pink victorian
Geoff Rand
Many of Oak Bluff's residential streets feature exuberant, whimsical Victorian architecture.

Oak Bluffs is geographically between the Vineyard's two other large, prominent harbors. It's in between them culturally as well. Vineyard Haven, to the north, is more spread out, quieter, and even a little understated. Edgartown, to the south, has more upscale streetscapes and more outscale mansions. All three towns now economically lean on tourism, but only Oak Bluffs has unabashedly welcomed summer visitors for over 150 years.

The marina hosts something like 10,000 transient boats each year, and ferries bring an additional 500,000 individual visitors to town. Closely packed waterfront bars and restaurants hard by the closely packed boats moored to the bulkhead create a dock-and-dine ambience. Day trippers from the Cape in small powerboats conjure memories of frat row. It's hard to visit Oak Bluffs without getting swept up in the resort-town energy.

Away from the harborfront, though, is a quiet and lovely old town. Along street after street, you'll find well-kept Victorian cottages with sometimes dramatic polychrome paint schemes that can evoke the "ooooh -- aaaah" reaction of a fireworks show. Tight, pretty gardens and a scattering of parks blend easily with the houses.

And the downtown commercial district offers the Vineyard's best assortment of restaurants -- from the harborside umbrella-and-sports bars to plenty of bright, casual, family-friendly options to a handful of spots that are candlelit, locally focused, even idiosyncratic.

more on Oak Bluffs. . .