All the Pretty Horses
Chincoteague Island offers small-town charm, miles of pristine coastline and something other beaches do not: wild ponies.
IF YOU GO
From Arlington, the drive to Chincoteague is just over three and a half hours. Take I-395 north 1.8 miles to the Southeast Freeway/I-695 south. Merge onto Pennsylvania Avenue, and after 0.7 miles take D.C. Route 295 north. Stay on 295 into Maryland, and then take the U.S. 50 exit east toward Annapolis and across the Bay Bridge. Stay on U.S. 50 until just past Salisbury, where you’ll turn onto U.S. 13 south and drive for 39 miles. At Virginia state Route 175, turn left to head east. Chincoteague is about 11 miles from U.S. 13.
Where to Stay
Vacation homes rent by the week during the summer. I’ve used Harbour Rentals (www.harbourrentals.net) and Chincoteague Island Vacation Cottages (www.chincoteagueislandvacationcottages.com). Chain hotels include Hampton Inn & Suites, Best Western and Comfort Suites, but you’ll get a more local experience at one of the bed-and-breakfasts, a campground, or one of the following hotels. The Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce can help sort through the choices (www.chincoteaguechamber.com).
Refuge Inn (7058 Maddox Blvd.; 757-336-5511, 888-257-0038; www.refugeinn.com) is within walking distance of the wildlife refuge and has great views of the marsh. The grounds include a corral for Chincoteague ponies that live on-site, as well as an indoor/outdoor pool, hot tub and bike rentals. There are 72 rooms, including two suites. Rates: $105-$199 in summer; $210-$320 for suites; includes continental breakfast, Wi-Fi.
Waterside Inn (3761 South Main St.; 877-870-3434; www.watersidemotorinn.com) sits on the “quiet side” of Main Street, south of the bridge, and every room offers a view of the Chincoteague Channel looking west (think sunset). Donna and Tommy Mason have deep ties to the island and offer down-home hospitality and simple accommodations, plus an outdoor pool, dock and whirlpool spa with a view. There are 45 rooms. Rates: $150-$213 in summer; includes Wi-Fi and continental breakfast. Check the Rappahannock Bed & Breakfast Guild (www.bnb-n-va.com) for additional lodging options.
Channel Bass Inn (6228 Church St.; 757-336-6148, 800-249-0818; www.channelbassinn.com), originally built in 1892 and located in the heart of the commercial district, is all Victorian, with a lush garden and popular tea room you can visit even if you don’t stay there. Seven rooms. Rates: $140-$235; includes full breakfast and complimentary bicycles, backpacks, beach towels, beach chairs, umbrellas, coolers, binoculars and bird books.
Where to Eat
Bill’s Prime Seafood and Steaks, 4040 Main St.; 757-336-5831; www.billsseafoodrestaurant.com. Breakfast daily from 6 to 11:30 a.m.; lunch daily, 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; dinner daily, 4:30 p.m. to close; Sunday brunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Among the higher-end restaurants in Chincoteague, Bill’s still delivers butter in plastic packets, but local waitresses provide friendly service in the comfortable, intimate setting, and the seafood menu features Chincoteague favorites such as stuffed flounder, crab imperial and oysters Rockefeller, plus prime rib, filet mignon, pork and chicken. Lunch entrées $7 to $13; dinner, $14 to $27.
Woody’s Beach BBQ and The Eatery at Woody’s, 6700 Maddox Blvd.; www.woodysbeachbbq.com. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 1 to 8 p.m. Sunday. The surfer vibe lures lines of hungry folks to this beachy carryout compound. One food truck serves barbecue; another offers sandwiches, soups and salads. In between the serving trucks, you can toss beanbags and play tetherball, then sit at a table made from an old surfboard to eat. The self-described “slow food” on these food truck menus—that is, carefully prepared, not prefabricated the day before—includes fried chicken, crab cakes, shrimp po’boys, and one of the best soft-shell crab sandwiches around (among rotating specials). Prices range from $6.29 for pulled pork to $14 for a half rack of ribs.
Steamers, 6251 Maddox Blvd.; 757-336-5300; www.steamersallyoucaneat.com. Open daily for dinner at 4:30 p.m., and for lunch at noon Fridays and Saturdays (bar menu only). Lines form out the door for a chance at the brown paper-covered tables and variations of all-you-can-eat seafood, including crabs, shrimp, fried chicken, corn, biscuits, hush puppies and more, plus a full menu of pasta, chicken, steak and seafood entrées. Market prices on all-you-can-eat; entrées from $10.49 to $27.59.
Church Street Produce, 6493 Church St.; 757-990-0963; www.facebook.com/churchstreetproduce. Open from about 9 a.m. to about 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Produce, free-range eggs, tomato pies and fruit pies.
Gary Howard Seafood, 5315 Deep Hole Road; 757-336-5178; www.garyhowardseafood.com. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the summer. Fresh, local seafood for cooking, steamed crabs, and a carryout menu of platters and sandwiches. Check out the museum-quality photographs on the walls.
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, 8231 Beach Road; 757-336-6122; www.fws.gov/northeast/chinco. The refuge is on Assateague Island (yes, this is confusing; the southern part is accessible from Chincoteague and the northern part is accessible from Maryland), where you’ll see flocks of migratory birds and other wetland species, as well as the wild ponies. The 14,000-acre refuge is accessible by car, with parking at the beach and in several smaller lots near walking trails. It includes several wooded hiking trails, a historic lighthouse and a beach, which has a lifeguard but limited amenities, including outdoor showers and composting toilets. Admission is free for bicycles and pedestrians, and $8 a day, $15 a week, or $30 a year for motor vehicles, with discounts for seniors. Two nature centers offer interactive exhibits and programs that explore the local environment: The Herbert H. Bateman Educational and Administrative Center (410-641-1441), open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily during the summer, and Toms Cove Visitor Center (757-336-6577), open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily during the summer.
Kayak rentals: The flat water of the bays and channels around Chincoteague and Assateague islands makes for easy paddling, with abundant wildlife sightings. Snug Harbor Marina (7536 East Side Drive, 757-336-6176, www.snugharborva.com) offers not only kayaks but canoes, pontoons, motorboats and eco tours. SouthEast Expeditions (6631 Maddox Blvd., 757-52-KAYAK, www.southeastexpeditions.com) has two-hour kayak tours or individual rentals in Chincoteague and nearby Eastern Shore locations. Assateague Explorer (7512 East Side Road, 757-336-5956, www.assateagueisland.com/kayaktours.htm) offers tours and individual rentals plus cruise boat eco tours.
Bike rentals: The Bike Depot (7058 Maddox Blvd., 757-336-5511, www.refugebikes.com) rents cruisers, mountain bikes, tandems and accessories. Jus’ Bikes (6527 Maddox Blvd., 757-336-6700, www.jus-bikes.com) has cruisers, pedal buggies and motorized scooters.
Free outdoor concerts and films: You occasionally can catch free Saturday evening concerts and Thursday evening films at Robert Reed Park along Chincoteague’s channel-side waterfront. Bring a lawn chair. For a schedule, go to www.chincoteagueculturalalliance.org.
2nd Saturday Art Stroll: Galleries and shops open from 6 to 10 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month from April through November, with demonstrations, exhibits, live music and other activities. Maps are available at the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce, 6733 Maddox Blvd., or at www.chincoteaguechamber.com and www.chincoteagueculturalalliance.org.
Virginia Myers frequently writes about the arts and lives in Takoma Park, Md.