Although the film is supposed to portray the luxury beach resorts of Long Island, New York, none of it was filmed there. Director Steven Spielberg wanted a more secluded filming location to give viewers the impression of being isolated and terrorized by an unseen menace. The filming location for Jaws was actually Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, with the town of fictional Amity represented by Edgartown on the eastern edge of the island.
Many of the scenes were shot on the open ocean, and it’s well worth renting a small boat and packing a lunch for the afternoon to coast a few miles offshore. For film buffs, it’s a great opportunity to relax and put yourself in the shoes of someone being stalked by a monstrous shark far from the safety of the beach.
There are many land-based locations to visit, though, if boating isn’t your thing – Edgartown is a charming New England community with quaint shops, restaurants and hotels, and its location at the very tip of the island makes it perfect for beachcombing, sunbathing and swimming in thankfully shark-free water. You can even take a trip to the more secluded western side of Martha’s Vineyard to visit Quint’s seaman’s shack near Chilmark.
For a full Jaws experience, there are many guided tours available, with some inside info on the filming itself from locals who participated as extras, as well as quirky shark-themed attractions and even snacks.
Check out the following Martha’s Vineyard locations for a fun trip through shark-infested (not really) waters.
The animatronic shark used for Jaws was affectionately named Bruce by the film’s cast and crew – Disney gave a nod to the film with Bruce the friendly shark in 2003’s Finding Nemo.
The opening scene in Jaws
Joseph Sylvia State Beach
Not one to start slow, Spielberg throws viewers right into the thick of the plot with an attention-grabbing opening sequence. Chrissie (Susan Backlinie) Watkins decides, very unluckily it turns out, to take a dip sans clothing during a beach party. After inviting her beau Tommy to join her, we see Chrissie bobbing placidly in the water before flashing a look of pure horror as she’s jerked beneath the waves. After fighting to the surface, where her screams of “God help me, please!” pierce the ears of her terrified onlookers, Chrissie Watkins disappears for good.
Until, of course, Amity police officers find her remains washed ashore the following morning.
This scene, along with the other beach scenes in Jaws, was filmed primarily at Joseph Sylvia State Beach just a few miles northwest of Edgartown. One of the largest beaches on Martha’s Vineyard, State Beach is separated from the rest of the island by Sengekontackit Pond, a serene inlet popular for kayaking and clamming. It’s also home to “Big Bridge,” formally known as the American Legion Memorial Bridge and referred to by many tourists as Jaws Bridge.
To get there, take the aptly-named Beach Road northwest from Edgartown and across Jaws Bridge. There’s plenty of parking lined up along the roadway, and there is a small kayak rental facility at the north end of the beach. You can also take Beach Road south from Oak Bluffs across Little Bridge and onto State Beach. There is also public transit available by taking the #13 yellow line bus from Oak Bluffs.
Attack in the pond scene in Jaws
If a shark attack in the open water is terrifying, imagine seeing one in a calm estuary full of children. That’s exactly what happens when the ravaging great white swims under the bridge and attacks unsuspecting swimmers in Sengekontackit Pond.
As visitors swim and chat, one onlooker quickly notices the great white’s signature fin and barely manages to stutter out a warning to the rest of the crowd: “Sh-sh-shark. The shark. He’s going into the pond.” While no one else seems to have noticed the lurking danger, the fear in the scene is palpable, especially when Chief Brody’s wife, Ellen, comes to a horrifying realization – their son Michael is swimming in the pond.
What follows is one of the more gory scenes in the film – one that was eventually cut in part so the film could keep its important PG-13 rating. As the boat Michael is riding in is capsized, the shark sets its hungry sights on a lone paddleboater and proceeds to devour him in front of a terrified child. In the cut scene, which was revealed in a special 40th anniversary Blu-ray edition in 2015, the boater heroically saves Michael before being gruesomely eaten.
Sengekontackit Pond is a large estuary, but one of the best viewing places from the main island is Haystack Point. To get there, follow Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road northwest to 21st Street and turn right. At the end of 21st Street, turn left onto The Boulevard, then make another right onto Haystack Road. You’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous view of Sengekontackit Pond with Jaws Bridge in the distance.
The mayor’s decision scene in Jaws
Gay Head Cliffs of Aquinnah
For today’s viewers, Mayor Vaughn’s exceedingly poor judgment in keeping the beaches open with a prowling shark on the loose is not even worth noting – business is business, after all. Even after Hooper and Brody try to convince him that many lives may be at risk, the mayor (Murray Hamilton), the consummate small-town politician, makes his decision with his pocketbook in mind.
“For Ch––’s sake, tomorrow is the Fourth of July! And we will be open for business!” crowed Vaughn, much to the dismay of both men who would subsequently be tasked with slaughtering the monster. How’s that for a boss that makes your life more difficult for profit?
As the pair tries to convince Vaughn to close the beach for everyone’s safety – which seems like an obvious choice – the colorful Gay Head Cliffs can be seen in the background, as well as the historic Gay Head Light. Located at the westernmost tip of Martha’s Vineyard in Aquinnah, the Gay Head Cliffs are the ancestral home of the Wampanoag people, many of whom still live in the area. The Gay Head Light, which is more than 150 years old, is a beautiful historic structure – it was recently moved from its original location to save it from erosion of the surrounding cliffs.
For film buffs, lighthouse lookers and photographers alike, the Gay Head Cliffs of Aquinnah are a stunning Jaws filming location to spend a few hours. To get there, follow State Road all the way from West Tisbury to the tip of the island – you’ll be rewarded with many an Insta-worthy photo op and a piece of Jaws history.
Quint the shark hunter scene in Jaws
Menemsha, Martha’s Vineyard
The Jaws film scene where the viewers are introduced to Captain Quint takes place in one of the most idyllic locations on Martha’s Vineyard – Menemsha.
Realizing that he and Hooper are hopelessly inexperienced when it comes to tracking and killing a 25-foot great white monster, Brody takes Mayor Vaughn’s advice and hires an expert to do the deed. Enter Quint, a combination of every grizzled, salty, hard-drinking old sea captain you’ve ever heard of, who just happens to hunt sharks for fun and profit.
When Brody and Hooper pay a visit to Quint at his seaside shack, they get a taste of the old man’s disgruntled nature. He immediately seizes on Hooper’s appearance and education, proclaiming “You got city hands, Mr. Hooper,” to either intimidate or ostracize the marine biologist – probably both. During the negotiations, it’s clear Quint has experience – there are assorted shark jaws adorning the walls of his shack – but that he’s only available for a price: a cool $10,000.
Quint’s shack is one of the few Jaws filming locations that was constructed specifically for the movie. Since it was torn down after production, you can’t actually go there. A trip to the charming fishing village of Menemsha, however, is a great experience. Visitors can experience some of the freshest seafood available, take a leisurely fishing charter themselves, or simply walk through the quintessential New England fishing village.
To get there, follow Menemsha Road northwest from Chilmark until it merges with Menemsha Inn Road, and follow the signs.
Killing the shark scene in Jaws
Water between East Chop Light and Oak Bluffs
Let’s be honest – this is the scene we’ve all been waiting for since we saw the monstrous shark nearly swallow little Alex Kintner whole. It’s one of Jaws’ best action scenes and it takes place on Quint’s boat, the Orca. Notice anything about the name of the boat? That’s right – orcas (also known as killer whales) eat great whites for breakfast. Literally.
Quint’s obsession with killing the beast has led the three men into more and more risky situations, and the ending in store for all of them is anything but assured. After a direct attack on the Orca and an unfortunate dip in the ocean for Quint, the boat is left sinking, and Brody and Hooper are out of time.
As the shark charges the Orca to presumably finish everyone off, Brody buys himself a few extra moments by wedging a scuba tank in its mouth. Scrambling on the sinking mast and uttering one of the most quotable phrases in the entire movie – “Smile, you son of a b–– - he fires several rounds from Quint’s rifle into the tank, producing the film’s only explosion and making short work of the shark in the process.
This scene, as well as all other shark-hunt scenes, were filmed on the open water between Oak Bluff and East Chop on the northeast tip of the island. The conditions were less than desirable and filming dragged on for nearly six months. The Orca, a lobster boat refitted specifically for Jaws, was shipped back to Universal Studios in Los Angeles after filming and has since been scuttled.
The water between East Chop Light and Oak Bluffs is a busy ferry lane, but you can cruise along the coastline for a great view of Bruce’s final resting place. To get there, take Oak Bluffs Avenue from the ferry terminal to East Chop Drive. Turn right and enjoy the view as you cruise the coast all the way to the East Chop Light.
Fishing for the shark scene in Jaws
Oak Bluffs in Harthaven
In a scene that’s just bound to end in tragedy, two old fishermen decide that they’re going to try to catch the shark for the $3,000 bounty using the half-baked idea of baiting it to their fishing dock with a holiday roast and… well, we’re not really sure, but what happens next is definitely not what they were planning.
The shark makes short work of the bait, the entire dock, and, very nearly, one of the fishermen as well. Charlies eeks out a too-narrow escape and the men fully grasp exactly the kind of beast they’re dealing with. Charlie’s exhausted and clearly terrified “Can we go home now?” plea captures just how defeated and scared the people of Amity are becoming.
This scene has led Jaws fans to dub the location “Tear-Away Dock.”
This is one of the only Martha’s Vineyard locations that is on private property. It’s located near the Little Bridge just south of Oak Bluffs in Harthaven. The dock itself is no more – the most you are likely to see is a few stump posts peaking out of the water.
To get there, follow Seaview Avenue south from the Oak Bluff ferry dock and take a left at Farm Pond Road. From there, it’s a short walk straight ahead to the beach.
Due to delays in the Jaws production schedule, Spielberg ended up giving us the first bona fide summer blockbuster, and has endured as one of the most popular creature feature thrillers to date. Although Benchley, the author of the novel upon which the film is based, eventually regretted vilifying sharks (they’re not indiscriminate man-killers), the film is a beach movie mainstay.
Visiting the Jaws filming locations dotted around Martha’s Vineyard is a great way to add some adventure to your summer beach vacation, and fans of the movie will come away with an Instagram feed full of authentic movie sets to share with the next generations of thriller buffs and shark experts waiting to tell you everything that’s wrong with the movie’s portrayal of great whites.