During my first visit to Martha’s Vineyard, I spent the weekend exploring historic towns like Chilmark and West Tisbury. I strolled through Edgartown – the island’s first colonial settlement and my best friend and I ended the weekend with a relaxing beach day at Oak Bluffs, a lively seaside town home to over 300 gingerbread houses. Martha’s Vineyard is well-known for catering to the rich and famous. During their presidential terms, both President Clinton and President Barack Obama regularly spent their summers vacationing on the island south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
Back in 2014, Tripadvisor even named Martha’s Vineyard one of the most expensive vacation destinations in the states. However, what headlines failed to mention is that you can have fun on the island without spending a small fortune. Despite its reputation, financially savvy travelers like myself can have a ball without spending a lot of money.
In fact, I didn’t spend any money on activities. When we got to the island, we grabbed a free copy of “Welcome Martha’s Vineyard Guide” which helped us discover some incredible free things to do on Martha’s Vineyard. Save money on your Martha’s Vineyard budget and enjoy many of the vineyard’s historic attractions for free. However, before I recommend a few places to check out, let me give you some more information about Martha’s Vineyard.
Where is Martha’s Vineyard located?
Martha’s Vineyard is a Massachusetts island located just south of Cape Cod. This small island has 17,000 inhabitants and stretches 21 miles from East to West.
Before being colonized by the English in the 17th century, Martha’s Vineyard was inhabited by the Wampanoag people who called the island “Noape” which translates to “land amid the streams”.
Although Martha’s Vineyard may be small, the island has amassed a lot of wealth over the past three centuries, attracting the likes of presidents, actors, actresses and musicians. But what else would you expect from a state with an average household income of $75,297?
If you’re on a budget, don’t let this stop you from visiting Martha’s Vineyard. There’s tons to do on the island, you just have to know where to go.
When to visit Martha’s Vineyard?
The best time to visit Martha’s Vineyard is between the months of May to September. Since the island sits along the Atlantic Ocean, visiting Martha’s Vineyard during these months means that you can comfortably enjoy all that the island has to offer. Although things quiet down after Labor Day, locals say September is the best month to enjoy Martha’s Vineyard.
Things To Do on Martha’s Vineyard
Martha’s Vineyard Museum
Martha’s Vineyard Museum is a local history museum that houses thousands of objects that Vineyarders (folks from the island) have used or made. Here you can find historical records and books, interesting exhibits, photographs, paintings, early shipwrecks and more. The museum offers gorgeous views of the harbor and if you get hungry you can grab a bite to eat at the cafe.
- Adults: $18
- Seniors: $15
- Children between the ages of 6-17: $5
Visit the Martha’s Vineyard Museum for free on Tuesday evenings from 5-8 p.m.
Things to do in Edgartown
Making up roughly a quarter of Martha Vineyard’s population, Edgartown is the largest Martha’s Vineyard neighborhood. Originally a major whaling center in New England, this historic town is one of Martha Vineyard’s major tourist attractions.
The Federated Church is the oldest church on Martha’s Vineyard. Built in 1828, it has a striking clock tower that you can see from anywhere in town. As the oldest church on Martha Vineyard, the Federated Church captures the colonial-Massachusetts’ feel.
During my trip all of the church doors were locked except for one so I respectfully entered the church and took a peek inside. Visiting this church made me feel like I stepped back in time. The church had old boxed pews, wooden chairs and a large bronze organ in the back. As I was about to leave, I noticed that each congregation member had a name tag for Sunday service.
The Pagoda Tree
The Pagoda Tree on Martha’s Vineyard is the oldest pagoda tree on the North American continent. The story of Martha Vineyard’s Pagoda Tree goes like this: Captain Thomas Milton, an English sailor, admired the pagoda trees from Asia so much that he planted a pagoda tree seed here in the early 1800s. This massive tree stands over 40 feet tall and shades South Water Street.
Dr. Daniel Fisher House
Another must see in Edgartown is the Dr. Daniel Fisher House. What makes this mansion so special is its architectural style. Built in 1840, the Dr. Daniel Fisher House was built in the Federal style and belonged to… you guessed it, Dr. Daniel Fisher – a Massachusetts’ whaling tycoon.
Sometime between the 19th and 20th century, Senator William Morgan Butler purchased the Dr. Daniel Fisher House and made architectural and landscape improvements to the estate. The Dr. Daniel Fisher House is one of the beautiful places on the island where you can have a scenic vineyard wedding or classy event.
Although I missed the guided tour, I explored the property on my own. The Fisher House’s lawn was immaculate. I adored the semi-circle veranda on the side of the house and I loved the hidden seashell path out back.
Just behind the Fisher House is the island’s oldest standing residence, The Vincent House. Built in 1672, The Vincent House was owned by the Vincent family, a prominent Massachusetts family who owned the house for generations until 1940. The house was eventually donated to the Martha Vineyard’s Trust in 1977 by the MacKenty and Bigelow families and moved to its current location on the Fisher House estate.
The Vincent House is the oldest standing unaltered house on Martha’s Vineyard and it’s now a history museum that celebrates people living on Martha’s Vineyard for hundreds of years.
Not too far from Edgardtown is the Lighthouse Beach.
As the name might suggest, Lighthouse Beach is home to the Edgartown Lighthouse which overlooks the Edgartown Outer Harbor.
Things to do in Oak Bluffs
What used to be a retreat site for practicing Methodists during the 19th century is now one of Martha Vineyard’s historic landmarks. Located in the neighborhood of Oak Bluffs, The Campground is a vibrant, historical community that is famous for its Gingerbread Cottages and iron Tabernacle. During the 1800s, the Methodists religious community migrated here and built temporary tents. Eventually they were replaced with small wooden gingerbread cottages. There are over 300 gingerbread houses on the island. Many have whimsical names like Pink House, Angel Cottage, and Sea Shrimp.
One of the best ways to enjoy a budget-friendly afternoon on Martha’s Vineyard is by relaxing at any of the Oak Bluffs beaches. Since Martha’s Vineyard was once a historic whaling center, the island has lots of gorgeous lighthouses that look out into the Atlantic.
South Beach (Katama Beach)
South Beach (or Katama Beach) is one of the popular beaches to visit on the island. It is a three-mile-long barrier beach. This means that one side of the beach is ideal for surfing while the other side of the beach is perfect for hanging out by the water.
Aquinnah Cliff is another one of Martha Vineyard’s popular attractions. These grandiose clay cliffs are stunning, but be careful, these cliffs are cordoned off for “special environmental protection” to ensure your safety.
What other things to do on Martha’s Vineyard would you add to the list?
Danielle is a travel finance strategist, author, speaker and podcaster. She paid off $63,000 of student loan debt in 4 years, bought a house at 27 and has traveled to 26 countries. She refuses to let her financial responsibilities hold her back from living life on her own terms.