The air is chilly and the leaves are falling. It’s the perfect time of year to start planning for…summer camp!
We’re not talking about that place where you slept with mosquitos and a dozen goofy 12-year-olds when you were a kid. The SummerCamp hotel is a beautiful resort overlooking the harbor and located just on the edge of historic Oak Bluffs in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
If you haven’t been to Martha’s Vineyard, its a must-add to the bucket list and if you have, you already know all about its charming small towns, lovely beaches and incredible restaurants. A lot of locals are also quick to remind you that Jaws was filmed here, and there are plenty of T-Shirts for sale with sharks all over them to prove it.
My 11-year-old son Tyler and I had the great fortune to visit SummerCamp for a long weekend recently and he has only asked about a thousand times since when we might return.
From the outside it appears to be an old fashioned, kind of nostalgic idea of what a Victorian resort hotel might have looked like during the turn of the 19th century, with a big wrap-around porch, where you might sit in a rocking chair with a glass of lemonade and watch the sailboats come in and out of the harbor. In fact, the hotel has been a destination for vacationers since 1879.
The Lark Hotel group bought the former Wesley Hotel and completely renovated every inch of the property. While the theme is fun and meant to evoke plenty of childhood memories with vintage games and a ping pong table and chair swings in the lobby, the interior design by Rachel Reider is also modern and colorful. The combination creates a sense of fun, expertly meshed with contemporary luxury.
The rooms now feature amenities that Grandma could only dream about if she visited back in the day, like 43” LED flatscreen smart TV’s, USB charging outlets and complimentary use of iPads. There are also some whimsical nods to simpler days too, like Cracker Jacks and Dreamsicles to be found at the Camp Canteen.
ABOUT OAK BLUFFS….
The hotel is a short walk from the hopping downtown of Oak Bluffs, where the ferry boats arrive from Rhode Island, Cape Cod and even Manhattan (always book ahead of time, particularly if you want to bring a car. However you don’t need a car because there are plenty of other transportation options, including a bus service that takes you to bigger towns like Edgartown and Vineyard Haven and just about every other place in between.
Downtown Oak Bluffs, is just about every romantic’s idea of a perfect little town, complete with a gazebo in the center of the expansive town green, The Flying Horses (the nation’s oldest carousel), plus fantastic dining and even an acclaimed micro brewery.
The town is also famous for its colorful cottages that are a wonder to see. Some of the earliest settlers on the island were freed slaves and laborers and Methodists who came for a religious retreats in the mid to late 1800s. They gathered in the oak groves every summer for religious “camp meetings.” Eventually instead of sleeping in tents, they built tiny multi-colored gingerbread cottages and an open-air circular Tabernacle in the middle for gatherings.
Today the area has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is an must-see no matter where you stay on the island. There are paths just behind the SummerCamp that lead to dozens and dozens of beautiful little houses, with no two looking exactly alike. The Tabernacle now is home to concerts and cultural events and on the day we visited a lone pianist played classical tunes, while a bustling flea market took place around its perimeter.
Of course you can visit Oak Bluffs any time you like, but many restaurants and attractions close in the winter months. However the time to plan a spring or summer getaway is now before things book up, as everything does on Marthas Vineyard.
A recent check of SummerCamp room rates varied from between $229 to $199 per night. During the summer the rates range from about $159 to 429 per night. There are dog friendly rooms and rooms with bunk beds, if you really, really want to recreate your own camp memories. We’re already planning our return for an extended stay this summer. Look for us lounging every afternoon on the front porch.
SummerCamps parent company Lark Hotels, also owns The Sydney and The Christopher Hotels in Edgarstown and some other really beautiful boutique properties throughout New England and in California. http://www.larkhotels.com
WHEN YOU VISIT BE SURE TO TRY THESE RESTAURANTS….
6 Circuit Avenue, Oak Bluffs
A foodie’s paradise. The menu is innovative and each course is better than the one before.
Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company
9 Oak Bluffs Avenue, Oak Bluffs
Are you really going to visit New England and not indulge in some of its most famous chowders? There’s also an impressive raw bar too.
22 North Water Street, Edgartown
You are almost guaranteed to get a fabulous meal at this French restaurant located in the Sydney hotel.
John’s Fish Market
5 Martin Rd, Vineyard Haven
Fish and chips to die for and the lobster rolls are pretty good too.
52 Beach Rd. Vineyard Haven
Incredible fish, meat and duck dishes and in a lovely waterfront location overlooking the marina.
A FEW THINGS TO DO….
Biking and hiking are favorite past times of locals and tourists alike and there are dozens of trails throughout the island to explore.
Visit the lighthouse in Gay Head and picnic at nearby Menemsha. If you can, don’t miss the incredible sunsets from this spot.
“Jaws Bridge” at Joesph Sylvia State Beach is a popular tourist spot. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see folks actually jumping off the bridge. Yes, it’s a thing.
Fishing with Mad Max. That’s the name of the giant catamaran that takes visitors for a two hour cruise out of Edgartown.
Mytoi Japanese Gardens. Chappaquiddick is a short ferry hop from Oak Bluffs and yes it has an infamous history, but there is also an exotic garden there that is definitely worth a visit.