One in a series of pieces about seeing a New England favorite destination in a new way.
Sad to say goodbye to summer? We feel you. The season of lobster rolls, seaside strolls, and sangria on a sultry night can’t last long enough. What if we told you that you could capture that feeling for a day, or an entire weekend, with a mere ferry ride — no flying involved? We’re talking Martha’s Vineyard. Who knew this summertime standby could be so enchanting come fall?
“October is the best time to come to the Vineyard,” says Mary Lou Setaro, general manager of Summercamp Hotel in Oak Bluffs. “Everything’s open, the crowds are gone, and the weather is spectacular. It is just . . . magic.”
Make no mistake, the island isn’t a ghost town come fall. The ferries, running on a reduced schedule after Labor Day, are full of people and their dogs. Lots of dogs, no kids (the kids are in school), and babies galore. Not to mention, bridal parties. Fall destination weddings on Martha’s Vineyard (and Nantucket) are definitely A Thing. Every church on every corner will have dressed-up people spilling out of it, and a few passersby gathered to get a peek at the bride.
Our stool on the deck at the Lookout Tavern on a recent Saturday night revealed a cross-section of fall island-goers: A nursing mother trying to eat a two-fisted burger; an older couple from Vermont who were avoiding leaf peepers at home; and a bevy of bridesmaids wearing cowgirl hats. (“We have literally been drinking all day!,” one of these women confided to us.)
Rum punch with a view
The Lookout Tavern (www.lookoutmv.com) in Oak Bluffs belongs on your “endless summer” hit list. Located right across from the Steamship Ferry dock, it’s a great spot to dig into summertime flavors, like fresh oysters from Katama Bay, a sauteed lobster roll heralded as the best on the island, and a rum punch made with four different flavors of Cruzan rum. On a warm fall afternoon (they’re open for lunch and dinner), you could close your eyes and imagine you’re in the Caribbean — at least until someone says, “Can I get my burga supa rare?”
Colorful cottages minus the crowds
Fall is also a good time to admire the gingerbread extravaganza that is the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association. The 318 gaily-colored cottages date back to the 1860s when visitors came for Methodist revivalist services. At the time, there were actual tents mingled with the Carpenter Gothic cottages. Although tours of the campground have ended for the season, it’s still fun to explore, with the candy colors enhanced by brilliant foliage and the golden light of autumn.
All of the sightseeing, none of the traffic
Yes, the Vineyard gets fall color, and you’ll especially notice it as you head Up-island to the western side, toward West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah. The big white buses of the VTA (Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority; www.vineyardtransit.com ) travel that way, a good option if you’re not in a rush; you can even bring a bike on the bus. You can also rent a car or Jeep from Sun ‘n’ Fun Rentals (www.sunfunrentals.com) in Oak Bluffs. (Note that a Jeep will set you back around $300 for the day.) Or, hire a taxi for a scenic excursion. Oak Bluffs Land & Wharf Co. (www.vineyardhistory.com) offers a 2.5- to 3-hour island tour for $53. Traffic, what traffic? “I can get from one end of the island in half the time it takes in the summer,” a year-round resident shared.
Visit a forbidden beach
But if you’re trying to avoid thinking of fall, skip the woodland hikes in favor of long walks on the beach. The island’s Atlantic beaches, to the south, offer beautiful sandy stretches that are perfect for barefoot strolls. To the north, in Vineyard Haven, warm, relatively shallow Lake Tashmoo is a great spot for a late-season dip. Not to mention, the off-limits Lambert’s Cove Beach — arguably the most beautiful beach on the Vineyard — is open to non-townies in autumn.
Grab a coveted reservation
Most restaurants stay open until Columbus Day. Autumn is a grand time to book one of Edgartown’s culinary hot spots, say bistro-style Alchemy (www.alchemyedgartown.com), or oenophile favorite Détente (www.detentemv.com.)
Snap up a bargain
Restaurant prices, alas, don’t get lower after summer ends, but if you’re a shopper, ‘tis the season for bargains. We saw Sale signs in boutiques all over the island, including Rags on Dock Street (one of our favorites). It’s the end of the season, after all. If you’re into Vineyard Vines, founded by brothers Shep and Ian Murray, who summered on the island, you’re in luck — they’ve got three stores on the Vineyard. And you won’t believe Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs! That shopping/dining zone so overwhelmed with people in summertime? Now, it’s just the right amount of lively — and much more enjoyable when it’s not 90 degrees outside.
Hit the farmers’ market
Our favorite place to shop on the island is the Oak Bluffs Open Market, held Sundays in Washington Park. Count on a variety of locally grown produce, specialty foods, artisans, and vintage dealers, enhanced by live music by John O’Toole. The season runs until Oct. 9 this year. (The Chilmark Flea Market is closed for the season.)
Get an after-hours apple fritter
You may still run into lines at places like Back Door Donuts (www.backdoordonuts.com ) in Oak Bluffs, famous for their apple fritters and buttermilk glazed donuts. But these sugary gems are definitely worth a wait. Go in the morning to the cafe or after 7 p.m. for back door service (the back door closes on Oct. 14 this year.)
Raise a toast to summer at an outdoor bar
For many visitors, nothing says “Vineyard Summer” like a visit to the original Black Dog Tavern in Vineyard Haven (www.theblackdog.com), and it’s open in the fall — year-round in fact. But after Labor Day, you can easily snag a table overlooking the water. And that party-hearty zone of restaurants and bars, like Coop De ville and Nancy’s Restaurant, along the Oak Bluffs marina? Still hopping right now.
Stay at a summer camp-themed hotel
If you’re looking to make your forever-summer weekend as easy-breezy as possible, we’d suggest taking the Hy-Line Cruises ferry (operates through October; passengers only; www.hylinecruises.com) to Oak Bluffs, and proceeding across the street to Summercamp (www.summercamphotel.com; from $281 per night midweek; from $389 weekends), the last of Oak Bluffs’ grand hotels. Sitting at the northern end of the MV Camp Meeting Association campground, the hotel has been playfully reimagined with a summer camp theme. There’s a Camp Canteen with snacks and beverages, punches of vibrant color in the décor, and fun, theme-y touches, like archery arrows and badminton rackets as wall art. But the best part of this place is arguably the front porch, where “people get pizzas from Giordano’s and sit together and just soak up the harbor views,” according to Mary Lou Setaro.
Not a bad place to watch the pleasure boats and pretend it is still July. Long live summer on the Vineyard — even if the calendar says otherwise.
For information: To find out what’s open and closed, beyond what we’ve mentioned here, visit the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce website, www.mvy.com.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org