Tourism on Martha's Vineyard—just "the Vineyard" to locals—began in the 1800s, when the island became a summer "camp" destination for Methodists from around the country who'd come for annual meetings, with a side of seafood and sea bathing. And while the island just eight miles off the coast of Cape Cod has since become a preferred getaway for presidents (from Kennedy to Obama) and celebrities (Jake Gyllenhaal and Chelsea Handler, for example), the quaintness has never really subsided—even as mainstream brands creep their way into town. (SoulCycle, for instance, has a pop-up kicking off July 3rd.)
Those who prefer it to Nantucket (and you're either a Vineyarder or a Nantucketer) say it's more laidback, less polished, a place where well-to-do New England meets town greens, lobster, and the men who fish for them.
Here are a few insider highlights
Where to Stay
The exterior of the Summercamp.
The former Wesley Hotel's recent makeover pays homage to Oak Bluffs's history with rustic touches like wall-mounted vintage tennis rackets, retro snacks in the Camp Canteen, and movie night in the rec hall, but there are plenty of modern draws, including bright décor and
70 Lake Avenue, Oak Bluffs, 508-693-6611
The exterior of the beachfront
The longstanding beachfront favorite excels
31 Dunes Road, Edgartown, 508-310-1733
LAMBERT'S COVE INN, FARM AND RESTAURANT
With 15 rooms spread across seven acres of gardens and a short walk to Lambert's Cove beach, the inn—universally regarded as the island's most romantic place to stay—offers easy access to activity, but plenty of corners to curl up with a book. You may find yourself reluctant to leave the grounds: With a newly expanded produce garden and the additions of 50 hens and two goats, Ava and Zsa Zsa, to provide fresh eggs and cheese, farm-to-table here is as authentic as it gets.
90 Manaquayak Road, Vineyard Haven
Where to Eat
The island's first craft beer and whiskey bar.
The island's first craft beer and whiskey bar (motto: "Do not fear the whiskey") classes up Oak Bluffs with an extensive list of American-made malts and blends and a sustainable, local menu to down them with (all food items come with suggested drink pairings). Go for brunch, where the chicken and waffles or baby burgers with glazed bacon settle in excellently with the off-menu Bloody Mary.
20bynine.com, 16 Kennebec Avenue, Oak Bluffs, 508-338-2065
NEWES FROM AMERICA PUB
If you want a classic Vineyard vibe—and some truly life-changing fish and chips—the Newes, at the base of Edgartown's historic Kelley House, won't disappoint. Limited release New England craft beers and live music find a home against the backdrop of a 1742-era building with exposed wooden beams and, best of all, plenty of local characters.
kelley-house.com, 23 Kelly St, Edgartown, 508-627-7900
THE PORT HUNTER + THE COVINGTON
One of Edgartown's most popular restaurants.
Since its 2012 opening, the Port Hunter—named after a British steamship that collided with ocean tug Covington off the coast of Massachusetts in 1918—has been one of Edgartown's hottest tables, with nautical decor and a seasonal menu. Summertime highlights include Buffalo brussels sprouts with blue cheese mousse, bluefish cakes, and fish tacos made with Vineyard flounder. Often-lengthy waits (it's that good) are made more bearable with
theporthunter.com, 55 Main Street, Edgartown, 508-627-7747, and 52 Main Street, Edgartown, 508-627-7678
BACK DOOR DONUTS
At night, the unassuming Martha's Vineyard Gourmet Café & Bakery opens its back doors to
mvbakery.com, 5 Post Office Square, Oak Bluffs, 508-693-3688
Where to Shop
ALLEY'S GENERAL STORE
The classic country store, and the island's oldest operating
mvpreservation.corg, 1041 State Road, West Tisbury, 508-693-0088
BUNCH OF GRAPES BOOKSTORE
The indie bookstore earned renown as an Obama family
THE ALLEN FARM SHEEP AND WOOL COMPANY
The historic family farm deals in friendly sheep, and visitor takeaways that include everything from grass-fed meat and eggs and gourmet items like olive oil, jams, and locally made sea salt mixes to knitwear, throws, and skeins of wool.
allenfarm.com, 421 South Road, Chilmark, 508-645-9064
What to Do
HIT THE BEACH
Gay Head Cliffs
Obviously! You really can't go wrong with any Vineyard beach (unless you expect Caribbean water temps; this is the northeast, after all). But certainly, each one has its own personality. South Beach, in the Katama section of Edgartown, is an easy all-ages choice, with a wide, sandy beach and lifeguards on duty (in season). Families also love Edgartown's Norton Point, the best parts of which are accessible only by 4x4, where a small bay opposite the roaring ocean suits children (don't forget your
RENT A JEEP
Renting a car makes for a fun and easy way to see the island.
It's not essential to have a car on-island—you'll find plenty to do within most towns, and taxis are easy enough to come by—but with so much acreage to explore, you'll be glad you did. Spring for a Jeep. You'll be glad you did that, too.
CATCH THE SUNSET AT MENEMSHA
GET SOME CULTURE AT MARTHA'S VINEYARD PLAYHOUSE
The non-profit professional
mvplayhouse.org, 24 Church Street, Vineyard Haven, 508-696-6300
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.