Menemsha is Martha’s Vineyard at its most iconic. The fishermen community is what shapes the sense of place one feels when visiting the unique and special fishing village.
If I were to describe the town of Menemsha in four words, it would be unique, simple, authentic, and unapologetically itself. In today’s day and age, an unfortunate side effect to globalization is that chain stores have taken over towns, offering travelers anything they desire except choice, surprise, or a sense of place. Menemsha isn’t like that. There isn’t a chain store in the entire fishing village and the locals of Menemsha like it that way. What the locals have they cherish and what they don’t have they’re content without. It’s a real place, which is what makes it so spellbinding.
Menemsha is located within the town of Chilmark and doesn’t have any lavish stores, large hotels, elegant restaurants, or large beaches. The 300 year old fishing port just has a couple of spots to grab a bite to eat, a few lived-in fishermen houses, two fish markets, three boutique stores, one small beach, and a few public bathrooms. But even in its simplicity, the fishing village bears a sense of authenticity that is indescribable.
Grab a Bite to Eat at The Galley
As my mother and I rode our bikes through Chilmark, we followed a winding path that led us down towards the water. That’s where we found The Galley, a restaurant that served seafood in front of the Menemsha to Aquinnah bike ferry and Menemsha basin. Ravished for food, we locked up our bikes and headed over to the window counter. My mom ordered a lobster salad, while I ordered swordfish salad.
My mom and I took a seat in the back of the establishment while waiting for our food. It was the first of August and the air was hot, humid, and thick with salt. A woman was calling out order numbers from a window in the back. The clapboard and beamed ceiling had buoys, a ship’s wheel, and marina accessories hanging from it. We were sitting by a large open faced window overlooking the colorful fishing village and Menemsha basin.
The Movie Set of Amity Island from the Movie Jaws
Pictures hung on the wall for what looked like…Jaws? The shark movie? Could it be? Why yes, it was. Numerous scenes from the 1975 Steven Spielberg movie, Jaws where filmed on Martha’s Vineyard. FYI, Jaws is one of my favorite movies of all time together with Jurassic Park. Menemsha is known for being the movie set of the famous “Amity Island.” You’ll see references to Jaws throughout Martha’s Vineyard and The Galley is no exception since they were around while filming took place in 1975.
As we began to chow on our lobster and swordfish salad while watching the sailboats pull into the Menemsha basin, the world seemed like a pretty wonderful place. It was a very hot day and we were sweating our way through Martha’s Vineyard by bike–props to my mother for being able to keep up with me the whole way!! We needed an extra kick to keep us going till Aquinnah, so got one of their famous soft serve ice creams, half chocolate-half vanilla, to go as we continued to explore the rest of Menemsha.
As we strolled towards the Dutcher Dock, we passed by a few of Menemsha’s boutique stores including Harbor Craft Shop. The owners of Harbor Craft Shop, Roberta and Jimmy, sell local and handcrafted goods such as beach plum jelly, charming aprons, dresses, pillows, and potholders all hand sewn by Roberta! They even sell their daughter, Barbara’s, photographs along with seascapes painted by both owners. Unique finds are in abundance at this local store.
Menemsha Blues is another great family-owned store that is the embodiment of the fishermen’s village. The word Menemsha derives from an ancient coastal native American word for “still waters.” The design of all of Menemsha Blues apparel is inspired by the meaning of the word Menemsha. Lastly, we have Pandora’s Box a combination of designer fashions, relaxed summer wear, and elegant clothing for any occasion in Martha’s Vineyard.
What would Menemsha be without its fishermen? Just passed the boutique stores are two of Menemsha’s fish markets: Larsen’s and Menemsha Fish Market. The town of Menemsha has very strong tides and clean water due to various conservation efforts making it the perfect place to catch bonito, bluefish, and monster striped bass. In fact, the waters are so pristine here that world record fish have been caught just off Menemsha.
From the two fish markets you can purchase local seafood such as clams and littlenecks–raw or cooked–chowder, and so forth. You can choose to eat them on the docks, by the beach, on the rocks, back at your house, on your boat…wherever you’d like. Prices are very reasonable so don’t be afraid to take some back home with you.
Places to Stay on Martha’s Vineyard: Nobnocket Boutique Inn
Swordfish Harpooner Sculpture
As we neared the end of the fishing village, we reached Menemsha beach. Right before the beach we saw a small Swordfish Harpooner Sculpture. The original structure was made by Jay, a sculpture artist from Menemsha. The idea of the sculpture came to him in a dream after discussing the decline of swordfish fisheries with some of Menemsha’s last remaining Harpooners. The group were discussing the repercussions of long-lining where you catch swordfish, but not necessarily mature swordfish, and catch other fish along the way damaging the eco-system vs. harpooning where you only catch mature large swordfish and never accidentally pick up a dolphin, sea turtle, or shark along the way. The next day he put together some bent coat wires and red clay and created his first pass at the Harpoon sculpture. It obviously cracked and broke and Jay went on to make numerous iterations of the sculpture till the final was commissioned in bronze in 2017. The statue is a symbol and pays homage to the fishermen, and more specifically last remaining harpooners, of Menemsha.
Although Martha’s Vineyard has plenty of beaches, it’s always hard to decipher which are private, public, open only to town residents, and at what time private beaches are accessible to the public. Menemsha beach is one of the public beaches on Martha’s Vineyard. You can collect shells, go for a swim, and watch as the boats pull in, but the most anticipated time of day has to be sunset. When people crowd around the water to watch the spectacle of the changing sky from fiery orange to cotton candy pink to red, purple, and finally midnight blue.
Things to Do in Edgartown: Martha’s Vineyard
Menemsha Bike Ferry to Aquinnah
After visiting Menemsha, my mom and I unlocked our bikes and took them over to the Menemsha Bike Ferry that takes you across to Aquinnah. The ferry can transport you and your bikes to the other side of the island within just 3 minutes. The ferry runs from 8AM to 6PM in the summer and shortens the bike ride from Menemsha to Aquinnah by A LOT. And trust me, you’ll need it this shortcut to make the bike ride easier.
The Galley, the fishermen houses and community, the Menemsha basin, its boutique stores and fisheries, are the best way to show someone from outside Martha’s Vineyard what a unique and special place Martha’s Vineyard truly is.
>> Next: Meet the West Tisbury’s Farmers Market’s Artisans and Farmers
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