Lingering just off the south coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Martha’s Vineyard bed and breakfast options are world-renown for their high level of hospitality. Classic summer vacations full of sun, sea, watersports, and all the seafood you can stuff yourself with await.
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Almost in spite of today’s ultra-modern, complex world, this wonderful little island maintains its provincial Up-Island and Down Island geography. The Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven ferry services will deliver you to the eastern end of the island. After disembarking, you can head “up” or “down” island to the three delightful villages where the quiet ambiance beckons you to unwind from a wound-up world.
Lose yourself in the vestiges of a more relaxed, bygone era. Spend some time in the museums and galleries overflowing with maritime history and learn how the sea has sustained these communities over the centuries through fishing and whaling.
From here you have your choice of romantic seaside B&Bs with panoramic views of the surf in all its glory. Or you may choose a classic in-town retreat in Edgartown with a harbor view where you have everything you need within walking distance. Either way, you’re in for a treat – you can’t go wrong sequestered on this historic island with its centuries-old maritime history, endless ocean views, and beaches that stretch for miles.
One might get the impression that all the water, beaches, and surf have the corner market on activities on Martha’s Vineyard. There’s so much more to do, and you don’t have to look far to find it.
In addition to the swimming, surfing, kayaking, fishing, and board-walking, consider the galleries, museums, and lighthouses when it’s time for a break from all that sun, or the weather is great for a beach day. Edgartown Lighthouse is one of five on the island and was originally built in 1816. It was then the keeper’s residence but was demolished and rebuilt in 1939. Edgartown also boasts Katama Beach, a 3-mile long stretch of sand and surf where you can find your own spot of paradise for the day.
Martha’s Vineyard Museum in Vineyard Haven is an excellent outing for the kids to learn more about the history of the island and the surrounding region. And nearby Oak Bluffs has the Flying Horses Carousel, the oldest operating merry-go-round and a remarkable 19th-century relic featuring custom, hand-painted horses.
Chilmark is home to Lucy Vincent Beach that is a private beach during the peak summer months and only accessible to town residents and guests. However, it is open to the general public in the off-season. Several other beaches require parking permits, so be sure to check ahead and avoid those pesky parking tickets.
Menemsha Hills off the North Road in Chilmark has rocky cliffs and vistas to the Elizabeth Islands just across Woods Hole. The second highest point on the island will provide plenty of inspiring views so bring your camera.
And while you’re out west, visit Aquinnah. The town is located on the western end of the island and home to the Wampanoag native people who have lived here for centuries. Check out the clay cliffs and pack a lunch to enjoy the serenity.
It’s interesting how two islands within a few miles of each other can be so different. Both islands can only be reached by boat or plane, have plenty of beaches, and offer world-class seafood but the similarities pretty much end there.
Martha’s Vineyard, shaped like a shark’s tooth, or a French officer’s hat depending on your point of view, is twice the size of Nantucket Island. There is also variety to its landscape, whereas most of Nantucket can be seen from the road and has a high point of 111 feet.
The misnomer of “vineyard” remains despite there being only one of them on the island, and it is a retail store. Menemsha Hills in the west is home to rolling hills that provide excellent vantage points for viewing the whole island. And the cliffs that slope down to the sea at Aquinnah are prime spots for elevated ocean vistas as well. Tisbury overlooks a natural harbor so there are lots of great photo ops available.
And speaking of photo ops, there’s a regular visitor to the area that provides dramatic backdrop – fog. Often burning off by noon, it can make those early morning walks on the beach surreal. Photographing sailboats, lighthouses, and the rising or setting sun through a shroud of fog creates elements of composure, lighting, and contrast not found by the use of any filter.
Chappaquiddick Island is probably the best known, or perhaps infamous, name in these parts of New England. A small island with only four miles of paved road, it is a beautiful place to visit for peace and solitude. Much of the island is protected under long-standing conservation agreements. The island also provides an interesting perspective on Edgartown – once on Chappaquiddick you can see the entire harbor, lighthouse, outer harbor, and beyond.
Polly Hill Arboretum is another horticultural place of respite. Legendary Polly Hill created the haven in 1958 and saw to the transplant and nurturing of exotic plants from all over the world. A place of beauty and restoration for all.
For bird lovers, Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary is a must! Don’t be put off by the small turn-off sign that’s easy to miss or the half-mile dirt road to get to the entrance. Once there, you’ll be glad you made the effort. In addition to the multitude of birds on display, there are several quiet walking trails on which to enjoy the peaceful surroundings.
Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association is a celebration for those looking for spiritual refreshment that has ministered to countless thousands of locals, visitors, and campgrounders through cultural, religious, and community programs.
Mytoi Japanese Garden is one of those places that at first seems out of place, maybe even disconnected from the rest of the island. Created by the late Chappy resident Hugh Jones, this fourteen-acre sanctuary is home to many exotic plants laid out in Japanese garden style. If you’re looking for the ultimate in serene, pay a visit for a soul-enriching experience.
An alternative to the grocery store can be found at Morning Glory Farm. Since 1975 every fruit and vegetable type fit for the table is available here. And don’t miss out on the fresh-baked pies made daily!
Settled in the early 1600s by an Englishman who discovered wild grapevines on the island and supposedly named the island after his daughter, Martha’s Vineyard played a significant role in the early days of the whaling industry. By the mid-1600s, several English noblemen staked out a settlement that would become known as Edgartown.
As the whaling industry flourished in the 18th century, Nantucket Island was known for its shipbuilding and Martha’s Vineyard the supplier of captains and crew members. In an interesting twist of fate, as the great whaling ships returned from their months-long voyages laden with heavy cargo of whale oil, their ships were too low in the water to access the shallow ports in Nantucket. Edgartown, on the other hand, had no such issues with their deeper ports and became wealthy beyond belief.
Sea captains and marine merchants built huge mansions to raise families and entertain guests with sumptuous parties between voyages. A ripe old time it was until kerosene was discovered in Pennsylvania, which began the decline of the whaling industry. By the late 19th century, the whaling had collapsed.
People turned to other pursuits, many of which were still dependent on the sea. However, the days of the massive fortunes were all but over. Until the mid-20th century, that is, when wealthy business owners and politicians began to return to the island as a respite from their hectic lives.
The Kennedy family took up residence and were soon followed by other A-listers of fame and fortune from the entertainment, real estate, and commercial investment industries. Driving prices up to astronomical heights for everything imaginable, Martha’s Vineyard became home to the wealthy, rich, and famous looking for that elusive privacy their fortunes were able to buy them.
Unlike neighborly Nantucket to the east, whose weather is more greatly influenced by the Gulf Stream, Martha’s Vineyard’s nearer proximity to the mainland will see its forecasts fall more in line with those inland. Breezy and humid with afternoon showers can be counted on during the summer months. Local forecasts can vary depending on whether onshore or offshore winds are prevailing. Overall though, expect warm to mild temperatures throughout spring, summer, and fall.
Summer highs are tempered with the cooling sea breezes with July being the hottest month of the year and June being the driest. Winters are typically frigid, wet, and very windy, making for extremely uncomfortable conditions. Annually, temperatures usually range from lows in the mid-20s Fahrenheit to highs in the low 80s. Rarely do the extremes run below 15 degrees F, or higher than 85 degrees F.
It pays to keep an eye on the sky all year round as hurricanes that pummel the southeast and Mid-Atlantic states often continue wreaking havoc all the way to the New England coast. And don’t be caught off guard during the spring and autumn shoulder seasons as powerful storms can roll in from the North Atlantic at any time.
The island is host to more than just seafood but that’s a great place to start. A steaming cup of chow-dah followed by a lobster roll and chased by a cold beer is the bomb any day of the week. A foodie’s paradise that knows no bounds, you’re as likely to discover a new passion for your palette as well as that fix for an old favorite.
From upscale restaurants and fancy bistros to clam shacks and food trucks, there just isn’t any average cuisine to be found on the island. The ubiquitous seafood aside, there’s room to explore fresh-made sushi, farm to fork produce that can be a meal in itself. Locally-sourced meats and cheeses as well as minutes-old pastries and desserts will have you wondering when the next mealtime is!
For decades the Martha’s Vineyard bed and breakfast scene remained somewhat of a cottage industry and a bit sleepy, if comfortable in its own skin. Many still offer this downbeat ambiance as a selling point.
Victorian-style architecture often coupled with a variety of colors highlights the life and energy the innkeepers want to reflect. New money and a more refined business approach also drive today’s havens of upscale hospitality.
Boutique guest rooms are sanctuaries in their own right at high-end B&Bs, while some even offer a full guest house for a unique experience. Private beaches are an added feature at some properties and inspire premium rates for peak season vacation rentals.
The B&B innkeepers go the extra mile to ensure all the modern amenities, and then some, are included in your stay. And for good reason – the bed & breakfast market is a competitive one. Although thousands of tourists flock to the island each summer, innkeepers do all they can to make their properties as inviting as possible. Naturally, the guests benefit.
It’s often said in the business world that the fine points of a deal are what wins it. Many guests feel the same way about the inn they will select. As much as the standard amenities such as free wifi, air conditioning (a must in the sultry summer), and hairdryer are expected, other refinements may include a private bath, flat-screen TV, and organic or name-brand toiletries. Continental breakfast is usually an option, even if there is a more formal start to the day. And properties that snug up to the beach may even provide that beach vacation essential, the fire pit.
It’s always a good idea to confirm before check-in which ones offer free versus paid add-ons so there are no surprises at checkout. Parking is also an item to double-check on due to space limitations at many seaside properties.
Once you cross Vineyard Sound from the mainland and disembark at either Oak Bluffs or Vineyard Haven, you have easy access by taxi, Uber, or your own car to the down-island town of Edgartown. Those arriving at Oak Bluffs can arrive at your destination after a short walk.
Numerous shuttles and trolleys provide great convenience whisking you to just about any desired location among the villages. Of course, Uber or your own car will see you to the sights and communities further away after a short drive.
Bicycling is strongly suggested not because of any laws or restrictions but because it’s merely the best way to see all that the island has to offer. Get out a ways from the villages and you may have the road to yourself. It can be done rather easily too, owing to the excellent paths and trails, many of which are paved. There is an ample number of bike rental shops in any of the villages also.
A vacation at a Martha’s Vineyard bed and breakfast in Edgartown is one of those bucket list items. Classic seaside scenery, salty tang in the humid breeze, and somebody somewhere close is grilling lobster! Does it get any better?
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Ashley Inn is the definition of refinement wrapped in this elegant Georgian home. Funny name but serious luxury awaits at Nobnocket Boutique Inn in Vineyard Haven, exquisitely updated in 2016. Not to be outdone by its neighbor, Oak Bluffs Inn is another top-rated bed and breakfast in Martha’s Vineyard and is within walking distance of the village. Within short walking distance of the Vineyard Haven ferry is Tisbury’s Crocker Inn and its wrap-around porch where you can enjoy passersby while relaxing. Dockside Inn has twenty-two rooms and harbor views that go with the convenience of all the nearby village services.
Undoubtedly one of the best bed and breakfast retreats Martha’s Vineyard has to offer is the secluded Lambert’s Cove Inn in West Tisbury. Originally built as a farmhouse in 1790, it has been recently renovated and features a general store and award-winning restaurant.