Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard?
February 22, 2006 5:50 AM   Subscribe

Help me decide which is better for a summer vacation; Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket?

Every other year we do a laid back vacation, and just rent a house for a week near a beach. This year we are considering either Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket, but can't decide which would be better. I guess they are pretty similar, but maybe I'm missing something. Some details: wife and 3 kids (grade school through high school ages), looking for relaxation and fun, but we are not night life or club people. We would like a quiet environment to hang out as a family, with some good food, and a few places to see other than the beach, although most days will be spent there, so any advice on better beaches would be very welcome.

I'll check in in case anyone wants more info. Thanks as always for any helpful advice. Pros and cons of both locations are welcome.
posted by genefinder to Travel & Transportation around Nantucket, MA (20 answers total)
i live on cape cod, and i can tell you that renting a house out on the islands is going to cost you A LOT...but if you have the cash i would suggest the vineyard. simply because you can get around the whole place on a bike, its "closer" to the mainland (so if you want to go to the cape its just a 30 minute ferry ride). There are some nice bluffs to check out on the eastern end of the island, and a rather sparse national forest. the beaches are great, there is downtown shopping at lots of little stores, including the black dog bakery if you are into that sort of thing. things to know, there are lots and lots of ticks on the vineyard, and it has one of the highest Lyme disease rates in the country. the ticks like to hang out on the dune grass near the beach and feast on sun bathers. make sure you do a very good tick check each night before and after your shower. make sure the kids do so as well, most of the time if you remove the tick before 24 hours your OK, if you do get one, take it off, put a piece of clear tape over it and tape it to a calender with the day you found it, then if you develop any of the signs of Lyme (bruising on a bulls eye, flu like symptoms, joint pain etc) you will know what day you got the tick on. traffic on the cape and islands in the summer is also horrific. if you can bring/rent some bikes when you get the islands and ride them its a nice workout and the views are great. hope this helps.
posted by stilgar at 6:25 AM on February 22, 2006

Martha's Vineyard. Specifically, Oak Bluffs, if you like a more diverse experience, which we found good for our kids who grew up in a mostly-white environment. Oak Bluffs is, in part, a "historically black" destination. Nantucket is pretty much, historically and presently, white. And a lot more expensive, in general.
posted by beagle at 6:27 AM on February 22, 2006

ha ha "historically black" there are some minorities on the cape and islands, but don't come here for much diversity, its pretty much older white people as far as the eye can see. and during the summer you will see half the population of long island, rhoad island, and about a third of the population of the midwest crowding the beaches, but still most of them are white. there is a rich history on the cape and islands, so if thats your thing you can find it here. lots of cool old boats and fishing stuff as well as very early American history. Ptown on the cape is also very gay friendly (my friends call it the gay Rivera) and you will find a lot of nice plays and shows on the cape and islands during the summer.
posted by stilgar at 6:35 AM on February 22, 2006

Stilgar, have you been to Oak Bluffs? And did you read the question?
posted by beagle at 6:52 AM on February 22, 2006

If you can find something affordable (HA!), I think you'll find Nantucket a bit more relaxed than the Vineyard. That said, they're both overpriced and overcrowded traps.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:58 AM on February 22, 2006

Feel free to throw the Cape into the mix as well, if you think it's helpful. One thing I can assert is that my children and I are definitely not looking for the Gay Riviera. Please refrain from those types of suggestions.
posted by genefinder at 7:21 AM on February 22, 2006

Another vote for Nantucket as the more relaxed, less pretentious, location (which is still rather expensive). If you are seeking a beach experience pay attention to where you rent as some beaches are more pleasant in terms of winds and water temperature and some houses are quite far from the beach - but you probably knew that stuff already. (oh, Nantucket has lyme too.)
posted by caddis at 7:25 AM on February 22, 2006

genefinder: does it have to be an ocean beach? If so, I've got nothing. But if lake 'beaches' work for you, we've been vacationing in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom for two weeks over the past 15 years for exactly the the same experience you stated you want, and spending, I'd guess, a lot less money. I'll check in later if you want me to expand.
posted by mojohand at 7:43 AM on February 22, 2006

Nantucket, less pretentious? Whoa.

Yes, I'm biased. I'm a Vineyard vacationer from way back (about 20 years). But I think for your purposes, you'll enjoy the opportunities of the Vineyard more. It's much larger, offering plenty of beach choices, hiking, kayaking, and other outdoor pursuits. It's wonderful for exploring by bike or foot. Public transportation is truly excellent, so depending on your kids' ages, they'll be able to get everywhere without needing you to ferry them around.

I find Nantucket to be expensive and hoity-toity. The Vineyard is touristy, no doubt about it, but there's a real daily life there under the surface. There are working-class people there, still, and a strong year-round community. Nantucket is no longer affordable for anyone but skilled tradesmen and six-figure-makers. Nantucket's quieter, with less to do, and maybe that's appealing; but the beauty of the Vineyard is that there is just enough to do, but you never feel as though you have to do anything.

The Vineyard is also more artsy than Nantucket. It has a fun, funky, creative vibe that I've always enjoyed. It has lessened as the money has flooded in, but you can still pick up on this improvisational spirit all over the place. You'll meet some great characters and unique people.

There are pretentious boutiques, but also diners, hardware and grocery stores, and ice cream shops. The libraries and bookstores are great. There is a small carousel and arcade that kids (and big kids like me), enjoy in Oak Bluffs. There are free events all over the island ever day, like flea markets on Saturdays and a community sing-along Wednesday night in the tabernacle.

For some Island flavor, news, and listings, check out the Vineyard Gazette. I put some more links in this thread which you might like.

I highly recommend the Vineyard over Nantucket. I know old-time Nantucketers and high-end travelers don't agree with me, but people just seem to fall in love with one or the other, and I'm a Vineyard girl. Feel free to email me for more recommendations. The Chamber ought to put me on the payroll.
posted by Miko at 8:37 AM on February 22, 2006

i do not know a whole lot about nantucket but i grew up on martha’s vineyard. in order to fully answer your question i have a couple of my own. how long do you plan on being on vacation and will you have access to a car?

people tend to think of the island as a small place put it is a good 24+ miles end to end. although beautiful im not sure i would recommend the ride all the way up to gay head, espicalliy for someone in grade school. about half the towns have bike paths but once you hit chilmark and gay head you will be ridding on state road which is pretty narrow and tends to have a lot of clutter (dirt grass) along the edges.

regardless of which island you decide to go to i highly recommend you find out if your rental includes any beach passes, many of the beaches on both islands are private.
posted by phil at 8:45 AM on February 22, 2006

I've been to each but twice, and I'd recommend Vineyard over Nantucket, and Fire Island over both.
posted by luriete at 9:16 AM on February 22, 2006

As an alternative to congested Cape Cod - Nantucket - Vineyard option (I've been to the Cape many times), you might want to consider Acadia National Park (part of Mt. Desert Island) and the surrounding area in Maine. The area is accessible by car.

It has supremely beautiful scenery. The kids can go on various park activities including hikes, horseback riding, carriage rides, bike rides and so on. Afternoon tea at Jordan Pond House is extremely popular (good eats). The scenic drive around the perimeter of the park is like a picture postcard.

There are a few beaches (but the water tends to be a bit cold). Nevertheless, people use the beaches.

The busiest town in the area is Bar Harbor. Busy is relative. This is not Cape Cod.

Bar Harbor is very laid back. Not dressy at all. T-shirts, shorts and Tevos are the dress code. This is not a night clubbing town. There are also fun and educational boat rides available at Bar Harbor. Lots of places to eat.

If it's your first visit, it might be easiest to stay in or real near Bar Harbor. But if you want something even quieter (as I did on later trips), there are many smaller places nearby with numerous B&B's and other lodging option. Southwest Harbor is where I've stayed in the past. It's maybe 20 to 30 minutes from Bar Harbor.

Here are some links to get you started if interested:

Acadia National Park

Overview of Acadia & Bar Harbor

More Acadia Nat'l Park from Tourism Folks

Basic Map

...don't forget the lobster. :)
posted by bim at 11:20 AM on February 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

I agree with Bim that Bar Harbor is wonderful, wonderful.

But really, if you vacation there, don't plan on doing any swimming. It's not quite a beach vacation -- it's a coastal vacation.
posted by Miko at 1:04 PM on February 22, 2006

Thanks for the alternate suggestions of Maine and Vermont, but we have done those areas before (and liked them alot). We were looking to try someplace new.

Actually, I think some of the information I relayed to my wife from here has put her off either of the islands. I guess that is a decision unto itself, so thanks to all who helped make it. Not sure where we stand now, but I guess it's back to the drawing board.
posted by genefinder at 1:08 PM on February 22, 2006

Ooh, I'm sorry to hear that, because the Vineyard is sooo wonderful.

But maybe I can recommend the Jersey Shore? Especially Ocean City, great for all ages.
posted by Miko at 1:12 PM on February 22, 2006

and as far as I know, Lyme is not an issue on the Jersey shore. Rentals are going fast though.
posted by caddis at 1:23 PM on February 22, 2006

Have you been to, or considered, Block Island? Quaint, pretty, calm, out of the way ...
posted by rob511 at 1:55 PM on February 22, 2006

Oh yeah, Block is great. That's another good choice.

Lyme is an issue on pretty much the entire Eastern seaboard. You're not going to be able to go anywhere without a chance of Lyme. Fears of it are overblown. I've had it myself, but you're just as likely to pick it up in a suburban backyard as on a beach or in the woods. Normal precautions apply.
posted by Miko at 5:46 PM on February 22, 2006

Please refrain from those types of suggestions.

Oh but it is useful information. After all, it tells you what parts of the area you shall wish to avoid, judging by your tone.
posted by digitalis at 10:43 PM on February 22, 2006

One thing I can assert is that my children and I are definitely not looking for the Gay Riviera. Please refrain from those types of suggestions.
posted by genefinder at 10:21 AM EST on February 22 [!]

Oooh. Missed that before.

So you think perhaps your kiddies might catch the gay? It's not contagious you know. Perhaps you would be safer just staying home and renting some G rated videos.
posted by caddis at 11:21 PM on February 22, 2006

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