It’s August on Martha’s Vineyard and the amount of visitors this island currently has roaming around the towns is crazy – did you know the population of the Vineyard goes from 10,000 residents in the winter to about 120,000 people in the summer? If you’re one of the lucky ones to visit the island during its summer prime, I’m sharing with you today my favorite things to do in the town of Vineyard Haven. For 24 hours, I’m taking you around this fun boutique town with some of the best food – follow along!
The first question I get asked in emails when people are planning a trip to Martha’s Vineyard is: where should I stay? And my one and only recommendation if you’re staying in Vineyard Haven, is to stay at the Nobnocket. Full disclosure, owners Annabelle and Simon are close friends, but it has nothing to do with that and everything to do with the fact that the Nobnocket is hands down the best boutique inn on island. Don’t believe me? Ask Boston Magazine, who just awarded them Best of Boston – Best Martha’s Vineyard Inn 2017! We had the opportunity to have a little staycation at the inn to experience what everyone has been talking about and let’s just say…we never wanted to leave.
When you walk into the inn, which is easily accessible by car, bike or on foot from town, you’ll love the large lawn, wooded grounds & perennial gardens (which are perfect to sip coffee in the mornings in), along with the modern curated interior design. Because it’s owner run & operated, Annabelle & Simon are the ones to greet you. But not in the overwhelming sense (because God knows I’ve stayed at inns where the owners wanted to become my best friends), but in a calm sense of the way.
As you check into your room, you know you’re in for a treat – luxurious beds with Frette linens, plush towels, robes, and for the husbands out there, ceiling fans and individually controlled air conditioning (is my husband the only one that loves to sleep like he’s camping in Alaska?!). The rooms are all gorgeous decorated – I love that our room was my favorite color, yellow!
Two of my favorite amenities?
1- The choice of having a signature breakfast delivered to our room so we could stay in rooms and relax before starting our day. The breakfast is served with locally roasted Chilmark Coffee, locally made MV jams and jellies, along with some very creative egg dishes.
2- The 24 hour coffee and tea area that allowed me to refuel with espressos midday or let me relax with a variety of over a dozen teas at the end of the night. Good coffee and tea can really make or break a hotel stay! Best part? We also had a Nespresso machine in our room with cups ready to go. Oh my coffee loving self was in heaven!
Now that we’ve sorted out where you’ll be staying when you visit Martha’s Vineyard, let’s talk about what you’ll be doing. The funny thing is, the town of Vineyard Haven was known by the original Wampanoag inhabitants as “Nobnocket”, this area was first referred to by the colonial settlers as “Homes Hole”; “Homes” from a Wampanoag term for “old man,” and “Hole” meaning a sheltered inlet. Nowadays, it’s a boutique town sprinkled with some of the best (window) shopping on island. It’s also the main port of the island, so it’s quite possible you’ll be arrive through this town as well.
Start off with a stroll down to Main Street and stop into Bunches of Grapes, an independent, locally owned bookstore located in the heart of Vineyard Haven. What I love the most about them is that they are a community of writers and readers, featuring a carefully curated selection of the finest books and sidelines, and hosting author events year-round. Here you’ll find the perfect summer cookbook or beach read, plus some great suggestions from their book-loving staff. Browsing around a local bookstore is one of my favorite ways to explore a town.
From there, stroll down boutique shops (more of my favorites below) but first, I like to take in the beach and harbor of Vineyard Haven. Close to the Black Dog Tavern (where we recommend for lunch below), the pier and harbor are picture perfect spots for photo opportunities. It’s also where the schooner Shenandoah departs from and is a great activity to do while on island – go sailing! It’s the ultimate way to enjoy the surrounding beauty of the island, and they offer both day and sunset sailing trips, which last 3 hours. For more information on these, check out Day & Sunset Sails Martha’s Vineyard.
Now, where to go to lunch in Vineyard Haven. To be honest, there are plenty of options and I’ve shared some on my “where to eat lunch on MV” blog post recently. But to get the full Vineyard Haven experience, I think lunch at the Black Dog Tavern is a must. It’s history is one of need actually – in 1969, there was no year-round restaurant on island and this Tavern became it. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner – but what I love about it is the ambiance. You’re right on the water looking out as the ferries come and go, while eating two of my favorite things: quahog chowder and their crab cake sandwich. If it’s lunch you’re getting, I recommend you order them both with a favorite beer and you’ll be ready to take on the rest of the day.
The rest of the day includes more shopping, browsing, and window shopping, and after lunch, that’s all you need. If VH is known for one thing, it’s the great shopping there is on Main Street. The shops are all locally owned and independent, which makes them such a pleasure to shop at because most of the times, the managers on the floor are the owners of the shops themselves, helping you find just the right thing. First stop, Rainy Day. It’s one of those shops where you can just wander and get lost for an hour, browsing the carefully selected items. One of my favorite parts of the shop is the locals section, where some of my favorite Cape Cod and MV brands, like Cabo Cado, MV Sea Salt, and more live.
Stroll over to across the street and you’ll find a local favorite, The Green Room. This is where most locals will do their “real” shopping, meaning when you need things like winter boots, bathing suits, or anything else you don’t want to get online or go off to the mainland for. It’s also a surf shop, oddly enough, and where you can find surfboards on Martha’s Vineyard, along with YETI coolers and everything else you might need for an island experience. I also love that you can find more local goodies like Vineyard Wick and Bath candles here – these are hands down the best candles ever and locally made by a good friend!
Ok, I promise this is the last shop – but it’s a good one! Brickyard is a home and design store that will have you swooning over some of the most gorgeous home decor pieces you’ll ever set your sights on. Whether it’s the most perfect ottoman for your living room, the shaggiest rug for your bedroom, or just some gorgeous little details for your dresser like the small island bowls below (perfect for your rings, etc), it’s a must stop for shoppers.
After all that shopping, I recommend heading back to the Nobnocket for a little rest and pick me up before tackling two things that night: dinner and a movie! The Capawock Movie Theater was constructed in 1913 and until 2012, had served as an entertainment center for the island. Between 2012-2015, re-construction helped bring the theater back to life, quite literally. It’s now once again the bustling center for arts it was back in the 1900’s and just the place to enjoy an early movie before dinner.
Vineyard Haven has also been named a cultural district. Per the Chamber of Commerce – “Designated by the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC), cultural districts spark revitalization and renewal, build healthier, more livable and vital communities and contribute enormously to our economy. These cultural districts help local arts, humanities, and science organizations improve the quality and range of their public programs so that more local families can benefit from them.”
And to top off the 24 Hours in Vineyard Haven, you might be wonder…where to eat dinner? Hands down my ultimate suggestion has to be Garde East for dinner. Why am I suggesting Garde East? Not only does it have one of the best water views in town, but the food is by far some of the best on island. Chef Robert Sisca and Executive Sous Chef Carlos Montaya are a dynamic duo that showcase local produce, seafood, and ingredients in their daily menus, making everything you eat a delight.
Best described as a purveyor of French inspired seafood for a New American dining experience from the esteemed Chef Robert Sisca, Garde East is my restaurant destination when I want to treat myself. Chef Sisca has a way of creating some of the best menu items I’ve ever encountered, all while keeping it approachable and delicious. Sure, it’s a nice place to take a special someone for dinner, but it’s also the perfect spot to grab cocktails and an appetizer while on vacation.
I can recommend so many things from the menu, including what you see below: Foie gras & bbq unagi torchon with hearts of palm, pickled green strawberries, balsamic-kabayaki. It’s such a decadent treat, you’ll need to share – but you won’t want to, it’s that good. Torchon is quite a delicate French culinary technique and the chefs at Garde East hit it spot on. Other items on the menu we love include: Cauliflower “tartare”, Beet root gnocchi, the Garde East Clam Bake, and the Crescent Farm duck breast. But honestly, I could blindly be served anything from this menu and I’d be happy. My last suggestion? Don’t skip dessert, no matter how full you are. The Hazelnut Mousse with Chocolate Soil, MV Smoked Sea Salt-Caramel Ice Cream is to die for. Make reservations at Garde East and prepared to be delighted.