Harbor View Hotel, Edgartown Mass

On Martha's Vineyard, You Can't Do Much Better than the Harbor View
On Martha's Vineyard, You Can't Do Much Better than the Harbor View

A historic hotel overlooking Edgartown Harbor

By Max Hartshorne, GoNOMAD Editor

As a child, the highlight of every summer was spending time in Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard island. With my grandmother's house atop Cummings Way hill as our base, we rode our bikes nonstop all over the town,which was first brought to prominence in the early 1800s when whaling ship captains lived there. Today the magnficent houses these captains built line North Water Street, and at the end is the island's most magnificent hotel, dating to 1881, the Harbor View Hotel.

Penthouse apartment at the Harbor View Hotel, Edgartown, Mass. Max Hartshorne photos.
Penthouse apartment at the Harbor View Hotel, Edgartown, Mass. Max Hartshorne photos.

A July visit to the property reminded me that while you can't go home again, you can sure do darn well by choosing this historic and cozy hotel as your own home base. While grandma's old house was torn down to make way for a mansion, you can still stay at the Harbor View, stroll down to the lighthouse, and ride your bike all over town.

Swimming at the old Harbor View in the 1900s.l
Swimming at the old Harbor View in the 1900s.

The hotel is managed by Scout Hotels, who have eight other waterfront hotels, seven in the northeast and one in Florida. On nearby Nantucket island, they have the Harborview Nantucket, and in Falmouth on Cape Cod they have the huge Seacrest and Cape Wind. One consistency, they're all located near the beach.

View from Lighthouse Restaurant at the Harbor View Hotel.
View from Lighthouse Restaurant at the Harbor View Hotel.

The Best Porch on the Island

Rebecca Bartlett, Scout's sales director, showed us around the magnificent Harbor View where the first thing you see is their gorgeous wrap-around porch.

With plenty of rocking chairs and a perfect view of the busy Edgartown harbor and the lighthouse, it's a place you'll find yourself wanting to stay.

The Harbor View Hotel, Edgartown Mass.
The Harbor View Hotel, Edgartown Mass.

Rebecca showed us the hotel's penthouse. She explained that this 1880s era hotel was once owned by a local man named Bob Carroll, and when he sold it to investors, he had one caveat. He’d get to keep the fourth floor penthouse as his personal apartment, with its commanding view of the Edgartown Lighthouse and the busy harbor, full of passing boats.

Carroll lived until he was 90, and died just last year. So far no plans have been made to rent out his former place, but like so many things at the Harbor View, it’s a wonderful memory. Along the hotel corridors are old photos of old timey bathing beauties all dressed head to toe, enjoying the tonic of the seabreezes.

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Dinner with a View

Just next to the porch is the Lighthouse Restaurant, where the chef has created a menu that's based on simple things like local seafood and island produce. It's now called the Lighthouse Grill, and our dinner was a memorable experience–everything was fresh, the service was perfect, and we learned from the top chef, Caleb Lara, how this new incarnation differed from the previous menu, when it was called Water.

The pool area of the Harbor View Hotel, complete with bar.
The pool area of the Harbor View Hotel, complete with bar.

“It was hard for people to pronounce the menu items, and some times it took a little too long, ” he explained. Now it’s more straightforward–local seafood and veggies, Bouillabaisse, aged steaks, all at a lower price point. The woody ambience, view of the lighthouse with the candlelight, and the staff, who are from all over the world, made dinner a wonderful experience.

Many Different Lodging Options

No other place on the island combines the view, a downtown location, and the number of rooms 116, which affords many different choices of accommodation. There is the main hotel, where room number 216 is the star, perfectly positioned in line with the lighthouse with high ceilings, a large bathroom, and everything you’d want in a luxurious high end hotel room.

With a 98 percent occupancy during their 10-week summer season, this room isn’t very easy to snag, and it goes for about $650 a night. There is also a newer section called the Governor Mayhew building which looks more like a modern hotel, but is right next to the pool. This area is great for families and is priced around $400 a night.

Edgartown's beautiful North Water Street, where whaling ship owners once lived.
Edgartown's beautiful North Water Street, where whaling ship owners once lived.

There are also six Captain’s cottages which are two story houses with the kind of heavy doors that signal high quality construction, as well as plenty of marble, very comfy beds, and decks on the front and the back.

These are available for sale, from $600,000 to $1,000,000, and just below our unit number 62 is the model home that potential clients can check out if they want a nice place to stay when they visit Edgartown.

When they’re not here they can rent it out. You can order room service from the two restaurants and since the hotel is open year ’round, get rental income even in the cold months.

A wooden ship model in the restaurant.
A wooden ship model in the restaurant.

Getting Over to the Island

Surping an oyster at Larsens in Menemsha.
Surping an oyster at Larsens in Menemsha.

Martha's Vineyard is an island where many people arrive without a car. After researching many different options, on the website, Vineyard Ferries, we found the best deal was to park in Falmouth and take the 40 minute trip on the Island Queen, for only $20 round trip. The parking is $15 a day, and requires cash only, so be prepared.

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In fact all of the parking lots here have this particularly un-tourist friendly cash policy. The ferry took us to Oak Bluffs and we jumped on one of the island's many buses, route Number 13 goes right to the center of Edgartown. Then it was about a ten-block walk with our rolling luggage to the Harbor View. If you make an advance reservation, you can bring your car over, but it adds $68 to the ferry cost, and you have to go from Woods Hole.

We bought 3-day passes for the Vineyard Transit buses so that we could get around the island for $18 each, and we headed out to the farthest point you can travel...all of 26 miles to Menemsha a fishing village where fresh seafood can be bought cooked to order or to cook at home.

Menemsha at sunset scene.
Menemsha at sunset scene.

There is one time to go to Menemsha and that would be at sunset. Crowds of people lined the beach and jockied for parking spots as we sat on the sand and watched the sun go down. Feasting on mussels, lobsters and raw oysters from Larsen's Seafood, a short walk from the beach, was the perfect way to celebrate being back on this beloved island once again.

Hey, maybe you can go home again!

Find out more about the Harbor View Hotel at their website.

Max Hartshorne

Max Hartshorne has been the editor and publisher of GoNOMAD Travel in South Deerfield Mass since 2002. He worked for newspapers and other sales positions for 23 years until he finally got what he wanted, and became the editor at GoNOMAD. He travels regularly, enjoys publishing new writers, and watching his grandchildren grow up.