Featured Stories & Articles from Cape Cod Travel Magazine: Martha’s Vineyard: Nature’s Paradise
their vibrant personalities and distinct differences, Martha’s Vineyard and its
towns make a lasting first impression. The bucolic island with miles of sandy
beach, whose early inhabitants subsisted on raising sheep and fishing, sits
sturdily just seven miles from Cape Cod. Named for its excess of wild grapes,
the island’s first white settlers came ashore in the mid-17th century looking
for badly needed supplies.
The island’s fortunes arose with lucrative profits from the whaling industry and luxurious Federal and Greek Revival houses popped up all over Martha’s Vineyard. While the dangerous industry was destined for decline on the island, sea trade and tourism took off after the Civil War; the latter still remains an important economic force. Towns are still designated as “up-island” and “down-island,” terms that were used by sailors moving longitudinally in the 19th and 20th centuries. Martha’s Vineyard’s low-key demeanor, sandy beaches and miles of biking and hiking paths have attracted tourists for decades. Celebrities, presidents and islanders shop alongside each other at the farmer’s markets with little fuss or fanfare. Rustic cottages and historic inns placidly share space with larger, newer homes.
Today, many visitors opt to fly to the islands while many also get there by ferry from Woods Hole and disembark in Vineyard Haven (ferry service is also available from Hyannis and off-Cape locations), just steps away from picturesque Main Street, which is lined with shops, restaurants and beautiful homes, many of which are listed on the National Historic Register.
The island’s vast appeal is immediately obvious. Rent a bike and pedal between working historic lighthouses in West and East Chop. Oak Bluffs, home to the thriving Wesleyan Grove in the late 1800s, a Methodist meeting camp, now has a lively nightlife and restaurant scene. Several of the 19th century Victorian “gingerbread” cottages that were built to replace the original tents are available to rent. Oak Bluffs has a long history of artistry, and its galleries still overflow with beautiful one-of-a-kind pieces. Sink your toes into Nantucket Sound or test your luck on the Flying Horses Carousel (the oldest operating one of its kind in the country) and reach for the infamous brass ring. The mid-August illumination Night in Oak Bluffs, a decades-old tradition of lighting various styles of lanterns, is a must-see for both residents and visitors.
Enjoy Greek Revival-style sea captain’s homes, the sturdy Old Whaling Church that doubles as a performing arts center and the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in elegant Edgartown. Throughout the seasons, spend a day or take a walk along Katama or Lighthouse Beaches. From Edgartown, take the On-Time ferry to Chappaquiddick Island (locally known as Chappy) and revel in the natural beauty of Mytoi Gardens, Wasque Resort Reservation and Cape Pogue Wildlife Refuge. Walk up the sandy path to the Cape Pogue Lighthouse or enjoy a guided natural history tour of the refuge.
Up-island Chilmark has a decidedly different, more relaxed vibe. Private and public beaches share space with working farms and hand-built stonewalls. Take a hike in Menemsha Hills Reservation or visit the harbor that was used in Jaws. Pay a visit to Aquinnah Light and the nearby 150-feet high clay cliffs, owned by the Wampanoag tribe and designated as a National Historic Landmark, in Aquinnah (known as Gay Head until 1997). Stop by the venerable Allen’s General Store in West Tisbury, selling everything from kitchenware to local fruits and vegetables, and then enjoy wandering through the 70-acre Polly Hill Arboretum.
Whether it is known for its famous movie backdrops, endless miles of sandy beach and quiet unpaved roads, or knack for attracting high-profile figures, Martha’s Vineyard remains true to its original roots. The island is simultaneously a nature lover’s paradise and a source of inspiration for generations of poets, writers and artists.