Cape Charles, Virginia, Is the Beach Town You've Been Missing Out On
When it comes to Virginia's sunny shores, it's generally Virginia Beach that steals all the attention (and for good reason—in 2019, WalletHub named it the Best Big City to Live In). But just an hour north, on the state's Eastern Shore, sits Cape Charles, a beach community whose charms belong to its friendly small-town atmosphere and its wealth of natural riches. Family-owned restaurants, breweries, and shops are the name of the game here; the bay-fronting beach is wide, with waters that are still and shallow; and even during its high summer season, the place all but falls quiet after 9 p.m. In other words, it's the ideal family beach destination. Here's where to stay, eat, and play in this bayside town.
Where to Stay
Just a short walk from the public beach and tucked in alongside Mason Avenue's abundance of shops and eateries, boutique stay Hotel Cape Charles is a century-old hotel that's dusted off the antiquated in favor of colorful, contemporary vibes. Guests have access to free beach cruisers, as well as chairs and towels for a day on the sand. For a historic property that embraces its past, there's the Northampton Hotel, where each of the five guest rooms have roomy balconies with views of the Chesapeake Bay. For larger groups or families who want to experience town like the small clutch of locals do, there are also plenty of homes available for rent that aren't far from the beach.
Where to Eat
Don't miss the flaky croissants or baguette sandwiches (a great grab-and-go option for the beach) at husband-and-wife-owned The Bakery on Mason. For lunch, the sunny patio at waterfront The Shanty is the move (or settle in for sunset over the marina); on Fridays, they sell local oysters for a "buck a shuck." Stop by Brown Dog Ice Cream for seasonal offerings in inventive flavors; it's worth the wait (and in the summertime, there's nearly always a line out the door). In the evening, head to Ambrogia Caffé & Enoteca for house-made pastas, and then grab a locally crafted nightcap at Cape Charles Distillery or brother-owned Cape Charles Brewing Company.
Where to Play
The wide public beach on Cape Charles is the only one on the Eastern Shore that offers free entry and parking, plus its waters are shallow and calm, so it's ideal for families with young children. Explore the area's coastal marsh and waterways via kayak with Southeast Expeditions; opt for the outfitter's new paddle tour of the area's barrier islands or book an old favorite, which includes a pit stop at a local vineyard and a complimentary bottle of wine. For land lovers, there's plenty of shopping on Mason Avenue: Find handcrafted fish-leather accessories at Moonrise Jewelry, sample regional treats and wine at Gull Hummock Gourmet Market, and browse a thoughtful collection of new and used books at sister-owned Peach Street Books.