You’ve searched for the perfect destination for a day trip or weekend getaway in New England, and landed on the coastal island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Great choice! Now, we’ll help you nail down the important details, including how to get there, getting around, and what to do in Martha’s Vineyard for a day or two.
Read on to discover fun things to do and your best options while experiencing this Cape Cod gem.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated in August of 2023.
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Planning Your Day Trip to Martha’s Vineyard: What to Do in Martha’s Vineyard in a Day
CONTENTS: In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about the best way to spend the weekend on Martha’s Vineyard, including:
- Where is Martha’s Vineyard?
- When to Visit Martha’s Vineyard
- How to Get to Martha’s Vineyard
- The Ferry Schedule to Martha’s Vineyard from Woods Hole
- The Three Main Towns of Martha’s Vineyard
- Best Ways to Get Around Martha’s Vineyard
- 2 Day Trip to Martha’s Vineyard Itinerary
- Best Option for Dining in Martha’s Vineyard
- Where to Stay in Martha’s Vineyard
- Interactive Lodging Map for Martha’s Vineyard
- Final Thoughts on Things to Do on Martha’s Vineyard
- FAQs About Martha’s Vineyard
- Next Steps?
Where is Martha’s Vineyard?
On this small island considered part of Cape Cod, you’ll find Martha’s Vineyard.
It’s located seven miles off the coast of Massachusetts.
The northern point of the island is south of Falmouth, and it’s southeast of the Elizabethan islands.
Martha’s Vineyard is separated from the Massachusetts mainland by Vineyard Sound, and it’s 29 miles west of Nantucket Island. A day trip to Martha’s Vineyard can be a great experience, when you know how to maximize your time.
When to Visit Martha’s Vineyard
Like most of New England, you’ll find the weather for Martha’s Vineyard is warmest in the summer months. Likewise, it’s very cold during winter on the east coast.
But as an island, Martha’s Vineyard usually gets more rain rather than a lot of snow. In the winter, temperatures plummet well below 0-degrees F.
It’s mostly sunny and in the high 70s F during the peak season in July and August on Martha’s Vineyard. The weather has its damp and foggy moments, as any island does.
But usually, it burns off in the morning.
The most preferred seasons by couples are the shoulder seasons. That’s right before and after a summer break for many schools. It’s arguably the best time to visit Martha’s Vineyard.
September is traditionally the wedding season in Martha’s Vineyard. And with good reason, with its beautiful beaches and lovely small towns. It’s also when most stores begin their end of summer sales.
Related: How to Plan a Perfect Beach Wedding
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How Do You Get to Martha’s Vineyard?
You can get to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts in several ways, including:
- By bus via Peter Pan bus line
- With a car hire
- Via one of the Martha’s Vineyard Ferries (like Hy-Line Cruises) from Falmouth, Hyannis, or New Bedford MA, and N. Kingstown, Rhode Island. You can take the weekly ferry from New York operated by Seastreak.
- From Nantucket to Martha’s Vineyard on a short boat ride by the inter-island ferry
- By Plane into the Martha’s Vineyard Airport via Cape Air
- On a private motor boat
- Sailing to Martha’s Vineyard
Most people take the Martha’s Vineyard ferry from Wood’s Hole in Falmouth.
It’s also the most cost-effective option.
You can easily plan a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard, but we recommend spending two days, if you can.
The Ferry Schedule to Martha’s Vineyard from Woods Hole
If you are traveling between Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, you need to be aware of the Island Queen fares and ferry schedule.
This is especially true if you are traveling to Vineyard Haven from Oak Bluffs.
An oncoming boat of cars can create a traffic jam that turns a 10-minute drive into an hour drive. That’s because there will likely be congestion in the center of Vineyard Haven.
The best ferry to Martha’s Vineyard from the Mainland is from Woods Hole in Falmouth, MA.
If you’ve got some extra time, you might even plan to stay over in Falmouth before heading to the island.
If you do, be sure to get an early start so you can maximize your time on the Vineyard.
The ferry ride takes about 45 minutes, depending on the weather. You’ll want to arrive at the gate at least an hour in advance.
For an additional fee, you can bring your car over on the ferry.
If you’d like to do that, be sure to check the Martha’s Vineyard ferry schedule and make reservations. The cargo space fills up quickly.
That’s especially true during summer months.
The Three Main Towns of Martha’s Vineyard
Like most of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard is divided into towns and villages.
There are several towns on the island, including up-island (Aquinnah, Chilmark, West Tisbury) and down-island (Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven).
But for a short visit the three main island towns you’ll likely want to explore are down-island: Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown.
You can think of these three Martha’s Vineyard towns as the working town, party town, and posh town, respectively.
Here’s more on each:
- Vineyard Haven (Tisbury) is a “dry” town, meaning no alcohol. It’s quiet and the main street has a handful of small shops and art galleries.
If you happen to be staying in the area, you can spend about an hour walking around before running out of things to do. You can also visit the alpaca farm (Island Alpaca Company) for a furry creature encounter and to take home some hand-made souvenirs from the gift shop.
- Oak Bluff is the party town of the island. (It’s often incorrectly called “Oaks Bluff.”) The town hosts several bars, popular restaurants, an arcade for the kids, and the oldest platform carousel, the Flying Horses carousel. (Be sure to ask about the significance of the carousel’s legendary Brass Ring.)
Most tourists and day trippers flock to Oak Bluffs. That’s because it has something for everyone, from beaches, parks, souvenir stores and plenty of ice cream parlors to pick from. The main drag is Circuit Avenue, where you’ll find loads of shopping options.
- Edgartown is the posh, fancy, everything looks pristine town. Imagine how you picture Vineyard Vines, because it is home to the original.
You’ll find the fancier clothing stores and a handful of restaurants in Edgartown. Yet, due to how small the streets are, it can feel impossible to drive through it during the summer season. Here, you can visit the town ferry dock and and take the chappy ferry to Chappaquiddick Island. But before you board, grab a lobster roll and a beer at award-winning Lucky Hank’s.
Martha’s Vineyard is larger than most tourists think. This ends up drastically affecting their plans.
To be prepared, note that the island is 87 square miles, consisting of several large towns and counties.
Let’s give you an idea of what that means: if you are from the Boston area, the length of the island is similar to the distance from Framingham to Boston.
It takes between 45 minutes to an hour to drive end to end.
Best Ways to Get Around the Island
Once you get to Martha’s Vineyard, you’ll want to have a way of getting around. That may include some combination of car, moped, bicycle, bus and Uber/taxi.
Then, you can fully explore the island on your Martha’s Vineyard vacation.
Do I Need A Car on Martha’s Vineyard?
If you plan on spending more than a few hours on the island, you’ll want to have your own car or rent a car while you’re visiting Martha’s Vineyard.
To bring your own vehicle, you can bring your car on the Steamship Authority ferry service to Martha’s Vineyard.
Or you can rent a car on Martha’s Vineyard.
The most common rental car on the island is a four-door Jeep Wrangler. This is especially fun if you want to drive on the beach.
You can go to two over-the-sand vehicle beaches on Martha’s Vineyard:
- Norton Point – You can get a Day Pass here
- Cape Poge & Wasque – You’ll need to invest in an annual pass, here
That said, if you plan on having a car, don’t plan on staying in Edgartown unless you have guaranteed parking.
During the high season, even the locals that live in Edgartown struggle to find parking. That’s because of the narrow streets and overflow of people. Sometimes, waiting at the bus stop makes more sense!
Should I Rent a Moped on Martha’s Vineyard?
You can rent a moped on Martha’s Vineyard, but there are good reasons not to.
- Mopeds are very dangerous and cannot go to the speed limit on the main roads
- You won’t be able to transport all of your things
- Impatient drivers will try to pass you
In fact, mopeds have been banned in Edgartown. There’s even a movement to ban mopeds on Martha’s Vineyard altogether.
Can I Rent a Bicycle on Martha’s Vineyard?
For exploring the local area, you’ll find it easy and fun to rent bicycles. There are lots of paved paths and lovely (but hilly) country roads perfect for biking in Martha’s Vineyard.
You’ll find bike rental shops in the main towns. So, you can explore the island’s natural beauty at your own pace when you take a bike ride along many of the island’s easy bike paths.
If you’re in Edgartown, one place is R. W. Cutler Edgartown Bike Rentals.
Ride the Martha’s Vineyard Bus
Plenty of public busses go between the main towns on the island. Public transportation convenient option if you are okay with putting your schedule in the hands of someone else. And, if you’re visiting late in the year, you may luck out with a free ride from the Vineyard Transit Authority.
You can also opt for Uber or a Martha’s Vineyard Taxi.
Now you know the best ways to get to Martha’s Vineyard, when to visit, and how to get around. You essentially know what to do in Martha’s Vineyard in a day.
But you may want to spend more time here. So, let’s extend your visit and get into the weekend itinerary for what’s affectionately known as ‘the Vineyard.’ Here is a second day of activities you can add to your itinerary.
2-Day Trip to Martha’s Vineyard Itinerary
Whether you’re spending one day in Martha’s Vineyard or more, you’ll find the trick is to enjoy the highlights of the Vineyard while beating the crowds.
However, be aware you cannot escape the crowds during the peak of the busy season.
With some modification, you can easily convert this weekend getaway to a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard. Let’s look at what to do in Martha’s Vineyard in a day, below.
Things to Do on Martha’s Vineyard – Day 1
The first day starts early.
1. Breakfast at The Black Dog or Art Cliff Diner
If you love thick, fluffy, plate sized pancakes, then the early morning starts by having breakfast at the Black Dog Tavern in Vineyard Haven.
The interior of the restaurant presents an atmosphere of being inside an old pirate ship with wooden seating. You can enjoy all this while looking out onto the Vineyard Haven harbor.
You should try to be there by 8:30am, at the latest. The wait can stretch to over an hour if you get there too late.
Another popular breakfast diner in Vineyard Haven is the ArtCliff Diner.
It’s beloved by tourists and locals for homemade jams and marmalades. Be forewarned, it can be even harder to find a seat here than at the Black Dog because it has a limited seating capacity.
But they are both worth the wait.
2. Prepare for A Day at Martha’s Vineyard Beaches
Once you’ve satisfied your hunger, or you’re just rolling out of bed if you skipped breakfast, you’ll want to pack up your car for a day at the beach.
Here is the beach gear you might like to pack:
- Beach chairs
- Beach towels
- Balls, toys, a book, headphones, a boogie board, or whatever you enjoy doing at the beach
- A cooler with snacks and water
- Sun protection, whether that means sunscreen and sunglasses, an umbrella, or UV protective clothing
If you happen to stay near one of the grocery stores, you can buy some snacks to eat throughout the day.
Make sure you keep snack packaging tightly sealed, though. The seagulls can be tenacious!
3. Drive to South Beach
Once everyone is in the car, make the drive towards South Beach.
This long beach stretches across the bottom of the island.
Make sure to stop at Morning Glory along the way, especially if you missed breakfast.
Morning Glory is a farm stand that makes warm pastries daily and provides fresh produce. You can get a great cup of coffee or a smoothie, too.
This is a great time to pick up some healthy snacks to keep you energized.
Related Article: To discover more easy ways you can combine travel and fitness, click here.
Locals know to get to the beach around 10am to set up in a favorite spot on the far right side of the beach. Now more than ever, you’ll want to get to the beach early on Martha’s Vineyard.
That’s because over the years, hurricanes have dramatically affected the beach.
It is about a quarter the size it used to be because of the loss of sand. What used to feel like a football field wide is now about 15 yards.
The primary draw to South Beach has always been the waves. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed.
Though they vary in the weather and season, at times the waves can build up to be huge swells. They can range from small waves that roll up to your knees or tower over your head.
You can body surf all the way to shore.
4. Relocate to State Beach
A good plan is to stay at South Beach for 3-4 hours before packing everything up and moving to State Beach.
This beach is home to “Jaws Bridge,” in refererence to the popular movie Jaws. (The bridge’s official name is the American Legion Memorial Bridge.)
State Beach is always packed with tourists gathered to jump off the bridge into the canal.
The jump, in retrospect, is not very high but only appears high as you stand atop the railing next to the “Do Not Jump” sign.
This is a jump that kids make all the time.
So, you’ll be fine as long as you can confidently swim in a current.
5. Sunset in Menemsha
After spending 1-2 hours testing your daredevil self, take the opportunity to return to your hotel to shower off all the salt water and freshen up.
But don’t get too comfortable.
There is one last beach activity left on the day.
If you haven’t already, go to the store and buy your favorite beverage and appetizers for happy hour with a sunset. You’ll then make the drive to the small harbor town of Menemsha to enjoy the best sunset spot on the island.
Get to Menemsha Beach few hours before sunset, because the parking lot fills up fast.
On a clear night, the sun will slowly dip below the horizon as its gaze warms the body as it descends.
6. Spend the Night on the Town in Oak Bluffs
Once the sun sets, return to Oak Bluffs to spend the evening enjoying the town.
Depending on what you enjoy, you may find yourself:
- Hunting down the perfect ice cream spot
- Picking which waterside bar you want to sit by
- Button mashing at the local arcade
- Relaxing at Joseph Sylvia State Beach
The sweet tooths of your group will clamor to know what a line is doing in the back of the grocery store.
What you will find out is starting in the evening, the bakery in Oak Bluffs starts its tradition of backdoor donuts.
They serve freshly made gourmet donuts out their backdoor until midnight.
At peak hours (after families have had dinner), the wait can reach up to two hours long.
Yes, it’s so worth it!
Even if you’ve traveled all over, you may not find a donut you enjoy more.
Alternative: Take a Dinner Cruise on the schooner “Alabama” with Johhny Hoy crooning tunes.
If you’re staying over, consider staying at any of the places at the end of this article. Then you can look forward to your itinerary for day 2 on Martha’s Vineyard.
Otherwise, be sure to check the current schedule for the last ferry out of Martha’s Vineyard.
Things to Do on Martha’s Vineyard – Day 2
1. Explore the Island on Foot
The following morning can be a slower one, unless you missed out on a good breakfast spot the previous morning.
That way, a mellow start can lead into exploring the area around where you’re staying.
You can choose from two popular walkabouts:
- Martha’s Vineyard Gingerbread Houses – a series of quaint Victorian gingerbread cottages hidden in the center of Oak Bluffs
- Edgartown Harbor Light – the lighthouse that marks the entrance to Edgartown Harbor and Katama Bay
2. Take a Drive to the Cliffs of Gay Head Martha’s Vineyard
At some point in the day, make one last drive down to the bottom left corner of the island to Aquinnah. It’s at the edge of the island.
There, you will find the famous clay Aquinnah cliffs of Gay Head. These colorful cliffs are a popular natural formation.
Furthermore, the lookout provides a magnificent view overlooking the ocean.
There, you’ll also find picturesque Gay Head Lighthouse, situated on the westernmost point of the island.
3. Say Goodbye to MV
By now, you may slowly be approaching the time you have to leave.
You’ll want to make sure to be on time for your ferry (unless your goal is to get stuck on the island another day).
For those who are walking on and off the ferry, a major tip is to figure out which door the ferry unloads at.
This can save you a major amount of time. You don’t want to be stuck waiting for the second bus to come that takes you to the parking lot.
Best Restaurants in Martha’s Vineyard
You’ll have plenty of opportunity to enjoy good food and drink while visiting Martha’s Vineyard. It’s an important part of your experience when you’re figuring out what to do in Martha’s Vineyard in a day.
There are more restaurants and eateries than you’ll have time to try, so here are some of the favorites:
Very few places on the island take reservations, so take that into account when making dinner plans.
1. Atria, Edgartown
Atria offers cuisine with worldwide influences, including:
- Middle Eastern
- Other influences
This beautiful upscale restaurant is set within an 18th century former Sea Captain’s home.
You’ll be seated in one of the various fine dining areas, each lovely. This includes the wraparound porch, main restaurant, and bar/lounge.
Note that Wine Spectator Magazine ranks Atria’s wine selection among the best in the world.
Tip: If you love wine, you might want to plan your trip around the Martha’s Vineyard Food & Wine Festival in the fall.
2. Nancy’s Seafood, Oak Bluffs
If you’re looking for fresh seafood, then look no further than Nancy’s Seafood.
You’ll find a snack bar and take out on the first floor. A full restaurant and lounge await upstairs.
Their outdoor seating is a great place to catch a panoramic sunset, too. Not to mention delicious seafood!
3. Bad Martha’s Brewery, Edgartown
Bad Martha’s is a gardening-center-turned-brewery, and it’s worth your time. Diners can enjoy trying flights of craft beer along with a variety of bar snacks.
You can read more about Bad Martha’s and other Cape Cod Breweries here.
4. Jimmy Seas Pan Pasta, Oak Bluffs
Jimmy Seas serves great Italian food. It’s one of the favorite places to dine on the island.
The servings are humongous, and you might consider sharing your dish if you don’t arrive starving.
5. Lookout Tavern, Oak Bluffs
You’ll enjoy all around American-style food at Lookout Tavern.
The restaurant is aptly named because it looks out onto the ocean where the ferry comes in.
If your group has picky eaters, this is an great spot to eat. You can enjoy fish tacos while they crush some chicken tenders.
6. The Barn, Oak Bluffs
The Barn serves American-style food. It is also the island’s bowling alley!
Grab and Go’s
Sometimes, you just want to grab a quick meal to get on with the day’s adventures. That way, you can maximize what to do in Martha’s Vineyard in a day.
Here are a few of our best picks.
1. Fat Ronnie’s, Oak Bluffs
Fat Ronnie’s is consistently awarded one of the best places to find a burger on the island. It is a small burger stand that has a Subway-style process of building your custom burger.
The fried chicken sandwiches are also a delight.
2. Coop De Ville, Oak Bluffs
Coop De Ville is a small wing shack that looks out onto the harbor.
It has very limited spacing with its come-and-go picnic style seating. But, they have a variety of wing sauce flavors, the sweet chili wings are the best.
3. La Choza, Vineyard Haven
You can get Mexican-style cuisine similar to Chipotle (but better) at La Choza.
Many locals come here to pick up burritos, bowls, and tacos. That’s always a good sign!
Where to Stay in Martha’s Vineyard
With any luck, you can extend your Martha’s Vineyard day trip to two or more days.
That means you need a good place to stay.
You’ll find a number of great options when it comes to staying over in Martha’s Vineyard.
Choose from a wide selection, from private rentals or Airbnb’s, to spacious vacation homes, beachfront cottages, and bed and breakfasts in Martha’s Vineyard.
Here are a few highly rated Martha’s Vineyard lodging options to consider for staying over:
- In Vineyard Haven, you could rent a guest house at the highly rated Charles and Charles MV. It features an outdoor pool and complimentary bicycles. This inn is 15 minutes from the Vineyard Haven Ferry Terminal, and 2 miles from Mink Meadows Golf Course.
- The Oak Bluffs Inn offers well-appointed rooms, a scenic garden, and afternoon refreshments. It’s right in Oak Bluffs, just two minutes by car from the ferry and 5 minutes from Farm Neck Golf Club.
- In Edgartown, the Harbor View Hotel is on the coast and has, as its name implies, has a view of the Edgartown lighthouse. You’ll find an onsite restaurant, two bars, and can opt to take sailing lessons. This is also one of the best inns on Martha’s Vineyard because it’s conveniently located just 10 minutes from Edgartown’s downtown.
Interactive Lodging Map for Martha’s Vineyard
Final Thoughts on Two Days in Martha’s Vineyard
With only a day or two to spend on Martha’s Vineyard, if you plan your visit well, you can see it’s possible to cover a lot of ground! You’ll get a flavor for the entire island.
But, don’t be surprised if this visit just whets your appetite.
Whether you visit Martha’s Vineyard with kids or solo, there’s plenty more to see and do on this charming island off the coast of Massachusetts. Once you get a taste for Martha’s Vineyard, chances are, you’ll want to visit again.
Tip: If you have the time, stop into the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in Vineyard Haven. It’s the perfect place learn more about the history and culture of the island. It’s one of the best things to do on a rainy day.
Frequently Asked Questions About Martha’s Vineyard
How many days do you need in Martha’s Vineyard?
You can spend one day on Martha’s Vineyard and easily enjoy it! It’s an easy day trip from most places on Cape Cod. But, if you have the time, two or three days is better. It’s also an excellent summer vacation destination for a week or more. However long you decide stay, it may never seem like enough time–only because it’s such a great place to visit!
Is it worth going to Martha’s Vineyard for a day?
Yes, it is worth going to Martha’s Vineyard for a day if you are already in Cape Cod. You can enjoy your time exploring, visiting the beach, shopping for souvenirs, and getting a taste of the island vibe. However, you’ll likely want to stay longer if you have the time.
How many permanent residents live on Martha’s Vineyard?
About 17,000 permanent residents live on Martha’s Vineyard. In the summer, the number of people on the island swells to more than 150,000 visitors.
Why is Martha’s Vineyard called a vineyard?
The island is home to many wild grapevines that grow there. You’ll still see them today! It’s called Martha’s Vineyard after Bartholomew Gosnold’s daughter (some say mother-in-law), Martha. He was the English explorer who discovered the island in 1602 while sailing along the coastline as part of the first recorded European expedition to Cape Cod.
Is Martha’s Vineyard walkable?
At 87.5 miles, it’s unrealistic to think you could explore the whole island by foot. But you can easily get from town to town on public transportation and enjoy strolling through each town. You’ll also find many lovely hikes and walking paths throughout the island, too. Another great option? Rent a bike!
Here are some other helpful articles for planning your visit to Martha’s Vineyard and beyond:
- What to Pack for a Summer Visit to Martha’s Vineyard
- Perfect Capsule Wardrobe for a Beach Vacation
- 7 Must-Have Accessories for Your Beach Outfits
- Best Cape Cod Towns You’ll Want to Explore
- How to Host a Perfect Beach Wedding
- 5 Romantic Bed & Breakfasts in Cape Cod
- 10 Cape Cod Breweries to Visit
- Seaside Hike at The Knob in Falmouth
- Top New England Wineries and Vineyards
- Best Art Museums in New England
- 9 Gorgeous Road Trips in New England
You’ll find further inspiration to visit Martha’s Vineyard in these book reviews:
When do you plan to visit Martha’s Vineyard (again)? What are your favorite places to go and favorite things to do on MV? Let us know in the comments below!
About the Author: Jackie Gately
I'm Jackie Gately, your travel confidante and the creative force behind Enjoy Travel Life, awarded the "Best Casual-Luxury Lifestyle Blog (USA)" in Travel and Tourism by LUXlife Magazine for four consecutive years With 25 years of published expertise, I'm a seasoned writer, editor, and photographer curating inspiring travel guides and lifestyle tips for empty nesters. I hope to kindle your spirit of exploration, encouraging you to overcome obstacles and turn your dreams into reality. Learn to minimize your pre-travel angst and maximize the joy of exploration with insights from my experiences. Let's make every adventure a celebration of this exciting phase of life! Follow my social channels for more inspiration.