Martha’s Vineyard Part One

by David Waight

Had enough of Winter? – Ready for a getaway? – Martha’s Vineyard Island may just be the perfect end of the winter getaway.  A popular summer resort, famous for its many beaches, it is also a good choice in the Spring and Fall before the crowds arrive or after they leave.

Temperatures may or may not be warm enough to swim during the Spring or Fall, so if swimming is essential, you should plan    your visit in the summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day). If temperatures don’t allow for swimming during your visit, the beaches can still be enjoyable.  Walking along the beaches, some stretching for miles, provides spectacular ocean views, abundant nature or the opportunity to just relax. In addition to beaches, activities of all types are plentiful – historic towns, hiking, bicycling, water sports of various types, farms, nature, lighthouses, shopping and spectacularly scenic vistas and these are just some of what you will find.

Most importantly, visiting Martha’s Vineyard doesn’t require driving.

The Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) offers bus service to most of the island.  A comprehensive network of bike trails and numerous bike rental shops offer another car-free
way to enjoy your visit.

Getting Here

“The Vineyard” is connected to the mainland by numerous ferry services from points in Massachusetts and Rhode Island as well as air service from Hyannis on Cape Cod and other cities in the Northeast.  Check each ferry service’s web-site for bus and train connections.

Smart Guide – Car-free travel guide to Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket Islands, including bicycle information.
Steamship Authority – Year round to Vineyard Haven from Woods Hole. Seasonal service to Oak Bluffs. 508-693-9130
HyLine Cruises – To Oak Bluffs seasonally from Hyannis MA.  800-492-8082
Seastreak – To Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs during the summer and early fall from New Bedford MA.  Operates only to Vineyard Haven during the spring and late fall.  To Oak Bluffs summer Fridays from New York City and Highlands NJ.  Returns on Sundays.  1-800-BOATRIDE (1-800-262-8743)
Martha’s Vineyard Fast Ferry – To Oak Bluffs from Quonset Point RI seasonally .  Connection in Quonset Point to Amtrak Shuttle from Kingston RI.  : 401-295-4040
Island Queen – Seasonal service from Falmouth MA to Oak Bluffs.  508-548-4800
Falmouth Ferry – Seasonal service from Falmouth MA to Edgartown.  508-548-9400
Patriot Party Boats – Seasonal service from Falmouth MA to Oak Bluffs. Also operates
a 24 hour water taxi service. 508-548-9400
Martha’s Vineyard Airport – Air Service is available to Martha’s Vineyard Airport year round from Hyannis, Boston, New Bedford and Nantucket MA and White Plains NY, and seasonally from Provincetown MA, Providence RI, New York (JFK) and Washington DC (DCA)    508-693-7022

Map of Martha’s Vineyard

Getting Around
Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) – The Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority provides year round transportation to all 6 of the island towns, stopping at or near all the important
points of interest.  Transfer points around the island provide convenient timed connections with minimal waits in most cases.

Flag stops are allowed on all routes wherever the bus can stop safely.  Be sure to pick up a copy of the “Riders Guide” which lists flag stop exceptions.  The free “System Route Map” includes maps of all routes, fare and pass information and a town by town guide to routes.  Fares are $1.00 per town, each way, including town of origin.  Passes are One Day $7.00, Three Day $15.00 and Seven Day $25.00.  A pass is your most economical option even for one round trip if you travel in more than three towns.

One day, three day and seven day passes may be purchased on the bus, at the Steamship Authority Terminals, or from Ticket Sellers at the primary Oak Bluffs, Edgartown and Vineyard Haven bus stops from Memorial Day through Labor Day.  Persons with disabilities and seniors 65 and over pay ½ fare.  Children 6 and under ride free when accompanied by an adult.  508-693-9440

Biking Martha’s Vineyard

Biking –
Biking on The Vineyard is popular and becoming more so, both with visitors and island residents.  A comprehensive network of paved bike trails in the down-island towns and lighter traffic in the up-island towns make biking easy for riders of all abilities.  In additional most of the island is fairly flat with some rolling hills in the up-island towns.

VTA buses are equipped with bike racks making a trip combining both public transportation and biking convenient. Bicycle Rentals are available in shops in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven.  Visit for a list of bike rental shops with contacts.

For a map of bike routes, visit
For more details on biking, visit the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce website.

Tour Martha’s Vineyard – Introductory tour (1hour), Full island tour (3 hours) covering all six towns on the island or customized tours.  508-939-1359
Trustees of Reservations – Natural History and kayak tours of Cape Pogue, Mytoi and Wasque on Chappaquiddick and Long Point Wildlife Refuge in West Tisbury.  508-693-7662

The Towns of Martha’s Vineyard – “The Vineyard” consists of six towns, each with their own unique personality.  Whether you want to visit historic sights, swim, hike, commune with nature, shop, or enjoy the nightlife, at least one of the towns will be just
what you want.  You will hear people referring to “up-island” and “down-island.

Down-island refers to the three larger towns:  Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven.  Up-island is West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah, because these towns are more hilly.

Edgartown – The oldest town on the island, Edgartown was the first non-native settlement, founded as Great harbor in 1642.  The town  became prominent in the 19th century as many whaling captains built impressive mansions, most of which still remain.

Edgartown is made for walking.  Browse or window shop at the shops and boutiques on Main St., walk along North and South Water St among the historic 19th century ship captains homes.

Head to Lighthouse Beach for a beautiful view of the harbor and Chappaquiddick, a swim in the calm waters, or a tour of the lighthouse.  Wander just about anywhere in Edgartown and you will encounter history, charm and beautiful vistas.

Information at the Visitors Center at the Church St. bus stop.

Best Read Guide Walking Tour – Edgartown
Vincent House (1672), Daniel Fisher House (1840) and the Old Whaling Church (1843) – Guided tours of these historic buildings are available daily at 11am, noon, 1pm and 2pm  Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust (508) 627-4440  These properties are located just a few steps from the VTA Church St. stop.
Memorial Wharf – Climb up to the rooftop viewing platform to see the parade of yachts passing through the harbor and views of the stately waterfront homes.  This is the departure point for the 3 minute ferry crossing to Chappaquiddick.  VTA Rt. 11 (seasonal).
Martha’s Vineyard Museum – A complex of two historic homes, a carriage house and the Fresnel Lens (1854) from the Gay Head Lighthouse.  An excellent opportunity to experience the past of this historic island.  Short walk from Church St. bus stop.
Katama – A beach-side residential area south of Edgartown, once the southern terminal of the Martha’s Vineyard Railroad.  As you near South Beach, the terrain becomes a flat plain of beautiful beach vegetation, know locally as the “Great Plains”.  VTA Rt. 8
Chappaquiddick – Part of Edgartown, Chappaquiddick is a separate island accessible by the “On Time” ferry via a 3 minute crossing.  The scenery changes dramatically once on the island.  Downtown Edgartown is busy and commercial, but once you get off the ferry, you are in a rural, sparsely populated area.  There is no public transportation on Chappaquiddick, but the small country lanes are perfect for bicyling.  Bicycles can be rented before you board the ferry from R.W. Cutley Bike Rentals, a few steps from the dock.

Three points are must sees:
Mytoi – Two and a half miles from the ferry, this serene 14 acre Japanese Garden is well worth the bike ride.  The name was conceived when the man who created this garden referred to it as his toy. 508-627-7689
Wasque – (“Way-skwee”) Five miles from the ferry near the southeastern tip of Chappaquiddick, Wasque was once connected to Edgartown when nearby Norton Point Beach stretched all the way to South Beach in Katama.  A 2007 storm breached this long barrier beach making Chappaquiddick a true island and resulting in major changes to the coastline, which continue today.  A wonderful place for nature lovers – small beaches, sand cliffs, water birds, short walking trails, marshes, fishing, oak and pine forests and grasslands.  Swimming can be hazardous due to the ever changing currents that resulted from the breach.  Caution is also necessary on and below the fragile sand cliffs.
Cape Pogue – A 516 acre wildlife refuge with a 7 mile barrier beach stretching along the entire east coast of Chappaquiddick.   Cape Pogue lighthouse is at the northern tip of the refuge.  The best way to visit Cape Pogue is via a Trustees of Reservation tour.  With advance reservations, transportation is provided from the ferry.

Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge Chappaquiddick Island, Martha’s Vineyard

Edgartown is served by VTA routes 1 (Vineyard Haven), 6 (Aquinnah, Chilmark and the Airport), 8 (Katama), 11 (Downtown Seasonally) and 13 (Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven).
The primary bus stop is in front of the visitors center on Church St.

Where To Stay

Harborside Inn – Across the street from the Lighthouse and Lighthouse Beach.  VTA – 10 minute walk from Rt. 11 Mayhew Lane stop – 20 minute walk from Rts. 1,6,8 and 13 Church St. Stop.
Clarion Inn – Upper Main Street.  VTA Routes 1 and 13
Winnetu – In Katama, a few steps from South Beach.  VTA Route 8.

Oak Bluffs – Oak Bluffs is a young town compared to Edgartown and Vineyard Haven.  While those towns were firmly ensconced in the whaling industry, Oak Bluffs was basically a wilderness until Methodist revival meeting were first convened in 1835.  These meetings continued to grow, the tents of the original meetings evolved into cottages and in 1880, Oak Bluffs, originally part of Edgartown, broke away and incorporated as Cottage City.  The name Oak Bluffs dates to 1907.

Oak Bluffs offers a sharp contrast to all the other island towns.  Compared to the rural towns of West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah, Oak Bluffs has the feel of a small city.  Shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues abound along Circuit Ave and around the harbor.  The dignified ship captain’s mansions and Cape style houses of Edgartown and Vineyard Haven contrast sharply to the whimsical Gingerbread Cottages and Victorian Homes in Oak Bluffs. Information booth located at the junction of Circuit, Lake and Oak Bluffs Avenues.

Best Read Guide Walking Tour – Oak  Bluffs
Circuit Ave – The business center of Oak Bluffs, Circuit Ave was named for the “circuit” that the Campground preachers rode.  Today it is lined with boutiques, small shops and restaurants.  VTA Routes 7, 9 and 13
African American Heritage Trail – African Americans, including slaves have been part of Martha’s Vineyard history since before the American Revolution.  Oak Bluffs became a summer retreat for a number of middle class African Americans during the early 1900s and continues to this day.  The trail consists of 23 sites scattered around the island.
Camp Meeting – Near Circuit Ave., this is the location of the original Methodist Revival meetings.  The 36 acre site has over 300 “Gingerbread” cottages and the wrought iron Tabernacle, an open air auditorium seating more than 3000 people, now used for concerts and special events.  On Illumination Night in August, (August 14, 2013), the Tabernacle and many of the cottages are decorated with hundreds of Japanese lanterns – a spectacular sight if you are visiting during that time.  Be sure to visit the Cottage Museum, the only cottage open to the public.  VTA VTA Routes 7,9 and 13
Flying Horses – Built in Coney Island in 1876 and moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1884, the Flying Horses is the oldest operating platform carousel in the United States, and is now a National Historic Landmark.  508-693-9481.  VTA Routes 7,9 and 13

More information about Oak Bluffs is available at
Oak Bluffs is served by VTA routes 7 (Airport), 9 (Airport) and 13 (Vineyard Haven and Edgartown.  The primary bus stop is next to the Steamship Authority Dock.

Where To Stay

Oak Bluffs
Surfside Motel – Near Circuit Ave and ferrys, many rooms with ocean views.  VTA Routes 7,9 and 13
Wesley Hotel – Historic ocean front hotel near Camp Meeting.   VTA Rtes 7,9 and 13
For more accommodation options visit Best Read Guide.

What I have talked about here is only a sample of what you will find on Martha’s Vineyard. Visit the following web-sites for more details.
Marthas Vineyard Travel Guide
  Best Read Guide
Martha’s Vineyard Chamber-of-Commerce

In our next column, we will spotlight more towns and other highlights in Martha’s Vineyard. Would you like to be a guest columnist and write a short article about one of your favorite vacation spots that you can enjoy without driving?  E-mail me at, and include your contact information, some information about yourself, and the vacation
spot you want to cover. I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible. Thanks.


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