Most down-island beaches in Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown are open to the public and just a walk or a short bike ride from town. In season shuttle buses make stops at State Beach, between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. Most of the Vineyard's magnificent up-island shoreline, alas, is privately owned or restricted to residents and thus off limits to transient visitors. Renters in up-island communities, however, can obtain a beach sticker (around $35-$50 for a season sticker) for those private beaches by applying with a lease at the relevant town hall: West Tisbury, tel. 508/696-0147; Chilmark, tel. 508/645-2100; or Aquinnah, tel. 508/645-2300. Also, many up-island inns offer the perk of temporary passes to residents-only beaches such as Lucy Vincent Beach. In addition to the public beaches listed below, you might also track down a few hidden coves by requesting a map of conservation properties from the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank (tel. 508/627-7141; www.mvlandbank.com). Below is a list of visitor-friendly beaches.
- Aquinnah Beach (Moshup Beach), off Moshup Trail: Parking costs $15 a day (in season) at this peaceful half-mile beach just east (Atlantic side) of the colorful cliffs. Go early, as the lot is small and a bit of a hike from the beach. I suggest that all but one person get off at the wooden boardwalk along the road with towels, toys, lunches, and so on, while the remaining person heads back up to park. In season you can also take the shuttle buses from down-island to the parking lot at the Aquinnah (formerly Gay Head) cliffs and walk to the beach. Although it is against the law, nudists tend to gravitate here. Remember that climbing the cliffs or stealing clay for a souvenir here is against the law, for environmental reasons: The cliffs are suffering from rapid erosion. Restrooms are near the parking lot.
- East Beach, Wasque (pronounced Way-squee) Reservation, Chappaquiddick: Relatively few people bother biking or hiking (or four-wheel-driving) this far, so this beach remains one of the Vineyard's best-kept secrets (and an ideal spot for bird-watching). You should be able to find all the privacy you crave. If you're staying in Edgartown, the Chappy ferry is probably minutes by bike from your inn. Biking on Chappaquiddick is one of the great Vineyard experiences, but the roads can be sandy and are best suited for a mountain bike. You may have to dismount during the 5-mile ride to Wasque. Because of its exposure on the east shore of the island, the surf here is rough. Pack a picnic and make this an afternoon adventure. Sorry, no facilities. The area is owned by the Trustees of Reservations. It costs $180 for a season pass for nonmembers to drive a four-wheel-drive vehicle out to the beach. Most people park their car near the Dyke Bridge and walk the couple hundred yards out to the beach. Admission is $3 per person.
- Joseph A. Sylvia State Beach, midway between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown: Stretching a mile and flanked by a paved bike path, this placid beach has views of Cape Cod and Nantucket Sound and is prized for its gentle and (relatively) warm waves, which make it perfect for swimming. The wooden drawbridge is a local landmark, and visitors and islanders alike have been jumping off it for years. Be aware that State Beach is one of the Vineyard's most popular; come midsummer, it's packed. The shuttle bus stops here, and roadside parking is also available -- but it fills up fast, so stake your claim early. Located on the eastern shore of the island, this is a Nantucket Sound beach, so waters are shallow and rarely rough. There are no restrooms, and only the Edgartown end of the beach, known as Bend-in-the-Road Beach, has lifeguards.
- Lake Tashmoo Town Beach, off Herring Creek Road, Vineyard Haven: The only spot on the island where lake meets ocean, this tiny strip of sand is good for swimming and surf-casting but is somewhat marred by limited parking and often brackish waters. Nonetheless this is a popular spot, as beachgoers enjoy a choice between the Vineyard Sound beach with mild surf or the placid lake beach. Bikers will have no problem reaching this beach from Vineyard Haven; otherwise you have to use a car to get to this beach.
- Lobsterville Beach, at the end of Lobsterville Road, in Aquinnah (formerly Gay Head; restricted): This 2-mile beauty on Menemsha Pond boasts calm, shallow waters, which are ideal for children. It's also a prime spot for birding -- just past the dunes are nesting areas for terns and gulls. Surf-casters tend to gravitate here, too. The only drawback is that parking is for residents only. This is a great beach for bikers to hit on their way back from Aquinnah and before taking the bike ferry over to Menemsha.
- Menemsha Beach, next to Dutchers Dock, in Menemsha Harbor: Despite its rough surface, this small but well-trafficked strand, with lifeguards and restrooms, is popular with families. In season it's virtually wall-to-wall colorful umbrellas and beach toys. Nearby food vendors in Menemsha -- selling everything from ice cream and hot dogs to steamers and shrimp cocktails -- are a plus here. Tip: This beach is the ideal place to watch a sunset. Get a lobster dinner to go at the famous Home Port restaurant, right next to the beach in Menemsha, grab a blanket and a bottle of wine, and picnic here for a spectacular evening. If you are staying at an up-island inn, Menemsha is a fun bike ride downhill. Energetic bikers can make it from down-island towns; plan to make it part of an entire day of scenic biking. Otherwise you'll need a car to get here.
- Oak Bluffs Town Beach, Seaview Avenue: This sandy strip extends from both sides of the ferry wharf, which makes it a convenient place to linger while you wait for the next boat. This is an in-town beach, within walking distance for visitors staying in Oak Bluffs. The surf is consistently calm and the sand smooth, so it's also ideal for families with small children. Public restrooms are available at the ferry dock, but there are no lifeguards.
- Owen Park Beach, off Main Street, in Vineyard Haven: A tiny strip of harborside beach adjoining a town green with swings and a bandstand will suffice for young children, who, by the way, get lifeguard supervision. There are no restrooms, but this is an in-town beach, and a quick walk from most Vineyard Haven inns.
- South Beach (Katama Beach), about 4 miles south of Edgartown, on Katama Road: If you have time for only one trip to the beach and you can't get up-island, go with this popular, 3-mile barrier strand that boasts heavy wave action (check with lifeguards for swimming conditions), sweeping dunes, and, most important, relatively ample parking space. It's also accessible by bike path or shuttle. Lifeguards patrol some sections of the beach, and there are sparsely scattered toilet facilities. The rough surf here is popular with surfers. Tip: Families tend to head to the left, college kids to the right.
- Wasque Beach, Wasque Reservation, Chappaquiddick: Surprisingly easy to get to (via the On-Time ferry and a bike or car), this half-mile-long beach has all the amenities -- lifeguards, parking, restrooms -- without the crowds. Wasque Beach is a Trustees of Reservations property, and if you are not a member of this land-preservation organization, you must pay at the gatehouse (www.thetrustees.org). To park your car here and go to the beach, it is $3 per car plus $3 per person. To drive your car on to the beach, it's $30 for a day pass, plus $3 per person. For a season pass to drive on to the other beaches on Chappaquiddick, it's $100 for Norton Point and $180 for Cape Pogue.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.