If you’ve heard the name but can’t place Martha’s Vineyard, let me enlighten you: it’s actually an island off the coast of Massachusetts on the eastern coast of the USA, just south of Cape Cod. Home to around 15,000 residents, Martha’s Vineyard sees an annual summer influx of affluent travellers, which this year includes the Obamas!
Join the rich and famous in Oak Bluffs
Martha’s Vineyard was named in 1602 by the English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold and the most popular spot on the island today is Oak Bluffs on the north east tip. Celebrities and affluent travellers flock here in their thousands, drawn to the vibrant town, superb beaches and wildlife preserves. Families will enjoy the designated walking trails through the marshes, shores and woods of both Pecoy Point Preserve and Farm Pond Preserve. The Oak Bluffs beaches are perfect for families to go swimming and snorkelling as there is minimal surf. Try the East Chop Beach which overlooks Nantucket Sound, The Inkwell beach or try shell fishing on Joseph Silvia Beach (permit required).
Admire the cute Gingerbread Cottages
No trip to Oak Bluffs would be complete with taking a trip around the fairytale-inspired Gingerbread Cottages. The 300 or so cutesy cottages are decorated in dreamy pastel colours and have suitably dreamy names such as Angel Cottage and the Pink House. Built in the mid 1800’s by the local church, the cottages are just as dainty on the exterior as the exterior would suggest.
Catch the Grand Illumination Night Festival
For just one night each year (the third Wednesday of August) the Gingerbread Cottages are lit up with colourful Chinese and Japanese lanterns during the Grand Illumination Night. This is one of the cultural highlights of Martha's Vineyard's summer calendar. The community gets together for a sing-along and a band performs in the Tabernacle.
The island celebrates a whole host of festivals throughout the year with two popular island-wide festivals taking place each fall. The annual Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby (September/October) celebrates all things fishing and the four day annual Food and Wine Festival (October) is self-explanatory!
Pack your hiking boots and explore Martha’s Vineyard on foot
There are six towns on Martha’s Vineyard spread across an area 87.48 sq mi (226.57 km2) and the best way to get to know this beautifully diverse landscape is to either get on your bike or lace up your hiking boots. This island is incredibly well set up for hikers with many designated walking trails both inland and along many miles of stunning coastline.
- Aquinnah - Explore beautifully rural Aquinnah’s magnificent cliffs and beach, and a climb up the 150 feet high cliffs affords a superb view over the shoreline below.
- Chilmark – Follow the trails though the 46 acre Fulling Mill Brook Preserve in the town of Chilmark, which is rich in fruit bushes. The trail leads to one of the highest points on the island and there is also a superb trout stream within the preserve.
- Edgartown – Spot endemic animals, plants and birds within the vast 200 acre Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary which is punctuated with rich marshlands and natural lakes.
- Oak Bluffs – get away from the bustle of the town for a few hours at the Pecoy Point Preserve which is set over 14 acres and includes a spectacular frontage on Sengekontacket Pond.
- Tisbury Meadow – Actually comprising three preserves, Tisbury Meadows offers the most rewarding walking trails on the island.
- West Tisbury – Try walking and exploring the vast Sepiessa Point Reservation on horseback. Spanning 164 acres, this nature haven offers canoeing, swimming and sailing, amongst other adventure activities.
Explore the intriguing historical sites
Martha’s Vineyard has more than enough museums, art galleries and historical sites to keep you interested during your stay. Don’t miss the 17th century Vincent House Museum and the magnificent Old Whaling Church which tells the history of whaling on the island. Admire the Pagoda Tree which was planted here in the mid-19th century when it was carried back from China and visit the Menemsha Fishing Village which you’ll recognise from the Steven Spielberg Jaws movies!
There are also several impressive lighthouses including the West Chop Lighthouse, the Edgartown Lighthouse and the Aquinnah Lighthouse which each tell their own tale.
Try a spot of surfing
The ocean-side beaches offer the large waves which are perfect for surfing, although the rips and undertows can be ferocious. Beginners can wet their feet on the Nantucket Sound side which offers medium waves courtesy of the Atlantic. Try the Katama and South Beach in Edgartown and experienced surfers can check out Moshup Beach.
Practice your backswing on the local Golf courses
Martha’s Vineyard has two very good public golf courses as well as a mini golf course, perfect for the whole family. Farm Neck Golf Club overlooks the beach and Sengekontacket Pond and offers an 18 hole, par 72 championship course which is lauded as the best golf course within New England. Alternatively, check out the Mink Meadows Golf Club which overlooks the ocean at Vineyard Haven and a gentler 9 hole pace.
Image Credit; Wikipedia