A Visitor’s Guide to the Martha’s Vineyard Towns

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Wondering which Martha’s Vineyard towns to visit during your upcoming trip? As a small island off the southeastern shore of Massachusetts, the Vineyard is a thriving vacation destination during the summer. Knowing where to go and what to expect can help make your planning much easier!

There are only six major towns on Martha’s Vineyard, so you don’t actually have lots to choose from. But each town boasts unique character, history, and places to experience.

Wherever you end up staying during your Vineyard getaway, you should venture out to see the rest of the island, too.

After all, you’ll want to check out all the different beaches on Martha’s Vineyard while you’re here!

If you are a beach lover, check out all the best beaches in Massachusetts to plan the rest of your summer escapes.

About the Towns in Martha’s Vineyard

Martha’s Vineyard is only about 96 square miles, so it’s perfectly sized for an island vacation where you can actually see it all!

Traditionally home to the Wampanoag people for at least 10,000 years, what we today call Martha’s Vineyard was — and still is — known as Noepe (meaning the land amid the streams).

You can learn more about the history of the Wampanoag and their continued presence on the island at the Aquinnah Cultural Center.

When visiting Martha’s Vineyard, you might hear locals say “up-island” or “down-island” when referring to places.

There are three up-island towns:

  1. Aquinnah
  2. Chilmark
  3. West Tisbury

And three down-island towns:

  1. Edgartown
  2. Oak Bluffs
  3. Vineyard Haven/Tisbury

Up-island refers to the increase in longitude as you head west, while down-island is headed east into lower longitudes.

The down-island towns are much more populated and busier, with the majority of amenities located there.

The up-island towns are more remote and quieter, with fewer tourists even in the summer season.

This guide goes through all the towns on Martha’s Vineyard and what they’re known for, so you can plan your visit based on your interests and vacation time.

Check out our detailed guide on things to do in Martha’s Vineyard after you decide where to visit and then book your stay in one of the best hotels on the Vineyard or one of the many MV vacation rentals.

East Chop Lighthouse on Telegraph Hill in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Up-Island Towns of Martha’s Vineyard

Aquinnah

Located up-island on the western side of Martha’s Vineyard, the town of Aquinnah is where to head for serenity and sunsets.

Formerly known as Gay Head, Aquinnah is the traditional name of this area used by the Wampanoag for thousands of years and officially used by all since 1997.

You might still hear this area being referred to as Gay Head, including the Gay Head Cliffs and the iconic Gay Head Lighthouse.

You’ll spot the red brick structure from various angles along the cliffs.

In 2015, the Aquinnah Light was actually moved over 120 feet back from its previous location due to erosion on the cliffs putting it into a precarious position.

Be sure to visit the Aquinnah Cultural Center to learn about the Wampanoag people who have called this place home for countless generations.

The stunning clay cliffs of Aquinnah are a popular draw to this westernmost part of the island.

The reds, yellows, and greys offer a colorful change from the ocean blues and grassy greens.

The water here sometimes takes on the hues of the clay, creating a slight red or white tinge.

This beach is also one of the most beautiful on the Vineyard.

Aquinnah Lighthouse at the edge of the Aquinnah Cliffs on Martha's Vineyard in MA

Chilmark

Just east of Aquinnah but still up-island, Chilmark is another lesser-visited town on Martha’s Vineyard.

The Chilmark area boasts a variety of landscapes to enjoy, from rolling hillsides to the rocky coastline along the north shore.

The fishing village of Menemsha rests along Chilmark’s northern coastline, also offering the lovely Menemsha beach.

Menemsha is also perfect for fresh-caught seafood, so be sure to treat yourself while you’re here!

This area is ideal for sunset views.

The town of Chilmark itself is very small.

You’ll find the Chilmark General Store, town hall, post office, bank, and the local elementary school; that’s about it.

It’s known locally as Beetlebung Corner.

Bright orange sunset sky over a small harbor in Menemsha, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

West Tisbury

The final up-island town on Martha’s Vineyard, West Tisbury is considered to be up-island despite it being centrally situated.

This area reaches both the north and south shores, bisecting the Vineyard and marking the dividing line between up- and down-island.

West Tisbury is much more rural and serves as the agricultural center of the island, with the iconic Grange Hall serving as a hub for farmers’ markets and local art festivals and events throughout the year.

You’ll see rolling hills and grazing sheep here — a stark difference from the rolling waves along the Atlantic coastline!

An agricultural fair is hosted in West Tisbury every August, if you happen to be visiting then.

Also in West Tisbury, you have to head to Alley’s General Store, which has claimed to be “Dealers in Almost Everything” since 1858.

Across the street, the Field Gallery hosts a variety of lawn sculptures that are always a local favorite.

Down-Island Towns on Martha’s Vineyard

Edgartown

Edgartown is one of the more popular Martha’s Vineyard towns; in fact, it is the largest town by population.

Edgartown was the first European settlement on the Vineyard and had its heyday during the whaling industry era.

Ship captains’ houses and that classic white church steeple offer true New England vibes.

Located in the southeastern part of the Vineyard, the town of Edgartown is one of only two “wet” towns, so it boasts some of the best nightlife on the island.

During the day, enjoy views of the iconic Edgartown Lighthouse.

Edgartown Lighthouse, on Martha's Vineyard

You can also leave Edgartown via the Chappy Ferry to head over to the gorgeous island of Chappaquiddick

This is a very remote part of the Vineyard where you can enjoy the natural beauty of the Atlantic coastline.

There is also the large, normal ferry service in Edgartown that connects to Falmouth during the summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

It operates on weekends only.

South Beach, also known as Katama Beach (say ka-TAY-mah), is located in Edgartown and is the most popular beach on the island.

You can easily bike there along the paths from Edgartown.

Vibrant sunset colors at South Beach on Martha's Vineyard (also known as Katama Beach)

Oak Bluffs

Another of the down-island towns on Martha’s Vineyard, Oak Bluffs is very popular and where most day-trippers tend to spend their time.

The Steamship Authority terminal in Oak Bluffs is where the majority of ferries from Hyannis, Woods Hole, and Nantucket all arrive during the peak summer season.

Also during the peak summer season, there is the fast ferry from Rhode Island, and the Seastreak from New Jersey, New York, or New Bedford that arrive in Oak Bluffs.

From there, you can walk to Oak Bluffs Town Beach, enjoy a variety of shops and restaurants, and check out the Instagram-worthy Gingerbread Houses.

Historically, the town of Oak Bluffs was a haven for Black visitors seeking a beach vacation.

Inkwell Beach in Oak Bluffs became the first desegregated beach on the Vineyard and continues to be a hub for Black travelers today.

Oak Bluffs used to be part of Edgartown but became a separate town in 1880.

Once the hub for religious retreats, you’ll still see the Tabernacle and Campgrounds (sometimes called the Methodist Campgrounds), which hosted events since in mid-19th-century.

Oak Bluffs is the other “wet” town on the Vineyard (besides Edgartown), so you’ll find plenty of nightlife options here, too.

Circuit Avenue is the main street lined with restaurants, cafes, and shops to enjoy.

The Flying Horses Carousel is a family classic in Oak Bluffs; it’s the oldest continuously operating carousel in the entire country!

Colorful Gingerbread Houses in Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Vineyard Haven (Tisbury)

The town of Vineyard Haven is also called Tisbury; the two are used interchangeably.

Vineyard Haven receives ferries from Woods Hole year-round, making this the most reliable and commonly-used ferry port by locals.

In fact, Vineyard Haven serves as the largest port of entry for both people and goods arriving at the island.

Over the summer, Oak Bluffs takes over as the primary ferry port for the large influx of tourists.

You can access the town beach here or head over to Lake Tashmoo for both a lake beach and Vineyard Sound beach.

Main Street boasts plenty of shops and restaurants, with the arts and music scene being a central focus for the town.

As one of the original communities established by Europeans on the island, you’ll find a variety of architectural styles spanning the centuries, from neo-classical to Greek Revival and more.

Aerial view of Oak Bluffs beach on Martha's Vineyard

Final Words

We hope this guide to Martha’s Vineyard towns helped you better understand the island for your upcoming vacation.

Check out our map of Martha’s Vineyard towns for easy reference.

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