One summer, in the early 1970s, my brother and I were biking from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard when we came upon a very strange sight. Hundreds of people were on the beach, screaming and splashing in the water in an almost comical way. It seemed like mayhem for no apparent reason. A toothy, wide-mouth mechanical shark sat on a trailer on the sand, and Klieg lights illuminated the already sunlit scene. What the hell was going on, we asked our waitress later that night. "Oh, they're making a movie about a shark," she replied.
Of course, that "movie about a shark" was Jaws -- Steven Spielberg's breakout film -- and visitor's can now dip their toes in the water at "Jaw's Beach." But, honestly, the making of Jaws isn't even among the top reasons to visit this appropriately shark-shaped chunk of land just eight miles from Cape Cod.
Here's a list of some of the coolest, insider things to do on Martha's Vineyard based on years of personal visits and recommendations from the folks who live here. (For more in-depth recommendations about MV and other Northeast destinations, visit GetawayMavens.com).
1. Check out Martha's Vineyard Playhouse in Vineyard Haven on summer Monday nights at 7:30. New play readings sometimes draw your average Hollywood stars, who show up to support their friends.
2. Peruse the boutiques and shops in Vineyard Haven. Midnight Farm is co-owned by Carly Simon who has deep roots on the island, and Night Heron Gallery features one-of-a-kind goods made by local artists. Pick up a bestseller at indie Bunch of Grapes Bookstore where Barak and Michelle Obama publicly purchased their daughters' summer reading list last year.
3. Everyone does it, so go for the brass ring -- on the Oldest Carousel in the World -- the Flying Horses in Oak Bluffs., just $2.50 per ride.
4. Figure on a Photog-Foray to the fairytale enclave of Gingerbread Cottages in Oak Bluffs. These delightful mini-homes replaced tents pitched for Methodist summer revivals in the 1700s and were collectively declared a National Historic Landmark in 1978.
5. After a night of partying, grab a mouthwatering Back Door Donut in Oak Bluffs. Co-Owner, Rita Brown, presides over Martha's Vineyard Gourmet Café & Bakery by day, but at night, a "crew of 10 keeps making the donuts until 1am" and sells them at the back door.
6. Zen out in Mytoi in Chappaquiddick, an enchanting 14-acre Japanese garden with walkways, drooping Cherry trees, wooden bridges and the most vocal (some would assume, happy) birds on earth. You need to take the 3-car-3-minute "Chappy Ferry" from Edgartown -- a quaint joy in itself.
7. Tour Chappaquiddick with the Trustees of Reservations. Ride in a jeep or paddle in kayaks to the Cape Poge Lighthouse and other sections of the island, a migratory stop for over a hundred species of birds.
8. Two miles from Vineyard Haven, it's a quick ride to the lush-lash big-eyed stares of 78 alpacas at Island Alpaca. With necks like swaying stalks, they are both ungainly and delicate after shearing, and sweet enough to cuddle. Island Alpaca has one of the most well stocked alpaca woolens store on the East Coast.
9. Pay your respects to John Belushi. Many of the original SNL cast members have homes on Martha's Vineyard, but only one is buried here. Visit John Belushi's grave in Abel's Hill Cemetery, Chilmark.
10. Capture the grandeur of a Martha's Vineyard sunset from either the endangered red brick Gay Head Lighthouse, or the spectacular terra cotta colored clay Gay Head Cliffs overlook -- both on the Western end of MV in Aquinnah (formerly Gay Head).
11. Purchase purple and white "wampum" jewelry, sculpted from Quahog shells, at Stony Creek Gifts on the walkway to the Gay Head Cliffs overlook. Simply beautiful, these adornments are the real deal.
12. In the postcard-perfect fishing village of Menemsha, pick up freshly steamed lobster, brothy chowder or stuffed clams from Larsen's Fish Market, then picnic right on the working docks made famous in the movie Jaws.
13. Order the Crabmeat Guacamole appetizer from Atlantic Restaurant in Edgartown. It's one delicious way to savor the nautical comings and goings of Edgartown harbor.
14. Kimchee Burger at Henry's at the Harbor View Hotel. 'Nuff said.
15. Ask for a beachy-chic waterview room at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown, wake up at 5am and watch the Edgartown Lighthouse, right outside your window, turn pink with the sunrise. All will be right with the world.
Photo credit, author, Malerie Yolen-Cohen