From Vineyard Haven, turn east on Beach Road. In 5 minutes, you enter the Victorian gingerbread fairyland that is Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts. Nestled beneath towering oaks, and surrounded on two sides by Nantucket Sound, Oak Bluffs is the architectural gem of Martha’s Vineyard and one of the most family-friendly vacation spots in New England. Park your car. You’ll find everything within an easy walk.
A popular Methodist church camp in the 1830s, Oak Bluffs was one of the few places blacks and whites could mingle freely, singing hymns, breaking bread, and praising God. Early participants camped out in canvas tents, later building wooden platforms upon which they pitched their tents. In the 1870s, they built ornately trimmed cottages atop those platforms. Today, hundreds of people-sized dollhouses remain, painted in a riot of pastel colors. Most are still family-owned heirlooms, 150 years later.
Church-centric wholesomeness runs deep in this child-friendly town. A spin on the 137-year old Flying Horses carousel is as fast as it gets. Watching sunrise over the Sound or lounging on the beach—sometimes chilly even at mid-summer—are more the pace.
Crave culture? Check out the Featherstone Center for the Arts for instruction and lectures on art, literature and my personal favorite, chocolate. Art galleries and boutiques dot the commercial district, featuring local artists and “one of” treasures. The Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association Cottage Museum & Gift Shop is a must for those curious about the decorated cottages.
More adventurous sorts may want to ferry to Nantucket, climb a lighthouse, take a biplane tour, rent bicycles, sail, fish, or hike the parks just outside town. There’s even a raucous pinball parlor for kids suffering video withdrawal.
Solitary boat in the harbor off Oak Bluffs
And then there’s the music! Every day live music wafts from the historic Tabernacle, built in 1880. Bring your best singing voice — you’re welcome to join in! But if listening is more your style, walk to the Ocean Park Gazebo for afternoon and evening concerts, some planned, some impromptu, all fun.
End your day with a delicious fresh-catch-of-the-day dinner from the Ocean View Restaurant, but be sure to save room for homemade ice cream available nearby in the commercial district. Afterwards, stroll the quiet streets, listen to music, fall asleep to sea breezes murmuring through the oaks.
Some cottages are available for weekly rental. Contact The Cottagers, an organization of African-American women homeowners, dedicated to preserving local history and culture. Or stay at most any Victorian mansion B&B in the area. Getting to Oak Bluffs is half the fun. Seasonal ferries leave from Hyannis, Falmouth, New Bedford, New Jersey, New York City and Quonset Point, Rhode Island. One-way fares start about $10 per person + vehicle. Cape Air provides flights from several locations as well.
To further expand your travel options in Martha’s Vineyard, visit http://www.mvol.com.