Walk a stunning piece of Martha’s Vineyard’s northwest coast beneath the Gay Head Cliffs on the shores of Moshup Beach, also known as Aquinnah Public Beach. Surrounded by the sound of crashing waves, you’ll find a perfect summer beach day or ample year-round exploration on this secluded coast, jointly protected by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission and the town of Aquinnah.
Part of the Aquinnah Headlands Preserve, the fine white sands and smooth rocks of Moshup Beach provide a beautiful place to walk along the crashing waves of outer Vineyard Sound and beneath the Gay Head Cliffs. You can explore for over a mile along this shoreline: though Moshup Beach itself is only about a half-mile, bordered by private land to the southeast, the town of Aquinnah permits access to the beach below the cliffs to the north and west. Please keep out of any areas marked with “no access” signs, and do not climb on the cliffs or remove any clay; these cliffs, owned by the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe, are under special environmental protection to prevent erosion.
We recommend bringing a picnic and setting aside a whole day to enjoy this stretch of coastline. Get some exercise with a long run or walk down the coast, looking out for the many interesting shells and pieces of driftwood that wash up from Vineyard Sound and Buzzards Bay. The waves here are often larger than elsewhere on the island, providing fun opportunities for body-surfing and boogie-boarding. On calmer days, anglers will find great fishing for bluefish and striped bass from the shoreline.
No matter what you enjoy on Moshup Beach, you’ll find it’s a great place to enjoy some coastal serenity; given its distance from the bustling town centers on the western half of the Vineyard, Moshup Beach is usually quieter and less crowded than other island beaches. And, just so no one is surprised, visitors should know that Moshup Beach is considered by some to be the Vineyard’s unofficial “clothing optional” beach.
You can access Moshup Beach via a short trail from the dropoff area along Moshup Trail. You can also get to the beach by walking the South Head Loop of the Aquinnah Headlands Preserve.
Habitats & Wildlife
The sandstones and clays of Gay Head Cliffs get their colors from the time of dinosaurs, when the sandstones and clays you see were at the bottom of a shallow tropical sea. As you appreciate the swirls of deep purple, orange, brick red, and mustard yellow on the cliffs’ surface, in a way you’re actually looking back in time!
The area around Gay Head is a perfect stopover for birds migrating along the east coast, making it a great place to spot rare species. On any given day gulls and shorebirds are a given, but lucky birders have also seen unusual overwintering visitors like harlequin duck and razorbill.