Ten things to do during the shoulder season

A trip to Polly Hill Arboretum is a must for the off-season, as well as the summer.

A trip to Polly Hill Arboretum is a must for the off-season, as well as the summer. — Susan Safford

With September comes a breath of fresh air — there are suddenly empty parking spaces exactly where you need them, Five Corners is no longer a death wish, and the Triangle stops pushing your “Island time” to a new extreme. The sun is still out, the weather is still warm, and there’s actually a fair amount still going on. The slower-paced off-season months can be just as dreamy as those in the height of summer. We call it the shoulder season, and there’s more to it than meets the eye. Here are 10 things you should do.

Stop and smell the flowers at Polly Hill

Take in the Island’s tranquil landscape with a visit to this horticultural and botanical landmark. Polly Hill Arboretum was established in 1998, and its 20 acres of native woodland are dedicated to the cultivation and study of Island plants. Grounds are open every day from sunrise to sunset, and visitors can take themselves through on a self-guided tour, or schedule an appointment with one of the arboretum’s guides. On Tuesdays, Polly Hill offers “Looking Together” guided tours for $5. Cleanse the senses, and go to back to the basics by spending some quality time among the trees, plants, and flowers of Martha’s Vineyard.

Visit Grey Barn Farm — the keeper of the cheese

If cheese were a drug, the Grey Barn would be the El Chapo of dealers. Every Friday at 1:30 pm and Saturday at 4:30 pm through Columbus Day weekend, the farm offers cheese tastings and tours for $20. Meet the cheesemakers and learn about the process, and enjoy a taste of their awardwinning Prufrock, Eidolon, and Bluebird. Grey Barn also offers farming tours on Mondays and Thursdays at 10 am for $10, free for kids. Tours run through Columbus Day weekend.

Sail on the When and If

Opportunities to sail historic yachts don’t come around often, but when they do, it’s not a bad idea to hop aboard. When and If is an antique wooden schooner built in 1939 for General George Patton to sail around the world. The special ship returns to her erstwhile home in Vineyard Haven through Columbus Day weekend to enjoy the last of the summer sun. Pick a time and a date, and book a private charter at your leisure.

Reap the fruits of Morning Glory Farm

Morning Glory Farm is one of the easiest places to be. Whether you’re sorting through the freshest selection of seasonal fruits and vegetables, or soaking in the 65 acres of land from a picnic table out front, this is farm love at its finest. Morning coffee and kombucha are worth the drive from any Island town, and with October just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking pumpkins. Morning Glory’s annual Pumpkin Festival is on Saturday, Oct. 14, from 11 am to 3pm. Local farms change with the seasons — celebrate the transition at Morning Glory.

Celebrate the end of hops harvest season

Brewery visits are a rare anytime, any-day activity. It can be 12 noon, or 9 at night, sunny skies or pouring rain, and those stools are there, and no one’s judging. Bad Martha’s in Edgartown and Offshore Ale in Oak Bluffs brew their beers onsite, and distribute all over the Island and throughout Massachusetts. Bad Martha’s Summer Ale is a premium Pilsner malt, and a bright golden go-to. Offshore’s Hop Goddess isn’t an uncommon craving. It’s a Belgian Pale Ale, and layered with flavors of citrus, hops, spice, and malt. Nothing like a good brew to warm you up as temperatures drop.

Hit the Oak Bluffs Open Market or Vineyard Artisans Festival

Martha’s Vineyard is home to talented makers, artists, and creators, and weekly festivals and markets are where they flourish. The Oak Bluffs Open Market and Vineyard Artisans Festival are the last ones standing this shoulder season. Both run on Sundays from 10 am to 2 pm, although the Artisans Festival at the Grange Hall concludes its season this Sunday, Sept. 24, until, of course, the Columbus Day and Thanksgiving Day festivals. The Open Market will continue to run on Sundays by the Oak Bluffs Harbor from 10 am to 2 pm. Shop local, shop small, and get ready for shoulder-season discounts.

Visit the alpaca

Meet the absolute fuzziest and most charismatic animals on-Island at Island Alpaca in Vineyard Haven. The 19-acre pasture and post-and-beam barn are open seven days a week from 10 am to 5 pm, through the first weekend in November when hours are from 10 am to 4 pm. Take yourself through the barn and meet any of the 50 friendly alpaca up close and personal. Shop the softest gift shop, and stock up on those mittens, scarves, and hats we know we’ll all need soon enough.

Residents-only beaches

The residents-only beaches are the forbidden fruit of summer, but now that stickers have expired, everyone’s regranted the gift of all-Island beach access. Lambert’s Cove and Lucy Vincent won’t take your breath away any less in the winter, and the water is still warm enough for swimming. Sandy walks overlooking September swells are what the shoulder season is all about.

Go to the Dumptique

The Dumptique is an up-Island gem; you never know what you’re going to find. Bring your old clothes, furniture, or summer toss-outs, and exchange them for whatever catches your eye. Whether you’re a collector or a contributor, the seasonal population is on its way out, and the best of the dumptique is up for grabs.

Catch your dinner

The bait is ready and the bass are jumping — the 72nd Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby runs through Oct. 14, and registered or not, the buzz is enough to make you grab a fishing pole and occupy a jetty this shoulder season.