Martha’s Vineyard Island lies 7 miles off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. It is 9 miles wide and 23 miles long at its furthest points and has a total land area of just under 100 square miles. Martha’s Vineyard has 125 miles of tidal shoreline and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
There are six towns on Martha’s Vineyard, three up-island towns—Aquinnah, Chilmark (which includes Menemsha), and West Tisbury—and three down-island towns—Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown (which includes Chappaquiddick). The terms up-island and down-island originated as nautical references to degrees of longitude on navigational maps, but today they more commonly refer to the different “states of mind” of the island towns: “up-island” being more remote and laid-back and “down-island” being more active and bustling. The population of Martha’s Vineyard is approximately 15,000 year-round and 115,000 during the summer months.
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The seaside village of Vineyard Haven, which is also known as Tisbury, is the main entry point to the island of Martha’s Vineyard via the Steamship Authority ferry from Woods Hole. Nestled in a cove that was once the site of a prominent whaling station, Vineyard Haven, MA is a popular summer vacation destination, but attracts the adventurous year-round. Although many of Vineyard Haven’s historic buildings were destroyed by fire in 1833, there are several historic homes that survived and continue to stand proudly on William Street, overlooking the harbor.
Vineyard Haven, on the island of Martha’s Vineyard is home to a bustling year-round Main Street of shops, restaurants, and the Capawock movie theater. Owen Park, just a short walk up Main Street has breathtaking views of the harbor and is a great spot for an afternoon picnic. The Vineyard Playhouse and the Katharine Cornell Theater offer professional theater, concerts and an eclectic array of year-round entertainment.
[su_tab title=”Oak Bluffs”]Oak Bluffs MA on the island of Martha’s Vineyard was first settled in 1642 and originally began as the center for tourism on the Vineyard. It also became a center of the thriving 19th century Methodist movement and the colorfully ornate cottages in which members built, known as the Gingerbread Cottages. Each August campground members still hold “The Grand Illumination” an event in which residents decorate their colorful cottages with Chinese Lanterns. The evening starts with a community sing-along and band concert and is concluded with the ceremonial lighting of the lanterns.
Oak Bluffs is also the home to the Flying Horses Carousel the oldest platform carousel still in operation. All ages enjoy trying to catch the brass ring on the carousel, in hopes of winning a free ride.
The harbor in Oak Bluffs is a great place to kick back, watch the boats and grab a bite to eat. There is a bustling nightlife in the town of Oak Bluffs as well, with a variety of restaurants, clubs and bars.[/su_tab]
The rolling hills and stone walls of the up-island town of Chilmark MA, boast some of the island’s most breathtaking views. The scenery of Chilmark includes sheep farms, winding country roads lined with vegetable stands and colorful harbors bustling with boats.
Chilmark is home to the quaint fishing village of Menemsha MA. Menemsha is one of the most photographed spots on the island with its busy harbor port, charming beach and colorful sunsets. Folks will gather each evening on the beach or docks with lobster clambakes from the nearby seafood markets to watch the glorious sunsets. Menemsha is also home to some very famous scenes from the movie “Jaws.”
The town has several sanctuaries and preserves, the largest of which being the Menemsha Hills Reservation owned by the Trustees of Reservations. This preserve has three miles of wooded trails and beaches to explore along with scenic views of the Gay Head Lighthouse.
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Aquinnah MA, is located on the western tip of the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Prior to 1998 the town was officially known as Gay Head, which it is still called by most Islanders. The original name of Gay Head was given by its’ American Indian founders, the Wampanoag Tribe. Aquinnah is known for its beautiful clay cliffs and quiet natural serenity. Below the clay cliffs lies one of the few nude beaches left in the United States.
Gay Head has become celebrated as a center of Wampanoag culture and a center of pride and tradition among members of the tribe, who make up about one-third of the town’s voters. The Wampanoag Tribe runs the Aquinnah Cultural Center which has a museum dedicated to the history and culture of the tribe.
The Gay Head Lighthouse is the jewel of the town, with its’ picturesque setting high on a hill overlooking the clay cliffs. Run by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, the lighthouse offers sunset tours during the summer months.