This list should keep you busy if you are trying to figure out what to do on Martha’s Vineyard for a day or a week.
Martha’s Vineyard is a large island off the coast of mainland Massachusetts and the third-largest island on the US east coast. It is around 88 square miles, many of which you can reach by public bus.
The island is quite diverse, with areas full of shops and restaurants where you can be in the thick of things and places to escape from the world in wooded areas along the shoreline. It typifies New England seasides with the relaxing pace of island life and carries echoes of its past, including the Kennedy family.
Enjoy my list of things to do in Martha’s Vineyard.
1. Visit Martha’s Vineyard in the shoulder season.
From when kids get out of school in mid-June until Labor Day, the weather is perfect on Martha’s Vineyard. Since everyone loves excellent weather on a gorgeous island, the crowds start flocking, and prices rise. Although the island doesn’t get much snow, the winter winds can be pretty intense. If you hit the sweet spot between late May and when tourists show up in full force, you will enjoy the island with fewer people and lower prices.
2. Take a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard.
Although I recommend spending more time here, don’t give up your trip to the island if you don’t have much time.
Since it is so close to Massachusetts (the ferry takes less than an hour) and Rhode Island (the fast ferry takes 1 hour and 40 minutes), it is a perfect spot to visit, even if you only have one day. The ferry drops you off in one of the most popular towns– Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, or Vineyard Haven. You can even take a day trip from Boston.
3. Explore Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts.
When you get off the ferry here, you will be surprised to learn that this bustling town was named because it used to be an oak grove. You will not be surprised that it is the only town on the Vineyard planned as a tourist destination. Even in the shoulder season, it is busy and has a large concentration of the island’s restaurants and stores.
4. Walk through “Cottage City,” Wesleyan Grove.
These cute gingerbread summer cottages were built as part of a Methodist revival, replacing the tents used in the 1700s.
5. Search through the cottage nameplates for the Harris and Shearer Cottages.
Oak Bluffs was one of the first havens for African-Americans to vacation by the beach. An exhibition called “Power of Place” is where you can learn more in the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in the US capital. This is just another one of the great things to do in Washington, DC!
6. Try some lobster ice cream at Ben and Bill’s Ice Cream Emporium.
I was a bit suspicious about eating lobster ice cream. Ben and Bill’s lobster ice cream has a sweet, buttery base making it a yummy treat. I was less of a fan of the frozen chunks of lobster, but it is more remarkable that they are there.
7. Visit the Vineyard Vines stores.
Although franchises are not allowed on the island, one Dairy Queen and one Stop and Shop showed up before the law went into effect. The other exceptions are stores started by residents of Martha’s Vineyard, which are now franchised off the island. One such store is the vineyard-style clothing shop started by two brothers who grew up summering on Martha’s Vineyard.
8. Take a ride on the oldest carousel in the world.
The Flying Horse carousel, right in Oak Bluffs, is the longest continuously running platform carousel. It has been on the island since the 1880s, when the carousel was moved from New York.
9. Walk through downtown Vineyard Haven.
The village of Vineyard Haven is officially part of Tisbury, one of the island’s six towns. People often use Vineyard Haven to describe the whole town, however. This village, set on a cove, is the drop-off point for the year-round ferry service. Although bustling, its character is a bit more reserved than Oak Bluffs.
10. Visit the original Black Dog Tavern and Store in Vineyard Haven.
Built as an ode to living life on the seashore with his dog, Captain Robert Douglas opened this tavern on New Year’s Day in 1971. The Black Dog iconography is now known all around the world.
11. Take a walk and watch the sunset at West Chop.
Just a 40-minute walk from the ferry terminal, you can visit the West Chop Lighthouse and view the vistas of the West Chop Overlook.
12. Take a tour of the island using VTA buses.
Martha’s Vineyard public transportation is actually cheap and easy to use! Just eight dollars will get you a day pass which will take you all around the island. In most cases, you can flag down a bus that passes you or pull the cord to get off when the inclination hits. Check out the Massachusetts Vineyard Transit Authority’s schedules and routes.
13. Drive or ride the bus around the island’s perimeter to view Martha’s Vineyard’s many farms.
14. Get an overflowing blueberry pie from Morning Glory Farm.
They also have an excellent salad bar, so it is worth a stop to stock up for #15.
15. Be sure to have a picnic on Martha’s Vineyard.
There are so many views, parks, and overlooks to enjoy. We ate every meal outside on our weekend in Martha’s Vineyard, and we ate our picnic from Morning Glory Farm on the tables at Aquinnah Point.
16. Visit the Cliffs of Aquinnah.
These clay cliffs rival the beauty of Block Island’s counterpart, the Mohegan Bluffs. You can read more about Block Island here.
17. While at the cliffs, take a tour up the Gay Head Light, one of five lighthouses on the island.
Like many lighthouses on the east coast, the whole lighthouse was moved a few years back due to its danger of falling as the cliffs continue to erode. The lighthouse bricks are made from the clay of the cliffs.
18. Visit the small Wampanoag history kiosk on the Cliffs of Aquinnah.
Before the Europeans came to Martha’s Vineyard, the Wampanoag Indians lived on the land. They believed a giant named Moshup shaped the island. The story goes that blood from his daily diet of whales colored the cliffs. Read more of the legend.
19. Take a bike ride on Martha’s Vineyard.
The north side of the island is sheltered and relatively flat. It is the perfect spot for a family bike ride between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. It is about six miles each way, but my family had no problem doing it on a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard when my sons were 8 and 10. We rented a bike outside the ferry terminal in early June (shoulder season again) with no reservations.
20. If you are a serious bike rider, conquer the island by riding the whole 62-mile circumference.
21. Search for Jaws on Martha’s Vineyard.
The famous movie from the 1970s was filmed on Martha’s Vineyard, so if you know where to look, you can locate scenes from the movie all around the island.
22. Speaking of Jaws, take a shot for Instagram of the “Big Bridge.”
If you take the bike ride from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown or drive the same strip of road, you will go over The American Legion Memorial Bridge, the same one that scared Amity citizens jumped off in the movie. Because of the currents, the water on this side of the island is warmer, so continue walking to…
23. Swim along Joseph Sylvia State Beach.
This is a popular beach because it is close to town and open to anyone. Not all beaches on Martha’s Vineyard are, and many require resident-only passes. Because a sandbar runs along the beach, it is the perfect place to snorkel along the sandbar to see the crabs scurrying along the bottom.
24. Besides searching for movie locations, you can also keep your eye open for the Kennedy clan’s history.
The family summered on the island, and you can still feel their presence.
25. You can also drive over the bridge, which may have cost Ted Kennedy his presidency…
and Mary Jo Kopechne her life. Being here made me think of the butterfly effect. If Ted would have run for president, would we have had the whole Camelot, JFK narrative in this country? To learn more about this narrative, visit the JFK museum in Hyannis on Cape Cod. The Dike Bridge now has rails, but the strong currents going into the tidal pond are pretty impressive. Speaking of the island where the bridge is…
26. Visit Chappaquiddick Island.
The name became infamous because of the Kennedy incident, but the island has so much to offer. It is officially part of Edgartown because it is often a peninsula, but sometimes it is geologically an island, depending on tides and weather. Either way, it is always considered part of Martha’s Vineyard. Maybe they should have called it Chappaquiddick-Sometimes-an-Island. It is relatively empty and sandy. If you are a nature lover, I highly recommend a visit. It reminds me of the Bar Island Land Bridge in Bar Harbor, Maine.
27. Take the ferry over to Chappaquiddick Island from Edgartown.
The shortest ferry ride in the world goes 400 feet from Toronto’s airport into town. This one rivals it by only 127 feet. I have never been on such a short ferry ride. That 527-foot ride cost my family and our vehicle $28. Bizzare, but worth it to get to this island.
28. See geology in motion on Chappaquiddick Island.
Down in Katama Bay is the sand bar that is making Chappaquiddick a peninsula, and it was not there ten years ago. The earth is ever-changing, and this is proof. At Wasque Point, you can see cliff erosion, including substantial tree roots coming out of the dirt.
29. If you rent a Jeep or are lucky enough to have one on the island, ride through the sand dunes of Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge.
It feels a bit like you are alone on the island. The dunes lie between the sandy beach and a large salt pond and marsh. You will need a permit for this activity, or you can do a tour.
30. Speaking of Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, Martha’s Vineyard is the perfect spot to bird-watch.
When we visited Cape Poge, areas were roped off due to the nesting of piping plovers. Seagulls also nest here and at Lobsterville Beach. You can also see osprey, red-footed falcons, blue heron, and snowy owls- over 100 species of birds swing by each year. Visit Birding on MV’s Facebook page for more information.
31. Visit Chappaquiddick’s Japanese Gardens.
I am a garden girl and loved stumbling across this oasis of ponds and color among the forest of Chappaquiddick. The entrance is free, and they have air to refill your tires if you get to drive on the sand.
32. Hang out with some alpacas.
I am not entirely sure what draws people in New England to alpacas (I have visited farms in Maine and Block Island), but I am glad they do. They have great hairstyles and are fun to chill with. You can read more about the alpaca farm here.
33. Fish off the shore.
We fished straight off the beach at Lambert’s Cove. We didn’t catch anything that night, but my cousin routinely catches striped bass and squid. You will see people fishing off docks, bridges, and the shore all around the island.
34. Hang out with the cool kids at South Beach (Katama Beach).
This is another beach that is open to anyone. It has surfing on one side and a salt pond on the other. You can find many birds here or go shell-fishing (permit required).
35. Take a hike or kayak on Edgartown Great Pond.
This lovely salt pond has many little coves, so it is a perfect place to enjoy the peace of Martha’s Vineyard. Read about how to kayak on this pond on The 7 Best Ponds for Kayaking on Martha’s Vineyard.
36. Enjoy your own clam bake on the beach without the fuss.
We grabbed a few lobster rolls, clam chowder, and steamed platters from The Net Result in Vineyard Haven and headed down to Lambert’s cove for dinner on the beach. It was one of the most perfect nights I have ever had.
37. Visit the 300-year-old fishing village of Menemsha.
Before my recent visit, I had only seen Martha’s Vineyard’s bustling, touristy parts. On this trip, I was hosted to stay in the village of Menemsha. I had liked the island before, but this trip propelled me into love. The island is vast and undeveloped in places. There are forests and farms… and hidden fishing villages! Menemsha is in Chilmark, perhaps the ritziest of the island’s towns, but it is anything but fancy. It just feels genuine. I took an early morning walk on my recent trip when the only people out were the old fishermen, getting their day started and chatting loudly. I felt like it could have been any moment in the last few hundred years.
38. Stay at the Menemsha Inn and Cottages.
Do you know the cute wooden-shingles cottages that you see in pictures of New England? That is what this inn is—a collection of these buildings, quaint inside and out, in the woods away from the crowds. The inn is an easy walk from Menemsha Beach. They have bikes that you can rent daily to explore the village. I truly thank the inn for hosting my stay with them, as I could not have ended up in a more perfect place to enjoy the peace of Martha’s Vineyard. I adored my early morning walk around their grounds, which included a cute collection of cows. Next time I need to bring my tennis racket to use their courts. Book a room for you and your family.
39. Where better to buy fresh fish than a 300-year-old fishing village, right?
Menemsha harbor is another excellent place to have a picnic. This time, grab some grub from any of the fishmongers on the dock, sit down and watch the action of the boats going in and out of the harbor and the fishers doing their thing.
40. Enjoy at least one sunset on Martha’s Vineyard.
Where are the best sunset viewing spots in Martha’s Vineyard?
- We saw the sun setting over the Elizabeth Islands from Lambert’s Cove in Vineyard Haven.
- You can see the sunset over the picturesque fishing village from Menemsha Beach.
- From the bench in East Chop.
- Watch the sunset over Vineyard Haven from Eastville Beach in Oak Bluffs.
- Sunsets from State Beach will give you views over the entire island.
41. Watch the sunrise over the Edgartown Lighthouse.
A great thing about an island is that you can see sunsets and sunrises. The best spot is over the lighthouse in Edgartown.
42. Take a hike.
Martha’s Vineyard is a weekend hiker’s dream with wildlife, beaches, forest, and relatively flat terrain. Check out a few of Martha’s Vineyard’s best hiking trails.
43. Learn about the island’s history at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.
Set in a historic building, the museum educates about the island’s history from pre-Colonial times to the present.
Here are three seasonal things I didn’t get a chance to see but plan to return to experience because I have heard they are fabulous.
44. See the Grand Illumination in August.
This sing-along, followed by the lighting of lanterns on the gingerbread cottages, has been happening since the early 1900s.
45. Come to the island for Shearing Day!
Going back to the alpacas– how cute would it be to see them all shorn except for their furry faces. I hope to head back next April to see all the adorableness at The Island Alpaca Company! Get your tickets to the event here.