I cut my teeth in Myrtle Beach.
Growing up in North Carolina, it’s simply what you did: Pack up the stationwagon and haul ass to South Carolina to baste in the sun for one glorious week in the South’s redneck riviera. What I remember from those Myrtle Beach jaunts of my youth include fried shrimp suppers, big waves, motorcycles (the South!), and trying — even then — for a whirlwind summer fling.
Myrtle Beach was just about the least pretentious place on earth, which is why we all loved it. So when I moved to New England more than a decade ago, I took a while to warm up to the cold water along these rocky northern shores. Cape Cod. Nantucket. Martha’s Vineyard. Forget pictures, just the names of these locales carried the Kennedy cachet of deep pockets, Ralph Lauren-clad white people, and enough Puritan repression to power a yacht.
But, friends, I was wrong. Well, partly. New England has its snooty islands and beaches, to be sure, but Martha’s Vineyard isn’t one of them.
Yes, it’s expensive, and if you’re familiar with Martha’s Vineyard, you probably already know this — but for those curious travelers who want to check out this moneyed and mythic island, without a real clue of what to expect, this is the post for you.
In the fall of 2016, I headed to Martha’s Vineyard for the first time and the visit blew my mind. It was right after the election, and I’d been selected for a weeklong writing residency in the woods of Edgartown. The island was empty and magical; the tourists had departed, but the yearround residents remained, including the lovable weirdos who round out this quirky isle. I had a marvelous Uber driver tell me about the ways her THREE ex-husbands died (heart attack, heart attack, plane crash!) and then tell me to go see Johnny Hoy & the Bluefish over at The Ritz.
Seriously, I thought this place was for mean rich jerks, but after a week I was ready to pack it all up and move here. Last summer, I returned for a long weekend in the middle of high season with a girlfriend, had an absolute blast, and realized that everything I thought I knew about Martha’s Vineyard (minus the sticker shock) was wrong.
Here’s what you need to know:
Take the ferry from Woods Hole. Don’t forget to visit the ferry restaurant for some clam chowder and a beer from an island brewery. Once you get to the island, don’t miss these spots.
Farmer and butcher Jefferson Munroe helms The GOOD Farm and its farmstand store, The Larder, which sells the farm’s meat and other premade goods. A great pitstop to pick up supplies for the night’s BBQ, or picnic snacks to go.
Island Copper in Vineyard Haven sells one-of-a-kinds copper products — everything from tables to trinkets — and the kind of home decor and internationally-sourced items that make you curse the moon for not being independently wealthy. You’ve been warned.
Dear friend and chef extraordinaire Spring Sheldon insisted we hit this seafood hotspot, which is what New England coastal dreams are made of. Literally a seafood shack on the Menemsha bay, you come here to get the fresh catch for your clam bake, or get the clams, buttery clam chowder, and oysters to go and eat al fresco on the water.
I met chef Spring Sheldon through a mutual friend years ago, and since then we’ve gone on a culinary adventure through Oaxaca and Martha’s Vineyard. Last summer, Spring started a pop-up taqueria on the island, but this year she co-launched Makers Table, a roving culinary feast featuring a rotating cast of local chefs, artists, educators, and speakers. Makers Table truly redefines dining by offering an unobstructed spotlight to artisans, culinary and otherwise, and by truly offering an experience. Dinner locations aren’t revealed until the time of the dinner, and with this suite of cuisine, entertainment, and intrigue, it’s no surprise that the venture has been a huge hit. Read more about Makers Table here. Photo by Elizabeth Cecil
Sleep at Summercamp & The Sydney Hotels
I loved my stay at Summercamp, part of the Lark Hotels portfolio, which looked straight out of Wes Anderson’s imagination.
This year, Lark debuted The Sydney, continuing domination over Edgartown with this modern but warm property. I haven’t stayed here yet, but it looks mighty inviting. Photos by Read Mckendree
Isola: Chef Jimmy Alvarado brings Peruvian flair to everything from pizza to seafood. This place knocked my socks off and, mention this place to any local and they’ll rave about the pizza.
Rosewater Market: This cafe/specialty grocery store/wine mart is an essential Edgartown stop for early risers, lunchers, and picnickers on the go. With coffee, pastry, delicious sandwiches (including a house-smoked pork Cuban that I still lust for), prepared foods, wine and beer, this is a one-stop-shop that I could live in for eternity.
Ask a local, and they’ll tell you that you can’t leave the island without trying a Dirty Banana over at Donovan’s Reef, part of Nancy’s Restaurant in Oak Bluffs.
Garde East: An upscale seafood spot on the water boasts a great wine list and refined fare for those who don’t mind laying down some serious cash. Don’t miss the sashimi, but you really can’t go wrong.