Virginia’s Eastern Shore
The Eastern Shore begins—and ends—at the famed Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel at the southern tip where drivers face 20 plus miles of open water. Here, Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic waters meet, waves from both washing upon each other. Fishermen, vacationers, beachcombers and bird watchers mingle. All are embraced by water.
Those who travel a distance deserve a reward, and the Lower Shore delivers. Long walks on wild beaches are matched by equestrian rides through the pine forests, and every night brings the bounty of the sea to the table.
Cape Charles’ dining, lodging, art and music scene creates a perfect launch point for shopping, beaches, golf and outdoor adventures. Just outside town is Bay Creek Resort, home to Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer Signature golf courses, vacation rental homes and dining.
For a completely different experience, park the camper at Cherrystone Family Camping Resort and, just down the road, pick up some of the famed Cherrystone littlenecks for a roast over the campfire.
The lights stay on 24 hours at the fishing pier at Kiptopeke State Park, and down the beach a stretch, boats anchor offshore the Sunset Grill with the stunning Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel as a backdrop.
Up the road, Chatham Vineyards’ French vinifera grapes are turned into the merlots, chardonnays, cabernets and blends that have earned the winery medals and accolades nationwide.
Launch your kayak on a guided tour to the winery and, later in the evening, sip their Church Creek Steel Chardonnay at sunset at a restaurant overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.
Preserved century-old buildings house chic boutique hotels and cozy inns, coffeehouses and eclectic shops in this former railroad town on the Chesapeake Bay. Get the local news around the pot-bellied stove at Watson’s Hardware, sit on a stool at Rayfield’s Pharmacy soda fountain, and walk to the half-mile public beach for a swim, kayak or to watch the sunset.
Visit The Barrier Islands Center to learn about chronicling the lives of those who lived on the remote sand islands that buffer Virginia’s Atlantic coastline then get a healthy lunch at Machipongo Trading Company and pick up Coastal Roasting’s locally-roasted coffee.
As a Chesapeake Bay deadrise slowly motors away from Onancock wharf bound for Tangier Island, a charter fishing boat clears the inlet out of Wachapreague, headed to blue Atlantic waters. Out in the marsh, watermen deftly steer skiffs loaded with oysters and clams along winding creeks back toward the dock.
Daily life, like boats and tides, ebbs and flows in the Middle Shore’s vintage towns and countryside escapes.
On small town streets a storekeeper hangs the “Open” sign, an artist’s easel is set up for plein air painting, and a breeze picks up enticing smells from the corner cafe. The county seat of Accomac hums with courthouse activity amid the finest examples of 18th century architecture.
As the landscape between Bay and Ocean narrows, the choices to stay, eat and play grow rich and varied, from quaint waterfront cottages to modern hotels in Exmore.
Renovated inns and art galleries lend a modern charm to Onancock, a walkable wharf town dating to 1680. From here, you can take the ferry to the waterman’s community of Tangier Island or explore the waters of Onancock Creek by kayak.
Farther south in Wachapreague, the day’s catch is weighed and cleaned dockside while the proud anglers soak in spacious views from the deck of The Island House Restaurant.
On country roads the curious traveler finds quirky surprises: Authentic Texas BBQ in the seaside village of Willis Wharf, the Yellow Duck Bakery in Exmore, Asian pears and other seasonal fruit at Mason Beach Fruit Farm near Harborton.
Wherever you may wander, evening finds you at a pub, cafe or fine restaurant that exudes warmth and atmosphere. Dining ranges from southern comfort food to sophisticated culinary adventures using the fruits of farm and sea.
OnancockOnancock captures the charm of Eastern Shore living. A town steeped in history charts its founding back to 1680. Its centuries-old homes evoke an era of prosperity on the Shore, particularly Ker Place, a historic house museum. Today, artist studios, restaurants and inns capture the vitality of the current day. Meet artists in their studios and local farmers at the Onancock Market on Saturday mornings. After wine-down hour at a B&B, walk to dinner, a movie or a live show at the playhouse. Choose from four inns and a historic hotel. Dining ranges from an Irish pub to sophisticated cafes to a dockside eatery where the chef plays guitar
Venture off the highway just four miles to Wachapreague, “The Little City by the Sea.” Dine on local seafood at the Island House, or catch your own on a charter fishing or clam-digging trip. Ride the Wachapreague Inn’s boat taxi to a relaxing day on a sandbar.
Catch the Ferry
Operating spring through fall, the Tangier Ferry is a Chesapeake Bay workboat outfitted to take visitors 12 miles out to Tangier Island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. Spend the day walking the island’s narrow lanes, take a golf cart tour (there are no cars here), and sample the softshell crabs this island is best known for. You’ll no doubt get an earful of the local Tangier dialect, related to the Elizabethan English spoken by the island’s first settlers.
Daily life hums briskly as a summer day dawns on Chincoteague Island. Scooters zip along Maddox Boulevard and bike riders pedal toward Assateague Island. By afternoon, lines form at the ice cream parlors. In late July, thousands flock to the world-famous Pony Swim and Penning, celebrating its 90th year in 2015.
Over at the East Side Landing they’re stacking bushels of blue crab, bagging clams, culling oysters, all of this one step removed from the tables of town restaurants where you can slurp down “Chincoteague Salt” oysters or bite into a crispy soft shell crab.
For generations of families drawn by wild ponies and Atlantic surf, Chincoteague is the Virginia’s Eastern Shore. This is the gateway to the world-famous Assateague National Seashore, nationally-renowned Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and NASA Wallops Flight Facility for rocket launches.
Yet it is just the beginning of discovering the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
A country drive down Atlantic and Metompkin roads passes through hamlets like Modest Town and Kegotank, small clusters of homes with old churches and historic cemeteries. This windy backroad is fast becoming a bicycling favorite.
A few miles north near the Maryland border find the little fishing village of Greenbackville, with the Crusty Crab Seafood Shack and the Bay Watch Inn. Nearby Captain’s Cove has a 9-hole golf course, marina and restaurant on Chincoteague Bay.
Across Route 13, bayside country roads lead to old landings once buzzing with schooners and steamboats. Today they’re ideal for launching a skiff or kayak for paddling or fishing for flounder or rockfish. In the island village of Saxis you can nod hello to the watermen at work at the wharf and visit Saxis Island Museum, which chronicles their hardworking way of life.
In the town of Parksley, a collection of rail cars and engines harkens back half-a-century when railroad eclipsed the ships and sent Shore-grown vegetables and fruit nationwide.
A day of playing in salty sea spray and crashing waves, exploring small towns and tasty lunch counters, inevitably ends at water’s edge. Gulls and terns cry out and swoop over acres of salt marsh, a scene that is both a beautiful and essential piece of the Shore experience.
Where else can you walk for miles on a pristine Atlantic beach, climb a lighthouse, look for wild ponies, and shop for original art within a funky beach town? Choose from dozens of places to stay, including Victorian B&Bs, modern vacation condos, family motels and campgrounds. Don’t go home without tasting the homemade ice cream at Island Creamery or Chincoteague oysters.
Relive the golden age of train travel in this 1885 railroad town. Climb aboard the preserved dining, sleeping and caboose cars at the Eastern Shore Railway Museum. Continue your step back in time with lunch at the Club Car Café and browsing Jaxon’s old-fashioned “five and dime,” where you can still get penny candy.
The Museum of Chincoteague’s life-size Misty of Chincoteague mesmerizes children and adults alike. The museum has an impressive collection documenting life on Chincoteague Island through the centuries.
Plan a Chincoteague vacation to coincide with a live rocket launch at Mid-Atlantic Regional Spacesport (MARS) on Wallops Island. In lieu of an actual launch, learn about space at the exhibits at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility Visitor Center.