Low-Key Island Getaway is Easy to Love
“Peaceful, easy feeling” seems to describe the vibes of Chincoteague Island, a small resort town on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Visitors repeatedly return for the laid-back atmosphere, natural beauty and relaxation.
“Beautiful foliage, abundant wildlife, incredible beach, good food and awesome sunsets,” raved one island visitor on Tripadvisor. “I am so in love with this place, I plan to move there when my husband retires,” she wrote.
Another family has rented the same house on the island each year for three decades.
What is so special about the seven-mile-long Atlantic Ocean barrier island with a population of 2,941 and a speed limit of 25 mph?
A Horse, of Course
Ponies made Chincoteague famous and contribute to the town’s uniqueness.
Fond memories of Marguerite Henry’s 1947 classic children’s book “Misty of Chincoteague” (also a 1961 film) bring people to visit Miss Molly’s Inn on Main Street, where the author wrote the novel about a wild pony captured and tamed by two kids. They want to see Beebe Ranch, where the real-life Misty lived in adulthood; the pony’s bronze statue downtown; and her hoof prints in cement at the Island Theatre. You can even see the actual Misty and her foal, Stormy, preserved at the Museum of Chincoteague Island.
The other literally splashy attraction is the annual pony swim on the last Wednesday and Thursday of July, where 150 feral ponies on adjacent Assateague Island are led to swim across the channel to town. The crowd-pleasing occasion includes a pony penning, auction and carnival. The sponsoring Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department was forced to hold the event virtually in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but hopes for better luck this year.
Year round, cross the bridge to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the Virginia side of Assateague to observe the ponies in their natural habitat of dunes and marshes. Visitors delight in the diverse waterfowl, nature trails and Assateague Island National Seashore.
Other popular pastimes include collecting shells, photography, fishing, kayaking, biking and cruises to nearby islands. You can even view the rocket launches emanating from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility.
In town, no high rises or waterfront development spoil the view. A range of accommodations (some pet-friendly) is available, from hotels to bed-and-breakfasts.
Take a guided walking tour, picnic in the waterfront parks, hop a trolley and drop into the boutiques, art galleries, antiques shops, bookstores and ice cream parlors.
The restaurants boast fresh seafood, especially the highly praised locally grown oysters known for their distinctive taste.
Festivals, Island Theatre shows and free concerts at the dock are among regular events, but the pandemic makes scheduling problematic. Check the website, chincoteaguechamber.com, for updates.
Regardless, Chincoteague Island, a 3 1/2-hour drive from Washington, D.C. is “the perfect place to be outside and social distance,” said Evelyn Shotwell, who promotes the town.
“We’re delighted for people to come find out about and experience our little piece of heaven.”