A delightfully eccentric figure, Barbara Ronchetti welcomed us to her 19-acre alpaca farm in the town of Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. Willowy and sweet, she was clad all in black as we sat at a picnic table next to some of her alpaca herd, and spoke lovingly about her animals, who have “beautiful curls” on their cheeks and like to “give kisses.”
It might seem a bit odd that an alpaca farm is one of the island’s top attractions. But then again, there’s a lot about Martha’s Vineyard—especially Oak Bluffs—that’s delightfully eccentric, as I discovered on a weekend trip with my husband and daughter.
There was the pet iguana on a leash at Inkwell Beach that swam in the ocean, sunned itself on a rock, and perched on its owner’s shoulder as if it were the world’s least-cuddly puppy. There was the “pedestrian crossing” street sign that cheeky vandals had embellished to look like a blue and green mermaid. There was “Jaws Bridge,” lined with adventurous jumpers eager to live out a piece of the movie Jaws and join in an iconic rite of passage (despite the sign reading “No Jumping or Diving From Bridge”).
There was Bad Martha Farmers Brewery, which uses the grape leaves from the island’s eponymous vineyards to make its beer and reimagines “Martha” as a mischievous, raven-haired mermaid. Even the hotel where we stayed, Summercamp, offered a quirky ode to nostalgic fun, with its “Camp Cantina” snack bar and artfully framed camp badges. And, of course, there were the candy-colored, fairytale-esque gingerbread cottages that make Oak Bluffs so famous and picturesque.
In so many ways, Martha’s Vineyard feels like another world, and once the ferry docks it’s easy to forget you’re still in Massachusetts. That said, getting there from the North Shore was easy: It was just a two-hour drive to Woods Hole and a 45-minute ferry ride to the island.
Over the weekend, we packed our visit with lots of sightseeing and relaxing that managed to satisfy all three of us. We visited Island Alpaca Company, where Ronchetti has spun a lucrative business out of the South American animals thanks to their luxurious, impossibly soft, and decidedly high-end wool. We petted the sweet animals through a fence and chatted with the employees, who were all guessing when a pregnant alpaca named Lunette would give birth.
We relaxed and swam at Inkwell Beach, which was tucked into a little cove and had gentle waves—perfect for kids. The intimate, uncrowded beach was not only a short drive from our hotel but also handicap-accessible, which my daughter needs. We strolled through the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, the circa 1835 Oak Bluffs neighborhood and National Historic Landmark that’s filled with dreamy gingerbread cottages painted in beautiful pinks, blues, purples, and reds and embellished with lacy-looking white curlicue trim around the eves. Our seven-year-old took endless spins on the Flying Horses Carousel, the oldest in the country, even pulling the coveted “brass ring” and winning a free ride.
We started and ended our days at our stylish hotel, Summercamp, which was right in the heart of Oak Bluffs, playing Ping-Pong in a game room packed with beanbag chairs and retro games and spending evenings relaxing in rocking chairs on the hotel’s sprawling wraparound front porch overlooking the ocean.
Our dining choices were equally laid-back and fun. In Oak Bluffs, we sat outside with our feet in the sand at the Sand Bar and Grille, and tucked into creamy clam chowder and cold beers at Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Company.
In nearby Edgartown, we ate a fantastic gourmet breakfast at The Christopher, a sister hotel of Summercamp. Surrounded by the breezy “Vineyard meets St. Barth” décor, we indulged in bacon, goat cheese, and chive biscuits, chocolate-bacon breadsticks with chocolate ganache, and other inventive dishes. Another standout stop in Edgartown was Bad Martha Farmer’s Brewery & Tasting Room, where we sat in Adirondack chairs on the brewery’s shaded front patio while sampling beer flights and warm, chewy bar pretzels.
It had been 20 years since I had last visited Martha’s Vineyard as a 15-year-old high schooler. My best friend and I rode growling mopeds through quiet streets, flirted with boys on the beach, and jumped off Jaws Bridge, holding hands as we launched ourselves off the edge of the wooden rail into the cold water below. The island that lived in my memory had a wonderful sense of excitement, relaxation, and adventure. It felt like freedom.
The island and I have changed a lot in those two decades. Now I’m a married mom (and would never jump off a bridge), and the island is busier and more developed than it used to be. But the spirit of Martha’s Vineyard is the same: fun, colorful, sweetly eccentric, and still happily and breezily free.
Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce
Bad Martha Farmers Brewery