The scene is summertime. A deck chair aslant to the sun, the chink of ice, bugs twirling idly in the gauzy afternoon. Children wreak their havoc, but the lawn is long and green and well-padded, so their squeals fade into the reassuring sigh of trees. A slash of blue beyond a knotty line of scrub hints at the ocean, as does the tang of brine. The date could be anytime in the past hundred years. What’s consistent is the summer.
New Englanders cherish images like this in the deep traps of their memories. And, as advertisers have long shown us, nostalgia is a powerful driver of consumer spending. That’s why we like to book vacations that we hope will recapture the haze of youth, or that might even give our children a few sepia memories of their own. Joy shouldn’t be an emotion they solely associate with digital screens. That’s why we have Martha’s Vineyard.
The Winnetu Oceanside Resort is designed to cultivate idyllic summertime memories (full disclosure: Dan Scully, the Winnetu’s affable general manager, was once this writer’s boss). Set on the lower right corner of the island, the site has been a holiday resort since 1874, attracting generations of vacationers with its south-facing beach. Daylong sunshine and cooling ocean breezes were such a popular draw that the place had its own railway stop in the 19th century, linking it to the ferry in Oak Bluffs. The current hotel dates to 2000, and while the gray shingles evoke the traditions of the island, the property boasts a streak of whimsy. If you enjoy antique firetruck rides and s’mores toasted beside a life-size chess set, this is a perfect backdrop.
Since the Winnetu’s raison d’etre is the family vacation, accommodations are scaled accordingly. There’s a choice for any family, no matter how sizable the brood. Suites have kitchenettes or even full kitchens, sofa beds are everywhere, and private cottages might sport gas grills and dining rooms. But you don’t go to Martha’s Vineyard to linger indoors.
The Winnetu’s biggest attraction is still the beach that once drew so many Victorians in flannel pantaloons. It’s a seemingly endless stretch of fine, pale sand against a lively surf. The locals flock there, especially the neighborhood plovers. Alternatively, you can swim in the resort’s two pools—the one on the main grounds is built for lounging, while the larger one, by the Activities Center across the street, is better for laps. There are lots of ways to sweat—tennis courts, outdoor yoga classes—but the most appealing is the simplest. Hop on a bike and start exploring the island’s web of scenic cycling paths.
That Activities Center is the staging ground for the resort’s extremely developed children’s programs. You can drop the kids off during both mornings and evenings, knowing that they’ll return exhausted from a schedule of water sports, treasure hunts, pirate games and the bellicose-sounding “Beach Conquest.” There’s even a teaching farm next door, in case your kids like to handle livestock.
This family orientation extends to the newly remodeled restaurant, the Dunes. Much could be written about its relaxed elegance, the view of the southern coast from the second-story deck, the chef’s deft hand with an herb-roasted codfish or a char-grilled filet, the sterling lobster pot pie. But there’s something more innovative to note. The restaurant has a completely separate play area for kids. And it’s supervised. This means that when Junior gets bored of his mac ’n’ cheese, Mom and Dad can savor their meal without having to suffer.
Of course, the Winnetu’s charms are largely dependent on weather, so when the rain gods are generous, head three miles up the road—passing a lawn full of llamas owned by Ernie Boch—to Edgartown’s center. It’s a warren of whaling-era architecture, narrow streets and places to spend money on polo shirts and ice cream. Take a stroll along the waterfront, watching the boats nestle against the pier. Afterward, nip into the Newes from America, a 1742 pub, for impressive fare in front of the open hearth. Sometimes all you need for a lasting memory is good beer and an outstanding bowl of chowder.
-A car isn’t essential: The Winnetu runs a complimentary shuttle service to Edgartown’s Main Street, and taxis are plentiful. Plus, the resort will pick you up from the Oak Bluffs ferry if you reserve your crossing through the pre-arrival concierge.
-During off-peak weeks, the Dunes may not be open daily, and there is no room service. Sandwiches are, however, available in the shop.
Winnetu Oceanside Resort 31 Dunes Road, Edgartown (866-335-1133) winnetu.com