Planning a trip can be time-consuming and difficult. For better or for worse, there is an abundance of information available on the web nowadays. This can lead to overwhelm as you sift through it all to plan your travels. It’s also precisely why I’ve put together everything you need to know to plan your visit to Martha’s Vineyard! You’ll find information on how to get there, parking and transportation on the island, accommodation, and a whole lot of fun activities for your vacation.
This past August I visited Martha’s Vineyard for the first time to attend the Beach Road Weekend music festival. It was also the first international road trip with Betty White (my campervan). Talk about exciting! The only downside to the whole adventure was that the trip wasn’t longer. I can’t wait to return and learn about the history, eat all of the delicious seafood, and attend more fantastic festivals.
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Where is Martha’s Vineyard Located?
The first step to plan your visit to Martha’s Vineyard is to know where you’re going! A map of Martha’s Vineyard will show you that it’s located on the eastern United States in Massachussetts, nestled between Nantucket to the east and several smaller islands to the west.
When’s the Best Time to Plan Your Visit to Martha’s Vineyard?
This question requires considering a few different angles, namely weather, affordability, and tourist traffic. Weather-wise, it’s best to visit Martha’s Vineyard in the spring (April, May) or fall (September, October). Average temperatures for the spring range from 13-20 degrees Celsius and from 18-24 degrees Celsius in the fall. Generally you can guesstimate that Martha’s Vineyard will be around 10 degrees (Fahrenheit?) cooler than the mainland and the reverse during the winter. If you’re keen to catch the fall colours, visit in late October or early November.
For those wanting to avoid peak season prices, the most cost-effective time to travel will be over the colder months, between September and May. To avoid crowds, winter is also your go-to travel time, specifically from November to May. Keep in mind that this will be a very different experience from visiting in the summer as many businesses operate seasonally. On the plus side, you’ll have more opportunities to interact with the locals.
Getting to Martha’s Vineyard
All aboard the ferry! Getting to and from Martha’s Vineyard requires a short boat trip, with or without a vehicle. Let it be known that if you’re going over with a campervan like I did, it is not cheap. I’ve paid less for round trip tickets from Toronto to Europe! That being said, I loved having access to my vehicle on the island and it might be worth it for you too. You can also arrive by plane or sailboat.
Where do you book tickets for the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard?
The ferry schedule, prices, and locations can all be found on the Steamship Authority website. They offer routes between the Cape Cod mainland and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
It’s very important to note that if you’re travelling with a vehicle, you must book your ticket in advance! This is non-negotiable, especially if you’re travelling during the holidays or on summer weekends. Book online with the link above, call their office at (508) 477-8600, or purchase tickets in-person at the offices in Woods Hole (Falmouth) and Vineyard Haven. You can also purchase them in-person during peak season at the Oak Bluffs island terminal.
If you’re a walk-on passenger without a vehicle, it’s okay to buy your tickets the day of departure (online, by phone, or in-person) from Steamship Authority Terminals, Peter Pan Terminals (for real!), and Plymouth and Brockton Bus Lines Terminals. Make sure to get to the ferry departure point a least 30 minutes before it’s set to leave to ensure your spot.
How long is the ferry ride?
The ferry ride is a quick 45 minutes from the Woods Hole mainland departure point. It’s the perfect length if you’re not a fan of boats or get sea sick. On the other hand, if you love being on the water then you’ll thoroughly enjoy the shift to “Island Time”.
When does the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard operate?
There are daily year-round routes between the Cape Cod mainland, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket. For the most up-to-date schedules, visit the Steamship Authority website.
Where are the ferry locations?
On the mainland, catch the Falmouth ferry at the Woods Hole Terminal. You’ll arrive in the town of Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard.
How much does the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard cost?
Prices vary depending on if you’re a walk-on, travelling with a normal-sized vehicle, or if you have a bigger rig of some sorts, as well as by age and military status. The time of year will also dictate prices, as well your departure and arrival locations. The prices below are for those departing from Woods Hole and arriving on Martha’s Vineyard and are based on pricing in 2023.
Walk-on Foot Passengers
Children under 4 ride for free and tickets for those ages 5-12 cost only USD $5.25 for a 1-way ticket and USD $10.50 for a round-trip ticket. Active Military members who present their card receive a discount and ride for USD $5.25 (1-way) or USD $10.50 (round-trip). Walk-on adult tickets are USD $10 (1-way) and USD $20 (round-trip).
Large Recreational Items
If you’re bringing a bicycle, surfboard, or wind surfboard, there is an additional cost of USD $4 (1-way) or USD $8 (round-trip). Larger items, like tandem bikes and bikes with trailers cost double, at USD $8 (1-way) and USD $16 (round-trip)
There is quite the variety of pricing for passengers bringing their car over to Martha’s Vineyard. The cost also depends on the time of year. I won’t detail each of the options here because there are plenty, but 1-way tickets range from USD $64 (1-way) for vehicles under 17 feet to USD $135 for vehicles measuring between 17 and 20 feet long that are travelling on weekends during peak season.
Smaller motorized vehicles, like motorcycles, mopeds, 3-wheeled tricycles, and those travelling with a trailer or side cart range from USD $10 to USD $101 for a 1-way ticket.
See what I mean? It gets a little funky with the details, so make sure to check the updated pricing on the Steamship Authority website (and if you’re Canadian, cross your fingers that the exchange won’t bite you in the butt!).
Never fear! Discounted options are available for the traditional ferries and the high-speed passenger ferry that goes to Nantucket. There is a small caveat, and that is that these discounts are available for people who make frequent trips back and forth. They’re also available for seniors, students, and persons with disabilities. To see if you’re eligible for the multi-trip passes or one of the other discounted tickets, visit the Reservations page and look for Multi-Ride Cards & Books.
What are the amenities on the ferry ride to Martha’s Vineyard?
Though it’s a relatively short ride, there are several amenities to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable journey. Passengers have access to a few areas, including the lower parking level and the upper deck passenger zone. Patrons are welcome to stay with their vehicles or to mosey upstairs for a little salt air, refreshments, and change of scenery. Any chance I get to have the wind on my face I take, so I explored the upper level.
Enjoy the ferry with a seat indoors or outdoors. Stairs and an elevator transport you from the parking level to the upper deck. Upstairs you’ll find plenty of bathrooms, decent-sized tables for eating on or working at, and food and drink for purchase. There are both alcoholic and non-alcoholic options. For food you’ll find standard packaged snacks and an assortment of sandwiches, salads, and fruit.
Public Transportation and Parking on Martha’s Vineyard
While on the ferry, I met a friendly couple who were curious about my campervan and eager to share their tips from having visited the island over the years. The first suggestion was to park the vehicle for the weekend and travel everywhere on 2 wheels. Bring your own bike or head to one of the many rental stores like All Star Martha’s Vineyard Bike Rentals in Oak Bluffs or Wheel Happy Bicycle Shop in Edgartown. It’s a lovely, leisurely, and eco-friendly way to explore, especially on a sunny day. I explored with my van this time, however I think next visit I’ll hop on a bicycle.
The Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) is a reliable bus service that connects all 6 towns. All of the buses are accessible-friendly. Each bus also has a bike rack. There are different payment options, including pay-as-you-go, 1-day, 3-day, and 1-week bus passes which can be purchased in-person on the bus or at the Steamship Authority. The frequency of service does vary by season, so make sure to check the bus routes for updated information.
I hopped on the bus several times over the weekend to travel to and from the music festival. It was easy and affordable, the drivers were friendly, and it was a sustainable way to travel.
There are several local taxi and private car companies, such as Martha’s Vineyard Taxi, Stagecoach Taxi, Blue Fish Taxi, and Your Taxi.
Keep in mind that parking can be tricky on weekends and busier days, so leave extra time to find a spot. Another option to consider is the Edgartown Park and Ride which is located in the Edgartown Triangle. There you’ll find free parking and shuttle service with the VTA.
Fun Fact: There are no stop lights in Edgartown!
Where to Go on Martha’s Vineyard
The island is larger than it may appear, taking about an hour to drive end to end, so factor that into your itinerary when you plan your visit to Martha’s Vineyard. It is made up of 6 communities: Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Vineyard Haven (Tisbury) are the more bustling areas and Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury are more rural. Each town has its own distinct personality mixed in with the classic laidback MV vibes. Keep on reading for a description of each, along with several suggestions for your itinerary. You can also read this 2-day itinerary to inspire your trip planning.
At the western end of the island lies stunning Aquinnah, the traditional and unceded territory of the Wampanoag people. This tribe has been residing on Noepe (Martha’s Vineyard) for over 12,000 years. Today they are caretakers to over 500 acres of land in Aquinnah, with most of it preserved in its natural condition.
Not to be missed, the Aquinnah Cultural Center and Wampanoag History Museum is the place to learn more about the island’s long Indigenous history and continued stewardship. Through exhibits and educational programs, the Wampanoag people share their culture and story with visitors. The building itself is also relevant to the preservation of the community as it was the home of Edwin D. Vanderhoop, the current director’s great-great-great grandfather! A whaling captain and the first Wampanoag to sit in the state legislature, Vanderhoop built the home in the 1890s. In 2006 the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Before leaving, visit the Aquinnah Circle Cultural District (ACCD) and find a special piece of handmade jewelry, clothing, scrimshaw (“the decoration of bone or ivory objects, such as whale’s teeth or walrus tusks, with fanciful designs”, according to Britannica), or pottery to bring home.
Whether or not you love the beach, visit the National Historic Landmark that is the picture perfect red clay Gay Head Cliffs. To get there, head to the publicly accessible Moshup Beach, named after the giant Wampanoag man believed to have created Noepe and the surrounding islands. A couple of parking options are available, one paid and another nearby that is free. There’s a short, well-signed trail from the parking lot to the beach, however beware because it’s lined by poison ivy! Nobody wants to take that kind of souvenir home. Instead, bring a picnic, your bathing suit, or a notebook to record memories of your time there.
Another spot with beautiful views is atop the red brick wrap-around observation deck at the Gay Head Lighthouse. Built in 1796, it was Martha’s Vineyard’s first lighthouse to assist whaling ships through the dangerous waters of Vineyard Sound. Over the centuries it has been moved farther back from its original location because of receding coastlines. Today, visitors will notice granite foundation stones laid in a circle on the lighthouse grounds, marking the place where the tower warned marine traffic for nearly 160 years.
Once named named the Prettiest Town in Massachusetts, Edgartown was established in 1671 and was the first colonial settlement on the island. Architecture and history buffs will delight in how much has been preserved and made accessible to the public. Transport yourself back in time as you walk down Main Street. Many of Edgartown’s white Greek Revival and Federal-style homes remain in excellent condition, some as private residences and others repurposed into businesses. Thanks to organizations like the Vineyard Preservation Trust, historically significant buildings such as the Old Whaling Church and the Dr. Daniel Fisher House are accessible to the public.
A bustling hub thanks to its harbour, Edgartown residents thrived in the mid- to late-1800s thanks to the whaling industry. Today, Edgartown is home to local favourite hangouts such as the Black Dog Tavern, Norton Point – one of the only over-sand traffic beaches on the island, the historic Edgartown Harbor Light(house), and public trails that are perfect for enjoying fresh air and good company.
Another spot that is not to be missed is the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary run by the female-founded (in 1896!) Mass Audubon, the largest nature-based conservation organization in New England. With 200 acres of preserved land, protected wildlife, and beautiful trails, you can explore the woodlands, meadows, ponds, salt marsh, and shorelines.
When you plan your visit to Martha’s Vineyard, Oak Bluffs is the destination the ferry will land. Originally named “Cottage City” and located on the northeast part of the island, the town offers a great mixture of history, food, outdoor activities, and nightlife.
A unique destination in Oak Bluffs is the Gingerbread Cottages, which gave the town its original name. Officially known as the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, the Carpenter’s Gothic style cottages are actually residences and rental homes. Built in the mid-1800s on a Methodist campground, the 330 colourful, whimsical houses can be found across from the Oak Bluffs Harbor. There’s also a Cottage Museum where you can book tours of the grounds. You’re welcome to walk around the fairytale neighbourhood, as any other, for free. If you plan your visit to Martha’s Vineyard in August, don’t miss the Grand Illumination Night when paper lanterns adorn the cottages.
Outdoor seekers will enjoy the beaches, public parks, water sports, and golf course in Oak Bluffs. Head to Oak Bluffs Town Beach for shallow water and an accessible entrance. Two other beaches, Eastville and Joseph Sylvia State, are also open to the public. Ocean Park is the spot to be on the third Friday in August for a brilliant fireworks display. With the ocean on one side and Gingerbread houses opposite the marine views, the 7-acre park is also the site of the annual Wind and Kite Festival.
Need an activity for the kids or a fun and unique date idea? Island Alpaca‘s interactive farm is your answer. Open 7 days a week, rain or shine, you can take a self-guided walking tour, attend a yoga class or workshop, and purchase cozy Alpaca clothing pieces. Another great spot is the Flying Horses Carousel, the oldest continuously running platform carousel in the USA. It opened in 1884 and was made by Charles Dare from the New York Carousel Manufacturing company. To make this historic ride even more special, there are only 2 Dare carousels left in the world. Look closely and you’ll also notice that the manes and tails are made of real horsehair. Wild! Another unique aspect of this ride is the brass ring challenge. As riders young and old spin around, they’re on a mission to pull the brass ring. The winner earns an extra free ride.
There’s plenty to choose from for food and drink in Oak Bluffs. The island’s best lobster roll since 2012 can be found at the Lookout Tavern. I ordered the Jumbo Tavern Lobster Roll (pictured below) and it blew me away. To begin with, it was so huge that I took to using a fork on the meat before tackling the sandwich. The ratio of bun to lobster meat to mayo was perfection, and the lemon slice provided a zesty finish. The bun was top quality; fluffy, flavourful, and not soaked in butter like the lobster roll I tried in Boston. It made the eating experience much more enjoyable not having butter drip down my wrist. At USD $33 ($45 CAD), it was the most expensive “sandwich” I’ve ever purchased…and I’d do it again! Definitely a splurge, though a delicious one. There’s plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, great for small and large groups. Expect that you will wait for a table, especially in the summer, as they do not take reservations and it’s a popular spot.
I was recently on a friend’s podcast and we got to talking about memorable travel experiences. The “Dublin Mumford” night always comes to mind as one of the most joyful moments I’ve had while abroad. Combining travel and music is a fantastic way to see a place. The reason for my visit to Martha’s Vineyard was just that – a trip for a music festival. On the second night of Beach Road Weekend, the Van Concert Crew spontaneously decided to check out a gig put on by a local band (Neighbor) at The Loft. None of us knew their music but they had played at the festival and the tickets were affordable so we said why not! The sequinned crowd matched the band’s high energy with so much enthusiasm that it was impossible not to have a fun time. The Loft was a great venue – intimate in size, with a mix of seating and standing options. When you plan your visit to Martha’s Vineyard, see who’s playing and enjoy a night of live music!
There are 2 interesting facts about the up-island town of Chilmark that stood out to me when researching for this blog post. First, it is one of only 3 remaining Wampanoag communities due to the devastating effects of colonization in the 1800s. Second, it is where MVSL, also known as Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language, began. What is so intriguing about this is that the language flourished out of a bizarre population trend. In the 19th century, the rate of people born deaf on the island was 1 in every 155 individuals and an incredible 1 in 25 of those living in isolated Chilmark. To put this into perspective, the ratio was 1 in 6,000 everywhere else in the States. In other words, every Chilmark resident communicated with sign language in their day-to-day life. Where else have you heard about this happening in the world? The language was passed on at home, similar to other standard skills like tying shoelaces and brushing one’s teeth, yet not taught in school. Just as incredibly, today the language is considered extinct. How is this all possible in such a short time and what differentiated MVSL from ASL? There’s a fantastic article by The Atlantic on the rise and fall of MVSL that explains why the ratio was so high, as well as other interesting insights into this unique community.
Changing tracks, if the sea speaks to you and your appetite, head to Menemsha. It’s an old-fashioned working fishing village with harbour fish markets and plenty of salty savoury morsels. Adjacent to expensive private beaches and sprawling mansions, the juxtaposition is a total head-scratcher. For those passing through Menemsha by bike on their way to Aquinnah, the local tip is to hop on the bike ferry and skip the steep bits of the ride. Another fun fact about Menemsha is the cameo role their United States Coast Guard Station had in Jaws. I still haven’t seen the film so you’ll have to let me know in the comments below if you recognize it when you go.
A few more spots and events to check out in Chilmark are the film festival in March that’s held at the Chilmark Community Center and the twice-weekly summer flea market on Wednesdays and Saturdays where you can find a fabulous mix of local art and delicious food. Don’t miss the small farm stands that dot the community. Shop at the Chilmark General Store for baked goods, garden fresh produce, piping hot pizza, house goods, souvenirs, and more. Check out unique and entertaining performances at The Yard, a self-described artist’s “playground without walls”. And last, but certainly not least, make sure you add Menemsha Public Beach to your sunset destination list when you plan your visit to Martha’s Vineyard.
Vineyard Haven (Tisbury)
The down-island town of Vineyard Haven is a year-round port west of Oak Bluffs. Vineyard Haven is where I spent most of my time on Martha’s Vineyard since it was host to the Beach Road Weekend Festival. There were plenty of spots to choose from for food and drink, all within walking distance of the festival grounds. I enjoyed lunch at a friendly spot called Waterside Market. Look closely on their menu and you’ll find a Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives featured item, the CAB Sandwich, from the Waterside’s (now closed) sister restaurant, Parkside Restaurant. Being a fan of the show I had to order it! In my opinion, the sandwich wasn’t much to write home about, however I loved the vibe on the wrap-around porch and there were several other items I am curious to try on future visits. Fun fact: Vineyard Haven used to be a dry town, however the laws changed in 2009 to allow for the sale of beer and wine in restaurants. Then, in 2017, the law changed and all alcohol was permitted to be sold. I bet you didn’t think a place like Martha’s Vineyard would have dry towns, but there still are some on the island!
Vineyard Haven is a bustling place, where residents live year-round, the area’s maritime culture and heritage are proudly preserved, and there’s something for every age to enjoy. Visit the West Chop Lighthouse on your tour de phare of the island’s 5 giant lanterns. West Chop is the only one located in Vineyard Haven. The East Chop Lighthouse, Gay Head Light, Edgartown Harbor Light, and Cape Poge Lighthouse are scattered elsewhere. Head to the Vineyard Haven Harbor Cultural District to see firsthand the sustainable preservation of local industries such as shipbuilding and fishing. There are several creative businesses to pop in and shop at in the district as well. For a self-guided historical tour, walk down the historically-protected William Street to see the former homes of whaling captains. Looking for something more in-depth? Head to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in the former Marine Hospital that was built in 1895.
What do you think of when you think of New England? General stores, beautiful nature, white church steeples, and a laidback vibe? West Tisbury is all of the aforementioned and more. Alley’s General Store is about as authentic as it gets. Built in 1858, it is the oldest retail store on Martha’s Vineyard. I want to know if there are any ghosts hiding in the aisles. From kids’ candy to everyday household items and groceries, this local gathering place has been connecting the community for several generations. Another West Tisbury (and Martha’s Vineyard) staple is Farmer’s Market. Fill your picnic basket here before visiting the beach. Bring the kids or plan an impromptu outdoor date at the Field Gallery’s sculpture garden. Learn about the phenomenal Polly Hill at the arboretum named after her. Or, bring home a unique souvenir from Martha’s Vineyard Glassworks studio and gallery. If you’re travelling with a furry family member, there’s an off-leash area on the beach called Lambert’s Cove that you’ll love too.
Where to Stay on Martha’s Vineyard
Martha’s Vineyard Campground
Martha’s Vineyard Campground, also known as MV Campground, is one of the nicest campgrounds I’ve stayed at. The staff were very welcoming and helpful, the campground was well-kept, there were several amenities available, and public transportation was available at the entrance.
There are a few options to choose from when booking a spot at the campground. You can select a site with a small log cabin or you can choose a camping site for a tent or campervan. There is a nice balance of trees and sunlight on each site, as well as access to electrical hookups. The cabins…….I
There are several amenities available to everyone who stays at the campground, including a laundry room, general store, a games room complete with ping pong, a jukebox, TV area, bookshelf, indoor and outdoor showers, 2 large communal bathrooms, a playground and fire pit, tented outdoor areas for gathering, a basketball net, and more.
There is an understanding that things quiet down by 11pm. When I stayed there, there were several other music festival attendees at the campground and it was quiet each night when it was time for bed. It was also a great spot for families with the indoor and outdoor activities and respectful atmosphere.
Vacation Rentals and Hotels
Sneak Peek of Your Martha’s Vineyard Trip + a BONUS Downloadable Map
Want to make your trip planning even simpler? Check out this 2-Day Itinerary for exploring Martha’s Vineyard and the bonus downloadable map! Want to preview your itinerary? Have a sneak peek here! Still have questions about the island or travelling there? Send me a DM on Instagram and I’ll be happy to help where I can.