bright yellow shack on water.

The Truth About Why a Martha’s Vineyard Vacation is So Popular

The sun-soaked beaches and lush green forests make Martha’s Vineyard one of the most desirable vacation spots for visitors in the US. Although most people come for a Martha’s Vineyard vacation in the summer, there are plenty of events, activities, and stunning landscapes that make this island a popular retreat all months of the year.

Besides catering to beachgoers and outdoor enthusiasts, Martha’s Vineyard also attracts numerous celebrities, artists, and politicians from around the world. Once you plan your Martha’s Vineyard vacation, you’ll see why everyone is eager to spend time on this beautiful island off Cape Cod.

Martha’s Vineyard Population

In terms of the Martha’s Vineyard population, the majority of people that visit the island are tourists. However, there are approximately 17,000 permanent residents that live on the island year-round. 

During the summer, Martha’s Vineyard tourism causes the population of the island to explode by an astounding 750%. Between summer residents, vacationers and day trippers, more than 150,000 people visit the island each summer.

The majority of homes on the island are only occupied during the busy summer season. For those planning Martha’s Vineyard vacations, it’s important to book far in advance in order to lock down accommodation, flights, or ferry tickets to the island.

3 kids hiking through the woods
Martha’s Vineyard has lots of easy hiking trails which are perfect for family hiking.

Why Visit Martha’s Vineyard?

There are numerous reasons why people choose to visit Martha’s Vineyard for their vacation. Someone described Martha’s Vineyard as idealised country living for people from the city. That’s probably a fair assessment. 

Retro Charm

From the rocky coastlines and sparkling blue waters to the rural towns and charming villages, Martha’s Vineyard has a certain quality unlike most other vacation destinations in the US.

There are no traffic lights on the island. There was a massive brouhaha when the town’s giant traffic circle in the center of the island was installed. People opposed a traffic light even though the 4 way junction was both busy and dangerous. 

downtown Edgartown with  light breaking through the clouds
Downtown edgartown has lots of boutiques and places to eat and drink.

All the little boutique stores, cyclists on cycle lanes and houses on big lots hark back to a simpler time – maybe nostalgia for the 1950’s? You can let your kids cycle and pick blueberries without fear of being kidnapped or run over. The movie theatres are small and the local bank has lollipops on the counter.  

Think Pleasantville with organic products and good coffee.

One of the biggest events in the summer is the Agricultural Fair where quilts are on display, home made jams for sale, and farm animals can be petted. There’s also a little amusement rides for the kids, and fun actives like pan throwing and pig racing. 

All this retro charm comes at a price though. It’s expensive (relative to the mainland) to keep this lifestyle going. Many local residents earn their living during the height of the busy season juggling a couple of different jobs. 

Outdoor Activities

    With dozens of hiking trails and bike paths, Martha’s Vineyard is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Explore the forests in the Tisbury Meadow Preserve or cycle along Beach Road Path for unbelievable ocean views.

    bright yellow shack on water.
    People who love water based activities love Martha’s Vineyard

    There’s great fishing around Martha’s Vineyard for fishing fanatics. There’s also lots of opportunities for boating, sailing and other activities. 

    Urban Country Living

    Go for a leisurely stroll in Edgartown to enjoy a day of gourmet dining and retail therapy. Martha’s Vineyard and Oak Bluffs also offers dining and shopping opportunities.

    There are no malls on the island and the stores tend to be small and individually owned. There are a couple of large retailers which have made their start from Martha’s Vineyard – The Black Dog empire and Vineyard Vines. Menemsha Blues is another locally grown company. 

    a beautiful traditional bike in front of a porch
    In the summer time, large mop heads of hydrangeas are everywhere.

    You can get great coffee on island even though there’s no Starbucks. The farmer’s markets are also wonderful as are the vintage fairs run at Grange Hall in West Tisbury.

    With so many wealthy visitors from elsewhere coming to the Vineyard, the restaurant scene is excellent. For example, the Obamas would have date nights at local establishments like the Sweet Life Cafe and the Beach Plum. Lots of celebrities go incognito to The Chilmark Tavern as well. 

    Beautiful Beaches

      If you’re looking to spend the afternoon soaking up the sun, then Martha’s Vineyard also has plenty of soft-sand beaches. Some of the beaches are privately owned and only accessible to the residents of the town so check out this list of the best beaches in Martha’s Vineyard before you go. 

      aerial view of Edgartown
      An aerial view of Chappaquidick in Martha’s Vineyard

      A Variety of Entertainment

      Being so close to Boston and New York, you get a fair share of education and health professionals. You also have politicians who come up from Washington D.C.. Martha’s Vineyard is a Democratic stronghold but you still get pockets of Republicans. 

      There’s a wealthy African-American community who spend their summers in the Vineyard. African Americans could vacation in Martha’s Vineyard even while segregation was the rule of the law. 

      There are lots of activities catering to people interested in the arts and education. For example, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center has regularly scheduled films that include a talk with the director of the film after the screening. Popular summer activities include the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival, the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival and the Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival. 

      Martha’s Vineyard in Popular Culture

      Martha’s Vineyard also catapulted into the international consciousness in the 1960’s and 1970’s with two incidents – the tragic Kennedy accident at Chappaquidick and the release of the movie Jaws by Spielberg. 

      The Kennedy Incident

      The Kennedy Family were America’s golden family in the middle of the 20th century. America mourned the loss of  both the young President John F. Kennedy assassinated in Dallas in 1963 and his brother Robert Kennedy assassinated while running for President in California in 1968. The remaining hope of the family fell on the youngest Kennedy brother, Ted Kennedy who became a senator from Massachusetts in 1962. 

      In 1969, the married Ted Kennedy, however,  was involved in a car accident in Chappaquiddick, a part of Edgartown in Massachusetts. The car had been driven off a small bridge into water.  He left his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, to drown in the car. Mary Jo was a campaign aide with whom he had been drinking at a private party. When the news was made public, Ted Kennedy’s chance of becoming president were over. 

      stones lain on a wooden bridge rail in tribute to Mary Jo Kopechne who died in 1969
      A memorial to Mary Jo Kopechne was started on the bridge the car went off after the 2018 Chappaquidick movie.

      In the aftermath of this incident, Martha’s Vineyard and Chappaquiddick Island became household names as the story circulated through worldwide news and media. Ted Kennedy, however, eventually redeemed his name in the public eye with all the work he did serving as a US Senator for almost 50 years. 

      The Fame of Jaws

        Movie buffs will also be delighted to know that the island has been the setting for one of the world’s most beloved films. Steven Spielberg filmed scenes from Jaws, Jaws 2, and Jaws Revenge right here in Martha’s Vineyard. During your visit, see if you can spot any famous Martha’s Vineyard Jaws filming locations!

        For example, the so called Jaws Bridge is famous in the movie for the scene when the summer vacationers are attacked on a beach. Nowadays, Jaws Bridge is famous for the people who like to jump off it into the water below.

        You will also recognise, the up-island fishing village of Menemsha from the movie. 

          Celebrity Visitors

            If you look back at Martha’s Vineyard history, you’ll see that it has been a popular summer destination and vacation spot for many celebrities. This pristine island is a retreat where they can escape twithout being bombarded by fans or paparazzi.

              David Letterman, Jennifer Lawrence, Bill Murray, Quincy Jones, Chelsea Handler, and Larry David are a handful of celebrities that frequently visit the island for vacation. Other actors, like Michael J Fox, Diane Sawyer, and Spike Lee, all own private homes in one of the six different towns dotted around Martha’s Vineyard

                There have also been numerous musicians that have lived on the island, including James Taylor and Carly Simon. Carly Simon’s brother still owns a store in Vineyard Haven. James Taylor’s brother runs the Menemsha bicycle ferry. Authors Judy Blume and Shel Silverstein also owned homes on Martha’s Vineyard at one point in time.

                the bike ferry sign
                The bike ferry connecting Menemsha to Lobsterville Beach

                  The island also attracts a number of American politicians. During the years of his presidency, the Obamas stayed around Chilmark.  When they bought a home, the Martha’s Vineyard Obama home is a 30 acre complex located near the Edgartown Great Pond. Bill and Hilary Clinton also spend many of their vacations on Martha’s Vineyard with their daughter Chelsea as ‘guests’ of their famous friends.

                  A book of postcards entitled "we miss you Barack Obama"
                  Obama postcards for sale in an Edgartown store

                    Between the stunning scenery and laid-back atmosphere, it’s easy to see why Martha’s Vineyard continues to be one of the best vacation spots in the United States. And while the popularity of Martha’s Vineyard has grown over the last few decades, it remains a relaxing escape for residents, tourists, and celebrities.

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                    yellow shack over water
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