If you're looking to reach the most western town of the island, Aquinnah is the place to be. Known worldwide for its incredible sunsets overlooking the town's unique red clay cliffs, it truly feels like you are in another world when you are experiencing a sunset in Aquinnah. The natural beauty of this town is not like anything you've ever witnessed, we can promise you that. You won't believe you're still in Massachusetts!
Not only is the natural beauty awe-inspiring, but it's also home to the native tribe of the Aquinnah Wampanoags, the original settlers of Martha's Vineyard. You can discover and learn more about them by visiting the Aquinnah Circle Cultural District.
Within the town, you'll explore the Aquinnah Cliffs, home to the Cultural District where you'll discover locally-owned, native shops that support the tribe and its community members, as well as some incredible nature trails that take you around the town through gorgeous vegetation, seaside walks, and much more.
Getting to Aquinnah
Aquinnah is definitely a town that you need some kind of transportation to get to. For those looking for a challenge, it's a great bike ride to cautiously take from one of the down-island towns. But for 99% of the folks visiting Aquinnah, a vehicle with four wheels is what they arrive in.
First up, you can take the VTA Bus #5 from West Tisbury to Aquinnah. Secondly, you can easily drive your car to Aquinnah. And last but not least, you can book a tour van that will not only take you to Aquinnah but also give you a full guided tour of the town and its wonders. Heading to Aquinnah is considered “up-island”, so making sure to set some time aside as it is a little further - note these times are averages and will take longer if you are on the VTA bus, as they make stops along the way:
- Edgartown to Aquinnah: 33 minutes
- Oak Bluffs to Aquinnah: 34 minutes
- Vineyard Haven to Aquinnah: 31 minutes
Getting Around Aquinnah
Once you arrive in Aquinnah, you're going to want to spend an hour or two exploring the town. It's a small town, but soaking up the natural beauty, walking the trails, and checking out the native-owned businesses takes time and it's all so worth it!
You'll be able to walk around the Aquinnah Circle Cultural District, which has not only a few retail shops but also great food options. The Circle has some accessibility for wheelchairs, so you'll get to enjoy the views to the cliffs as well.
Other spots in Aquinnah are only reached by car (or if you have the time to walk or bike) and are gorgeous as well.
Staying in Aquinnah
Aquinnah is a quiet town, where most people that are looking to stay in Aquinnah are looking for peace and quiet. Booking a vacation rental home is the way to go in Aquinnah, as there currently are no hotels or inns in this town. Booking a vacation rental will allow for a great retreat, where you can explore the nearby beaches and trails in town.
Things to Do in Aquinnah
Spending a day in Aquinnah is such a great learning experience, and one that must not be missed when visiting Martha's Vineyard. We suggest as you drive up, a stop at the Orange Peel Bakery for coffee and a freshly baked good, and then head to the Aquinnah Circle Cultural District. Here, you'll discover the native-owned shops that make the circle such a special place. Shop local and support these businesses, while taking in the incredible cliffs.
Outdoor Activities in Aquinnah
Aquinnah is also host to the Gay Head 10k, which typically takes place in October annually. Beginning at the Gay Head Cliffs, the course heads down State Road past the Aquinnah Town Hall, the Aquinnah Public Library and Wampanoag Tribal lands, up Moshup Trail along the beaches and crashing surf, and back to the lighthouse for a visually interesting run that will challenge you.
For a day of exploring, you'll walk up towards the cliffs and the moment finally happens when you look up and see the Aquinnah Lighthouse majestically standing in a gorgeous setting of ocean, nature, and blue skies. Enjoy the view overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Noman's Land, and learn more about the Aquinnah Cliffs, then take a walk down to the Aquinnah Cultural Center.
The Wampanoag Tribe
The Aquinnah Cultural Center Inc. is an independent non-profit organization. Its purpose is to develop and maintain the Aquinnah Cultural Center that supports diverse tribal activities. We envision the cultural center to be a space that can support the ongoing exploration of Wampanoag culture. This vision is about creating a special place to express our beliefs and lifeways as living Wampanoag people as well as providing a place where visitors can learn about our cultural heritage.
This area also hosts a great park for the public to enjoy, as well as public bathrooms, perfect if you're spending a few hours with the family here.
History in Aquinnah
To learn about the Wampanoag History of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), please refer to the Aquinnah Cultural Center website linked here.
Aquinnah (formerly Gay Head) is the least populous town on the island. Home to the storied Aquinnah cliffs, and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). Moshup Beach (Gay Head Public Beach) is open to the public, and offers stunning views of the multicolored clay cliffs. If you do visit this incredible beach, remember that the cliffs are a federally protected landmark, climbing on or disturbing the clay is prohibited by law. Soft sand with large rocks, endless south facing views of the ocean, and the beautifully cliffs towering behind you create a truly majestic landscape on this beach. Parking is available in a large public lot for a daily fee. Facilities are available near the parking lot. The beach itself is about a ten minute walk down a dune path to the sand.
For those feeling the need to sun it all, head toward the cliffs and you will come upon a sign that is uncommon on many beaches in the U.S. “Beyond this point you may encounter nude sunbathing.” Beyond this sign, well, you guessed it, you may see folks sunbathing sans clothing.
Philbin Beach is another beloved town beach in Aquinnah but it is only accessible to homeowners and renters in town. In 2012 the local government decided land ownership was not enough to earn a parking spot at this beautiful beach, after someone sold their home and retained a small non-buildable piece of land in order to maintain access to this beach. So you might say Martha's Vineyard is serious about its private beaches.
On Aquinnah's North Shore you'll find Lobsterville Beach across the channel from Menemsha, and stretching for miles up to Dogfish Bar. This stretch of beach is very secluded. While there are sometimes closures on the beach to protect migratory bird nests, parking is extremely limited, and there will always be plenty of room to stretch your legs. Lobsterville Beach's West Basin can also be accessed by the bike taxi in Menemsha, this is a privately run service that runs from Menemsha, to West Basin boat launch. Once you are on Lobsterville Beach there are no facilities or amenities of any kind so plan accordingly.
Shopping in Aquinnah
All of the retail shops in the Aquinnah Circle are native-owned, of the tribe of the Wampanoag of Aquinnah, so shopping and supporting them is key to the island community.
The newest shops in the Circle include Aquila, which will be a coffee & gift shop, supporting Native artists not only from the island, but from around the US as well. The second newest shop is the
Dining in Aquinnah
Aquinnah has some incredible dining that you should not miss out on. We've put them in a short list below alongside our recommended favorites for you to try.
- Aquinnah Shop & Restaurant, a family-owned and operated business that has been around for four generations, it's one of the island's best kept secrets. Sit outside on their bright teal tables and order any of their specials - they are always so good. It's a gorgeous view accompanied by a delicious meal!
- Outermost Restaurant, a fine dining establishment that has a cult-like following because their dinner seatings are known to be booked way in advance. During the summer, we recommend making reservations the moment you book your ferry and for those visiting during the shoulder months, know that they offer a delicious brunch, where reservations are not needed!
- Cliffshangers is a great spot to grab a quick bite and a soft serve while walking around the circle - we love the chocolate soft serve in a cone!
- Orange Peel Bakery & Cafe, with two locations, are stops you must make while in Aquinnah. First, the Bakery, which is on the drive up to the Cliffs, is a native-owned pizza, bakery, and provisions spot, not only known for their baked goods but also for their pizza nights that happen mid-week during the peak season. The Cafe is located on the circle, where you can grab snacks, lunch, and much more.
- Aquila is the newest spot in town, a small retail store highlighting local artists, creators & innovators that will open Spring 2022, so stay tuned!