Martha’s Vineyard is known for its natural beauty and a rich history that is reflected in its six towns: Aquinnah, Chilmark, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven, and West Tisbury. Each town has its own charm and character but no matter where you stay visitors can enjoy walks on the beach, riding bikes, the fresh salt air, vivid sunsets, and the taste of blueberry pie – pure summer escape.. See also About MV, Beaches, How to Get Here, and Events.
Aquinnah (Gay Head)
Aquinnah is known for its striking clay cliffs, natural dunes and its Wampanoag history. With beaches on the Atlantic Ocean, the Vineyard Sound and Menemsha Pond, this small quiet town is treasured by athletes, naturalists, and artists alike. Aquinnah is fairly remote compared to the busier towns on the Vineyard, but this is a benefit to those who stay here. The unspoiled environment is a paradise for bicyclists, runners and walkers and the water lures eager fishermen.
Visitors experience panoramic views from the historic Gay Head Lighthouse which is open to the public daily in the summer season. An active navigational beacon which has been in operation since 1799, the Gay Head Light is perched on the cliffs overlooking the Elizabeth Islands. Near the cliffs are many Wampanoag shops and restaurants and the Aquinnah Wampanoag Indian Museum. The fresh local cuisine keeps year-rounders and summer people returning again and again to enjoy delicious oysters, lobster rolls, chowder and ever-changing menus while watching the sun set.
The rural town of Chilmark is known for its rolling hills and meadows and its spectacular beaches and ponds. People come here to enjoy the scenic beauty and the low-key lifestyle. There are two town beaches, Lucy Vincent and Squibnocket, both on the Atlantic, as well as Menemsha beach which is a public beach offering calm waters on the north shore, great for small children and anyone who enjoys more tranquil swimming. The fishing village of Menemsha offers several lively retail shops, restaurants and fish markets where one can order freshly caught lobster and other delicacies for takeout or for picnics on the beach. Every night people set up their blankets to watch the sun set, applauding as it sinks into the ocean.
Beetlebung Corner, the center of Chilmark, has a post office, library, playground, community center, general store, and restaurant. You can get your newspaper at the Chilmark Store, have a coffee or slice of pizza and sit on the porch on a break from your busy schedule of going to the farmer’s market and hitting the beach.
Edgartown is beloved for its charming village of beautiful Greek Revival houses built by the whaling captains in the early 19th century. The town’s narrow streets lined with beautiful gardens form a quaint grid to the north and south of Main Street. Now filled with restaurants, galleries and shops, residents and visitors take pleasure in walking through town to shop, dine and appreciate the harbor activity. The Old Whaling Church hosts many cultural and musical events, as does the Dr. Daniel Fisher house nearby. The fourth of July parade is a summer highlight concluding with an evening of fireworks over Edgartown harbor.
Edgartown is renowned for its yachting history. There are many regattas through the summer that bring sailors from all over the world to compete. Edgartown also has rural areas of great natural beauty. Just across the harbor is Chappaquiddick island, an incredible complement to the activity of the village. Quiet and unspoiled, Chappaquiddick offers pristine beaches and habitat for all kinds of birds and wildlife. Take a short ride on the “On Time” ferry, and enter another world.
Outside the village, South Beach in Katama has miles of pure sandy ocean beach. Visitors can take the bike path from the village all the way to the beach, past the general store to the Katama Airfield where the Red Baron flies courageous passengers high above the ocean and amazes people below with his tricks. The Farm Institute welcomes people of all ages to learn more about growing food and raising animals through their camps, activities and welcome center.
Oak Bluffs, or Cottage City as it was called, became a summer destination early in its history. In the 1830’s Methodist church groups set up tents during the summer in an open field where they congregated and preached the gospel. They named it Wesleyan Grove after their founder, John Wesley. Eventually the small tents of individual families were replaced with “wooden tents”, colorful gingerbread houses, and their central meeting tent was replaced by an all-steel Tabernacle in 1879.
Unique within the growing trend of summer tourism was the special history of the African American population who sought to experience the joys and simple pleasures that a beach vacation offered. The renowned Shearer Cottage, opened in 1912 and was one of the first seasonal hotels catering to African American tourists. It helped to transform the town, including the iconic Inkwell Beach, into one of the country's best known vacation destinations. African American families, including distinguished scientists, physicians, educators, scholars, authors, politicians and artists all came andenriched the island and deepened its history.
Today, the Campgrounds centered by the Tabernacle, offers concerts, political events, community sings and inspirational speakers. The Flying Horses, the oldest running carousel in America built in 1876, takes children around and around as it has for generations. Ocean Park brings the beach and the park together with space to have a picnic, fly a kite, walk the dog and enjoy band concerts at the gazebo. Oak Bluffs harbor continues the lively activity with souvenir shops, bars and restaurants.
Oak Bluffs offers a variety of beaches to enjoy. State Beach, famous for where Jaws was filmed, is known for its calm waters and is perfect for families (don't worry the shark was fake!). The Lagoon offers opportunities for sailing and kayaking, and Eastville Beach is a locals favorite for swimming and for watching the sunset.
Vineyard Haven (Tisbury)
Vineyard Haven is the busiest year-round town on the island. Originally called Holmes Hole during the 17th century, the town was a busy and active port, serving as a safe haven for fleets up and down the coast. Today it is the primary port for the Steamship Authority, welcoming visitors to the island.
The beauty of its past remains with its traditional buildings like the white steepled Tisbury Town Hall (which is also the Katharine Cornell Theatre), the Vineyard Playhouse, the Old Stone Church, and the West Chop Lighthouse. The William Street historic district brings people from all over the island for trick or treating at Halloween, and the classic New England waterfront homes of West Chop offer commanding views over the Vineyard Sound.
The cultural hub of Vineyard Haven is home to several Vineyard arts and entertaining venues. The Martha's Vineyard Museum, located at the former 1895 Marine Hospital, offers superb exhibits about the history and culture of the Island. The MV Film Society is open year round and hosts a variety of film events. The Martha's Vineyard Playhouse presents art, theater and summer camp and The Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center sponsors a popular summer speaker series and film festival. The Beach Road Festival, a 3-day music concert, takes place in Veterans Park during the summer.
Owen Park offers a town beach on the harbor and a bandstand with summer concerts. The village has fine restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, B&B’s, and wonderful ice cream and gourmet shops. Beyond the village are two popular bodies of water, Lake Tashmoo, a stunning lake which opens onto the Vineyard Sound, and Lagoon Pond over which the drawbridge crosses.
Five Corners, near the Steamship Authority, is the meeting place of five roads and zero traffic lights (there are no traffic lights on our island).
The rural town of West Tisbury developed in the 18th century around its streams and ponds. The settlers spread out to herd sheep and grow crops but came together in the town center. People still come to this picturesque hub. The West Tisbury Congregational Church, with its distinct white spire, has been here since 1865. The Grange Hall is the venue for antique shows , the Artisans Fair, and Martha's Vineyard Film festival events. The MV Agricultural Society hosts the bi-weekly farmers market and the Livestock Show and Fair in August. Alley's General Store has been in business “dealing in almost everything” since 1858. Across from Alleys are the new West Tisbury library and the Field Gallery which showcases Tom Maleys’ playful dancing sculptures. This is a lively location that brings art, food and neighbors together throughout the summer and off season.
Polly Hill Arboretum and the Cedar Tree Neck nature preserve attract visitors and locals while Lambert’s Cove Beach is beloved by town residents and renters who covet its sandy beach and tranquil waters. The topography varies greatly in West Tisbury; Lambert’s Cove area is hilly and wooded with tall oaks, pines, ponds and streams. The southern part of the town is flatter and leads to many secluded coves and ocean beaches. Long Point Wildlife Refuge, a spectacular 600 acre property owned by Trustees of Reservations, is open to the public and includes access to Tisbury Great Pond, a spectacular Atlantic Ocean beach, and miles of walking trails.