Earlier this summer I crossed another item off of my bucket list. I have always wanted to visit the New England islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. To experience what has drawn the local population of the nearby mainlands to summer at these challenging to get to destinations. Because we love traveling by train and wanted to experience the ferry ride from the mainland to the island(s), we were limited to visiting only Martha’s Vineyard. We went on Memorial Day weekend and the ferries from the mainland and the ferries between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket were not in service yet.
For a four-day weekend, Martha’s Vineyard served up plenty to do to fill our days and nights. The island is small enough to drop your bags in one location and see the rest of the island from wherever you choose to make base camp. Since we knew nothing about the island, and didn’t really know anybody who did, we chose the town based on the accommodation that drew us in. And for our wants and needs we chose well.
We began our journey on an Amtrak train from New York, arriving 3 hours later into New Bedford, Rhode Island – the suggested port for easiest access to Martha’s Vineyard. The sun was beginning to set as we neared the island and the air was crisp and clear with a hint of sea salt. Having no idea where we were going we relied on one of the many island buses lined up along the end of the dock ready to take the ferry passengers to their destination of choice. Driving by a spot on the island used to film part of Jaws, we made our way to our lodging for the weekend, The Charlotte Inn, in Edgartown.
The stay at the Charlotte Inn was a treat in itself. We could have easily spent every hour of our trip at the Inn and been content. Service is definitely job 1 at this place that has been owned by the same couple for over 40 years. They bought a dilapidated old hotel and spent years creating a homey, warm, inviting space that is full of character. In the ensuing years the owners bought four surrounding buildings, turning them all into uniquely, spacious, comfortable rooms. Every room has a library of interesting books and comfortable seating – indoors and outdoors. The immaculate condition of the Inn and the rooms was as I could as I have experienced anywhere.
The main building houses several sitting rooms, one with a roaring fireplace that we finished our days in, sipping on a cocktail, reading our books. The Inn’s restaurant, appropriately named The Terrace for its old world terrace look with French and Italian accenting, is a high-end dining experience of American cuisine. The owners live on the property and still work the reception desk, unloading delivery trucks, and walk the property to make sure their guests needs are being met. But our favorite part of our whole stay was our regular visits with the mascots of the Inn, the brother and sister Golden Retriever duo, Nicky and Bailey. They have free reign of their owner’s property and were always up for a good belly rub.
As for Edgartown, one needn’t leave this little village to be fulfilled. We started every day with a coffee or tea from Espresso Love, 3 blocks from our hotel. Then it was back to Main Street to make our way through the local independent bookstore, the boutique shops and the gallery showcasing local artists in a building that is 250 years old with original flooring and used to be a boat making building. For lunch we headed across the parking lot to take in some fresh seafood at the Seafood Shanty where we could watch a specialized mini-ferries transport 3 cars at a time from the Edgartown port across about 100 yd channel to Chappaquiddick Island – of famed Teddy Kennedy history.
As enjoyable as Edgartown is, there are other island destinations that are worth checking out. On Sunday morning, we rented bikes and made the 3-mile ride down to the long expanse of beach at Katama Beach (aka South Beach). The island is full of bike paths – from flat paved easy level trails to off-road dirt trails for the experienced rider. I’m sure in high-season Katama Beach is full of beachgoers – but on this weekend it was isolated and we enjoyed a nice private stroll before heading back to town on our bikes.
Another option to getting around the island is to rent a car. The rental places stock all kinds of fun rentals, from Jeep Wranglers to Mini-Cooopers to Mustangs and Camaros – and even a Ferrari or two – all convertibles of some sort. We ordered a Jeep Wrangler, but were given a Mini-Cooper – which was way roomier than we figured and even my 6’3″ husband squeezed into this snazzy little car. Two-lane roads wind around the island linking all the little towns together. With the wind blowing in our hair, we headed out to our first destination:
Chilmark – we headed directly to the north end of town to the fishing village of Menemsha, where we stood in line at Larsen’s Fish Market to order up a plate of fresh lobster – literally. You are given a freshly boiled whole lobster on a paper plate and a small cup of drawn butter, and not enough napkins. If you’re lucky enough to score one of three picnic tables, it’s a big help – it’s a messy undertaking getting at that sweet fresh lobster meat, but oh so worth it.
Aquinnah – situated on the farthest point on the west end of the island, this area is known for its untouchable clay cliffs, and for the Gay Head Lighthouse – no access is allowed to either. One of the first whaling ports in the US, this raw windy corner of the world has to be amazing for storm watching.
After a pit stop back at the Charlotte Inn for a rest and change of clothes it was off to dinner in the center of the island, at a working farm that doubles as an Inn with a fine dining restaurant, just outside of West Tisbury. The Lambert’s Cove Inn is tucked back into the deep woods of the island on a tight windy road that would be a tight fit for two cars to pass each other.
The next morning we hopped into the Mini-Cooper to check out the two remaining main towns on the island before catching the ferry back to the mainland:
Vineyard Haven – located on the northern tip of the island, this is one of the more populated towns on the island and similar to Edgartown has a few main streets lined with boutique shops, another great independent bookstore and wonderfully unique restaurants like the Waterfront Market. This is also where most of the larger ferries port, especially the ferries carrying vehicles.
Oak Bluffs – the largest town on the island, is home of the country’s oldest working merry-go-round and a collection of quaint gingerbread houses creating its own little unique neighborhood, covering several blocks. There is a large green space across the road from the port to sit and relax while waiting for your ferry. A great town to stay in for a younger family.
Martha’s Vineyard is a long way to go from most parts of the country, and not easy to get to from anywhere. I certainly understand why most people who go there, plan to stay for an extended period of time, many for the whole summer. Understandably a great draw for people who love to write, read, paint, love seafood and long walks. Sounds like heaven on earth to me!
Check my most recent food review post for reviews on island restaurants.