Aquinnah, Martha’s Vineyard, 02535
For those seeking one of the best sunsets on the East Coast, a drive to Aquinnah, the western-end of the island, is a must to catch the golden-hued sunset that awes thousands of visitors every year. Known as Gay Head between 1870 and 1997, Aquinnah has a peaceful serenity to its town, one you won’t find anywhere else on island.
The Aquinnah Cliffs are truly a spectacular view, and hold a special place of historical reverence to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, native to the island and federally recognized tribe. Historically known as one of the earliest locations of whaling thanks to the Wampanoags long history of harpooning whales but then with commercial whaling becoming the biggest industry in the area in the 19th century, this town is steeped with history on all accounts.
Wampanoag history tells the story of how the cliffs were created by their ancestors, who date back to over 10,000 years ago. The English arrived to the island in 1669, and although called “first settlers”, the truly first settlers to the area were the Wampanoag, related to the larger Algonquin Nation of Southern New England.
Aquinnah, meaning “land under the hill” in the Wampanoag language, is a diverse community of not only tribal members, but islanders that have made the town their home.
When visiting Aquinnah for the first time, a walk up through the Aquinnah Circle and to the Cliffs is the initial thing you should do. The Aquinnah Circle is composed of native-owned businesses, and supporting them by shopping locally keeps the community economy strong. New to the circle are The Gay Head Store and Aquila, both locally-owned and providing a great shopping experience for locals and visitors alike.
Aquinnah as a culinary destination not only has one of the best fine dining experiences on the island, the Outermost Inn, but also has some incredibly family-friendly spots. If you’re looking for the perfect date night or special celebration restaurant, the Outermost Inn is just the place, featuring local seafood, produce, and much more. The views are impressive and the service is outstanding, so make sure to book a reservation with them. If you’re looking for a more casual dining spot, the Aquinnah Circle has a few such as Cliffhangers and the Aquinnah Restaurant, both really great family-friendly options for the whole crew!
After lunch, walk to the Aquinnah Lighthouse for the great views and then head to the Aquinnah Cultural Center, which aims to preserve, educate, and document the Aquinnah Wampanoag self-defined history, culture and contributions past, present and future. It’s a great educational component to any trip to Aquinnah.
Aquinnah has a few beaches to enjoy: Moshup Beach, Philbin Beach, and Lobsterville Beach. Moshup Beach is open to the public and has incredible views of the red-toned clay cliffs, which under no circumstances should disturb you, as the cliffs are a federally protected landmark. Philbin Beach is only accessible to homeowners and renters in the town of Aquinnah, so make sure you note this! Lobsterville Beach is on the North Shore of Aquinnah and it’s a very secluded but public beach. Make sure to respect if there are closures due to birds nesting.
Overall, Aquinnah is a town that will magically transport you as you watch the sunset, explore its offerings, and discover its history. Respect it all and leave it as you encountered it, if not better.
Funded, in part, by the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.