My family has been vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard for 12 years. My husband and I went for the first time right before we got married, then took our baby there on our first family vacation when she was 8 months old. We’ve been going every year (skipping just one when our second daughter was born) and it’s my favorite summer vacation spot.
There’s so much to do on the island, that we discover something new each year. I can’t even attempt to give you a complete guide of everything to do on the island, but here’s my personal guide to a Martha’s Vineyard Family Vacation.
Where to Stay
If you rent a house or condo and have a baby or toddler, Martha’s Vineyard Baby Rental is a great service to rent portable cribs and other baby essentials. My girls are older now, but we used MV Baby Rentals years ago for crib rentals and they are great.
How to Get on the Island
Make a ferry reservation. Steamship Authority opens its online reservations around February. Spots fill quickly so I recommend that you make your reservation as soon as possible. Tickets will cost you $16 per adult round trip and $8.50 per child ages 5 – 12 round trip. Kids under 5 ride free. If you’re bringing your car on the island and I wouldn’t do it any other way, especially with kids, you’ll need to add $137 for your car ( under 17 feet) round trip. If your car is 17 feet- 20 feet it’ll cost you $157 round trip.
Martha’s Vineyard does have a small airport. You can fly directly out of New York City, but you’ll need mucho dinero. On JetBlue for my family of four it would cost me $1,978.00.
1) A trip to MV is not complete without a ride on The Flying Hourses Carousel, the nation’s oldest platform carousel. As you go around, you try to grab as many rings as you can. Get the brass ring and you win a free ride.
2) Island Cove Adventures is the place to go for a round of mini-golf for 18 holes on a beautifully landscaped course with waterfalls and streams. An outdoor grill offers surprisingly great burgers, hot dogs, chicken wraps and more. Ice cream is available for dessert.
3) For something really unique, a visit to Island Alpaca is a must. Get up close to over seventy alpaca at this farm and shop, which sells tons of knit alpaca items.
4) Rainy day? Martha’s Vineyard Arena offers open ice skating several days a week.
5) The Martha’s Vineyard YMCA is a beautiful facility. A family week pass will cost you $110 and allows you daily free family swim in a great pool that has a cool water slide. We join on our annual vacation.
6) The Field Gallery is a gorgeous outdoor and indoor gallery space that’s a must visit on the island. The outdoor area showcases artist Thomas Maley’s whimsical sculptures. You can bring a picnic lunch and if you ask the gallery operator, they’ll give the kids a scavenger hunt sheet and a prize, (a Maley sculpture button) when they’ve completed the fun activity.
7) Go to the beach! The beaches on Martha’s Vineyard vary from protected, shallow, clear-water stretches on the northern and eastern sides of the Island to expanses of rumbling surf along the south side. We love Joseph Sylvia State Beach, aka Bend in the Road Beach, which offers two miles of clear, very mild beach between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. If you want bigger waves, then head to South Beach, aka Katama Beach in Edgartown.
8) Explore a lighthouse. We love to visit Gay Head Cliffs and Gay Head Lighthouse at Aquinnah. It’s a nice scenic ride across the island and gorgeous view at the top. There are restaurants and some shops too. You can even go inside the lighthouse and climb to the top for the most spectacular view.
Where to Eat
Getting really good coffee on the island has been a challenge for me, so I brew my own where we stay, but this year I hit the jackpot when I discovered a great cafe behind Edgartown Books called Behind the Bookstore. The baristas are knowledgeable, friendly and serve a great cold brew iced coffee. BTB uses Intelligentsia Coffee.
Artcliff Diner in Vineyard Haven is hands down my favorite place for breakfast on the island. Everything is always great—always. This small, quaint, hip little diner is just perfect. This year we tried Art Cliff for lunch, and it was as good. My “Church Street Salad” with mixed greens, falafel, chickpeas and avocado was amazing.
Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company in Oak Bluffs has excellent food, a kid’s menu that doesn’t dumb it down with frozen nuggets and hot dogs, good atmosphere and killer cocktails. Everyone in our family was happy.
Blue Canoe Grill in Vineyard Haven offers gorgeous outdoor waterfront seating and excellent food and service. This is a great date night place if you have a babysitter.
Sharkey’s Cantina in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown is a hit with my family for it’s good Mexican food, shark decor and plastic shark toy for the kids and strong margaritas.
The Sweet Life Cafe in Oak Bluffs is my favorite place to go for a special night out. If you have a sitter, make reservations here to sit in the romantic outdoor garden patio covered with twinkling lights. Food is excellent, especially the desserts, and the wine list and cocktails are wonderful.
Speaking of desserts, a trip to MV isn’t complete until you’ve waited on line at Back Door Donuts in Oak Bluffs. The Martha’s Vineyard Gourmet Cafe & Bakery offers baked good and coffee during the day, but the real magic happens after it closes and reopens it’s back door for amazing warm donuts. The “back door” opens at 7:30 pm and shuts down at 1 am. Be prepared to wait in line no matter what time you get there. But the wait is so worth it once you bite into a Buttermilk Glaze donut, or an Apple Fritter, or a powdered, or a Boston Creme… The donuts are delectable.
Our favorite ice cream shop on the island is Carousel Ice Cream Factory, because they have soft serve, which is safe for my daughter who has a peanut allergy. It’s also fun to hop on the carousel horses for a photo-op and there are benches outside to sit and enjoy your cool treats.