The Island Life

Martha’s Vineyard is a refreshing blend of the cosmopolitan and the simple life — and most definitely, the romantic. Watching the shoreline move into view from the outdoor deck of one of the Island's big ferries is awe-inspiring. People making the trip say they begin to drop the cares and concerns of their mainland life at almost that instance.

The Vineyard, and the Vineyarders, then work hard to make sure you keep that feeling. While the Island is dotted with elegant restaurants, few of them require more than casual clothing. Some of the favorites, like The Galley and The Bite in the fishing village of Menemsha in Chilmark, aren’t more than permanent huts with a few picnic tables. There are no fast food chains on the Island (the attempt several years ago to locate the Golden Arches here led literally to an Island-wide revolt), and only a few chain clothing stores of any kind.

Life is slower and the pleasures are simpler: there are no multiplexes, only four old-fashioned movie theatres (one in Edgartown, two in Oak Bluffs, and one in Vineyard Haven) showing the same two or three movies on a rotating basis. A good day may start with a trip to the Farmer's Market held each Wednesday and Saturday at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury, and a good night may end with a Wednesday community sing at the outdoor Tabernacle on the Martha's Vineyard Campgrounds in Oak Bluffs.

Visitors and residents have five grocery stories to choose from, including two Stop 'N Shops (one in Edgartown and one in Vineyard Haven). There are also three locally owned stores, two Cronig's Markets (one in Vineyard Haven and one in West Tisbury) and the Reliable Self-Serve Market in downtown Oak Bluffs. Supplementing those, though, are distinctively "Vineyard" shopping opportunities – farm stands that stock only locally grown, usually organic products, honor system flower stands that let you pick and pay without ever seeing another person or the amusing offerings at Alley's General Store in West Tisbury where a bobble-head Sigmund Freud doll may share the same grocery bag as a quart of milk. One word of caution: It's an island. Prices are high. Nothing offends an Islander more than over-hearing complaints about quality and costs since they pay them year-round.

Martha's Vineyard is a paradise for those who love the outdoors. With 124.6 square miles of shoreline, there are beaches of all kinds: rocky, wild ones along the Chilmark and Aquinnah coasts of the Atlantic Ocean, the big waves of South Beach in Edgartown, the usually gentle, family-friendly beaches along Beach Road that borders Nantucket Sound between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, the small but pristine Vineyard Sound shoreline along Lambert's Cove Road in West Tisbury, the usually packed but happy scene that abuts the fishing jetty in Menemsha, the breathtaking views of Chappaquiddick's Wasque Point. In some cases, the Island even allows those with annual over-sand vehicle permits to drive the beaches. Supplementing the beaches are dozens of ponds, some fresh and some salt water, where kayakers or canoers, swimmers, sailors, and picnickers can spend hours on the water or on blankets on the shore.

The Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby fishing tournament held in the fall brings hundreds of dedicated fishermen here every year, and there are plenty of "secret" fishing spots guarded by serious fishermen. But a more casual approach can be found on almost every beach and from the Edgartown Memorial Wharf, where children and adults alike cast their hopes into the waters surrounding Martha's Vineyard. And, if you're trying to multi-task, the harbor at Oak Bluffs is a wireless computer hotspot – fishing, gawking and 'net surfing all available from a harbor-side outdoor bench.

When you want to stretch your sea legs, the Island offers miles of trails across protected lands and through myriads of terrain. The glacier that moved across the land thousands of years ago left the gifts of rolling landscape Up Island that resemble nothing less than Ireland's green hills. The 5100-acre Manual F. Correllus State Forest in mid-Island is the perfect place to run, horseback ride, hike, mountain bike, walk, or on a rare day in winter, cross-country ski. Maps and guidebooks can be found in the Island's three bookstores that identify the locations of all public trails on the Vineyard.

Visitors and Islanders alike mark the progression of the season through a few key events – the July 4 parade in Edgartown that starts it, the Agricultural Fair in West Tisbury, and the fireworks in Oak Bluffs that traditionally signal summer's end. Although the true summer season here is only the two months of July and August, those who own seasonal homes are now extending their time here into October, waiting to close their Martha's Vineyard homes and wrap their shrubs with protective burlap until after they've gotten every pleasure from the Island.

The mild fall, facilitated by the surrounding water that cools slowly, keeps the Vineyard warmer long past Cape Cod and the mainland's own fall. The long fall allows the Vineyarders who have worked all summer taking care of Island summer visitors to enjoy the beaches, restaurants -- and each other. When the weather finally does close in and many of the shops and restaurants shut down, the Island goes back to the pace that was probably more familiar fifty years ago. Those are the days when Linda Jean's Restaurant in Oak Bluffs quits serving dinner at 7, and Espresso Love in Edgartown shuts down so its owner/chef can take a six week trip to Europe to learn new cooking techniques.

Yet, as one 13th generation Islander puts it, "Winter is when we get really busy."

Learn more about Martha’s Vineyard!

Today on the Vineyard | History of MV | Island Video Tour

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