“People actually live there?” That’s the most common response when I say I grew up on Martha’s Vineyard. (The other two most popular: “That must have been weird” and “You are extremely lucky.” Both true.) It wasn’t until I was older that I realized how unique my childhood was: offseason days on quiet beaches from midmorning to sunset, and dinners made with the fish market’s freshest pick from that day’s haul. Here are some tips for finding the best of the Vineyard in summer — when the year-round population of 16,000 can swell to as much as 120,000 — including how to get that elusive quiet beach day and where to track down one of the freshest plates of oysters around.
Beach like you live here
No matter what you’re looking for in a beach, chances are the Vineyard can deliver it. Have a dog? Head to Lambert’s Cove in West Tisbury (westtisbury-ma.gov/Boards/park-and-rec.html) before 10 a.m. or after 6:30 p.m. for a romp. Like a handful of beaches on the island, Lambert’s Cove in season requires a resident sticker — check with your inn or rental in advance about getting one.
Families with young kids will find State Beach — formal name: Joseph Sylvia State Beach — in Oak Bluffs (dukescounty.org) relaxing and low-stress. With barely any waves, sections within walking distance of town (for food and bathrooms), and easy access to parking and public bus routes, it makes a day by the water a breeze.
If you’d prefer a private beach experience but don’t have a key or pass, Great Rock Bight Preserve in Chilmark (mvlandbank.com/34great.shtml) is open to the public. Park in the small lot and hike about 20 minutes until you come to an overlook. A staircase to the left leads down to one of the island’s quietest, most serene spots.
Into big surf and a lively scene? The south shore gets the biggest waves, and Edgartown’s South Beach (edgartown-ma.us) attracts a young crowd that’s perfect for people-watching.
High and dry
Not a beach person? Enjoy the great outdoors without getting wet in West Tisbury, where you’ll find whimsical sculptures at the Field Gallery (508-693-5595, fieldgallery.com) and winding paths and budding trees at the Polly Hill Arboretum (508-693-9426, pollyhillarboretum.org).
Or take the small car ferry over to Chappaquiddick (we call it Chappy) for a quiet — and free — afternoon in the Japanese-style gardens at Mytoi (508-627-7689, thetrustees.org/places-to-visit/cape-cod-islands/mytoi.html).
Shelter from the rain
If storms threaten, take heart. Treat the kids to a spin on the Flying Horses (508-693-9481, mvpreservation.org/properties/flying-horses-carousel) in Oak Bluffs, the oldest platform carousel in the country, then head across the street for pizza and family fare at Giordano’s (508-693-0184, giosmv.com), an island staple.
Satisfy your curiosity about the island’s past and present at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum (508-627-4441, mvmuseum.org) in Edgartown, which this summer features a photo exhibition on the immigrants who call the island home.
Despite the name, the Vineyard doesn’t have any commercial vineyards, but it does have two breweries. Bad Martha (508-939-4415, badmarthabeer.com) in Edgartown and Offshore Ale (508-693-2626, offshoreale.com) in Oak Bluffs both serve food as well as hyperlocal beer.
Or take in a movie. In addition to first-run theaters in Edgartown and Vineyard Haven, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center (508-696-9369, mvfilmsociety.com) in Vineyard Haven screens indie flicks. Though the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (508-645-9599, tmvff.org) is in March, the Summer Film Series schedules documentaries and festival-circuit narratives from June 28 through August, often with speakers included.
Think outside the dining room
Reservations are a must at top restaurants between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Note that Chilmark is dry, so BYOB. Aquinnah and West Tisbury allow beer and wine with meals. Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, and — for the first time this summer — Vineyard Haven issue full liquor licenses.
Plan for a special night out. My pick is the rustic State Road Restaurant in West Tisbury (508-693-8582, stateroadrestaurant.com), favored by locals as well as celebs like the Obamas. But some of the best meals are to be had in the unlikeliest of places.
Breakfast: Go to the source
For one of the tastiest starts to your day, head to the farm. In addition to its own produce, Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown (508-627-9003, morninggloryfarm.com) sells fresh-brewed coffee and homemade muffins — including its unmissable corn muffins (when in season), packed with fresh kernels from ears grown in the fields next door.
Lunch: Market watch
For a midday meal on the go, head to the West Tisbury Farmers Market at the Grange Hall on State Road (Saturdays and Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to noon, thewesttisburyfarmersmarket.com), and make a beeline for “the egg roll lady.” While many fans opt for her signature egg roll, I prefer the cold roll, a nice beach snack. Grab a drink at Great Tastes — fresh-squeezed lemonade, limeade, or a combination.
Dinner: Now face west
For a most romantic evening, plan on a sunset picnic in the fishing village of Menemsha. Budget time to park, and bring a bottle or two of chilled wine (the town is dry), then get in line at the tiny fish market Larsen’s (508-645-2680, larsensfishmarket.com) for a plate of shucked-to-order oysters. Eat right on the docks as the fishermen bring in the day’s haul or on the beach alongside the sunset gawkers. Steamers from Larsen’s make an excellent second course, and the Galley (508-645-9819, menemshagalley.com), known for soft-serve ice cream, is a short walk away.
Dine and dash
The Vineyard has been slow to take to mainland mainstays OpenTable, Uber, and Lyft. For restaurant reservations, your best bet is to call ahead. To catch a ride after dinner, try Your Taxi (508-693-0003) or Adam Cab (508-627-4462, adamcabmv.com).