When I was a kid, my family spent a number of summer vacations on the Eastern Shore – we would stay at a hotel right off the bridge near Cape Charles. It had a rooftop deck with wide open bay views, which, in that pre-mobile-crazed entertainment era, was absolutely thrilling to me. Miles and miles of water as far as the eye could see! Other out-of-school seaside retreats were spent further up on Chincoteague Island, which as an adult, I can appreciate so much more now for its out-of-the-way, less accessible peace and solitude.
Chincoteague is the ideal remote getaway, one that feels worlds away from the chaos and commercialism of Virginia Beach, and is as equidistant from Richmond as that other beloved beach hotspot, the Outer Banks. Driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel sets the stage for escape – the 20-mile crossing hovers over an expanse of sun-gleaming, blue, bay waters, dropping you off on the edge of the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge.
Keep motoring for another 65 miles until you arrive in wild and wonderful Chincoteague. In April, the town is still emerging from its off-season dormancy – many shops operate on "If-I-am-there, I'm-there" hours, while others are only open three days a week, but that should only encourage you to spend more time in the wildlife refuge, which features acres of protected beaches, marshes, forests and wildlife, including it's world-famous wild ponies.
Around town and at the refuge, there are plenty of wildlife hiking and biking trails to explore and nature to experience up-close-and-personal. Fishing, boating, and cruising are, of course, other recreational options. Or get your hands dirty, drop a line with a chicken bone in the water and go crabbing. (Honestly, leave your fancy resort-wear and your noses-in-the-air behind, because this isn't the place.) Plan to end your day with a sunset view – you'll be hard-pressed to not find a prime spot for twilight-watching.
In search of dining options, you'll find ample restaurants, sandwich shops, barbecue pits and more than enough ice cream parlors. I like Mister Whippy for soft-serve (Isn't Mister Whippy the CUTEST? He reminds me of a cone-shaped Stay Puft Marshmallow Man...) and Island Creamery – the ice cream is dolloped generously in a waffle cone, just what you need after hoofing the nature trails in 75-degree spring heat.
Later in the growing season, you'll want to hit up some of the local farmers markets, like Church Street Produce, get your coffee fix at Main Street Shop & Coffeehouse, or grab some DEE-licious hot donuts from the Sandy Pony Donuts food truck.
In-season, yes, there is shopping to be had, and by then, merchants should have regular hours. Pop in to Sundial Books and peruse some new and used beach reads, The Brant for island gifts, laid-back fashions, and Christmas ornaments (there is always at least one shop at the beach that celebrates the holidays year-round), and Hollyhocks on Main for vintage treasures and beachy home decor.
If you like a slower pace while on sabbatical, Chincoteague is for you – the speed limit rarely exceeds 30 miles per hour anywhere on the island, so if you are one of those types who gets itchy and impatient driving, walking or otherwise mobilizing around, go to Nags Head or Virginia Beach. Here, you soak in nature at your leisure, unhurriedly appreciate the egrets and sandpipers, purposefully breathe in the salty marshes and just, relaaaaaxxx. Chincoteague is still a small fishing village, and it still is the "best kept secret" in Virginia's tourist industry, and, even though I'm writing about it, I hope it stays that way.
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