Sure, we’ve got the Maryland and Delaware beaches within striking distance. But for a change of pace, why not head up to Martha’s Vineyard and trade in our steamed crabs for a New England lobster roll?
Seven miles off the coast of Cape Cod in the Commonwealth (not state!) of Massachusetts, Martha’s Vineyard takes a bit longer to reach than going “downy” ocean, but it’s not a bad trip at all.
You can drive from Baltimore to Woods Hole in seven hours and take a 45-minute ferry ride to Vineyard Haven. Or you can do as I did and take a quick flight from BWI to Providence, rent a car at the airport and drive to the ferry.
If you don’t want a car at all (and you can get by without one since there’s plenty of public transportation on the island), you also can fly to Boston or Providence and take a quick flight to Martha’s Vineyard. True, it’s shorter, but for me there’s something about approaching the island by sea that sets the tone for the trip.
Martha’s Vineyard has a year-round population of approximately 15,000. Come summer, that number swells to 115,000 or more. I was there at the beginning of May and loved that there were no crowds and plenty of parking spaces, though many shops and restaurants were still operating on winter hours. Whenever you go, though, you’ll find plenty to do and see.
The island is made up of six towns: the western rural “up-island” towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark and West Tisbury, and the eastern “down-island” larger historic villages of Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven.
Each town has its own vibe; I stayed in Vineyard Haven (my hotel, Mansion House Inn, was conveniently just up the street from the ferry), and was charmed not only by the hotel (spotlessly clean, comfortable, with all modern amenities and a contemporary New England decor), but by the neighborhood feel: year-rounders walking their dogs, stopping for coffee (try Mocha Mott’s) or visiting the local bookstore (Bunch of Grapes).
Edgartown was busier, even during offseason, but you won’t want to miss a stroll through town to see the white-painted captains houses and grand churches that tell of the prosperity of the whaling era. The elegant Harbor View Hotel, originally built in 1891, offers a scenic waterfront location and variety of lodging options, including rooms in the historic main building, cottages and suites. If you’re in the market, there are condos for sale. Or you can just stop for lunch or a cocktail and enjoy the view.
Not far from Edgartown is Oak Bluffs, once a center for summer religious retreats. Today, it’s known for the Methodist Campground featuring an enclave of multi-colored gingerbread cottages and central park with an open-air tabernacle built in 1879. Oak Bluffs also boasts the Flying Horses Carousel, the oldest continuously operating platform carousel in the United States.
Edgartown and Oak Bluffs both have miles of public beaches and, as they’re the only towns on the Island with alcohol for sale, come sundown that’s where you’ll want to head if you’re up for some nightlife.
You’ll get a totally different feel by heading up-island, which is more residential (and home to any number of celebrities). In Aquinnah, at the westernmost tip of Martha’s Vineyard, visit the Gay Head Lighthouse, which in 2015 was carefully (after much intricate planning) moved 129 feet back from the site it had occupied since 1844, the result of more than a century of erosion that had left it perilously close to the cliff’s edge.
Nearby is the rural town of Chilmark, complete with grazing sheep (something you’re not likely to see in Ocean City!), home to the picturesque fishing village of Menemsha, where I enjoyed one of the many lobster rolls of my visit, this one at Larsen’s Fish Market; fishermen bring their catch right up to the dock and you can order your sandwich or cup of chowder and pull up a seat at a picnic table by the water. It doesn’t get much fresher than that!
After lunch, head to West Tisbury and stop at historic Alley’s General Store, whose motto is “Dealers in Almost Everything” (and I saw no reason to argue with that), and across the street walk through the Field Gallery and admire the dancing lawn sculptures.
As with any beach resort, if the weather doesn’t oblige, shopping is always a good alternative, and that certainly is true in Martha’s Vineyard. From art galleries (I especially liked Night Heron Gallery in Vineyard Haven) to jewelry stores (my wrist is now adorned by a bracelet from Claudia Jewelry in Edgartown) to bookstores (look for the “Martha’s Vineyard” mystery series by Philip Craig) to the ubiquitous Black Dog merchandise (spun off from the popular Black Dog restaurant and tavern in Vineyard Haven), your wallet can get a workout.
Martha’s Vineyard had long been on my must-see list. I’m not sure why I waited so long to get there, but a return visit is certainly on the horizon.
Carol Sorgen is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.
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