Get Your Family Hooked on the Vineyard

Madras shorts and yacht clubs aside, Martha's Vineyard's got plenty of opportunities for the whole family to explore, play, eat, and relax. Our family expert Steve Jermanok should know—he brings his family back every year.
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Sailing Martha's  Vineyard
SAIL AWAY: Move at your own pace on this family-friendly island (courtesy, Martha's Vineyard Online)
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We were on a deserted beach in a remote part of Martha's Vineyard when my nine-year-old daughter asked me how to skip a rock. My family had just finished sea kayaking with a naturalist through a brackish pond, winding through marsh to spot a large osprey sitting in her oversized nest, looking for sponges on the sandy sea floor. After paddling under a bridge into a large bay called Cape Poge, we stopped at a beach dotted with conch-like whelk shells and lots of flat rocks, perfect for rock skipping.

"Find a good round one," I told Melanie, "and then whip it atop the water sidearm." She did just that, and to her delight, the rock skipped a good four times. As I watched her try it again and again, I quickly realized that this was the true essence of a great family vacation—enjoying the moment with your child, and not worrying about rushing to the next site or attraction.

Only seven miles off the mainland of Massachusetts, the Vineyard offers the rare chance to get away from the breakneck speed of busy day-to-day life and the perfect setting to reconnect with your loved ones. Sure, the towns of Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, where most of the ferries arrive, have a touristy mix of ice cream and t-shirt shops. But make your way out of those day-tripping hubs to the outer fringes of the island, to places like Cape Poge in Chappaquiddick, and the crowds are replaced by lone fishermen standing in thigh-high waters, throwing out hooks on the fly. This is the Vineyard that makes me return year after year.

A typical summer day on the Vineyard begins with a quick ride past the cows and farmland of Katama over to nearby Right Fork Diner, where we sit on the deck and watch the biplanes fly overhead. A short stack of blueberry pancakes and fresh fruit piled high on granola will give you the necessary energy for a longer ride. After breakfast, it's a toss of the coin on where to bike—paved trails branch off in every direction like spokes on a wheel.

Three miles to the west is the Vineyard's oldest settlement, Edgartown. Amble along sidewalks, laced with whaling captains' homes from the 18th and 19th centuries. Then bring the bikes on the two-minute ferry ride over to Chappaquiddick ($4 round-trip). Continue on Chappaquiddick Road for another three miles and you'll reach Dyke Road, which leads to a Japanese-style garden called Mytoi, worthy of a stop. Azaleas, daffodils, dogwoods, and rhododendrons line the freshwater creeks.

Ride along the dirt road, crossing a bridge and stopping at East Beach. Walk over the dunes to see one of the most pristine stretches of coastline on the Atlantic. Part of the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, this barrier beach is the best place to birdwatch on the Vineyard. Ospreys, oystercatchers, piping plovers, terns, and the occasional bald eagle nest here. To get a close-up look at the birds (and to teach your daughter to skip rocks), hop off your bikes and into a kayak with the Trustees of Reservation. Trips leave from their reservation booth, right next door to Mytoi. Or, if kayaking's not your thing, head back into Edgartown for homemade ice cream at local favorite Mad Martha's.

If you and the kids are feeling ambitious, you can bike another six miles from Edgartown to Oak Bluffs along the ocean, stopping at Joseph Sylvia State Beach to swim. You'll see the famous bridge where the movie Jaws was filmed, now popular with kids who make the plunge to the deep water below. The reward in Oak Bluffs is the Flying Horses Carousel, one of the oldest carousels still in operation. Carved in 1876, the horses on this National Historic Landmark have real hair, but the real joy for children is the chance to lean over and snag a brass ring. If the kids are too tired to do the round trip on bike, you'll be happy to know that all buses on the island are equipped with racks to take you and your bike back to the hotel.

Another favorite family outing takes you onto the Atlantic to fish for stripers (striped bass) and blues (bluefish). From rock jetties to sandy beaches, striper mania flourishes along the Vineyard coast all summer. These fish have voracious appetites, grow in excess of 70 pounds, and fight like champions. Bluefish are easier to hook. All you have to do is search for seagulls swarming and diving into the water—they're looking for leftover pieces of fish flesh, the result of a bluefish feeding frenzy. You can actually see the bluefish on the top of the surface, splashing around the water in their quest to fill their stomachs.


Boston-based writer Stephen Jermanok has authored or contributed to 11 books on the outdoors, including Outside Magazine's Adventure Guide to New England , Discovery Channel's Backcountry Treks , Discovery Channel's Paddlesports , Outside Magazine's Guide to Family Vacations and Men's Journal's The Great Life . His latest book is New England Seacoast Adventures . His many adventures appear in National Geographic Adventure , Outside , Men's Journal , Forbes FYI , Travel + Leisure , Hooked on the Outdoors , and Backpacker . He can be reached at farandaway@comcast.net.

Published: 5 Aug 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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