photo by ayphella, CC BY 2.0
Whereas Oak Bluffs has the highest concentration of sights to see for the day-tripper, Edgartown is probably the most historic town on the island. It is one of the two original towns founded on Martha’s Vineyard along with Tisbury, both incorporated in 1671. Edgartown’s large, protected harbor was the primary reason settlers chose this particular island location. During the 1800s, Edgartown saw considerable wealth as one of the primary whaling ports worldwide, and led to the construction of many captain’s mansions throughout town that can still be viewed today as you walk about the village.
Edgartown is also the primary filming location for the 1975 Steven Spielberg film, Jaws, portraying the fictional Amity Island. Although released over 40 years ago, Jaws still gets credit from shark scientists for the common misperceptions about sharks and common fears about wading or swimming in ocean water.
Also part of Edgartown is Chappaquiddick Island, the scene of the infamous Ted Kennedy vehicle accident in which the US Senator drove off of the Dike Bridge, killing passenger Mary Jo Kopechne. Kennedy fled the scene and swam back to his hotel in Edgartown, alerting the authorities ten hours after the incident. It is considered the moment that Kennedy’s aspirations of becoming President were ruined. With the release of the Hollywood film, Chappaquiddick, in 2018, this notorious location has achieved renewed notoriety for its role in history.
You could easily spend a few hours just strolling through the shops in and around Main Street, getting a bite to eat, and relaxing on the pier overlooking Edgartown Harbor. Coupled with bike rentals in which you can take the short ferry to Chappaquiddick and escape the crowds at the more secluded beaches, you have a perfect down-island day.
Edgartown Harbor Light
Photo by MA Office of Travel & Tourism, CC BY-ND 2.0
The first lighthouse in Edgartown Harbor was built in 1828 and consisted of a two-story home built on wooden pilings in the harbor, atop which was a small lantern room. Because of its exposure to the elements, the pilings were replaced with a stone pier in 1840, and the original dwelling remained in service for another century until 1938 when a hurricane inflicted too much damage for a simple restoration. In 1939, the US Coast Guard demolished the original lighthouse and replaced it with a 45-foot tower that was relocated from Crane’s Beach in Ipswich, MA. Although the lighthouse originally was built offshore in the harbor, a barrier beach now surrounds it and visitors have easy pedestrian access. The lighthouse is a 12-minute walk from the center of Edgartown.
Edgartown Harbor Light is open for public tours and viewing, including the interior during designated hours. A keeper will be available to answer questions.
Children’s Memorial at Edgartown Light
Martha’s Vineyard Museum acts as the steward of Edgartown Light and has established the Children’s Memorial found at the foot of the lighthouse. Comprised of granite cobblestones, families can purchase a stone in memory of a child that has passed.
Dr. Daniel Fisher House / Old Whaling Church / Lucy Vincent House
The Dr. Daniel Fisher House is an example of the fine architecture reminiscent of the islands goldedn age of whaling.
Edgartown is known for some of the most historic and elegant architecture on the island, many of which were owned by whaling captains and magnates during the late 18th century. The Dr. Daniel Fisher House is one example and is open for visitors during the summer months. Daniel Fisher, who owned a fleet of whaling ships on the island, built the home. At one point he was one of the wealthiest individuals in the fledgling United States.
Like many historic buildings on the island, it fell into disrepair until it was acquired by the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust. In 1992, an extensive overhaul of the mansion was completed. Today, the Fisher House is the site of many private parties and wedding receptions.
Next door to the Fisher House is the Old Whaling Church. Built in 1843, it still hosts Methodist services, however, serves more as a community center with a summer calendar full of lectures, concerts, and private weddings. The church is a prime example of the Greek Revival architecture movement that was popular in Edgartown in the mid 19th century, complete with grand columns reminiscent of the Athenian Acropolis.
The Vincent House gets the honors for being the oldest residence on Martha’s Vineyard. It was owned by many generations of the Vincent family until 1940. The MV Preservation Trust obtained the property by donation in 1977 and moved it from its original location on Edgartown’s Great Pond to its current location behind the Old Whaling Church.
The Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust owns all three properties. Together, they make a nice tour that provides a bit of insight into the town’s history. It is recommended that if you visit these sites, you should take the guided Architectural Walking Tour. Otherwise, you’re just looking at a few old buildings, and that could lose your interest fairly quickly. However, the tour is nice and combines viewing of all three properties. It runs Monday-Friday and lasts 45 minutes. The cost is $10 per person. Tours begin at The Carnegie, another of the MV Preservation Trust’s historic buildings. It is located at 58 N. Water Street, Edgartown.
Memorial Wharf features a large, covered area for escaping the summer sun. Photo by DM, CC BY-SA 2.0
Overlooking Edgartown Harbor and the “On Time” ferry to Chappaquiddick is Memorial Wharf. Not much official activity happens here, but it’s a great place to stop and hang out for a few minutes. Grab a basket of fried clams from the Quarterdeck next door and find a picnic table under the covered pier if you need to get out of the sun for a bit. Watch kids as they fish or crab for their next dinner. The wharf also features a top deck for expanded views of the harbor, including Edgartown Harbor Light.
As a day-tripper, you may not have much time to waste. But if you do, this is a great place to do it.
Mytoi Gardens, Chappaquiddick
Footbridge at Mytoi Japanese Gardens on Chappaquiddick. Photo courtesy of MA Office of Travel & Tourism, CC BY-ND 2.0
If you are looking to lose the crowds for a bit, then rent bicycles and jump on the “On Time” Chappy Ferry, and then pedal over to this beautiful Japanese-style garden. In Japanese, Mytoi translates to… absolutely nothing. The creator of the garden, Hugh Jones, called the area “my toy”, and so the lettering was simply changed to resemble a Japanese word, which is pretty clever. The garden features imported as well as native flowers and plants, a walking trail, and stone garden.
Pick up sandwiches at Rosewater Market & Takeaway before getting on the ferry and have a quiet picnic in the secluded atmosphere of the garden.
Knockabout Oak Bluffs Audio Tour
Take a self-paced walk through Martha’s Vineyard’s most popular town. Explore the historic gingerbread cottages, the initial rift between the religious worshippers and the commercial resort developers, where to grab the best drinks, and more. The tour includes 45 minutes of audio narration, an interactive map, and is completed in 60-90 minutes depending on your pace.
If you want to explore more than just the town center, then renting a bicycle is a good option. South Beach is accessible by bike and the trail network picks up just outside of town to keep you out of the way of traffic. Chappaquiddick is also explorable by bike if you’re in the mood for less crowded beaches, or to see the infamous Dike Bridge.
Katama Airfield/Biplane Tour
See the Vineyard from above! For a truly memorable experience, you can take an open-air bi-plane tour of Edgartown or the entire Vineyard from Classic Aviators, Ltd. Flight durations vary from 15-60 minutes and can hold two passengers per flight. Pilots double as tour guides, pointing out all the points of interest, and will even throw in some aerobatic moves if you want. Call to book a flight.
At some point during your Cape & Islands vacation, you should get out on the water and tour Nantucket & Vineyard Sounds. For some, the ferry ride over just won’t count as a true marine experience. For those wanting a more intrepid experience, an afternoon or sunset sailing tour aboard the Mad Max Catamaran should satisfy that need. The boat departs twice daily for two-hour excursions, with the later cruise timed so that passengers can see the sun setting over Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse on the return trip to the dock. This is not a typical “booze cruise.” Food and alcohol are not served as part of the tour, but guests are welcome to bring whatever they like for the tour. Stop at Wharf Wine & Spirit (click for Google map) for some beverages and munchies before heading over to the dock for your excursion. Ideally, call one week in advance to reserve your spot. However, short notice reservations are common, especially Monday-Wednesday.
Joseph Sylvia State Beach
Located halfway between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown Village, this is the ideal beach to visit if you are planning a visit to both towns or are riding a bicycle from Oak Bluffs. This beach was a major filming location for the 1975 movie Jaws. Although there was some serious carnage in the film, there have never been any shark attacks here. Kids still jump off of the “Jaws Bridge”, but they swim mighty quickly to shore. Swimmers can enjoy the bay-side water of Nantucket Sound or the quieter Sengekontacket Pond on the opposite side of the road. Grab a picnic lunch from Reliable Market (Google map) if coming from Oak Bluffs, or from #9 Sandwiches (Google map) if coming from Edgartown Center.
If taking the Vineyard Transit Authority, look for the #13 bus that goes between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown
If you want a true ocean beach experience with surf, then Katama and South Beaches are the place to go. Located adjacent to each other, they can be considered the same thing. Here, surfers and body boarders can enjoy the waves, and the area is also a popular surfcasting spot for fishermen in the early morning and evening hours. You will find miles of beach to stroll, find sea glass and shells, or just spread out your towel and bury your feet in the sand. There are no concessions here, so make sure you pack food and water prior to arrival. Katama General Store is on the route to the beach and offers great choices for packable meals and snacks.
Katama Beach is managed by the town. Parking is limited, so hopefully you did not rent or bring a car. If you did, then the South Beach State Park, located immediately west of the town beach has parking for 450 vehicles. Both beaches are staffed with lifeguards. South Beach has restrooms and a picnic area, while Katama has porta-potties.
This is the closest beach to town, walkable from the village. It is located at (you guessed it) the Edgartown Harbor Lighthouse. The water here is calm, and the sand quality is not great, having mixed with bits of shells and pebbles. But if you are looking for a short stroll on the beach with some great views of the harbor and lighthouse, the proximity to Edgartown village can’t be beaten.
Food & Drink
If you have been on your feet for a while, you might like to have a seat and enjoy a sit-down meal out of the sun. As you might expect, Edgartown has plenty of options that come highly recommended.
The Seafood Shanty
Located right next to the wharf, the Seafood Shanty has indoor and outdoor dining and serves a large seafood menu including broiled and fried dishes, raw bar, and sushi options. Burgers and steak are available for those in your party that do not take to sea fare. You may call to reserve an inside table; however, the outdoor patio and deck are first come, first served. The Shanty also has a large drink menu featuring several specialty and frozen drinks to help you unwind.
For a traditional seafood eatery with a yacht club feel, Atlantic Fish & Chophouse is the place to go. The lunch menu includes specialties such as lobster mac & cheese, ahi tuna, and skirt steak with chimichurri sauce. Burgers and small plates are also available. Eat inside or out on the covered back patio with views of the harbor. The Atlantic is fairly upscale dining and has the pricing to prove it. Expect to pay $32-$68 for a dinner entree. It’s expensive, but the atmosphere and quality may be worth the splurge. Open for lunch, dinner, and nightlife.
One block back from Edgartown Harbor is Rockfish. Of course, all restaurants offer considerable seafood options, and you can certainly find them here as well. Grilled swordfish, pan searded scallops…its all on the menu. However, Rockfish also specializes in more of the traditional American comfort foods that you know and love. Pizza, burgers, and Truffle Mac & Cheese will hit the spot after you’ve had enough sea fare. This is another local favorite that islanders visit even after the crowds are gone.
Time goes quick when you’re on vacation. Sometimes, you need just need a quick bite so you can get on with the rest of the day. Try these options for a “grab it and go” lunch or dinner.
Lobster Rolls from the Quarterdeck are best enjoyed while sitting on the Wharf in Edgartown.
Located next to the Memorial Wharf on Dock Street, the take-out window at the front of the Quarterdeck is a great option for when you don’t want to sit at a table for an hour. Fried seafood plates are the stars of the menu here, but family-friendly options such as hot dogs and grilled cheese are also offered. Grab your food and walk next door to the wharf, sit on the pier, and watch the boats cruise in and out of the harbor. The Quarterdeck also has a full bar and tables behind the take-out window.
Katama General Store
Katama General is an all-in-one store that has a surprisingly wide selection of provisions for your picnic lunch, perhaps on your way to South Beach via bicycle. Sandwiches and salads are made to order, or if you are in a hurry you can reach into the grab-and-go cooler and be on your way in no time. They also have fresh breakfast sandwiches and coffee if you arrive early. Take it to go, or sit in one of the Adirondack chairs under the covered porch. Simple and no-frills, but still with the polish that you expect from the Vineyard’s most posh village.
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