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Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts Travel Guide
 
Last Updated: Nov-19-2012, Hits: 2,335, Rating: 0, Reviews: 0, Votes: 0 Bookmark and Share
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Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts Travel Guide Hotels and Lodging (50)
Restaurants (57)
Bars and Nightlife (12)
Attractions (34)
Services (24)
Maps (3)
Links (5)
Massachusetts Travel Forum (1)
 
Location: North America
Geography: Island, Beach, Wetlands/Swamp
Vacation Type: Family, Romantic, Relaxation, Culture and History
Popularity: Touristy
Costs: Moderate, Expensive
Attractions: Golfing, Spa & Wellness, Shopping, Hiking, Fishing, Festivals, Cultural Attractions, Boating, Food Destination, Historical Sites, Surfing

Facts and Stats:
Population: 15,000
Land Area: 87.48 square miles
Elevation: Sea level
Country Dialing Code: 1
Area Code: 508
Languages: English
Electricity: 110V
Currency: US Dollar
Time Zone: Eastern: UTC-5/-4
Current Time:

Introduction:
The island of Martha's Vineyard is best known as an upscale summer retreat off the coast of Massachusetts. The island's charming Colonial architecture only houses about 15,000 year-round residents, however, the population can swell to 125,000 people when tourists arrive to enjoy the beaches, nature preserves, shopping, dining, and history.

Geography:
Martha's Vineyard is located in Dukes County and is the 58th largest island in the United States. It is the 3rd largest island on the East Coast. The island is located 4 miles across the Vineyard Sound from Cape Cod, Massachusetts on the mainland. The island is 20 miles long and 2-10 miles wide with a highest point of 311 feet.

Martha's Vineyard has 6 unique towns. The bulk of tourist traffic occurs "Down Island" in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Vineyard Haven (Tisbury) on the east side of the island. The "Up Island" towns of Aquinnah, West Tisbury, and Chilmark are quieter.

Chappaquiddick Island, considered part of Edgartown, is located just a few hundred feet across a channel to the east of Martha's Vineyard. The 2 islands were once connected by Norton Point Beach, however, a major storm in April 2007 wiped out the connecting beach.

Brief History:
Martha's Vineyard was originally inhabited by the Wampanoag Indians who referred to the island as Noepe which translates to "Land amid the streams". The Wampanoag inhabited the island as early as 2270 B.C. according to carbon dates from the remains of their camps.

Bartholomew Gosnold from England arrived in 1602, and named a small island to the south "Martha's Vineyard" which was later transferred to the current location.

Thomas Mayhew from Bay Colony purchased Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and the Elizabeth Islands for 40 pounds. In 1642, the first white settlement was established at Great Harbour, now known as Edgartown. The settlement was run by Thomas Mayhew, Jr. until his father arrived and established himself governor. At this time, there were an estimated 3,000 Wampanoag Indians residing on the island, however, diseases brought by the English dropped their numbers to about 2,000. Despite the illnesses, the settlers and Indians lived in peace and prosperity for generations.

By 1764, the number of Wampanoag had dwindled to 313.

The American Revolution brought hardship to Martha's Vineyard when 40 British ships sailed into Vineyard Haven Harbor on September 10, 1778. The British burned the islander's boats, and seized large numbers of sheep and cattle.

During the 19th century, whaling brought prominence and great wealth to Martha's Vineyard, however, the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania caused the industry to collapse by 1870.

Islanders survived with their farming and fishing industries, and a new industry began to evolve out of Methodist camps that began in 1835. The annual camps grew in popularity, and eventually, the word spread that Martha's Vineyard was a nice place to get away from it all. Around the time that the whaling industry died, vacation homes began popping up, and the transformation to a famous tourist destination had begun. The completion of the railroad to Woods Hole on the mainland in 1872 further bolstered tourism.

On July 18, 1969, Mary Jo Kopechne was killed on Chappaquiddick Island in a car driven by Ted Kennedy. Ted Kennedy fled the scene and did not report the accident for 9 hours. The Chappaquiddick incident ruined his political ambitions.

In 1997, the town of Gay Head's name was changed by popular vote to Aquinnah, which is Wampanoag for "land under the hill."

On July 16, 1999, John F. Kennedy, Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette, and her sister Lauren Bessette died in a small plane crash off the coast of Martha's Vineyard.

Currently, 300 descendents of the Wampanoag remain on the island with the majority residing in Aquinnah.

People & Culture:
Martha's Vineyard has an attractive laid-back feel, and each of its 6 towns has a distinct personality. What they all have in common is a lack of chain restaurants and traffic lights, adding to the island's appeal. There is a well-developed arts community with numerous galleries and several film festivals throughout the year.

A common misconception of Martha's Vineyard is that those living here are predominantly wealthy. The truth is that Dukes County is one of the poorest in the state, and most of the residents get by working in the tourist trade. On average, they earn 30% less than others in the state while enduring a cost of living that is 60% higher. The wealthy image that the island projects is from its many rich and famous visitors, some of whom own lavish vacation homes here.

Food & Nightlife:
Martha's Vineyard is definitely a destination for foodies, however, the food is somewhat homogenous. Most restaurants serve some variation of American food, often with a focus on seafood. As is the growing trend in the country, there is also a focus on local, sustainable foods. Despite a well-developed dining scene, there is a surprising lack of good ethnic cuisine here. The tap water on the island is safe to drink.

Strangely, for an island with the word Vineyard in it, a large portion of it is dry including the communities of West Tisbury and Chilmark (including Menemsha). Tisbury, which includes Vineyard Haven, was dry until a few years ago, but now allows restaurants to sell beer and wine. The 2 main towns of Oak Bluffs and Edgartown allow liquor sales, and the small town of Aquinnah legalized it in 2007. Most restaurants in the dry areas allow you to bring your own beer and wine, and provide mixers for your liquor.

Stores can carry beer and wine, however, liquor must be purchased in a liquor store.

The bar scene won't blow your mind, but there are a fair number of watering holes in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown that range from chic to divey. They only stay open until 1am and the drinking age is 21.

Money & Costs:
As mentioned previously, Martha's Vineyard tends to be fairly expensive, however, there are moderate lodging and dining options available as well. For lodging, don't forget to factor in the lodging tax that is 9.7% at the time of this writing. When shopping or dining, there is a 6.25% sales tax.

If the costs are prohibitive during high season, consider checking lodging rates during the shoulder seasons which can be considerably less expensive.

Banks, ATMs, and establishments that accept credit cards are plentiful. Tipping in restaurants follows the U.S. standard of 15%-20%.

Getting There & Around:
Martha's Vineyard is accessible by boat or plane. If flying, you currently have the following options:
  • Delta: Summer flights from JFK Airport in New York.
  • Jet Blue: Summer flights from JFK Airport in New York.
  • U.S. Airways: Summer flights from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C.
  • Cape Air: Year-round flights from Hyannis, Nantucket, New Bedford, New York, Providence, and Westchester County.
  • Private charter: Martha's Vineyard Airport services many charter planes.
Some people access the island by private boat, however, the most common method of reaching Martha's Vineyard is via ferry service. Below are the ferry options:
  • Steamship Authority: Woods Hole to Vineyard Haven. Only ferry service that transports cars.
  • Falmouth-Edgartown Ferry: Falmouth to Edgartown. Spring and Summer.
  • Hy-Line Cruises: Hyannis to Oak Bluffs. Spring, Summer, Fall.
  • Island Queen: Falmouth to Oak Bluffs. Spring, Summer, Fall.
  • Vineyard Fast Ferry: Quonset Point, RI to Oak Bluffs.
  • Seastreak: New York, New Jersey, Stamford, or New Bedford to Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven. Spring, Summer, Fall.
The trip from the Massachusetts mainlain takes between 30 and 60 minutes depending on the ferry. Trips from elsewhere can take substantially longer. If you are only staying on the island for a couple of days, it may be less expensive to rent a car rather than pay the ferry transport costs. For more information about ferry services including contact information and fares, visit the Services section of this guide.

If you are visiting the island for a day or overnight trip, you will most likely be focusing your time in 1 town. In that case, you will likely only need your feet and possibly either the public transportation system or taxi service. However, if you are planning on spending some time in Martha's Vineyard, you will likely want to explore other towns and areas. In this case, if you didn't bring your car, you can rent one, or rent a scooter or bicycle depending on how much exercise you are looking for.

Weather:
Memorial Day through Labor Day typically marks the high season for Martha's Vineyard, and that has everything to do with the weather. While the warm summers draw the big crowds, spring and fall can also be very pleasant times to visit. Due to the island's temperate climate, winters are milder than on the mainland, however, many businesses close during this time.

Below are the current conditions and weather forecast for Martha's Vineyard.


The table below shows the average high temperatures, low temperatures, and precipitation.

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg High 39 41 47 56 65 74 80 79 73 63 54 45
Avg Low 24 26 31 39 48 58 64 63 57 47 39 30
Precipitation 3.85" 3.33" 4.92" 4.27" 3.54" 3.74" 3.04" 3.98" 3.69" 4.09" 4.32" 4.30"

Important Contacts:
  • Emergency - 911
  • Directory Assistance - 411
  • Martha's Vineyard Hospital - 508-693-0410
Tips & Additional Information:
  • No location in the United States has a higher concentration of lighthouses (5) within as small an area as Martha's Vineyard.
  • The Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs is the oldest operating carousel in the United States and is a national historic landmark.
  • Steven Spielberg's movie "Jaws" was filmed on Martha's Vineyard (In Menemsha) in 1974.
  • John Belushi is buried in the town of Chilmark.
  • Martha's Vineyard is one of only five placenames in the United States with a possessive apostrophe.
  • It is the only place in the continental US where the disease Tularemia has been known to be carried and transmitted by tick bites.
  • In the summer, watch out for jellyfish on State Beach.





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