Martha's Vineyard 'Jaws' tour: behind the scenes in 1974
Photo by Edith Blake, courtesy of the Martha's Vineyard Museum

Martha's Vineyard 'Jaws' Tour: Hunt Down Filming Locations with This Driving Route

June 7, 2024

For a “summer town” that needs “summer dollars,” as the mayor of fictional Amity, USA, puts it in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, it may seem counterintuitive to forever yoke your destination in the national consciousness to the image of a homicidal great white shark. 

But the association has worked out just fine for Martha’s Vineyard, the Massachusetts island that played Amity in the wildly successful 1975 film adaptation of Peter Benchley’s bestselling novel. In return for supplying the thriller’s scenic seaside setting, the island received a tourism boom with an impact lasting into the present day, nearly five decades after Jaws smashed box office records, becoming the prototypical summer blockbuster, redefining Hollywood’s business model, and sparking Lord-only-knows-how-many freakouts in the minds of ocean swimmers who felt seaweed brushing against a leg and thought they were about to become fish food. 

Thanks to what the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce calls “the Jaws Effect,” the island became a “set-jetting” destination before that was a thing. Because the movie was filmed almost entirely on location, fans quickly figured out there was an easy way to feel like they were visiting the picturesque set of their favorite movie. 

Of course, a lot of water has passed under the American Legion Memorial aka Jaws Bridge since the film’s famously fraught location shoot in 1974. But visitors to Martha’s Vineyard will discover much on the island remains recognizable from what they have seen onscreen (the parts they could bear to watch, anyway). 

Even if you’re not a Jaws obsessive, the following self-guided driving tour of filming locations from Jaws will give you a nice overview of Martha's Vineyard. 

So cue up that unforgettable John Williams theme (duhh-dun . . . duhh-dun . . .), try to set aside momentarily whatever nonsense Richard Dreyfuss has spewed lately, and practice your best grizzled-New-England-fisherman accent. To paraphrase Robert Shaw’s Quint, We’re goin’ sharkin’!

Martha's Vineyard 'Jaws' tour: Steamship Authority ferry from Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Zac Thompson
The Ferry

To reach Martha’s Vineyard from mainland Massachusetts, take the Steamship Authority ferry from Woods Hole on Cape Cod (about 75 miles south of Boston). There are other ferries available, but only the Steamship Authority service carries cars, and the route below is easiest to follow if you’re driving. (Make your ferry reservation well in advance of your visit, because spaces can sell out.) 

As you ride the 45-minute ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, spare a thought for Spielberg’s long-suffering crew, who shot the climactic final act of Jaws on open water not far away (mostly off the coast of East Chop between Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, to be precise).

Endless technical problems with the temperamental mechanical divas in the central role—collectively nicknamed Bruce, after Spielberg’s lawyer—were the main reason the production became a purgatorial slog that fell months behind schedule. The Jaws Log by screenwriter Carl Gottlieb supplies an entertaining firsthand account. For the TL;DR, we refer you to the title of Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon’s behind-the-scenes play, The Shark Is Broken

Martha's Vineyard 'Jaws' tour: Martha's Vineyard Museum in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts
Zac Thompson
Vineyard Haven

The ferry from Woods Hole terminates at Vineyard Haven Harbor, which can be briefly glimpsed near the beginning of Jaws. In the film, you can see “a big old steam ferry that was built in 1957 and long since retired,” according to A. Bowdoin Van Riper, a research librarian at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum (151 Lagoon Pond Rd.), which should be your first stop after disembarking.

The museum doesn’t appear in the movie, but a quick tour of the facility will give you some useful background on the island's history and culture, which involves the Wampanoag people, whalers, Methodists with a taste for gingerbread cottages, affluent summer visitors, a unique African American heritage, and one presidential-hopes-dashing automobile accident

Plus, you're more likely than not to see something on display (such as the Jaws storyboard pictured above) relating to the summer when Hollywood came to town.

Martha's Vineyard 'Jaws' tour: 1974 photos of shark models
Photos by Edith Blake, courtesy of the Martha's Vineyard Museum

To mark the 50th anniversary of the 1975 release of Jaws, the museum is planning a big exhibit in 2025 that Van Riper says will draw on photos and artifacts in the collection as well as memorabilia and probably props and other relevant items. Planning is still in the early stages, but other Jaws-related events such as concerts, screenings, lectures, and fan gatherings are likely to take place across the island, too. 

At the museum's Jaws anniversary exhibit, you can also expect plenty of excerpts from oral histories provided by some of the Vineyarders who were involved in the production as extras, volunteers, support staff, and, per The Jaws Log, price gougers charging the Hollywood people inflated fees for restaurant meals and hotel stays. 

Incidentally, Van Riper reports that he himself served as an extra at the age of 11 in the beach scene where two young pranksters with a cardboard fin cause a human stampede. “I was part of the crowd that was panicking and running for shore,” he says—though he has not been able to spot himself onscreen. “We were just out of frame on the right,” he surmises. “So there went my shot at Hollywood stardom.”

Pictured above: behind-the-scenes images of Bruce the shark when not in use—his preferred setting—during the 1974 filming of Jaws on Martha's Vineyard

Martha's Vineyard 'Jaws' tour: East Chop
Zac Thompson
East Chop

From the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, we’re gonna take a roughly 10-minute drive northeast toward the area known as East Chop. Along the way, you’ll pass the spot where Amity police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) and his family have their seaside home in the movie. We won't tell you the exact address because the property is privately owned and, besides, the house shown in Jaws has been replaced with a different structure anyway. If you need a landmark to punch into the GPS, use the nearby East Chop Lighthouse (229 E. Chop Drive). 

Tour guide Michael Currid, who leads excursions (Jaws-themed and not) around the island as the owner-operator of Edgartown Tour Company, backs us up on this. When he’s shepherding tourists around, Currid told Frommer’s, “I don’t stop [at the Brody address] because I don’t want people getting out and walking on the lawn. You’d be amazed as to what people will do when you let them unlock the door and jump right out into traffic.”

Reader, we are not amazed.

Martha's Vineyard 'Jaws' tour: State Beach during filming and today
Zac Thompson
State Beach and Cow Bay

Okay, time for some shark-fueled carnage. Continue south for about 5 miles to reach the part of State Beach facing Cow Bay. Two of Bruce’s five human victims, as well as his stick-fetching canine snack (RIP, Pipit, you very good boy), meet their respective demises in these parts. Initial victim Chrissie Watkins (stuntwoman Susan Backlinie) takes her last midnight swim here (though the preceding bonfire was filmed at the bottom of the island on South Beach in Katama). A little further into the movie, raft-toting tween Alex Kintner (Jeffrey Voorhees) learns too late that he should have listened to his mother (Lee Fierro) about coming back to shore in one of those iconic crowd scenes

Both Voorhees and Fierro were actual locals, by the way. Fierro was a stage performer and acting teacher who died in 2020. After his appearance in the film, Voorhees later worked at an Edgartown seafood restaurant called The Wharf (3 Main St.). The internet seems pretty convinced Voorhees owned the place, but a restaurant manager at the Wharf confirmed over the phone that Voorhees was a manager—not an owner—at the restaurant for many years. Now retired, Voorhees does come in “probably every other day,” the other manager said, and will sign autographs and otherwise hobnob with guests as part of the “side hustle he’s got going with that.” Update your fan sites accordingly. 

Pictured above: at top, Martha's Vineyard Museum display of images showing State Beach during the 1974 filming of Jaws; below: State Beach today

Martha's Vineyard 'Jaws' tour: Jaws Bridge
Zac Thompson
American Legion Memorial Bridge, aka The Jaws Bridge

Continue on foot to the southern end of State Beach and you’ll come to a low bridge separating the bay from Sengekontacket Pond. In the movie, the pond is where the shark attacks a guy in a red rowboat and imperils young Michael Brody (Chris Rebello) as Chief Brody makes a mad dash along the rocky breakwater to reach his son before Bruce does. 

In person, jumping from the bridge into the waters below is a popular stunt among tourists, but there are posted signs advising against this, and you should heed those warnings because not doing so has led to real-life tragedy before.  

To quote the beachgoers’ favorite refrain in all four Jaws films, GET OUT OF THE WATER!

Martha's Vineyard 'Jaws' tour: Filming locations in Edgartown, Massachusetts
Zac Thompson

Once back in the car, follow Beach Road for about 3 miles until you reach downtown Edgartown, a charming collection of white clapboard homes and picket fences you’ll recognize immediately as Amity’s stand-in.

Amble along Main and Water streets and you’ll come across the buildings used for the Amity police station (Davis Lane and S. Water St.), newspaper (3 S. Water St.), town hall (Edgartown’s actual Town Hall, at 70 Main St.; pictured above at right), and hardware store (now The Port Hunter restaurant, at 55 Main St., pictured above at left). 

For a guided experience with behind-the-scenes info and the chance to see then-and-now images on an iPad to put things in context, Currid’s Edgartown Tour Company offers a 1-hour Jaws-themed stroll. It’s led by Currid himself, who told Frommer’s he considers himself the island’s “unofficial ambassador of Jaws,” having rehashed Amity’s mid-‘70s shark week for untold tourists and superfans since 2011. (In the off-season, Currid keeps his eye on a “different great white” danger, he says, working as an avalanche patroller in Colorado.)

Martha's Vineyard 'Jaws' tour: ferry to Chappaquiddick
Zac Thompson
Chappy Ferry

Follow Main Street to the Edgartown Harbor to see where several key moments were filmed, such as the arrival of oceanographer Matt Hooper (Dreyfuss) and Mrs. Kintner’s slapping of Chief Brody, which supposedly took 17 takes to get right—presumably an ordeal for even as square-jawed an actor as Scheider.  

Then, if you’ve got the time, get back in the car, go to 53 Dock St., and drive right onto the back-and-forth ferry ($15 round trip) that covers the short distance to Chappaquiddick. In Jaws, it’s on this short ride that Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) foolishly downplays the threat his chief of police tries to warn him about (summer town, summer dollars, you remember). 

Though Chappaquiddick is only glimpsed from afar in the first film, it does have a slightly longer cameo in the 1978 sequel, according to Currid of Edgartown Tour Company. In Jaws 2, which was not directed by Speilberg, “Brody drives out over that ferry,” Currid explains. “He goes down the dirt roads on Chappaquiddick and over the bridge Teddy Kennedy didn't make it over. [Brody] turns left, and then they're in Destin, Florida, for the rest of the film.”

Martha's Vineyard 'Jaws' tour: Menemsha Harbor in Chilmark
Zac Thompson

We now come to the longest driving stretch of our tour, which will take us from Edgartown, on the eastern side of Martha’s Vineyard, to Chilmark in the west. But don’t worry: That still only amounts to a distance of less than 20 miles. To keep you entertained during the drive, here’s an Apple Music playlist of songs having to do with sharks and summer and New England and such (sorry about including “Baby Shark,” but the temptation was irresistible). 

Our next stop is Chilmark’s Menemsha Harbor, described in The Jaws Log as an “insufferably quaint fishing village” with the sort of atmosphere—bobbing boats, old shingled buildings, heaps of lobster traps—deemed perfect for Quint’s fishing shack in the movie. Menemsha still has nearly all of that stuff, still remarkably free of the tourist kitsch cluttering many other seaside New England locales. What Menemsha doesn’t have anymore is Quint’s shack. The Jaws set designers constructed it higher than the building code’s limit, so the structure was torn down after filming. 

Console yourself with oysters, a lobster roll, or other just-caught seafood at the Menemsha Fish Market (54 Basin Rd.), and, when you’re ready, we’ll hit our final stop on the tour. 

Pictured above: a fishing shack—but not that fishing shack—on the harbor in Menemsha

Martha's Vineyard 'Jaws' tour: Gay Head Lighthouse in Aquinnah
Rolf_52 / Shutterstock
Gay Head Lighthouse, Aquinnah

From Menemsha it’s only 8 more miles to the westernmost tip of Martha’s Vineyard—and one more spot where Mayor Vaughn foolishly disregards the warnings of Hooper and Brody, this time in front of an “Amity Island Welcomes You” billboard and the clifftop Gay Head Lighthouse in Aquinnah. The sign was taken down after filming. The historic brick lighthouse is still there, but in 2015 it had to be scooched back more than 100 feet from its original position to avoid tumbling into the ocean due to erosion. 

Once you reach this spot, you’ll be glad there’s no billboard or teetering lighthouse to mar the view—a spectacle bigger than IMAX, more vivid than Technicolor—encompassing sky, grassy slopes, pink-and-white clay cliffs, and a crashing sea with who-knows-what lurking in the deep.

Beyond the Vineyard

For the record, not everything in Jaws was captured in Massachusetts. Underwater footage of real great white sharks was obtained by a separate photographic team near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and a few other underwater shots came from off the coast of Southern California’s Santa Catalina Island

Additional scenes and retakes were filmed around Los Angeles—in the Culver City location of the “old MGM tank built for the Esther Williams spectaculars," according to The Jaws Log, and in Encino at the “tiny backyard swimming pool” of film editor Verna Fields. That’s where Spielberg and company orchestrated the “Underwater Floating Head shot” that made you jump a foot out of your movie seat. 

The “sole surviving” full-scale iteration of Bruce (pictured above) now belongs to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, also in L.A. He hangs above the main escalator before you reach the exhibition halls. At 25 feet in length, he is the longest object in the museum’s collection. 

As for the sequels, most of the second and third films were made in FloridaJaws 2 was filmed in the Panhandle and the unspeakable Jaws 3-D (1983) was shot at SeaWorld Orlando (the special effects appear to have been made using a child’s Lite-Brite). 

Of the bucket of chum known as Jaws: The Revenge (1987), which was filmed mostly in the Bahamas, we’ll give cast member Michael Caine the final word: “I haven’t seen it,” he once told an interviewer, “but I’ve seen the house it bought my mother, and it’s marvelous.”

Related: How to Avoid a Shark Bite