lambert's Cove Beach (West Tisbury). These are all great beaches, some of our best in fact, and many rentals in these towns come with beach passes. Note that even if you have a beach pass you are not guaranteed a spot at the beach. Parking at all is limited and even passholders can be turned away due to capacity restraints. In the summer season these beaches are staffed with lifeguards as well as parking lot attendants to ensure compliance during the season. If you are on the island in the winter, you can enjoy a stroll on almost any of the Island's beaches, and that alone is enough of a reason to plan a Martha's Vineyard winter getaway. It's also important to note that many of the Trustees-managed beaches require permits, or may have closures because of erosion, or migratory birds. If you are visiting a Trustees property, it is always wise to check the trustees.org website, as well as their social media for current conditions and information. Check out our Martha's Vineyard Beach Guide for more information about beach options, vehicle access and beach permits.

Martha's Vineyard Beach Amenities

Many of the beaches on the island offer very limited facilities if there are any at all. There has been considerable effort over the years to maintain the rural character of the island. This only adds to the beauty of the place, and many people are seeking desolate beaches, but it can leave you feeling a bit stranded if you are not prepared. Be sure to pack plenty of sunblock, snacks, water, a book, and anything else you may need throughout your day. There are plenty of options in the down-island towns to stock up on supplies before you head to the beach, but options become more limited up-island and especially on Chappaquiddick. Additionally most island beaches are carry-in carry-out so be prepared to take all of your trash and belongings with you, to help ensure the beauty of Martha's Vineyard beaches for generations to come. There's obviously a lot to do on the Vineyard and finding your best options can be challenging. To help with the process, we've partnered with locals across the island to create meaningful and personalized experiences to make your vacation even more memorable. Over 100,000 visitors booked experiences last year, this year, it's your turn.

Explore Martha's Vineyard Towns

Martha's Vineyard towns each have their own unique character and charm. Explore around and get a taste of everything the Vineyard has to offer!