Easy to reach from either the Boston or New York areas, Martha’s Vineyard is a laid-back island with beaches, historic attractions and lots of outdoor activities for families. Walk, bike, paddle or sail here for an active, stress-free vacation, but with culture and fine dining just as available.
Edgartown, a beautiful, small, New England town on the ocean, boasts its own harbor for small craft, where you’ll see sailing and motor yachts, as well as small local fishing boats. Rent motor boats or charter these or sailboats for a cruise around the island.
The town is filled with beautifully restored and maintained 18th- and 19th-century buildings, and it’s the main shopping town, with fine clothing, art galleries, gift shops and souvenirs, as well as dining and an ice cream shop near the waterfront. A big hit with kids is watching as candy makers at Murdick’s Fudge pour out batches of peanut brittle and fudge.
In Edgartown you will also find the Chappy On-Time ferry shuttling back and forth across the narrow body of water separating Chappaquiddick from the main island. The on-time designation signifies there is no schedule, so it is always on time. As a practical matter it is constantly in motion transferring a few cars, bicyclists and walkers to one of New England’s great natural areas.
The Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge covers miles of fragile sand dunes along the outer eastern end of the island. It is run by the Trustees of Reservations, a private, non-profit, conservation organization. More than 14 miles of trails wind through the reservation with views of the Atlantic beaches and Cape Poge Bay. You can drive to the reservation, but you must park at the gatehouse. Take one of the frequent guided tours — which includes the 1895 lighthouse — with a trained interpreter to get the most out of the visit. The Trustees also offer guided kayak tours, and maintain Mytoi Garden, an attractive, Japanese-style garden near the entrance.
Katama Bay separates Chappaquiddick from the rest of the island. On the west side of the bay, don’t miss seeing the Farm Institute, an ecological and conservation organization fostering better land use and sustainable agriculture. Nearby is Katama Airfield, a rare chance to see what aviation was like in its infancy and watch vintage, open-cockpit WACO aircraft fly. Adventurous teens will beg to take a flight in one of the biplanes.
North of Edgartown is picture-perfect Oak Bluffs, a collection of gingerbread Victorian homes that began as small summer cottages for Methodist religious revivals. The Cottage Museum tells the history, and the Tabernacle in the center of the park is used for performances. Kids will want to ride the vintage wooden horses on the Flying Horse Carousel, the oldest in the United States. You can rent kayaks in Oak Bluffs to explore the shore or take the kids on a cruise in a pirate ship.
Bicycling is one of the island’s most popular activities. Relatively flat and rolling, its roads offer easy peddling. Be aware, however, the roads are narrow and traffic can sometimes be heavy in more popular places. So with children it’s safer to stick to bike paths and more remote areas.
Bicycles are a good way to get to Lobsterville Beach in Aquinnah, two miles of beautiful beach and dunes on the quiet waters of Vineyard Sound, as parking is not allowed on Lobsterville Road. The best beaches for swimming are on the island’s northern and eastern shores, where the water tends to be shallow and clear.
Menemsha Public Beach, beside Menemsha Harbor, is open to the public, as is East Beach in the Cape Pogue Wildlife Refuge on Chappaquiddick Island.
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