There are times on Martha's Vineyard when you're literally walking on rose petals. The roses that line the streets of Edgartown, decorate the yards of Vineyard Haven, grow wild along the beaches of Oak Bluffs, Chilmark and Aquinnah and sprout unexpectedly in the fields of West Tisbury at the site of a long-disappeared house, all sprinkle their petals in a cool island breeze.
Those are the moments when buying a home on an island seven miles off the Cape Cod coast and accessible only by water or air makes perfect sense.
Martha's Vineyard Today
Today, Martha's Vineyard is home to about 15,000 year-round residents, a number that swells to about 100,000 in summer, when those who either own or rent real estate return for magical weeks to enjoy the Vineyard's beaches, six towns, beautiful water and inland vistas, and to find entertainment that is quintessentially "Island."
Most of these visitors arrive by car ferries run by the Nantucket/Martha's Vineyard Steamship Authority that leave Woods Hole, MA, and regularly arrive and depart on the Vineyard from Oak Bluffs or Vineyard Haven (also known as Tisbury. Others take the passenger-only New England Fast Ferry from New Bedford, MA, or convenient commercial or private flights to the Vineyard's small but fully-appointed airport. If visitors don't bring a car, they can rely on both the Vineyard Transit Authority system that traverses all of Martha's Vineyard, as well as taxis and rental agencies for bikes, cars, and mopeds.
But don't be fooled by the word "island" – Martha's Vineyard is 100 square miles, almost nine miles wide and twenty-three miles long. Although the Island is bike-friendly and there are a series of bike paths through the most developed parts, much of it is rolling terrain that can challenge all but the strongest bikers, and the towns themselves are miles apart.
For those looking to vacation or move here, there are infinite possibilities for Martha's Vineyard real estate including rentals, home, or vacant land purchases. Want a quaint fishing camp? An elegant in-town clapboard home? A casual beach cottage? A large accommodating house for a family reunion? A piece of land with a spectacular view? Unlike many vacation resorts, the Vineyard has a wide and unusual selection available, in great part because it's still a "lived in" community.
Vineyard Villages & Neighborhoods
Each of the Island's six towns has very different and intricate personalities, and each offers its own entertainments:
- Edgartown, the oldest of the towns, is a charming New England village, complete with white church spires and elegant historic homes. Located on a natural harbor, it also has one of the largest public beaches on the Island, South Beach.
- Oak Bluffs is a beach town, a little rougher around the edges than Edgartown, but filled with fun restaurants, shops and instant access to the water and beaches. It is also the home of the Martha's Vineyard Campmeeting, a 150-year-old area of colorful "gingerbread" homes built as part of a Methodist summer retreat.
- Vineyard Haven is traditionally the Island's most year-round community, in great part because of the year-round departure and arrival of the ferries. During the summer season, hundreds of wooden boats are moored in the harbor there, including two elegant tall ships owned by the well-known The Black Dog Company. The village includes a number of art museums exhibiting local and off-Island talent.
- West Tisbury is the Island's farming community, and its tiny town village, with a church, town hall, and general store, is the perfect gathering spot for townsfolk and visitors who want to catch up on the latest news.
- Chilmark, sometimes gently referred to as the "independent state of Chilmark" because of the self-sufficiency of its more isolated community, is a collection of beautiful and sometimes rustic homes set on rolling land, many with views of the seas. Its community center, the Chilmark Store a few hundred yards away, and the town-only beaches along its shore are the residents' and visitors' social gathering spots.
- Aquinnah, at the very tip of Martha's Vineyard, is the tribal home of the Vineyard's original settlers, the Wampanoag Tribe, and is also the place of the Island's only true "tourist attraction," the colorful clay cliffs of Gay Head, protected by historic designation. Like much of the Vineyard, homes here are often sparsely placed along dirt roads, and the social life revolves around the beaches.
Up Island vs. Down Island
One of the first questions a Sandpiper agent may ask is if you prefer to be in a town or in a more rural setting – and that often translates into homes or property Up Island or Down Island. The terms have maritime roots. The Up-Island and Down Island references are part of the inescapable history of the Vineyard, and color almost all facets of life here: the life of the sea. When a vessel travels down its longitude, it is heading east. When traveling up its longitude, it is heading west. Therefore, western parts of the Island – West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah – are referred to as Up Island. The eastern towns of Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown are referred to as Down Island. For the Vineyard, the more populous communities are Down Island – although there are plenty of secluded spots.