Apr 282014
The middle one really looks like a gingerbread house.

The Gingerbread Houses of Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts are not to be missed.

“Lillie, do NOT leave Martha’s Vineyard without tracking down the Gingerbread Houses!” typed one of my readers on my Facebook wall.

“Gingerbread Houses?” I muttered to myself. “What the heck is this woman talking about?”

This white one reminds me of icing, or temples in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

This white cottage reminds me of icing, or temples in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

A few minutes of Internet sleuthing later (during which time my baby spit up all over my husband’s shirt) revealed that a major tourist attraction of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts is a cluster of fairy-like wooden houses in the town of Oak Bluffs which are known as “Gingerbread Houses” or “Gingerbread Cottages,” depending which website you go by. We packed up our hotel room (click to see the Martha’s Vineyard hotel we loved) and hopped in the car to find the gingerbread!

Love the pink houses best!

I love the pink Gingerbread Houses best!

Gazing at these photos, its easy to see how these houses got nicknamed “Gingerbread.” They are slathered with bright colors like sugar-saturated food coloring, and garnished with curls of wood mimicking the wisps of icing you long to snap off of real gingerbread houses and shove into your mouth (though you know your mother would catch you and scold).

Each one of the Gingerbread Houses is different.

Each one of the Gingerbread Cottages is different.

So what is the history of these luscious confections of architecture? In the late 1800s, Methodists gathered in Oak Bluffs each summer for religious meetings. As the years went by, they began erecting petite wooden houses instead of tents, and started to try to outdo each other in how ornate they could make each cottage. The style they perfected is now known as “Carpenter’s Gothic,” (a name which makes me smile) due to its fancy-schmancy wooden frills.

I love the curly wood decorations hanging off every roof!

I love the curly wood decorations hanging off every roof!

Now, dear traveler, actually locating these delightful houses is harder than I thought. Merely plugging “Gingerbread Houses, Oak Bluffs” into my smartphone’s map app yielded nothing. Finally after extensive asking and Googling around, we stumbled upon all of these awesome houses on Clinton Avenue: a car-free strip of greenery snuggled against a labyrinthine series of concentric circular roads. (Did we end up lost and going around and around those circles? Yes, sir.)

And this one looks so much like a gingerbread house I might eat it.

This cottage looks so much like an actual gingerbread house, I might eat it.

Another word to the wise traveler: I would suggest visiting these wooden beauties at mid-day or before. If you notice, half of my photos here are vibrantly colored (ex: above), and the other half have that washed-out quality sadly present in pictures taken into the sun (ex: below). I wished we had come when the sun was either above-head or on the other side on the road, since the side the sun was muddling actually had the cooler houses. (No offense, other side, but you can’t beat a neon pink cutie entitled “La Vie en Rose.”)

Brightly colored, ornate wooden houses? Yes please!

Brightly colored, ornate wooden houses? Yes please! This one has the title, “La Vie en Rose.”

Now, let us pull our focus back from Clinton Ave. and towards Oak Bluffs as a whole town. Happily, charming and whimsically styled architecture like these Gingerbread Cottages punctuates the entire beach-side town. Further, Oak Bluffs has the honor of being the hot summer spot for wealthy African-Americans, boasting Black elites such as Harvard professors, doctors, CEOs, and more each summer for the past several decades, and earning Oak Bluffs the nickname, “The Black Hamptons.”

This gingerbread cottage looks like mint ice cream. Mmm...

This gingerbread cottage looks like mint ice cream. Mmm…

Of all the towns we visited on Martha’s Vineyard, Oak Bluffs was our favorite. What can I say? I’m ever seduced by bright colors and whimsey in architecture! So what about you? Do you like these houses? Which is your favorite?

I adore you, Gingerbread Cottages of Martha's Vineyard.

I adore you, Gingerbread Cottages of Martha’s Vineyard.

Did you know you can actually rent out and stay in many of these Gingerbread Cottages??? Click here to see one listing, and here for another.

If you enjoyed this article and are still planning your trip, click here for an easy link to Martha’s Vineyard hotel deals, and here for vacation rentals on Martha’s Vineyard, as it will give a small commission to help support this site at no extra cost to you. Happy travels!


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  44 Responses to “Martha’s Vineyard’s Gingerbread Cottages Are So Cool!”

  1. Illumination night is magical. They have hundreds of lit paper lanterns hung all over the porches. Crowds of people go to walk around and admire the beauty of the houses and the lanterns.

  2. Just amazing had never heard of a gingerbread house until I seen one being designed by a genius in grand designs New Zealand the husband and with totally connected with one another amazing people, this is on my bucket list to do go visit and be blowen away, We have a villa built in 1905 great bones and character.

    • We almost missed these beautiful tiny houses. Were there the first weekend when the owners come back for the summer. They have no insulation so are not occupied in the winter. The huge “meeting house” that the Methodists have built to replace the tent for religious gatherings is an interesting structure also.

    • Ah, I missed photographing that meeting house!

  3. Can you go inside these houses?

    • You can in the sense that you can rent them! There may be a long waiting list, though. Some may be open for tours, too. We didn’t get to walk inside, but some were being renovated so we were able to peek through doors and windows. Looked like live dollhouses!

  4. I’m actually staying in a gingerbread house (kinda) right now! Last night was illumination night (when everyone checks out the gingerbread houses) and it was fun watching everyone gawking at out house!

  5. Wow, such pretty houses.. Love to stay there one day!

  6. I go to the Vineyard a lot and love to visit “The Campgrounds”, as this area of gingerbread houses is called. These photos were obviously taken in the fall. Now imagine them in the summer, with the green leaves, and people sitting out on the front porches talking and having a cold drink. You feel like you’ve gone back a few generations in time.

  7. I never would have suspected to find something like this at Martha’s Vineyard.

  8. These are very cool. Thanks for sharing the tips of where and when to take the photographs too. I think this would make an amazing photography tour to take people out to photograph colourful gingerbread houses…something to think about 😉

    • Very true! I wished I could have spent hours there photographing every colorful nook and cranny, but the baby started crying!

  9. If I were ever in the area, I would definitely visit. The houses look so lovely! Not sure if I’d stay in a house like this though. Too colorful for me. 😀

  10. Wow these houses are awesome! I didn’t know about them when I visited Oak Bluffs (damn) but it was my favourite town on Marthas Vineyard too. We walked there from Vineyard Haven and it was glorious 🙂

  11. I love the care that the owners seem to have for their gingerbread homes. It takes a lot of work to paint the detailed carpentry work. Thanks for including the history about the Methodists – very interesting.

    • A big shout-out has to go to the brigades of carpenters and workmen we saw busy at work throughout the island. With houses this intricate, these workers have their hands full!

  12. The 17th-century Methodists were a livelier bunch than I thought. I’m with you — love the pink, especially La Vie en Rose.

  13. You’ve introduced me to something new today. I haven’t been to Martha’s Vineyard, but I’ve seen many photos. Never have these gingerbread houses shown up. If I had to pick one as a favorite, I’d say the one that you said you might eat because it looks like an actual gingerbread house. But they’re all interesting.

  14. These are absolutely fantastic! What an adorable find! I would love to wonder around here. Great photos! I love how different they each really are.

  15. Si, I have to agree with you, Oak Bluffs is the tops on MV. I lived in Falmouth for three years and my family still lives there so I hop the ferry to the island when I can. Did you know they have a lighting ceremony (I believe it is in the fall but I could be wrong) which really turns the Gingerbread village into a magical wonderland at night?

  16. How fun!! There are quite a few like this in Rockford, Illinois, but none so bold as the pinks and greens!

  17. These houses are so adorable! The only time I was ever on MV, I was doing a biking trip, and it ran so long that we biked furiously to get our ferry at the end of the night. So I completely skipped most of Oak Bluffs! I have to get back and see these cute houses!

  18. They’re simply adorable. Thanks for tracking them down for us. They’re the very definition of eye candy.

  19. Lillie come to NJ we have Gingerbread homes and tents. a whole city right on the ocean. the Methodist association. owns them and they are least for 99 years. very hard to get one the homes and tents are past on to the children. we love to walk through Ocean Grove during the summer. There is a very big auditorium that has a very big organ in it. come to nj and look at the place.

    • Great to know! I’ll have to check those out.
      It is so interesting to me that this style of architecture is connected to Methodist culture. I wonder why?

  20. Great pictures of Martha’s Vineyard’s Gingerbread Cottages. I visited Martha’s Vineyard when I lived in Boston for a year but I missed Oak Bluffs. Cute is an understatement!

    • Aww, sorry you missed Oak Bluffs! But the real question is: Did you miss the ALPACA FARM?! Post on that coming soon…

  21. These houses are the cutest! I would love to live in one of these. Such great detailing and those bright colours are too fun.

  22. Very cool indeed. Can you rent one of these for a few days?

    • I think you can rent, and even own (!) some of these, but the prices are likely high as heck! I wonder if they are as cute on the inside as on the outside, or if they’re just cramped and dusty?

  23. Those are too cute! How fun would it be to pick out the colors for one of those?? These houses are what I dream of creating when I browse the paint samples at Home Depot. (I mean… weird… who does that?)

    • Not too weird… Those paint chips are very evocative and cause a gal to dream, particularly with the romantic names they gave them. I actually decorated my room as a child by pasting hardware store paint samples all over the walls!

  24. I am surely going to see these houses… So unique so pretty … my fav of all the pics La Vie en Rose

  25. I remember these very well, I think my mom wanted to buy one too! During the summer, you can actually go inside some of them and do a tour. I was too lazy to get up early to visit them, the outside was enough for me to look at. If there was a website of Cute Overload for houses, they wouldn’t have to look far for inspiration in Oak Bluffs! And it is indeed the prime summer vacation destination for African Americans in the Northeast. You pretty much notice right away as you get off the ferry in Oak Bluffs, it was interesting to me from a cultural standpoint because I hadn’t known before getting there that it was such a hot destination in the African American community. But then that’s where Obama likes to go vacation too (though he has some private compound somewhere away from prying eyes).

    • Yes, I saw Obama is headed to MV this summer! Very interesting about the inside tours… I’d love to see what the Gingerbreads hold inside.

  26. For the record, my favorite of all of these photos is the third one–where you are CLEARLY shooting into the sun. Nice job! These are stunning.

    Also: man! I could have given you explicit directions on how to find them; no need for googling or wandering. I’d also have directed you to a great clam shack near-by-ish. Ok, it’s a bit of a walk, but worth it. Hope you enjoyed your time there! I also love Oak Bluffs. But then I also love Vineyard Haven. A lot. And I wouldn’t kick Edgartown out of bed, either.

    I love MV. LOVE.

    • Oh man– Your comment made me laugh out loud. Love your writing voice!
      Indeed, I should have asked you how to get to the Gingers (and to the clams, too– love those shacks) but that said, isn’t it odd that it’s so hard to learn how to track down these famous houses online?

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