President Obama, First Family Kick Off Vacation on Martha's Vineyard

The first family is taking a 10-day vacation on Massachusetts island.

August 21, 2009, 12:50 AM

WASHINGTON, Aug. 19, 2010 — -- President Obama and the first family today escape from life inside the Washington beltway and retreat to the summer vacation island of Martha's Vineyard, where they'll soak up the sun and enjoy time together as a family.

The 10-day getaway, the family's' fourth and longest this year, comes after a whirlwind campaign swing through the West Coast by Mr. Obama earlier this week and amid a swirling controversy over the president's comments about a proposed Islamic community center and mosque near Ground Zero in New York.

With no public events scheduled for the week ahead, the president will get a break from the media spotlight and the partisan political battles that have intensified with just three months before November's midterm elections.

"Like a lot of the American people, the President is taking a little time with his family to recharge his batteries," White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters Thursday. He said he expects the first family will go hiking, spend time at the beach and "enjoy the people and the good food" on the island.

The first family has already taken a few weekend excursions out of Washington this summer, but the week on Martha's Vineyard will be their first extended vacation of the season.

President and Mrs. Obama took their youngest daughter Sasha to visit Panama City Beach, Florida last weekend in a show of solidarity with the Gulf tourism industry in the wake of the BP oil spill. In mid-July, the entire family spent a long weekend in Acadia National Park in Maine.

Earlier this month, Michelle and Sasha Obama made a four-day trip to Marbella, Spain, where they stayed in a five-star resort, and in May, the family traveled to Chicago for the Memorial Day weekend.

The travels, particularly the trip to Martha's Vineyard, have been criticized in some circles as being too lavish at a time when many Americans are struggling economically – claims which the White House does not find concerning.

"Whenever you talk about a presidential vacation, you ought to put the word 'vacation' in quotes, because you can bet that there will still be work that he's doing every day," said Burton.

Republican strategist Ron Kauffman, an advisor in the administration of George H.W. Bush, said vacationing presidents get constant policy updates, particularly on matters of foreign affairs. "The truth is you never get away from the work," he said. "Most domestic issues can be put off for a week or so, but foreign policy you can't."

Obama Brings National Security Advisors on Vacation

The White House said counterterrorism advisor John Brennan and national security advisor Denis McDonough will accompany Obama on the trip and provide daily intelligence briefings. Senior advisors Valerie Jarrett and Pete Rouse will be in attendance as well.

"They got caught out in Hawaii [at Christmas] after the attempted airline bombing over Detroit and it seemed like no one was minding the store," said Democratic strategist Jim Duffy. "I think they want to be able to say even though the president is on vacation, he's not on vacation as commander in chief."

While the president's approval ratings are at an all-time low and concerns about the nation's economic recovery continue to mount, the Obamas are likely to receive a warm welcome from the island community that has been a popular summer stomping ground for presidents and celebrities alike.

When the first family stayed on the island last year, crowds turned out along the side of the road to greet the presidential motorcade, throngs of people tried to catch a glimpse of the family on the beach and Obama-themed delicacies and souvineers sprang up in shops across the island.

Residents say the excitement about the first family's arrival is "palpable" but the mania of last summer has faded.

"I think it's extra special that they are back for a second visit," said Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce. "We hope they can get some much needed vacation."

"There isn't as much of a frenzy this year as there was last year. This year Martha's Vineyard is back to being Martha's Vineyard," she said. "It's live and let live. We're fairly blase about celebrity."

The family is expected to stay at the swanky Blue Heron Farm, a 28.5 acre estate where they stayed last year, but the White House has not confirmed details of the home the Obamas are renting.

Area realtors estimated the cost to rent Blue Heron is in the tens of thousands of dollars for the week.

The estate includes a five-bedroom main house, a Cape Cod guest house, a swimming pool and a half-court for basketball. The Obamas will also have their pick of activities on the property, ranging from kayaking on the West Tisbury Great Pond to a simple game of horseshoes.

ABC News' Karen Travers and Alice Gomstyn contributed to this report.