New England sea captains' houses, white picket fences, and ice cream shops trim an authentic fishing village. Lighthouses pierce the fog with their signals. A Native American community preserves its identity amid miles of pristine beaches and rolling farmland. Martha's Vineyard is a picturesque island indeed.
Visit the Vineyard to bicycle the shaded paths that hug the coastline. Admire the regal mariners' homes in Edgartown and stop by the Edgartown Scrimshaw Gallery for a memento of the sea. Stroll down Circuit Avenue, in Oak Bluffs, with a Mad Martha's ice cream cone, and then ride the Flying Horses Carousel, said to be the oldest working carousel in the country. Don't miss the cheerful "gingerbread" cottages behind Circuit Avenue, where you can almost hear the echoes of 19th-century revival meetings in the imposing Tabernacle. Travel the country roads of West Tisbury and Chilmark, stopping at Allen Farm for sweaters made from the wool of their flock of over 200 sheep. Buy bread at the Scottish Bakehouse, in North Tisbury, and a lobster roll in the fishing village of Menemsha.
Unlike much of New England, Martha's Vineyard has long been a melting pot. Unfortunately, Martha's Vineyard has been discovered, in a big way. When the former First Family, the Clintons, chose to vacation on the island several years in a row, it only increased the worldwide fascination with this popular place. In fact, the island is loaded with luminaries, but you are unlikely to see them, as they prefer private house parties. But don't come to this island on a star search: It's considered impolite to gawk, and, like jaded New Yorkers, Vineyarders barely seem to notice the VIPs in their midst.
There's always a lot of "hurry up and wait" involved in ferry travel to and from the Vineyard, so a weekend may not be enough time for a visit. Allow a minimum of 3 days for this trip; 4 days will feel more comfortable. One great way to shorten the journey is to take the ferry from Rhode Island or New Bedford and avoid Cape traffic.
Try to savor the 45-minute ferry ride to and from this pastoral place. The Vineyard's pace is decidedly laid-back -- try to blend in with the ultracool attitude. The six towns on Martha's Vineyard have distinct identities, but they are either "down-island," referring to Vineyard Haven (officially called Tisbury), Edgartown, and Oak Bluffs; or "up-island," the towns of West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah (formerly Gay Head).
If you can survive the hassles of getting to Martha's Vineyard and can cope with the crowds and traffic once you arrive, you may just have the perfect vacation. Better yet, visit the island in the off season, in May or October, when the weather is often mild and the crowds have cleared out.