A Shore Thing
Small town charm, sophistication and simplicity--the Eastern Shore of Virginia provides a quick getaway when it's time to slow down.
More visitors are putting in a day’s drive to enjoy a vacation treasure that to most Hampton Roads residents is a mere hour—or less—away. Our neighbors to the north, Virginia’s Eastern Shore or, as locals simply say, “The Shore,” is a pastoral peninsula rich in serene coastlines and small town charms, not to mention some sophisticated surprises. And it’s great timing since fall is a fabulous season to find the Eastern Shore.
Getting there is Half the Fun
When it comes to making a grand entrance to this coastal retreat there is no better venue then the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which connects the Eastern Shore to the rest of coastal Virginia. The 21-mile engineering marvel transports you above and through the breathtaking beauty of its namesake bay.
A destination in itself, its perch above the waters makes for stunning views when shopping at the gift store or dining at the causal full-service Chesapeake Grill Restaurant for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The Sea Gull Pier has a loyal following of fishermen, and the man-made islands are famed for being one-of-a-kind vantage points for bird watching. The $12 toll shouldn’t ruffle your feathers if you remember how much you pay in parking fees alone at your favorite amusement park. Here pristine nature is your entertainment. Once you depart the bridge make a gull line to the Eastern Shore of Virginia Welcome Center on your immediate right, where professional travel consultants are waiting to answer your questions and provide maps and recommendations.
A Trio of Water Towns
The Eastern Shore is a series of villages and hamlets that grace the bay and seaside with their distinct personalities, making multiple visits to the region a must. But to capture the essence of the Shore, Cape Charles, Onancock and Chincoteague Island should top your first time visit list.
Cape Charles, about 15 minutes north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, is known as the comeback kid of the region. Since its initial glory days in 1886 when the railroad gave birth to this bayside town, it has suffered many a setback. But like Cinderella the Victorian beauty has shaken off the dust and again sparkles with a historic downtown well-appointed with gift and gourmet shops,art center, small museum, eateries, boutique hotels, coffee house and pub. Waterfront dining can be savored on the beachfront of town harbor. Ringed by a resort community with twin premier golf courses and first-class marina, upscale amenities are plentiful.
Yet, its upmarket trappings haven’t taken away from its Mayberry by the Bay appeal. For this is a town that enjoys not only a European day spa among its collection of bed and breakfast inns, but also a hometown pharmacy complete with old-fashioned lunch counter and gossip central, a gathering of rocking chairs in front of the vintage hardware store.
Onancock by way of Wachapreague
While traveling north on Route 13, the peninsula’s main artery, if you have a hunger for fresh local seafood, make a worth-the-trip detour east to Wachapreague, the “Little City by the Sea.” The pretty village whose mainstay is a popular charter fishing fleet has a delicious center of activity known as the Island House Restaurant. Oysters, clams, crab cakes—this is a seafood lovers’ nirvana coupled with an unrivaled view of the wild barrier islands.
Back on Route 13 then heading west toward the bay, Onancock, with its petite historic harbor, is a charmer chartered in 1680.
Its esteemed history can be discovered at Ker Place, a stately circa 1800, Federal-style house, museum and the headquarters of the Eastern Shore Historical Society. Along with its sweet downtown and porch-fronted homes the town is a surviving, thriving piece of Americana with a sophisticated edge. Bistros and an Irish pub mingle with art galleries, a movie theater that features other offerings.
The oldest continuous bed and breakfast on the mainland resides here. 1882 Colonial Manor Inn has the beauty of the past while serving the needs of modern-day travelers with its Family and Pet Friendly accommodations set on 2 park-like acres, just a short stroll to all things Onancock.
Forty-five minutes north, Chincoteague Island is known best for its legendary wild pony herd that runs free by the sea in this family resort steeped in nostalgia. Ice cream parlors and a retro movie theater join a variety of eclectic shops and fresh-from-the-dock seafood restaurants. The popular draw is the miles of unspoiled beaches, nature trails and the accessible Assateague Lighthouse found on the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, the place the ponies call home.
For those who love camping your home away from home is Tom’s Cove Park. For decades it has been providing fun for the whole family with fishing piers, boat ramp, marina, clubhouse and more in a quintessential Chincoteague Island setting.
If a hotel stay is your style the Island Resort embraces Chincoteague Bay, where you can kick back on your waterfront balcony or aside the pools, both indoors and out. The perfect place to live the Chincoteague creed—“Relax, you’re on Island Time.”