Martha's Vineyard See And Do
The Vineyard has 14 public beaches as well as six residents-only beaches that are off-limits to outsiders (unless your hotel provides guest passes or you're renting and can provide a copy of the lease). Lucy Vincent Beach in Chilmark is one of the most beautiful (it's also clothing-optional) and fair game for guests of the Inn at Blueberry Hill. Lambert's Cove Beach in West Tisbury has the finest sand and is also resident-only, though guests of Lambert's Cove Inn can go there. For big waves, try the Atlantic-facing Katama Beach, also known as South Beach, just outside Edgartown: It's open to everybody, although there's a strong undertow that makes it dangerous for kids. A public beach with gentler waves is Joseph Sylvia State Beach, the narrow two-mile stretch between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. The small Menemsha Public Beach, beside Menemsha Harbor, also has gentler waters, and is conveniently close to great take-out seafood from Larsen's Fish Market (Dutcher Dock; 508-645-2680) and The Bite (29 Basin Rd.; 508-645-239; thebitemenemsha.com). Two of the prettiest Vineyard beaches are well off the beaten path: Aquinnah Public Beach, also known as Moshup Beach, is located under the dramatic Aquinnah cliffs (it's a ten-minute walk down Moshup Trail from the parking lot); East Beach, in the secluded Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, requires taking the ferry from Edgartown to Chappaquiddick and paying a fee to the Trustees of Reservations (unless you're a member). There's also a freshwater beach on Long Cove Pond in the Long Point Wildlife Refuge.
Martha's Vineyard has miles of bike routes, most of them wide paths set apart from the main roads by grassy strips. There are short trails such as the scenic two-mile run along Main Street in Vineyard Haven to the West Chop Lighthouse, the three-mile route from Edgartown to South Beach, or the seven-mile path from Vineyard Haven to Edgartown. More serious cyclists can ride 20 miles from Edgartown, around the state forest, and back. Bringing your own bike to the island costs from $3 to $6 each way on the ferries, bicycle rental shops proliferate, and most hotels and many inns have bicycles for loan or rent. (There are bike racks on the buses of the Martha's Vineyard Transit Authority.) On coastal routes, be aware of occasional patches of sand and strong head winds; inland trails aren't always particularly scenic.
The bike routes are clearly marked on most street maps; otherwise you can find a trail map online at mvy.com or mvol.com, or pick one up at Anderson's Bike Rentals in Oak Bluffs (23 Circuit Ave. Extension; 508-693-9346) or Edgartown Bicycles (212 Main St.; 508-627-9008; edgartownbicycle.com). Trike Panther Travel Adventures, started by a retiree who cycled from California to Florida, rents recumbent trikes and leads half-day, full-day, and five-day guided island tours (888-443-2071; guidedcycling.com).
Chappaquiddick, an island just off Edgartown, is the least-known part of the Vineyard…well, least-known except for The Bridgethe one on which Mary Jo Kopechne lost her life and Ted Kennedy nearly lost his political career. But this tiny island is also one of the most beautiful places on the Vineyard. Hidden among its pines and oaks is the 14-acre Mytoi Japanese garden. Its red fretwork bridge, designed by architect Hugh Jones, is framed in daffodils, azaleas, hinoki cypress, and holly (depending on the season). You also can hike, fish, kayak, bird-watch, and pick blueberries. To get there, hop aboard what locals call the one-minute ferry (it actually takes three minutes) from the Edgartown wharf (Dike Rd.; 508-627-7689; thetrustees.org). There's another 14 miles of hiking trails in the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge on the eastern edge of Chappaquiddick, including a stretch along a seven-mile barrier beach. The refuge includes ponds, cedar groves, salt marshes, and the 1893 Cape Poge Lighthouse, and there are tours that cover natural history, fishing, lighthouses, and wildlife (aboard a kayak or canoe) as well as self-guided tours. Over-sand vehicle permits (available at the gatehouse for $180) allow four-wheel-drive vehicles access to 14 miles of dune roads.
Three of the Vineyard's five lighthouses (all on the north side of the island) are open to the public for sunset tours operated by the Martha's Vineyard Museum (508-627-4441; mvmuseum.org). East Chop Light, in Oak Bluffs, is perched on a cliff 79 feet above the sea (508-693-8104). The red-brick Gay Head Lighthouse is on the edge of the Aquinnah cliffs and visitors are allowed into the light chamber; its original Fresnel lens, which was exhibited at the 1855 World's Fair in Paris, is now on exhibit in the Martha's Vineyard Museum. The Edgartown Lighthouse originally stood in Ipswich, Mass., and was moved to its present site after its predecessor was badly damaged by the Hurricane of 1938 (508-627-4441). Guarding the entrance to Vineyard Haven, the West Chop Lighthouse in its current brick incarnation dates from 1838 and was the last manned lighthouse on the island. There are also guided tours to (though not inside) the Cape Poge Lighthouse, at the far end of Chappaquiddick. This structure has been rebuilt four times since it first went up in 1801. The current white wooden structure was built in 1893 and on four occasions has had to be moved farther from the waterthe last time by helicopter (508-627-3599; thetrustees.org). For lighthouse connoisseurs, the Vineyard has launched an annual Martha's Vineyard Lighthouse Challenge in June, including transportation to all five lighthouses and a "lighthouse passport" book (800-505-4815; mvy.com/islandinfo/lighthouse_challenge).
Religious camp meetings were a fast-growing trend in the 1830s, when Methodists encamped for the first time in Oak Bluffs. Eventually, they built small wooden houses in concentric circles around a massive open-air tabernacle on streets with names like Jordan Crossing. Many of the 312 gingerbread-style houses have been passed down from generation to generation; the land on which they sit is owned communally. For best effect, enter the Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting Association through the metal arch off Circuit Avenue. Renovations to the tabernacle, rebuilt in 1879, were completed in spring 2008, and in the summer, the Camp Meeting Association (which is now interdenominational) hosts community sing-alongs on Wednesday nights and bands and choirs on Friday and Saturday nights. Only one of the colorful cottages, the Cottage Museum, is open to the public; it exhibits typical furnishings and memorabilia, including the rocking chair where President Ulysses S. Grant sat when he visited. There's also an original magic lantern film projector lighted with a wicker candle (1 Trinity Park; closed October 1 through late May).