If you love Martha’s Vineyard like I do, no doubt you have been there in June, July, August, or September. No doubt you have been there to swim in the unusually warm waters of Vineyard Sound and Nantucket Sound or maybe you’ve just lazed on her sands, reading one of my immensely entertaining Martha’s Vineyard Mysteries (shameless plug). It’s possible that you went for the lobster rolls at The Lookout Tavern—lord knows they’re a draw for me! Or maybe all you can think about as you board the Steamship Authority Ferry is watching the sunset in Menemsha. Each of these is reason alone to go to our favourite island. Combining them is a clear explanation as to why you have to book a spot for your car six months in advance! So why would anyone go to Martha’s Vineyard in January or February or March? That’s a fair question but I’m here to tell you that off-season on Martha’s Vineyard has a lot to offer. It’s the perfect spot to decompress.
Where To Stay Off-Season
A lot of places on Martha’s Vineyard are not open all year round but a lot of them are. One of the perks of going during the off-season is that availability is higher and prices are lower. Whether you are renting a house with friends and family or staying in an inn or hotel, you have a lot more options available to you than you do in August.
The Mansion House in Vineyard Haven is open all year round and offers a lot of amenities including a pool and spa. If staying close to the ferry is important to you—not to mention close to The Black Dog Tavern—The Mansion House is a good spot with great off-season rates.
Edgartown is always a favourite spot regardless of the season and during the off-season, I like to stay at The Ashley Inn on Main Street. I have always been a country inn kinda guy. The owner Fred really couldn’t be nicer and the old world feel of The Ashley Inn is just my style. Of course, being on Main Street in Edgartown doesn’t hurt either. That was how I discovered that the earliest place to get coffee in Edgartown is at the gas station just a block up! I like to be up and out to take photos of the sunrise. If I could change one thing about Martha’s Vineyard, it would be to have a twenty-four hour coffee shop! That is the one and only perk of big city life. Then again, if I lived there, I would just make my own, wouldn’t I? I digress…
Also in Edgartown is The Edgar Hotel. The Edgar has been newly renovated and they did an excellent job. I know I said that I am not a big hotel kinda guy and I’m not, but The Edgar Hotel did a good job of blending the high-end amenities of hotel life with that distinct Martha’s Vineyard feel. I was lucky enough to get a private tour last summer and I loved what I saw. Regardless of whether you’re in one of their standard rooms or their suites, The Edgar is a lovely spot with great off-season rates.
Where To Eat Off-Season
If you’ve been to Martha’s Vineyard in the past, then no doubt you already have some favourite spots to eat. Are they open during the off-season? That’s a good question. A lot of the bigger places are closed like Nancy’s and Giordano’s. They just don’t do enough business to justify the expense of staffing and operation costs. It makes sense. However, a lot of the smaller places are ready and waiting and what’s more—those August line-ups are gone!
Breakfast is still a favourite Martha’s Vineyard meal and if you’re in Vineyard Haven, The Black Dog and The Art Cliff Diner are there as always. The Art Cliff isn’t open on Wednesdays but other than that their delicious eggs benedict (they do my favourite benny) is waiting for you! I think a national emergency would be declared if The Black Dog Tavern had to close! So, walk in, find your favourite window seat, warm your off-season hands on your coffee, and watch the ferries—you’re good.
Across island, The Edgartown Diner, and The Dock Street Coffee Shop are open during the off-season too. I have a friend who wouldn’t miss an Edgartown Diner omelette if it killed him. I’m an eggs and bacon kinda guy. Dock Street is the place to go if you want to feel like a local. The chances of you having to do the Dock Street shuffle are pretty slim though. Pick a stool and order eggs and linguica. Delicious.
As you carry on your day, you’ll find that a lot of your favourites are still open for business. The Wharf, The Newes From America, Bad Martha’s, Offshore Ale, Copper Wok, The Loft, Sharky’s, and The Town are all lively with locals but few tourists. It’s a terrific way to experience the true vibe of the island. Its good people and laid back, artistic temperament.
What To Do Off-Season
You can’t eat all the time—I know, I’ve tried. So what do you do if you can’t swim on State Beach (actually a chiropractor friend of mine does. You know who you are!), and you can’t soak up the rays on South Beach? Well, there are a few beach ideas that are pretty awesome during the off-season. All of the beaches that are closed off to the general public like Lucy Vincent Beach and Quansoo Beach are open to everyone over the winter! You can’t go swimming but on a beautiful winter day, a walk on Lucy Vincent Beach is a pretty great experience. Also, on a clear winter day, hiking the many trails on Martha’s Vineyard is one of my favourite things.
The Trustees maintain hiking trails all over the island. Some are flat and very easy while others involve steep hills. These trails are the best way to understand that there is more to Martha’s Vineyard than Circuit Avenue and Sharky’s. Climbing to the to the lookout on top of the Menemsha Hills, only to follow the trail down to the ocean again is a great way to spend a sunny afternoon.
If your day doesn’t seem to be shaping up to be hiking weather, I cannot recommend a visit to Martha’s Vineyard Museum enough. They have done an excellent job refurbishing the old marine hospital. The history of the building only adds to the impressive accrual of Martha’s Vineyard artifacts explaining the wonderful history of our little island. They have gone out of their way to exhibit Martha’s Vineyard’s place in the global history of whaling, yet still including local lore like Nancy Luce, the chicken lady.
Edgartown Books is open year round and nowhere are you going to find a friendlier staff with a broader wealth of knowledge of global and local writers. It doesn’t matter where you travel, I don’t happen to think there is ever a better souvenir or gift than a book. Don’t you agree?
Off-Season/On-Season Just Go…
It really doesn’t matter which month you choose, Martha’s Vineyard is an island like no other. It is an island of celebrity and simple pleasure. It is an island of good, hard-working people—fishermen, grocery clerks, waitresses, police officers, and fire fighters. There are ferry captains and there are tour guides. Esther will serve you bacon and eggs in the morning at Edgartown Diner and she’ll seat you for a pint at The Newes in the evening. The streets are quieter during the winter. That summer population of 130,000 people that you’re so used to is now down to a much more civilized and comfortable 17,000. The only thing that didn’t drop at all is that Martha’s Vineyard magic. The charm is still there. That feeling you get when you walk onto the ferry in Wood’s Hole still fills you up inside forcing that big city grey to leave. In the winter, our island is still everything you want it to be but surprisingly, it might just be a little bit more. Hey, it’s the Vineyard!