Martha’s Vineyard lighthouses are one of the things that keep travelers coming back. This idyllic island is one of the top draws of Massachusetts in the summer months, thanks to its beautiful beaches and peaceful environment.
Coastal New England ran much of the whaling industry in the 19th century, especially in New Bedford and Nantucket. Many of Martha’s Vineyard’s lighthouses were constructed to help whalers and fishermen find their way back to shore. Lighthouse keepers would move in to keep these men safe on the treacherous seas.
Today, of course, the whaling industry is long gone. But many of these beautiful lighthouses remain on Cape Cod, the Vineyard, and Nantucket — and they’re wonderful places to visit on your vacation.
Let’s take a look at the lighthouses of Martha’s Vineyard!
West Chop Lighthouse
West Chop Lighthouse has been shining its light over Vineyard Sound since 1817. Over time, the lighthouse was subject to the surrounding erosion and was ultimately moved to its currently location on the northern edge of West Chop.
The first lighthouse keeper, Captain James Shaw West, and his wife, Charlotte, went on to have eleven children while living in this tiny house!
West Chop Light was the final Martha’s Vineyard lighthouse to be automated in 1976, and the original Fresnel lens is still in use here.
How to Visit West Chop Lighthouse: Unfortunately, the only way to see this historic lighthouse is from the road. The keeper’s house is uninhabited these days, but occasionally you can find the U.S. Coast Guard hanging out. It’s about a 35-minute walk from downtown Vineyard Haven, which makes a nice stroll if the weather is nice.
More fun things to do in Vineyard Haven: Vineyard Haven has a lovely downtown and in many ways feels more like a town for locals. Don’t miss the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, with its wonderful collections depicting history here from the earliest days of Wampanoag inhabitants.
East Chop Lighthouse
Also called the East Chop Light or Telegraph Hill Light, East Chop Lighthouse is one of the first lighthouses you’ll see when coming in on the ferry from Woods Hole. This lighthouse was originally built in 1878.
While originally painted white, it was subsequently painted a brown-red color and nicknamed the “Chocolate Lighthouse.” Later it was repainted white for weather concerns. Also, there’s a unique design element on the cast-iron tower — the top rails have tiny lighthouses around the edges!
How to Visit East Chop Lighthouse: East Chop Light is about a 25-30 minute walk from the center of Oak Bluffs. Keep in mind that it’s only open during the summer season. The lighthouse was closed in 2022 for renovation work, and we hope we’ll be able to visit again soon.
More fun things to do in Oak Bluffs: You can’t visit the town of Oak Bluffs without visiting the vibrant candy-colored gingerbread cottages surrounding the former Methodist campground! You can also enjoy the Flying Horses Carousel, a dip in the Atlantic Ocean at Inkwell Beach, and many fun shops and restaurants.
Edgartown Lighthouse, also known as the Edgartown Harbor Light, is one of the most special Martha’s Vineyard lighthouses to visit. The lighthouse was originally built in 1828 on a small man-made island about a quarter of a mile off-shore; in 1939, a new beach formed connecting the lighthouse to the mainland.
In more recent times, Hurricane Sandy flooded the entire beach surrounding the lighthouse, causing damage. Which reflects the precarious environment of all of the lighthouses today.
How to visit Edgartown Lighthouse: Most visitors walk over to the lighthouse, which is about a 10-minute walk from Edgartown. Admission is $5 and you can climb to the top.
More fun things to do in Edgartown: Edgartown is full of the most gorgeous, stately homes, which makes it a nice place to explore on foot. Eat at one of the cafes, do some shopping in the boutiques, or just sit by the water and watch the Chappy Ferry go back and forth!
Cape Poge Lighthouse
Cape Poge Lighthouse, originally built in 1802, is located in the Cape Poge Wildlife Reserve on Chappaquiddick Island. This lighthouse has been moved and rebuilt several times over the years to avoid being swept out to sea, with the current lighthouse looking over Nantucket Sound since 1922. Sometimes it’s called Cape Pogue Lighthouse.
Some fun facts about this lighthouse: in 1985 it became the first lighthouse to be moved by helicopter! And the original lighthouse keeper, Matthew Mayhew, was appointed by Thomas Jefferson and earned an annual salary of $200.
Today the Cape Poge Wildlife Reserve is home to some of the best wildlife in Martha’s Vineyard, including piping plovers and oystercatchers. If you’re a birder, you’ll want to visit here.
How to visit Cape Poge Lighthouse: This is the only lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard not accessible by road. Visitors to Cape Poge Wildlife Reserve can book lighthouse tours through the Trustees of Reservations from May 30-October 15.
If you book a tour with the Trustees, they’ll drive you across the beach in an oversand vehicle. If not, it’s a 3.5-mile journey — make sure you’re up for it!
More fun things to do on Chappaquiddick: Chappaquiddick is a lovely place to spend an afternoon. East Beach, right by the Dike Bridge, is a beautiful beach and a great place to soak up the sun for the day.
Don’t miss a stroll through the Mytoi Japanese-style gardens, and Wasque Point is home to one of the nicest beaches on Martha’s Vineyard. Just make sure you bring a packed lunch — there are no restaurants here!
Gay Head Lighthouse
The Gay Head Lighthouse will catch your eye immediately — it’s a rare red brick lighthouse, the only one on the Vineyard that isn’t painted white! This was the first lighthouse built on Martha’s Vineyard in 1796.
And it wasn’t always in this location. The lighthouse, also called the Gay Head Light or Aquinnah Lighthouse, was originally built close to the Aquinnah Cliffs. It was moved 134 further inland in 2015 over erosion concerns, and the lighthouse still keeps the light from this position today.
This is one lighthouse that you can visit, albeit in season. The Fresnel lens was installed in 1856, and you can see it in the Martha’s Vineyard Museum today.
How to visit the Gay Head Lighthouse: The Gay Head Lighthouse is open from late May through early October, usually 10:00 AM-4:00 PM. Admission is $6 and kids under 13 are free. If you don’t want to go inside, the surrounding park is open to all for free.
More fun things to do in the town of Aquinnah: Here it’s all about the majestic Aquinnah Cliffs, which light up in shades of orange, red, yellow, and brown. The Aquinnah Cliffs, located in the westernmost point of the island, are spectacular to view at golden hour or sunset.
Also nearby is the Aquinnah Cultural Center, with exhibits about the Aquinnah Wampanoag and the Indigenous history of Martha’s Vineyard. Just beyond the center you’ll find the walking path to Moshup Beach, one of the island’s most beautiful beaches with even more gorgeous cliffs.
Which Martha’s Vineyard lighthouse is your favorite?