Here's a toast to all those people who save their visit to the Vineyard until after Labor Day to avoid the crowds. You're one less person to annoy Spike Lee when he picks up his morning coffee at Mocha Mott's , one less person for Bill Clinton to hit with his golf ball as tries to break 80 at Farm Neck Golf Club , one less person for Carly Simon and the Taylor kids to sing to in yet another island auction. And right you are. There are hordes of people to deal with once you disembark the ferry in Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs. But magically on this isle 20 miles long by 8 miles wide, they disperse. So sweat out the summer in the Financial District, only to savor the chilly nights of September. I'll salute your wise ways while chasing my kids down South Beach at the height of the season, cool ocean breeze blowing through my hair.
PlayThat's all we do here. Rise with the birds on an early morning walk at the Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary in West Tisbury . A forest of sassafras trees leads to serene ponds, swampy bogs, and the rocky coastline before combining all three elements in a scenic overlook. At Ames Pond, take time to pause and reflect as finches sing overhead, butterflies play hide-and-seek, and frogs trill from sunken logs.
After breakfast, it's a toss of the coin where to bike. Trails branch off in every direction. Head west and you'll end up in Chilmark, where there always seems to be a flea market. By all means, get off and sample the local fare. I once had the best clam chowder I ever tasted at the Chilmark Community Center , with meaty chunks of clam and potatoes in a light cream broth.
Then it's on to Aquinnah Beach , tucked beneath the colorful backdrop of Gay Head Cliffs . Layers of clay form Gay Head, with varying degrees of vivid color depending on the sedimentary deposit. The result is a canvas of reds, greens, van Gogh yellows, and whites that becomes even more striking at sunset, when the day's last rays create a spectacular light show across the cliffs.
Head west and you'll reach the Vineyard's oldest settlement, Edgartown. Amble along sidewalks braced with whaling captains' homes from the 18th and 19th centuries. Then bring the bikes on the two-minute ferry ride over to Chappaquiddick . The road passes a Japanese-style garden called Mytoi that is worth a stop. Azaleas, daffodils, dogwoods, and rhododendrons line the freshwater creeks. Final stop is secluded East Beach .
Other favorite beaches for spending an afternoon include the 3-mile stretch of white sand on South Beach in Katama , four miles south of Edgartown, and Joseph A. Sylvia State Beach, between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown.
PartyThe night life thrives on the Vineyard come summer. Live jazz, rock, reggae, and world music is featured at Outerland (Martha's Vineyard Airport, 508-693-1137, ext. 33, outerlandmv.com ).
Bar hoppers head to Circuit Street in Oak Bluffs, one of only two towns on the island that is not dry (Edgartown is the other).
There is theater at the Vineyard Playhouse (vineyardplayhouse .org), concerts at Old Whaling Church, and readings at Bunch of Grapes. Just check the Martha's Vineyard Times or Vineyard Gazette for the weekly calendar.
FuelBreakfast options include Right Fork Diner (508-627-5522 ) at the Katama Airfield , where you can sit outdoors and watch the bi planes fly overhead, or a counter seat at Artcliff Diner (39 Beach Road, 508-693-1224 ) in Vineyard Haven, which has been in business since 1943.
The lobster-in-the-rough crowd will want to hop step it out to Larsen's Fish Market (56 Basin Road, 508-645-2680 ) in Menemsha. Grab a picnic table outdoors and dig into the freshly caught crustacean, oysters on the half shell, and pots of steamers.
Pizza lovers should check out the brick-oven offerings at Lattanzi's (Old Post Office Square, 508-627-9084 ) in Edgartown.
For dinner, Chesca's (38 North Water St., 508-627-1234 ) in Edgartown has consistently good seafood and pasta choices like lobster ravioli and seared sea scallops or the pan-roasted halibut.
But if I had one night on the island and wanted a special meal, I would make reservations at The Sweet Life Cafe (63 Circuit Ave., 508-696-0200 ) in Oak Bluffs. In a mid-19th-century mansion, Jackson and Mary Kenworth serve up such yummy fare as seared yellowfin tuna with island-picked tomatoes and a roasted corn salsa or a perfectly cooked cut of angus sirloin. Save room for desserts like a brown butter pear tart topped with vanilla bean gelato, so good the owners opened a nearby bakery to sell their sweets.
DoTake time to stroll Edgartown, where whaling captains built large Federal and Greek Revival-style homes along the waterfront. The Old Whaling Church was built in 1843 with the same wood and design used to create whaling ships.
Perhaps feeling guilty that they would be leaving their children for years at a time, whalers built a carousel for them. Carved in 1876, the Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs is now a National Historic Landmark . The horses have authentic hair, yet the real joy for children is the chance to lean over and snag a brass ring.
June is also the time when stripers start to return to this part of the Atlantic. Catching one of these silver and black fish is a memorable outing for all. A highly reputable guide is Cooper Gilkes (147 West Tisbury Road, 508-627-3909 ), a third-generation islander who knows all the coveted spots on the Vineyard. Coop's guided trips last four to five hours and start at $375.
SpendBuyer beware. The Vineyard features far more than the requisite Black Dog casual wear. Snag those popular T-shirts at their original store in Vineyard Haven (11B Water St., 508-696-8182, the blackdog.com ). Then wander over to Main Street .
Bowl & Board (35 Main St., 508-693-9441 ) is filled to the rafters with everything from ceramics to baskets, puzzles to soaps.
Across the street, Bunch of Grapes Bookstore (44 Main St., 508-693-2291, bunch ofgrapes.com ) has the best author readings on the island, including boat-captain-turned-author Linda Greenlaw reading from "Slipknot ," on July 12 .
Kids have their own book nook, Riley's Reads (29 Main St., 508-696-7957, rileys reads.com ), a small cottage just off Main Street.
For picnic fare, load up on cheeses, pates, meats, and island-made jams and jellies at Vineyard Gourmet (Main Street, 508-693-5181 ).
Landscapes by Vineyard artists can be found at the Gardner Colby Gallery (27 North Water St., 508-627-6002 ) in Edgartown.
Nearby, the Edgartown Scrimshaw Gallery (43 Main St., 508-627-9439 ) features a fascinating display of contemporary scrimshaw artists.
In Oak Bluffs, don't miss the whimsical works created in a variety of media at Craftworks (42 Circuit Ave., 508-693-7463, craftworksgallery.com ).
Also stop in at the Granary Gallery at the Red Barn (636 Old County Road, 508-693-0455 ) in West Tisbury. Lush photographs, prints, and plein-air paintings by noted Vineyard artists are on display, along with early American antique furniture.
RestWhen their beloved Tisbury Inn burned to the ground in December 2001 , Sherm and Susie Goldstein could have walked away with a boatload of memories. Instead they rebuilt their three-story Vineyard Haven inn, now called the Mansion House (9 Main St., 508-693-2200, mvmansionhouse.com ), and did so with gusto. Enter to find the island's best spa and fitness facility, an indoor pool, and Zephrus , a casual seafood restaurant. The 40 spacious rooms and suites, some with harbor views, start at $279 in summer.
Now entering its seventh summer, the Winnetu Oceanside Resort (31 Dunes Road, 508-310-1733, winnetu.com ) overlooks the stretch of sand known as South Beach and is ideally suited for folks who want to ditch their car for a week. Every one of the 53 suites features a full kitchen, but Gwenn and Mark Snider have done everything possible to keep guests outdoors. Start with yoga on the lawn at pond's edge while the kids attend peewee tennis clinics. An hour later, children are whisked over to the clubhouse for morning activities like beach scavenger hunts. Mark also drives around the property in a 1945 fire truck offering children rides. Parents can opt for the scenic boat ride into Edgartown at dinner time. Or stick around for the weekly clambake. Rooms start at $295 in the high season, with a required minimum stay.
POPULATION 14,901 year-round residents
DISTANCE FROM BOSTON 75 miles to Woods Hole, then a 45-minute ferry ride to the Vineyard
ODD FACT Actor John Belushi is buried at Abel's Hill Cemetery in Chilmark. His gravestone reads: "I may be gone but Rock and Roll lives on."