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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Martha's Vineyard on a Budget

When my sister first invited me to go on a 5-day trip to Martha's Vineyard, I honestly was not sure I could afford it.

For starters, the reputation of the place is a bit daunting - celebrities live and vacation there,  US presidents go there, and it's not exactly easy to get to considering you have to utilize about three forms of transportation to go there - car, shuttle, and ferry (unless you fly, or pay to take your car on the ferry).

(Shadow of lighthouse near Edgartown)
But, just like anywhere in the world, the experience there is only as expensive as you make it. And we were able to do and see quite a lot for about $50 per day, including lodging.

There are a couple options for cheap lodging: the camp grounds near Vineyard Haven, and the Hostel, closer to the central area of the island. Both end up being around the same price - $20-$30 or so per night.

The Martha's Vineyard campground - the only campground on the nearly 100 square mile island - is about $55 per night for two people (yeah, a bit pricey for camping but not bad for Martha's Vineyard). You can have up to four people at a camp site but it's $15 more per additional person. We ended up having four people (so $21/person/night). The campground has other options besides using a tent - including trailer sites for $59 and cabins for $135 (4 people) -$155 (6 people).

(Beach near Oak Bluffs)
Aside from hauling our luggage - and there was A LOT of it - from the car to the shuttle to the ferry to the bus to the campsite (and visa versa going back), I actually really did enjoy the campground. They had a field for sports, indoor gaming area, a second floor patio, a convenience store (the wood was surprisingly cheap - $5/bundle), a community camp fire area, and indoor and outdoor showers.

I ran into a few people on the trip who stayed at the hostel. They seemed to like it. Their rates are about $30 per person and it was also along the bus line.

I never use the public transportation around the Albany,NY area but this trip made me think that I should. We got the three-day pass for the bus system ($15) though, in hindsight, it might have made more economical sense to get the $25 7-day pass. You can purchase these on the bus or with one of the purple-wearing transit employees at main bus stops near the ferry. The complete list of passes is here.

(Menemsha Beach)

The buses go everywhere - even the cemetery where John Belushi is buried. It seemed like the only place I didn't notice on the bus route was one of the two nude beaches on the island (one is near the Gay Head Beach and the other - Lucy Vincent Beach - appears to be off the bus route and you need a parking pass to go there).

As with all things, there are pros and cons to taking a car. I found that part of the vacation for me was letting someone else do the driving, but it's also nice not having to be on the (sometimes late) bus schedule. Despite some beaches charging for parking - if you brought enough people and stayed long enough on Martha's Vineyard - it may make more sense to pay the $137 round trip for your car. I'm still debating about what to do on my next visit. I'm leaning towards just paying the $16 round trip for an adult passenger again.

I'm used to whirlwind trips of staying in one place for only a couple days then moving on, so I wasn't sure if spending 5-days on a small island would really be for me. But it was. There is enough to explore on the island to keep anyone occupied for at least a week.

We went to the West Tisbury Farmer's Market on Saturday, and noticed events like a craft fair and a community festival in the same area over the time we were there. Lighthouses are an obvious attraction, most with a fee to go inside of about $5.

(Gayhead Lighthouse and Cliffs)
One thing you should know about Martha's Vineyard before arriving: there are NO vineyards on Martha's Vineyard. None. We asked. We looked. They do have, however, a brewery called Offshore Ale Co. which does interesting tours for $5 and even more interesting tastings for an additional $5. Tip the tour guide, he's pretty awesome.

The Gayhead Cliffs are beautiful, when you can see them without a haze of fog. And the sandy beach there -spattered with free standing boulders - is free, unless you have to park a car. On the same bus going back, you can catch a connecting bus to Menemsha which is where part of Jaws was filmed. The small fish-focused town has a rocky beach but, being on the southwest tip of the island, I hear the sunsets there are beautiful.

(A Gingerbread House in Oak Bluffs)

The town of Oak Bluffs, on the eastern side, is known for the "gingerbread houses" which, honestly, I didn't find to be very ginger-bready but they were still pretty. That area also has the world's oldest carousel in an indoor kids park, and a decent sandy beach - which, again, is free.

Between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, there is the State Beach which seems to run along much of the eastern coast of the island. Along there, is the Jaws Jumping Bridge where, again, parts of Jaws were filmed. Lore has it that the large, fake shark got stuck under the bridge at high tide. Now, people use the short bridge to jump off - which was fun, but definitely make sure to blow out of your nose while going in or you'll get a weird shock of salt water in your sinuses.

(The Jaws Jumping Bridge)

Edgartown, on the southeast portion of the island, seemed to be the place to go to shop, eat and be seen. It's also a good jumping off point for either going to the nearby lighthouse, getting a bus to the nearby South Beach area (another beautiful sandy beach) or going across a small channel to Chappaquiddick "Chappy" Island, where there is no public transit and where most of the celebrities (including Lady Gaga and Meg Ryan) have built or are building homes. The Chappy ferry is $4 per person or $12 for a car.

(Classic example of homes in Edgartown)

And, on MV, there's even hiking. We hiked the Menemsha Hills which was nice and took us to a rocky beach. There's also a huge state forest on the island.

In order to meet my $50 per day budget (while still getting souvenirs,etc), we didn't eat out much and, instead, chose to go to grocery stores which were not as expensive as I would think (still not as cheap as your store at home, but not bad). We did eat at a couple places near Gayhead Cliff which was nice and I had some of the best hazelnut coffee of my life in Edgartown. Otherwise, check here for food recommendations.

(Lighthouse near Edgartown)

Martha's Vineyard was nothing like I expected. Each community on the island had it's own, individual, and very unique feel. I never thought I would say this, but I could see myself spending a whole week - even in one place - right there. In which case, I'm already looking at renting a house - which may also be inexpensive and a bit easier on my back, in lieu of carrying camping gear.

(All our camping stuff - yep)

Fun Facts
One initiation on the island is to drink/smoke at John Belushi's grave - which we learned from a quasi-new islander.
A native of Martha's Vineyard said he used to go fishing decades ago and they would see 400 sharks out in the ocean each day. Now, they maybe see two. He also used to be able to make out the Gulf Stream as something like a "river in the ocean" and he can't anymore.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Danielle - Nice post about the Vineyard. I have been a life-long summer resident of the island, and the response I usually hear from those visiting for the first time is similar to yours. However, many of those same people develop an urge to return...often times for reasons they can't quite understand...such is the 'magic' Martha's Vineyard! Thanks for your insight. Best, Kevin

August 5, 2013 at 12:32 PM 
Blogger Sean Carter said...

Now these are some ideas I can get behind, I just love visiting the area but sometimes its not in the budget. These helpful hints coupled with some perfect planning for the best deals on our favorite Marthas Vineyard rentals keep us going back year after year

August 28, 2013 at 7:38 AM 

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