Trying to decide where to stay on your Vineyard vacation? You’ve come to the right place to learn more about the 6 towns on Martha’s Vineyard and which one will be best for you.
For over 20 years, I have been visiting Martha’s Vineyard. In that time, I have come to love and appreciate how the six towns – Aquinnah, Chilmark, West Tisbury, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven – each offer something unique to visitors.
From the stunning natural beauty of the Aquinnah coastline, to the busy beach-town atmosphere of Oak Bluffs and the relaxed elegance of Edgartown, I have visited them all multiple times. I can confidently say they are sure to captivate you too.
Up-island towns of Martha’s Vineyard
Up-Island Martha’s Vineyard refers to the northern and western part of the island and the towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark and West Tisbury. Heading west, you’ll drive by the rolling hills, woodlands, meadows and ponds of West Tisbury before arriving at the ruggedly beautiful coastline of Aquinnah.
If you head north, you’ll find yourself at Lambert’s Cove, one of the most beautiful beaches on Martha’s Vineyard. The up-island towns make up the quieter part of the island with fewer hotels and restaurants and private homes on larger parcels of land. If you are looking for peace, solitude and proximity to nature, this is the Martha’s Vineyard area for you.
Formerly known as Gay Head, the town of Aquinnah is the westernmost of the towns on Martha’s Vineyard. It is renowned for its stunning natural beauty, impressive cliffs and lighthouse.
The most noteworthy site in Aquinnah is undoubtedly the Cliffs. These colorful clay formations are visible from both land and sea.
You will still hear both town names being used so if you see references to the Gay Head Cliffs or Gay Head Lighthouse and the Aquinnah Cliffs or Aquinnah Lighthouse, they are actually the same place.
Follow a boardwalk down to Moshup Beach, a public swimming beach located at the base of the cliffs if you want to see them up close.
If you are looking for the best Martha’s Vineyard sunset, Aquinnah is where you will find it. Sunset at the cliffs is truly spectacular although be warned, you will be experiencing this spiritual moment with hundreds of other visitors if you go during the peak summer months.
If you’re celebrating a special occasion or looking for a romantic location for a meal, you cannot beat the Outermost Inn for incredible food in an incredible location. My expert tip: this is the spot for a front-row, no-crowds, Martha’s Vineyard sunset you’ll never forget.
Aside from its natural beauty, Aquinnah is also known for its rich Wampanoag history and culture. You’ll find locally owned shops selling Wampum jewellery and other crafts in the cultural district. The Aquinnah Cultural Center is the place to learn about the earliest inhabitants of this region.
The town of Aquinnah is private and quiet in the off-season, but come summertime, local eateries, shops and hotels re-open and welcome visitors.
The last dry town on Martha’s Vineyard, Chilmark is located next to Aquinnah in the west of the island. It’s a rural, sparsely populated town, home to stunning sunsets and the most expensive real estate on Martha’s Vineyard.
A town favored by people who want to get away from it all, it’s a popular choice for vacationing celebrities. The sprawling estates, acres of woodland and large farms makes it the perfect spot for those seeking privacy on their vacation.
The village of Menemsha looks like a traditional, old-world fishing village straight out of the movies. Perhaps this is why it was used as a filming location for the movie, Jaws. This village is my pick for the best fresh seafood on the island. Go to the Menemsha Galley for a lobster roll and a postcard-perfect view of the harbor
If you are driving from the east of the island to Chilmark, take Middle Road as it’s the most picturesque drive. It reminds me so much of Ireland, with green fields, sheep and stone walls all around.
There are a few stores in Chilmark but most of the town is agricultural or residential land. This is a great part of the island if you like to buy your food from farm stands. I go to North Tabor farm for the best eggs and the Grey Barn for their award-winning cheese.
Private vacation rentals are your best choice for accommodation in this part of Martha’s Vineyard or The Beach Plum Inn if you prefer hotel-style lodgings.
I’ve always found it confusing that West Tisbury is considered “up-island” as it is located right in the middle of Martha’s Vineyard. This town has a northern as well as a southern coast and similar to Chilmark, is an agricultural town. The Martha’s Vineyard airport is located here in West Tisbury, Massachusetts.
One of the biggest events of the Vineyard calendar takes place in West Tisbury. The Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair has been an annual tradition for over 160 years. My kids look forward to this every year and I look forward to a delicious burger from the West Tisbury Firefighters stand. Throw a tip in the firefighter boot and they’ll ring the bell!
Long Point in the south and Lamberts Cove in the north are two excellent West Tisbury beaches, however, Lambert’s Cove is only accessible to area home owners and renters during the summer season and a permit is required.
You will love West Tisbury if you enjoy outdoor pursuits like hiking and biking. Long Point beach is actually inside a 600 acre wildlife refuge with countless trails to enjoy. Check out the free TrailsMV app for maps and more information
One of my favorite breakfast sandwiches on Martha’s Vineyard is from 7a foods in West Tisbury but get there early – they sell out fast!
Down-island towns in Martha’s Vineyard
Down-Island Martha’s Vineyard describes the south and east of the island. This area contains the largest population centers on the island, including Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and the town of Vineyard Haven. If you are getting a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, you will arrive in one of these busy towns.
If you are looking for an active, busy vacation with lots to do, right on your doorstep, these are the best towns on Martha’s Vineyard for you. Most of the island’s hotels and restaurants are here, as well as shopping districts, galleries and most of the island’s traffic during the summer!
Edgartown is situated on the southeastern coast of the island. It’s regularly labelled one of the most beautiful towns in Massachusetts and is known for its spotless beaches, stunning architecture, and rich history. One of the main attractions in Edgartown is the picturesque harbor.
I recommend strolling along the docks or standing on top of memorial wharf to watch the boats come in and out. The harbor area also offers several options for dining overlooking the water such as the Seafood Shanty or Atlantic Fish & Chop House
Downtown Edgartown is a walkable hub featuring elegant stately homes, art galleries, high-quality dining, luxury hotels and upscale boutiques. From here, you can hop on the “On Time” ferry and take a short ride to Chappaquiddick. This island offers a tranquil escape with its unspoiled natural beauty and secluded beaches.
The Katama neighborhood is attractive to visitors because of its peaceful ambience and proximity to the pristine South Beach. This is a great location to stay if you want the convenience of Edgartown village without the hustle and bustle. It’s just a short drive (15 minutes ) or bike ride to the downtown area.
If you would like to know more, you will find everything you need in my in-depth guide to Edgartown which covers things to do, accommodation, dining, events and frequently asked questions about the town.
Oak Bluffs is a vibrant port town located on the northeastern coast of the island. It was originally known as Cottage City and this is where you can see the famous, colorful, gingerbread cottages. The history of these homes is fascinating and I highly recommend a visit to the Cottage Museum to find out more.
One of the most popular attractions in the town of Oak Bluffs is the Flying Horses Carousel, which is the oldest operating platform carousel in America. Put this on your “must-see” list – you can’t leave the Vineyard without taking a ride on one of the beautifully crafted, carefully restored horses.
The big challenge is to grab a ring each time you pass by the ring arm. If you catch the brass one, you get to stay on for another ride. My 6 year old (with the help of dad) caught it twice in a row last summer!
Ocean Park is a nice place to take a walk in Oak Bluffs as it offers stunning views of the ocean and provides plenty of space for picnics and relaxation. The park also hosts events throughout the summer and is a favorite spot to sit and watch the fireworks in August. Get there early!
Oak Bluffs offers plenty of opportunities for indoor, rainy day activities as well as outdoor activities such as fishing, kayaking and sailing excursions. The beach is a short walk from the main shopping a dining area, Circuit Ave.
There are plenty of summer camps and activities for kids available in Oak Bluffs. It’s one of the best towns on Martha’s Vineyard for families.
There’s also a huge range of dining options in this town, especially for casual meals out with kids. I like the row of restaurants and bars at the dockside marina for the great views of the harbor. This is always a buzzing, lively area. Nancy’s restaurant is a popular spot here for cocktails and fresh seafood.
Vineyard Haven is actually the name for the village/harbor area within the town of Tisbury. Although Tisbury is the official town name, you will rarely hear it being used. The town is most often referred to as Vineyard Haven by visitors and locals, alike.
This bustling port town has year-round ferry services and the majority of visitors to the island (by boat) will arrive here, especially in the winter months when the Oak Bluffs ferry terminal is closed. If you visit, you will notice that Vineyard Haven appears less like a resort town and more like the year-round residential community that it is.
Vineyard Haven is somewhat of a cultural and creative hub with theatres, art galleries, the MV Film Center and the Martha’s Vineyard Museum all located here. The Museum is well worth a visit, my favorite things to see here are the original lamp from the Gay Head Light House and the Jaws exhibit documenting the making of the film on Martha’s Vineyard.
The variety and quality of restaurants in Vineyard Haven has improved each year and the easing of restrictive town liquor laws has helped with this. For a great view while you eat, it’s hard to beat The Black Dog Tavern.
The windows frame a perfect postcard of the beach, ocean and the Steamship Authority ferry as it approaches the dock. My top tip: go on a cold day off-season and order an overflowing mug of their excellent chowder to warm you right up.
Map of Martha’s Vineyard towns
A Martha’s Vineyard towns map showing the location of each town and the dividing town lines.
Best towns on Martha’s Vineyard
I am often asked, What are the best towns in Martha’s Vineyard for lobster, sunset, families etc and while this is really down to your personal preference, I have listed my favorites below, based on my own experience
Best town in Martha’s Vineyard for Families
If you have a baby or very young children, you have less requirements for constant entertainment and restaurants with children’s menus so I would recommend staying in Edgartown. It’s walkable, quieter than Oak Bluffs, there are small, baby-friendly beaches with calm waters in town and playgrounds for little kids nearby.
Oak Bluffs is the best town on Martha’s Vineyard for families with older children as there are a huge variety of family-friendly restaurants to choose from. You also have attractions like the Flying Horses Carousel, the amusement arcade, bowling and basketball courts in town as well as nearby tennis and sailing summer camps.
Oak Bluffs is a safe and easy town for older children to navigate by themselves and there is more for them to do here than in Edgartown.
Best town in Martha’s Vineyard for a Bachelorette Party
Oak Bluffs is the best town for a Bacherlorette party because you have endless dining and accommodation choices as well as a lively bar, live music and nightlife scene.
During the day, you have the beach right in town, private boat trips leaving from the marina, a wide range of shopping options and outdoor activities like paddleboarding, kayaking or biking.
Best town in Martha’s Vineyard for Breakfast
Vineyard Haven is the best town for breakfast because of the number of consistently high quality restaurants with a broad choice of items at a range of budgets to suit everyone.
The Black Dog Tavern (open year round), The Little House Cafe, The Waterside Market and the crown jewel of the Vineyard Haven breakfast scene- The Artcliff Diner. The Artcliff has been closed for renovations but is rumoured to be re-opening in 2023.
Between them, these restaurants offer all the classic staples like pancakes, french toast, breakfast sandwiches, omelettes, granola, baked goods, fruit, coffee and anything else you can think of!
Best town in Martha’s Vineyard for a Day
If you only have one day to spend on Martha’s Vineyard, spend it in Oak Bluffs. You’ll be able to maximise your time here by getting a ferry right into town so you won’t have to drive to another location when you arrive.
The main attractions here are all within walking distance of each other. Your list should include: the Flying Horses Carousel, a walk around the colorful gingerbread cottages of the Campground, the cottage museum, shopping on Circuit Ave, a visit to Inkwell or State beach and a stroll around the marina.
A little further out of town you could visit East Chop Lighthouse or jump off the famous Jaws Bridge on Beach road. Another way to see a lot in a short time is to take a tour.
There are short, self-guided tours of the town available year-round. Seasonally, you can take an African American Heritage trail tour of Oak Bluffs. This will take you to sites highlighting the contributions of people of African descent to the history of Martha’s Vineyard.
Best town in Martha’s Vineyard for Lobster
Chilmark is the best of the towns on Martha’s Vineyard for lobster. Fishermen from all around the island (and even some towns on the Cape) land their catches in the Chilmark village of Menemsha.
You will find lobster served in nearly every restaurant in the west of the island and sold in stores like Larsen’s fish market and Menemsha fish market. Try the Homeport restaurant or Menemsha Galley for lobster rolls or fresh steamed lobster
Best town in Martha’s Vineyard for Sunset
Aquinnah wins the prize for best sunsets on Martha’s Vineyard. With unobstructed western views over the ocean, you can see the very moment the sun drops below the horizon and into the sea. The Aquinnah cliffs are the most popular location for visitors to catch a sunset due to the high vantage point.
If you are a true sunset lover, you can’t beat renting a vacation home in Aquinnah and enjoying a private sunset view at the close of every day.
Video: Martha’s Vineyard towns
Towns Near Martha’s Vineyard
Martha’s Vineyard is an island so any nearby towns are located on the mainland and can only be reached by taking a boat or plane off the island.
The closest Massachusetts towns to Martha’s Vineyard are Falmouth, Woods Hole and Hyannis on Cape Cod. There are direct ferry services to these towns.
The closest big city to Martha’s Vineyard is Boston, a short , 19 minute flight away. New Bedford, Massachusetts also offers a direct ferry service to the island.
Frequently Asked Questions about Martha’s Vineyard
Why is Martha’s Vineyard Famous?
Home to iconic lighthouses, secluded beaches and some of the most beautiful towns in Massachusetts, this picturesque island has long been a popular vacation destination for US Presidents and celebrities alike.
The legendary Steven Spielberg movie “Jaws” was filmed on Martha’s Vineyard. Edgartown was used as the location for the fictional seaside town of Amity and many locals appeared as extras in the film
The island has also been at the center of some high profile news stories. In 1969, Mary Jo Kopechne drowned inside a vehicle that had been driven off Dyke Bridge by then-senator, Ted Kennedy. This came to be known as the “Chappaquiddick incident”.
In 1999, a plane piloted by John F. Kennedy Jr crashed off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, claiming the lives of Kennedy, his wife Carolyn Bessette and her sister, Lauren.
Most recently, Martha’s Vineyard was in the news when a plane chartered by Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, brought approximately 50 asylum seekers to the island.
How many towns are on Martha’s Vineyard?
There are 6 towns on Martha’s Vineyard. The up-island towns are Aquinnah, Chilmark and West Tisbury. The down-island towns are, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury (more commonly known as Vineyard Haven).
What is the most affluent town on martha’s vineyard
Edgartown is the most affluent town on Martha’s Vineyard on the basis of personal per capita income (Wikipedia). Vineyard Haven has the most expensive real estate on the island (Zillow)
Can you drive directly to Martha’s Vineyard?
No, you cannot drive directly to Martha’s Vineyard because it is an island. There is no bridge to the mainland and Martha’s Vineyard is only accessible by ferry or plane. You can bring your car to the island on the Steamship Authority car ferry which leaves from Woods Hole
How Big Is Martha’s Vineyard?
Martha’s Vineyard is an island of almost 100 square miles, located south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The island lies only 7 miles off the mainland and is accessible via ferry or by air. Martha’s Vineyard is 9 miles wide and 23 miles long at its furthest points.
How Did Martha’s Vineyard Get Its Name?
In 1602, English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold led the first recorded European expedition to Cape Cod. The story goes, he named the island for his mother-in-law or daughter, both named Martha.
What are the 6 towns of Martha’s Vineyard?
The 6 towns of Martha’s Vineyard are Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury (commonly known as Vineyard Haven), West Tisbury, Aquinnah and Chilmark
Final words about the towns on Martha’s Vineyard
Each of the towns on Martha’s Vineyard has its own unique history, character and attractions, making it easy to find one that suits your interests and preferences. From the picturesque streets of Edgartown to the energy of Oak Bluffs and the peaceful beaches of Aquinnah, there is something for everyone on this idyllic island.
Whether you are looking for a quiet getaway, an active outdoor vacation or an unmatched culinary experience, there is a town on Martha’s Vineyard for you!
As you explore these towns, you’ll discover a sense of community, warmth, and a slower pace of life that is both refreshing and rejuvenating. It’s my wish that Martha’s Vineyard captivates you as much as it has captivated me and that you will return time and time again. Enjoy your trip!