An all-American summertime retreat: Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
Cottages by the water, ice cream, flip-flops and tank tops, dining alfresco, and afternoons spent at the beach or doing nothing at all—it's the all-American summer vacation. Many have discovered—from the Clintons and Kennedys to ordinary New Englanders—no place does it like Martha's Vineyard. "The atmosphere on the island makes Martha's Vineyard a classic American summer retreat," says SmarterTravel's Executive Editor Anne Banas, a frequent visitor who recently spent a week on the island in August.
Every summer, thousands of visitors flock to this 25-mile-long island off the coast of Cape Cod, some staying in B&Bs or small hotels in the Vineyard's six main towns, and others staying in summer homes or vacation rentals throughout the island. Each area of the island has its own charm, says Banas, "from the captain homes of Edgartown to the horse farms and 'honor' flower stands of West Tisbury and Chilmark. There's not just one kind of summer. You'll find quaint gingerbread cottages and a carnival atmosphere in Oak Bluffs, fancy seafood restaurants and shops in Edgartown, gift boutiques and houses with whirligigs in Vineyard Haven, and ice cream stands and fried-clam shanties around the island."
Besides exploring the towns, there's plenty more to do. "The best thing anyone can do is either bring or rent a bicycle," says Banas. "The island is big enough that there's plenty to see, but small enough that you won't get lost."
"Everyone should head to the beaches. My favorites were Long Point Wildlife Refuge Beach, which limits access so it feels more private, and Katama near Edgartown. The surf was wonderfully rougher than other areas, and the sand, which swept upwards into marshy dunes, was perfectly white.
"One of my favorite activities was going to Menemsha just to pick up fresh local seafood like quahogs, scallops, and mussels. This tiny seaside town has a handful of vendors, more like shanties, that sell it all right from the boats. I also loved the farmer's market set in the restored Old Grange Hall in West Tisbury, where I found all manner of fresh produce, fresh cut flowers, and even a stall selling lavender topiaries—all grown right on the island."
Learn more about the island by visiting the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce website, where you'll find info about how to get to the island, where to stay, activities, and more. Average hotel rates range from $82 to $404 per night on TripAdvisor.
Most people get to Martha's Vineyard by ferry. Ferries depart from Hyannis, Falmouth, and Woods Hole on Cape Cod, plus New Bedford and Quonset Point, Rhode Island. The cheapest way to get there is by taking the Island Queen ferry from Falmouth ($12 round-trip; 40 minutes each way). If you have a car, you'll have to take a Steamship Authority ferry from Woods Hole ($13 round-trip per adult; car fares start at $72 round-trip).
You can also reach Martha's Vineyard by flying Cape Air from Boston, New Bedford, Hyannis, or Provincetown, or on US Airways Express from New York's LaGuardia airport, Washington D.C.'s National airport, Philadelphia, or Hyannis.