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When we set off for our multigenerational family trip to discover all the things to do in Martha’s Vineyard MA, we had one thing on our mind – sharks!
I don’t think there was a movie that negatively affected me more than Jaws. So much so that when Kalyra asked to watch it last summer on a camping trip to Kerr Lake in North Carolina with friends, I vehemently said,
“No. That is not a good idea. Trust me, it will ruin your enjoyment of the beach for the rest of your life.”
Well she didn’t listen to me and watched it and thought it was the lamest movie ever (insert eye roll).
“How could you let that scare you Mum? It was so fake.”
“Back in our days love, when we had no high tech special effects in movies, that was as real as the snake crawling past your tent right now.”
I’m pretty sure the next day when we went tubing on the lake, she asked if there were sharks in the lake. Jaws made you afraid to swim anywhere you couldn’t see the bottom.
Martha’s Vineyard Massachusetts (MVY) is the fictional place of Amity, which Jaws terrorized back in 1975.
Martha’s Vineyard, more specifically the town of Edgartown, was taken over by Spielberg and his cast and crew to film what turned out to be the epic Black Panther style blockbuster of its time.
It was a summer smash hit that ruined me for life.
Where is Martha’s Vineyard?
Martha’s Vineyard Island is located approximately seven miles off the southern coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts on the East Coast of the United States.
To get to Martha’s Vineyard, you catch a ferry from Woods Hole (near Falmouth) on Cape Cod to either Oaks Bluff or Vineyard Haven.
How to Get to Martha’s Vineyard
The Woods Hole ferry to Martha’s Vineyard takes approximately 45 minutes.
If you’re taking your car over on the Martha’s Vineyard ferry it is best to reserve your ticket in advance so you don’t miss out.
Martha’s Vineyard is a Coastal Retreat for Families
We didn’t visit Martha’s Vineyard with kids to scout out Jaws filming locations.
We visited as it’s a place I’ve heard my parents mention many times growing up, most notably for its connection to the Kennedy family.
My parents, and my Aunty, are huge Kennedy fans and have followed their family’s story and lives for as long as I can remember.
It’s not just the Kennedy’s who have lived or spent time on the island. Celebrities frequently visit and can often be seen in the summer months.
Obama and his family rented a farm here one year at Chilmark for their family vacation.
As Martha’s Vineyard seems to be a coastal retreat for the wealthy, we thought we’d be in for a major treat.
I mean, when you have all that money and opportunity and you choose Martha’s Vineyard, it has to be something special.
I’d have to say I was a little disappointed with Martha’s Vineyard.
We all felt a little flat over it, although my Mum put Edgartown as one of the highlights of our Dallas to Boston road trip.
I think going to Martha’s Vineyard fell flat for us simply because we are from Australia and have been fortunate to have the opportunity to experience hundreds of beaches and islands (Australia is surrounded by 10,000+ beaches!)
Sadly, one downfall of living a nomadic life for as long as we have, is that you do experience so much, and it’s very difficult to not let that comparison creep in and dull a new experience.
I am very aware this is a problem, especially when it comes to beaches.
So while I know you trust our opinion, and that’s why I tell it to you straight, also be mindful of where our opinion comes from.
When you visit Martha’s Vineyard it may be a completely different experience for you and I don’t want to taint that because of my somewhat jaded eyes.
However, although we weren’t wowed, we did have a good time on Martha’s Vineyard with our family.
I think its important to make the most of every travel opportunity and love it for what it presents to you, even if it does fall below your expectations.
How did it fall down for us? OR how did we get it wrong?
I didn’t think the Martha’s Vineyard beaches were all that spectacular.
The weather wasn’t warm enough for swimming, although we visited Martha’s Vineyard in May, for some of you it may have been okay. I don’t usually go swimming unless it’s baking hot and the water temperature warmish.
But looking at our photos you might think otherwise.
I had done my research on things to do in Martha’s Vineyard and a couple of “oh my god so spectacular scenic drives” came up.
I was super excited to take them only to be left with a “Wait, was that it?”
Maybe if I was like my Mum who doesn’t like to do much research and just likes to show up and be surprised, I may have been more wowed.
But my expectations were placed too high.
Mostly though, I don’t think we experienced Martha’s Vineyard in the right way.
We were more on a sightseeing trip with my parents. So we wanted to move around and see notable places and experience cool local things.
I think a Martha’s Vineyard vacation is more of a rent a cottage and chill out on the beach for a week or two kind of place, which we weren’t in the right mode for. Rent a bike and cruise around the island on the many bike paths – that’s your kind of Martha’s Vineyard bucket list vacation.
Because we were a little before peak season, some cool places like the popular Chilmark Chocolates, whose owners employ young people with a range of disabilities to make and sell their candies weren’t open yet.
I can see how lingering at places like that would enhance your Martha’s Vineyard vacation.
A positive for visiting Martha’s Vineyard the week before memorial weekend did mean the crowds hadn’t entered the island yet, so it was peaceful.
We can’t imagine what it must be like on Martha’s Vineyard during the peak summer season. The crowds and the traffic is meant to be intense. Many people visit on day trips which is possible. I think to fully appreciate it’s beauty it’s best to stay on Martha’s Vineyard for at least two to three days.
I’ve seen pictures of the ferry and it was busier than the hundreds of people lining up to visit the Statue of Liberty in New York each day.
Martha’s Vineyard Things to do and see!
1. Find Serenity and Mystery on Chappaquiddick Island
Visiting Chappaquiddick Island was one of our favorite things to do in Martha’s Vineyard.
There is a 3-car-3-minute “Chappy Ferry” ride over to the island, which has maintained the Vineyard’s old world charm.
There is a spectacular 2 3/4 mile walk along a sand spit from South Beach over to Chappaquiddick Island if you want a more adventurous way to explore for the day.
Chappaquiddick is much wilder than the main island and a peaceful retreat to what you’ll find in Oaks Bluff and Edgartown.
There are no stores or restaurants on the island, so be sure to pack everything you need for the day.
Chappaquiddick is most known for the tragic Kennedy accident back in 1969.
Senator Ted Kennedy was driving a young woman named Mary Jo Kopechne home when he drove of the side of the Dike Bridge. He attempted to rescue her but she drowned and he didn’t report the accident until the next day.
It gave us a great story to discuss later on.
We stood at the spot where the accident happened and could see how in the dark of night you could be disorientated and come off it, especially if driving too fast. (They have barriers on either side of the bridge now though).
There are plenty of beaches and hiking trails to enjoy on Chappaquiddick with kids.
I would have loved to have ridden a bike over from the mainland to explore it that way. It’s small enough that you could.
There is also a 14-acre Japanese garden, Mytoi and the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, the nesting area for a variety of New England shorebirds.
The beach here was pretty wild but pretty, and after reading the Great White Shark warning sign on the boardwalk down to the beach, we decided swimming would not be an option for us here.
Although we have swum with sea lions before in the Port Lincoln area of South Australia, a region notorious for Great White Sharks!
We finally had confirmation that Jaws actually does exist on Martha’s Vineyard.
It has to do with the increase of seals in the area. And yes they have been seen eating them. This was an official sign, not a scare mongering tactic.
The Chappy Ferry costs:
- Passenger — $4.00 round-trip
- Car and driver — $12.00 round-trip
- Bike and rider — $6.00 round trip
Chappaquiddick Island was a top Martha’s Vineyard attraction for our family.
2. Roam around Edgartown
Edgartown is Martha’s Vineyard’s oldest and most stylish town with tidy streets that has preserved a lot of its elegant and wealthy whaling past.
You’ll see an abundance of stately white Greek Revival houses Captain’s homes lining the streets with well manicured gardens and lawns, and shady oak trees.
Many have plaques signifying which Captain owned the house.
And many of the whaling Captain’s homes have been converted into inns, restaurants and one-of-a-kind shops and cafes.
I would have much rather rented one of the vacation rentals in Edgartown Martha’s Vineyard than where we stayed in Oaks Bluff.
It would have been nice to wander around this area at night. Just the few hours we had here in the day was one of our favorite things to do in Martha’s Vineyard.
There’s not a lot to do in Edgartown but walk and browse the shops and enjoy a vineyard gourmet fare.
Drive around the bay near Edgartown and you’ll find the wide open windswept, South Beach, where the opening scene for Jaws was filmed.
3. Edgartown Lighthouse
Walk about 10 minutes along North Water Street to admire the homes and visit the Edgartown Lighthouse which is set on the public beach.
You get panoramic vistas of Edgartown Harbor and over to Chappaquiddick Island.
Look back and check out the gorgeous Harbor View Hotel on the water here. If you want a hotel stay on Martha’s Vineyard, this would be one of the best hotels in Martha’s Vineyard.
Those views are something special and it looks very elegant and refined. If you can get a water view room, sunrises are meant to be pretty here. See it from the comfort of your bed even.
4. Get High Spirited in Oak Bluffs
Oak Bluffs Martha’s Vineyard is known for its high spirits and fun, which is what makes it a different experience to Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard.
It’s a pretty town with its Victorian homes and Oak Bluffs Campground, which is not your typical campground, nor is it opened to the public.
The campground is actually rows of extravagantly decorated historic summer gingerbread cottages.
19th Century Methodist would retreat here to worship in summer camps. They soon became residents and replaced their canvas tents with colorfully painted Gothic designed cottages.
More than 300 proprieties are now privately owned by descendants.
You can look from the outside or take a tour of the Cottage Museum to glimpse inside. Free concerts and movie nights are held during the summer in the Tabernacle complex in the middle of the homes.
Take the drive to the East Chop Lighthouse high atop a 79 foot bluff with vies of Nantucket Sound.
On the East Chop Road, you’ll find many grey shingled mansions along the bluff road overlooking the sound. You can drive or walk along here.
In Oaks Bluff, grabbing the brass ring on the famous Flying Horses Carousel (the oldest operating platform carousel in the country), visiting Island Alpaca, and grabbing a tasty treat from Back Door Donuts came recommended as top things to do in Martha’s Vineyard.
5. Drive between Edgartown and Oaks Bluff
It’s a short scenic 6 mile drive between the towns of Edgartown and Oaks Bluff.
Along the way you’ll find The Bridge – you know the one from Jaws.
The stone quay Roy Scheider ran during the Jaws attack at the bridge is still there and runs perpendicular to the bridge.
Stop and jump off if you dare. It’s the thing to do in Martha’s Vineyard, you can even get T-Shirts that verify your triumph.
If the movie Jaws made me afraid of swimming pools then there is no way I’d take the bridge jumping challenge.
Even though I know Jaws was a six foot mechanical object, I don’t think I could bring myself to dip a toe. I’m not quite sure of the depth and my ability to land without hurting myself.
Although I did take bronze in the diving competition from the 4 meter platform representing Australia in our mock Commonwealth Games event.
You’ll also find Joseph A Sylvia State Beach, a 2 mile long sandy beach popular with families. This is where the beach scene from Jaws was filmed with all the kids swimming.
Parking is limited so it is better to go early or bike, walk or take the shuttle.
6. Visit Aquinnah Cliffs and Gay Head Lighthouse
Aquinnah is the official Native American township on the island and the Wampanoag tribe are the guardians of the region.
Previous to 1997, this area was known as Gay Head and is located in the south west corner of Martha’s Vineyard.
The town is best known for its terra cotta clay cliffs.
For over a 100 million years, glaciers, sea and land have twisted layers of soil into colorful, waving bands that are perched above the sea.
The Cliffs of Aquinnah are really beautiful.
I love the Wampanoag myth to explain the creation of these sacred cliffs.
Moshup, the giant Creator, would wade into the ocean, pick up a whale, fling it against the Cliffs to kill it, and then cook it over the fire that burned continually.
The blood from these whales stained the clay banks of the Cliffs dark red.
You can explore the lower beach paths to see the cliffs up close and stretch along the sands at Moshup Beach, or take the upper trails to the top of the cliffs to catch a glimpse of Gay Head Light and nearby Elizabeth Islands.
The cliffs are protected from erosion so no walking on them or collecting them!
The Gay Head Lighthouse is an iconic structure at the top pf the cliffs that you can also visit.
There are a few gift shops on the small bluff near the cliffs, which have a lovely collection of Native American jewelry or paintings, or handcrafts.
I highly recommend purchasing some for these unique and meaningful souvenirs.
We arrived in the morning to the cliffs covered in fog. We came back before sunset at Menemsha and it was clear and pretty.
It’s well worth the 30 minute drive from Edgartown. The locals told us you just never know what it’s going to do. Good luck!
If you’re staying over the other side of the island, I’d save a visit here until before sunset at Menemsha to reduce driving time.
7. Pair lobster with your Sunset at Menemsha
Menemsha on the west coast of Martha’s Vineyard is a quintessential New England fishing village.
We really enjoyed experiencing the sunset on Menemsha Beach on our last evening in Martha’s Vineyard. It was recommended to us as one of the best things to do in Martha’s Vineyard.
Behind the beach at Menemsha is a small fishing port with old boats tied up at the dock, weathered shacks, drying nets and lobster pots.
Eating freshly steamed lobster, brothy chowder or stuffed clam from one of the several fishing markets in the harbor is the thing to do for sunset.
You’ll see groups of people sitting on the rustic chairs on the dock eating lobster and drinking wine before they move over to the beach.
They close before sunset though so get in early!
Menemsha Fish Market was about to close, but they let us come in and order, but they had no lobster available.
Mum couldn’t stop raving about how delicious her fish burger was.
Craig and I shared a seafood nachos, which was really unique, but I think it needed some guacamole to give it a lift. You can’t have nachos without guacamole.
The main event in Menemsha is the gorgeous sunset.
There are plenty of rocks for the kids to scramble over while you watch the sun go down. I loved the giant bell ringing out in the water with each movement of the ocean.
It felt very Jawsish!!
But this sunset should probably go at the top of our Martha’s Vineyard things to do list!
If the harbor looks familiar, it’s because several scenes from the Jaws was filmed here.
Menemsha Hills is also recommended for it beautiful hiking trails and high elevations.
8. Vineyard Haven
You may get confused on the island as to where the dividing line between Tisbury and Vineyard Haven is. There is none.
Vineyard Haven is Tisbury.
It’s actually the name of the ferry port, so most people call it Vineyard Haven, but it is Tisbury.
On the elegant to rowdy scale, it sits somewhere in the middle between Edgartown and Oaks Bluff.
You’ll find plenty of stores to browse in the small town here and the drive from Oaks Bluff to here along the coastline is quite pretty.
If you’re looking for gluten free food for your home cooking supplies, you must visit Vineyard Grocer, located in a cute red barn on the main road.
We were impressed with the amount of gluten free and healthy food here, and for a decent price too considering where it is located.
On the drive between Vineyard Haven and Menemsha, you’ll find the Scottish Bakehouse. Gluten free lovers you’ll be so happy with the variety of gluten free sweets and bread – it’s a rare treat for us!
Except for Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, the Vineyard is “dry,” but many restaurants allow you to bring your own beer or wine.
The town of Vineyard Haven allows beer and wine – but no liquor – sales in restaurants only.
Do you need a car on Martha’s Vineyard?
We took our vehicle over on the car ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. As we visited outside of peak time, we didn’t experience traffic problems or difficulty parking.
It’s meant to be a nightmare during the peak summer months, and through my research, I learned that it’s best not to take your car over to Martha’s Vineyard if you can get away with it.
It will be cheaper on the ferry and the public bus can take you around to different parts of the island.
Where you choose to stay will be very important to you then if you don’t have your car. You want to stay in the area you most want to spend time in.
I’d recommend taking bikes if you have them as you can get around easily enough on them in the area you are staying in.
It is 6 miles from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown which would be about a 40 minute bike ride.
How Big is Martha’s Vineyard?
The island is roughly triangular-shaped with its base the straight south shore, and northern points facing Cape Cod.
It is 9 miles (12.8k) wide and 26 miles (40k) long at its furthest points; the total land area is approximately 96 square miles.
The longest drive would be from Oaks Bluff to Aquinnah which is 19 miles and would take approximately 40 minutes.
Where to Stay on Martha’s Vineyard for Families
We stayed at a cottage we found on Glamping Hub located in a quiet neighborhood between Vineyard Haven and Oaks Bluff.
It was cute and comfortable with everything we needed in the kitchen.
I thought it was overpriced compared to other places we’ve stayed at before via Glamping Hub or Airbnb, but I think accommodation on Martha’s Vineyard is more expensive in general.
If you plan on visiting Martha’s Vineyard with kids, especially in the peak season, be sure to book your accommodation in advance as far as you can.
Actually, now that I’ve written this post and looked back at the photos and the memories, Martha’s Vineyard is a pretty island and a great spot for a relaxing family vacation.
Isn’t it funny how sometimes you appreciate a place more after you’ve left it?
Bonus Martha’s Vineyard Video
Need More Tips for Massachusetts?
- How to see a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park
- Walking the Freedom Trail in Boston
- City Guide – What to do in Boston
- 17 Legendary Things to do in Boston MA with Kids (or without)
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Do you have any further tips for Martha’s Vineyard, things to do, or otherwise?