Martha’s Vineyard is one of those places on Earth where a little piece of my heart is permanently placed. This quaint little island off the coast of Massachusetts is host to so many of my most precious childhood memories, and today I found out it will he home to many in the future as well (more on that announcement later!)
What is it about Martha’s Vineyard that makes it such a special destination? It’s a mix of things. It’s beautiful beaches and well protected natural areas, it’s charming and distinctive little towns dotted across the island, it’s a slowed down, community centric way of life, it’s a thriving arts and cultural scene, and its endless possibilities for outdoor adventures. It’s the perfect summer destination, and we aren’t the only ones who think so — the year-round population of 20,000 swells to 100,000 in the summer. It’s also what it isn’t — it isn’t a spring break hotspot (though I love those too!), it isn’t a place where you’ll find a Starbucks, it isn’t filled with high-rise condos or strip malls.
While my parents are big international travelers now, (I’ve been to Greece, Turkey, Thailand and Iceland with my mom in the past year and Cambodia and Thailand with my Dad in the past three!) when I was a kid they both worked big corporate jobs with hectic schedules. When vacation time came around, the last thing they wanted to do was strap their bratty kids onto long haul flights and drag us around foreign lands. So instead they would rent a beach house, throw my sister and I into the car with a week’s worth of amusements, and we’d take the ferry over to the beach for a relaxing family holiday. We had annual cupcake decorating contests, island events we loved to attend and beaches we’d always return to. It was our happy place.
However, my parents separated when I was in my teens (luckily they get along great and even travel together now) and I hadn’t returned since. So when I made plans to attend Jawsfest, my mom jumped on board and invited along her boyfriend, his daughter and one of her friends as well. We couldn’t wait to get back on the island after so many years away!
This trip was full of firsts for us. The main difference was that instead of renting a house… we went camping. Camping on Martha’s Vineyard, the presidential playground? Yes, it’s possible! And for us, it was really the only option since scheduling limitations had us visiting from a Thursday to a Thursday, and renting outside the typical Saturday to Saturday groove is basically impossible in high season. Sure, we could have stayed in one of the island’s handful of B&Bs or hotels, but for a fraction of the price we were able to rent a small cabin and a campsite at the Martha’s Vineyard Campground.
The cabin was super basic, with nothing but a mini-fridge and a bunch of beds cleverly stacked around the two teeny rooms. I was pretty skeptical of the whole experience and I do admit I begrudged walking to the bathrooms in the middle of the night and having to walk to the main building to use WiFi. But those small issues aside, it was a great experience. I liked the community feeling around the campground, and the fact that budget options exist on the island.
Also, I liked that it forced us to get out and do more. When you are staying in a big beautiful beach house, you don’t tend to have much motivation to leave it! Staying at the campsite was fun, but I definitely didn’t want to lounge around the 8 x 10 cabin all day. So we explored the island a little bit more than usual on this trip, which meant lots of excursions to the beach.
The weather came in and out through the week but even if the skies were cloudy I enjoyed sitting in the sand and reading a book. As Martha’s Vineyard was my first real introduction to the sea, I always associate the big rough waves and smell of saltwater and seaweed with the ocean. While I obviously adore the crystal clear and calm waters in the Caribbean and in Southeast Asia, they don’t say “seaside!” to me like a big gulp of ocean air and a day getting tossed in the waves.
Another first for this trip? Jumping off the iconic Sengekontacket Bridge. Somehow in all those years of coming to the Vineyard, I don’t even remember watching this island tradition taking place. I was more than happy to add it to my roster of Martha’s Vineyard experiences, though. I really love jumping off things.
There’s more to Martha’s than the water, though. Exploring the island’s five charming and distinct towns is what sets this New England destination apart from its summer destination competition.
The most elegant and upscale of the island enclaves is Edgartown. It’s a great spot for gaping at big houses and window shopping at budget-busting boutiques.
This is the side of the island we’ve stayed around most frequently, so we have all kinds of favorite old haunts here. However this is probably the part of the island that most lives up to the stuffy stereotype, and I do admit it can seem a bit exclusive.
More up my alley these days is the sweet town of Oak Bluffs. This is the busiest and biggest town on the island, with unparalleled options for dining, nightlife, and distraction. There’s a town beach, a spacious seaside park, a little movie theater and attractive rows of candy colored homes.
In our “seeing the Vineyard in a new way” kick, my mom and I signed up for a walking tour of the Campground, the official home of the historic Martha’s Vineyard Campmeeting Association. Once upon a time this was a gathering place for a large annual Methodist gathering. Over time, the attendees’ tent camps evolved into a neighborhood of Victorian-looking cottages that seem to be in a quaint competition with gingerbread trim, bright colors and plentiful flowerboxes. Today, the neighborhood of three hundred homes looks much as it once did, with residents whiling away the day sipping tea on their front porches and children running through the shady green parks. We fell in love with the area.
I mean we really fell in love with it. While we were touring the campground, my mom noticed a few For Sale signs and was absolutely shocked at the list prices, having had no idea that you could own Martha’s Vineyard property for so few figures. The seed was planted. In the two months since then, she’s traveled back to the island to look at a sweet yellow cottage (not pictured) again and proceeded to fall more and more in love with it. After the requisite real estate drama and hesitation and soul-searching, she decided to pull the trigger. It was a big decision, but she knew she wanted a place where we could host friends and family, a place that would stay in the family for generations to come. So an offer was made, fingers were crossed, and we waited. This morning I received a happy phone call that the place is ours! I’m so grateful to my mom for this generous gift to our family today and for the future.
Word’s can’t express how happy I am that Martha’s Vineyard will continue to be a part of my life. It brings me great joy to think that the place where I once played as a girl, I’ll someday watch my future nieces and nephews frolic around as well. And in the meantime, I look forward to helping my mom fix up our sweet new home and exploring the Vineyard as official residents! Of course it will all be documented here, so I hope you’re just as excited to read about it as I am to share it.
Congratulations and thank you to my mom! And don’t worry, there’s more Martha’s Vineyard goodness coming up this week…
Is there a place in your life that holds memories and meaning? A place you have a past and bright hopes for the future?