West Tisbury is the most agricultural feeling of the six towns on the Island, with working farms surrounded by stone walls, a big farmer’s market, the Ag Fair; and a town center that consists of a library, a gas station, a sandwich shop, and a general store. (Okay, and an art gallery.) Though the saltwater is never far away, and there are plenty of houses to rent with water views, it doesn’t feel particularly like an ocean town; the beaches, both public and private, are either off behind the Tisbury Great Pond or down some woody path. The beaches are there, though, along with miles of great walking and biking trails some sit-down restaurants that many consider to be the best eats on the Island.
"Finally there’s Great Rock Bight, with its humble and touching monument to Rebecca, Woman of Africa. It’s just good to be reminded that, even in the wilds of the Island, people lived whole long lives here before us."Dan Waters
"Cedar Tree Neck is my go-to walk. The dogs love the hike and getting out to the beach to cool off before heading home."Kara Shemeth Dekkers
In the first mega-subdivision in Island history, Thomas Mayhew gave permission (in 1668) to Miles Standish’s son and some buddies to go up Island from Great Harbor (Edgartown) and purchase whatever land they could from the Wampanoag owners of the area known then as Takemmy. The acres they eventually purchased became the town of Tisbury over the next few years. Tisbury originally included all of the land that is now the town of Vineyard Haven and some parts of what is now Chilmark. By 1694 Chilmark had officially split off, but it took two hundred years more for the population of the original town center at West Tisbury to become tired of playing second fiddle to the larger upstart port town that grew up near the harbor and demand that Vineyard Haven go its own way.
Because the original purchasers were more interested in farmland than another harbor, the original town had been based near the flat and fertile lands around Tisbury Great Pond. Thoreau memorably pointed out that on Cape Cod and the Islands trickles that were hardly noticed on the mainland were utilized and given dignified names. There were grist and wool processing mills on the “rivers” that run down from the moraine to the Tisbury Great Pond. Today West Tisbury remains the most agricultural town on the Island.
Which is not to say it is anywhere near as agricultural as it once was, as the miles of stone walls running through mature second and third growth forest attest. By the time of the American Revolution, the Island was not the wooded place it is today, but was almost entirely devoid of trees and overrun with sheep. In 1778, the British fleet showed up in Vineyard Haven (which was still a part of West Tisbury) and demanded that 10,000 sheep be delivered to the docks or the guns would blaze. Are we like sheep? Apparently…the guns didn’t blaze and most of the sheep went to Newport.
Not much has happened in the town since then except there’s a new town hall, a new library, a new police station, a new fire station, and everyone wonders how the property taxes got so much higher than they are in Chilmark.
Land Area: 25.0 sq mi (64.8 km2)
Water Area: 16.7 sq mi (43.3 km2)
Though they run through a select section of the State Forest, the paved bike paths of down Island pretty much end in West Tisbury. That doesn’t mean you can’t get around via bike, you’ll just have to do so with the traffic.
There are centralized VTA bus stops across from Alley’s General Store, and at Cronig’s Market, but the bus will pick you up or drop you off anywhere you request.
Traffic tends to die down on this side of the Island, so getting around by car is ideal. You can get gas at Up-Island Auto, just past Alley’s. You won’t find any rental shops up here though, and you may have to wait a while for a taxi to come your way.
West Tisbury has a looooot of land, and a looooot of vacation rentals. What it doesn’t have a looooot of is actual hotels. There are some B&B’s, or the classy and delicious Lambert’s Cove Farm Inn and Restaurant. West Tisbury also has a Youth Hostel, which was one aimed at young folks on a budget, but we’ll leave the words “young” and “budget” open to interpretation.
Over the years, West Tisbury has developed two sort-of town “centers.” The first revolves around the up-Island Cronig’s Market, and that’s the best spot to get any groceries you need in West Tisbury. You’ll find an ATM there, another bank across the street, a post office, and a pharmacy right next door.
The true West Tisbury town center is grounded by Alley’s General Store (ATM inside). They sell all sorts of dry goods, beach, and home supplies. If you want fresh produce, Alley’s Farm Stand is right next door. Or, if it’s a Wednesday or Saturday, stroll down the street a few yards to the Farmers’ Market.
See & Do
You could come to West Tisbury to enjoy the farms (there are a lot of those). Or you could come to learn about native (and-non native) trees at the majestic Polly Hill Arboretum. Others prefer strolling from the white sands of Lambert’s Cove Beach to the cliffs of Makonikey, or touring the historic burial grounds at Christiantown Memorial. If a day on the water is on your mind, put your kayak in at Seppiessa, paddle across Tisbury Great Pond, and spend the day soaking, sunning, and fishing on the South shore.
The West Tisbury arts scene is subtle, less apparent then say, Oak Bluffs, but it’s very much alive and well. Scenic West Tisbury is home to one of the Island’s most famous painters, Allen Whiting, and his gallery. The Field Gallery is also a great place to check out local art, especially in the outdoor sculpture garden, or take a tour of M.V. Glassworks.
If you really want to immerse yourself in the West Tisbury arts, The Martha’s Vineyard Artisans Festival is the place to be. Local vendors of all sorts gather to meet, greet, barter, trade, and sell their masterpieces. The open market vibe is remarkably fun, and you won’t find it anywhere but West Tisbury.
Hip clothing? We’ve got it. Awesome artwork? Pick a gallery. Groceries? Beach supplies? Home goods? There’s a few options. Waterfront property? Show us the money, then we’ll talk.
Though you won’t find it all on a main strip, West Tisbury has every kind of dining experience you could want. In terms of fine dining, State Road Restaurant has built quite a reputation with folks like Barack Obama. The Lambert’s Cove Restaurant, if you can find it, is quite romantic. Otherwise, there are take out spots, sandwich shops, pizza, and the fight for the last jalapeno cheddar biscuit at 7a…