Martha’s Vineyard is known for it’s pristine, beautiful beaches and they are as unique to each other as the six towns on the island. Many of the public beaches on Martha’s Vineyard are accessible by public transportation, and this series of posts will focus on what, in my opinion, are some of the “best” public beaches that you can get to without a car. Distinctions between these beaches include differences in their popularity, amenities and physical features (including wide or narrow expanses of sand and rough or mild surf), as well as their proximity to towns.
Aquinnah Beaches & The Cliffs of Gay Head
I think the most picturesque beaches are located in the town of Aquinnah, on the south side of the island. If you look at a Martha’s Vineyard map, Aquinnah is the area of the island that is in the shape of a soup ladle, at the western most part of the Island. Aquinnah and the clay Cliffs of Gay Head are a stunning area and a “must see” while here – regardless of whether you want to visit the beach; and you won’t want to forget your camera! You can reach The Cliffs of Aquinnah in a 30-40 minute drive from most “down-island” towns (that’s the east or more populated side of the island), or in about an hour via public bus. The Vineyard Transit Authority is the Island’s clean and affordable public bus system, and has service running to The Cliffs hourly throughout the day and evening during the summer, beach season. Schedules for the buses can be found on the VTA website. Printed schedules along with a good map of the entire island can be found in the Martha’s Vineyard Steamship Authority ferry terminals and in the visitor’s centers of Edgartown, Vineyard Haven, and Oak Bluffs.
Insider Tip for Riding the Vineyard Transit Authority – A day pass is probably a good idea if you are venturing to Aquinnah. The VTA charges $1 per town each way, including your town of origin. Passes can be purchased from the bus drivers or at the Steamship Authority terminals, and there are also 3 & 7 day passes available. If you need to switch buses, and the connections are close, always let the driver know about the connection you are trying to make! The driver will make sure that the next bus waits for you.
Aquinnah Parking and Amenities
Parking of private vehicles in the Aquinnah town parking lot is limited to about 50 vehicles and costs $15/day. As you can guess, the lot fills quickly on nice summer days! There is also free public parking at the cliffs if you are making a quick stop to check out the view. This parking is limited to a 30 minute time frame and a police officer is on duty throughout the summer to enforce the time limits.
Although facilities are not available on the beaches, there are well maintained public restrooms on the cliffs, as well as places to get food and drinks, and picnic tables. Faith’s Seafood is a popular choice with visitors – serving delicious Aquinnah and clam chowders, and a variety of fresh seafood and sushi along with the usual array of dogs, burgers, and fried tidbits. Across the walkway from Faith’s is another excellent take-out food option, called Dream Catcher. Here you can get, in my humble opinion, the best lobster roll on the island, along with grilled items and soft serve ice cream. There are several boutiques and souvenir shops in this area as well, lining the walkway to the main attraction – the Cliffs of Gay Head. The Cliffs are a National Landmark, and environmentally protected area. It is worth the climb up the hill for a good view of the cliffs – it may be the most breath taking, panoramic view on the entire east coast of the United States.
The public beach in Aquinnah, Moshup Beach, is owned by the Martha’s Vineyard Land bank Commission (a private organization that purchases scenic vistas and environmentally sensitive parcels and preserves them for mostly public use). The cleared path to the beach starts to the rear of the town parking lot and is about a 12 to 15 minute walk under normal conditions (i.e. without small kids to carry). Because of the beaches location in this less populated side of the Island, the beach tends to be less crowded than some of its “down-island” cousins.
Similar to other beaches on this south side of Martha’s Vineyard, Moshup Beach can have a strong surf and sometimes an undertow. We recommended that you check and know local conditions and be aware of what the surf will be like when you go, regardless of your strength as a swimmer. If you are travelling with young children, the beaches on the north eastern side of the island. They are more protected and tend to have rolling, gentle surf.
Have you been to Moshup Beach yet? Let us know what you think of it! Watch for my next post on Martha’s Vineyard beaches, where I will elaborate on the Martha’s Vineyard beaches of Menemsha and South Beach.