5 Small Towns on Virginia’s Eastern Shore for a Quiet Coastal Retreat

by Patricia Keppel | Posted: Mar 2, 2018 | Updated: Mar 5, 2020

Comments: 17 Comments

Assateague Lighthouse

Spanning 70 miles and bordered by the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, Virginia’s Eastern Shore is a coastal paradise. The waterfront region is one of the best-kept secrets in the Commonwealth, boasting gorgeous beaches, incredible wildlife, and serene communities that welcome visitors to discover their quiet charm. If you’re looking for a beachfront break without the crowds, plan a vacation to one of these five small towns on the Eastern Shore.



onancock eastern shore

Centrally located on the Chesapeake Bay side of the Eastern Shore, Onancock is an inviting small town that was founded in 1680. Visited by Captain John Smith in the early 1600s, he wrote that the land was the “Gem of the Eastern Shore”. The town was historically a bustling port town, with steamboats traveling between Baltimore and Norfolk stopping in the waterfront community for supplies and rest. Today, the town is filled with stunning Victorian-era homes and local boutique shops. The only ferry to Tangier Island from the shore departs from Onancock, giving you access to yet another incredible small town on the Eastern Shore. If you’re in the mood for a little adventure, rent a kayak from SouthEast Expeditions at the Wharf, or book a guided tour like the Paddle Your Glass Off trip, where a guide takes you on a paddle through the Bay waters to Chatham Vineyards, where you’ll take a scenic break for a little wine tasting.

Where to Stay/Eat: Book a stay at the Charlotte Hotel, a cute boutique retreat in the heart of downtown Onancock. Grab a bit to eat at either the Inn Garden Café Restaurant (which is also a charming bed and breakfast), or Mallards at the Wharf, the only waterfront restaurant in Onancock.


—Cape Charles—

Aerial of Cape Charles

Just across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, Cape Charles is an idyllic small town that exudes endless character. The downtown area has lots of local shops carrying everything from handcrafted jewelry to homemade ice cream. Cape Charles is an excellent destination for wildlife lovers, as Kiptopeke State Park is right outside the town. SouthEast Expeditions has another location in the area, offering an Aqua-Culture Clamming tour along Cherrystone Creek, just north of Cape Charles. Kayakers learn about aquaculture practices and tour a working clam farm, then hand pick their own clams straight from the Bay waters to sample the tasty results.

Where to Stay/Eat: Stay in the downtown area at the Hotel Cape Charles or The Bay Haven Inn and get a taste of the local seafood at either The Shanty or the Oyster Farm Seafood Eatery, followed by a little dessert at Brown Dog Ice Cream.



Aerial of Chincoteague

A small Atlantic island tucked away on the northeastern corner of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Chincoteague is best known for the wild ponies found in the bordering Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. These beautiful animals were made famous in the book and subsequent movie, Misty of Chincoteague, and the town houses a museum that tells the true story behind the ponies. The small town draws visitors looking for a quiet coastal beach experience as well as space travel enthusiasts, as the NASA Wallops Island Flight Facility Visitor Center, NASA’s primary facility for suborbital missions, is just south of the island. The facility also has a free museum where you can learn about previous rocket launches and the science behind the missions. For a breathtaking view of the surrounding landscape, stop by the Assateague Lighthouse on the neighboring Assateague Island. Access to the top of the lighthouse is open to the public during select visiting hours.

Where to Stay/Eat:

Enjoy a stay in Chincoteague at the Channel Bass Inn Bed & Breakfast or the town’s first boutique hotel, the Marina Bay Hotel & Suites. Eat at Bill’s Prime Seafood & Steaks, followed by a few scoops at Island Creamery, ranked the best ice cream in America by TripAdvisor.



Wachapreague is a tiny Victorian-era town with a population of only 200 permanent residents, and is surrounded by farmland, woods, water, and some of the only undeveloped wetlands and barrier islands in the Mid-Atlantic. This sleepy coastal town is well known for sport fishing, bringing enthusiasts from around the world to fish in the vast and plentiful waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Bird watching is also a big draw, especially during spring and fall migrations when thousands of birds take flight through the region. Book a tour or rent a kayak to journey through Wachateague’s waters with Daytrippers, where you’ll explore the adjacent barrier islands, dig for clams, or try your hand at fishing.

Where to Stay/Eat:

The town’s most popular place to dine is the Wachapreague Island House Restaurant, and for an overnight stay you can either book a room at the Wachapreague Inn or travel just a few miles up the road to the Garrison Bed & Breakfast.


—Tangier Island—

Tangier Island lies twelve miles off the western coast of the Eastern Shore in the Chesapeake Bay and is known as America’s “Soft Crab Capital”. The town’s small population mainly work as watermen, harvesting fresh seafood from the surrounding Bay waters. These watermen have been working the rich waters of the Chesapeake Bay for generations, and their deep roots are apparent in the unique dialect spoken on the island, a form of English not heard anywhere else in the world. The remote island is only accessible by plane or boat, with a ferry bringing visitors from Onancock on the Eastern Shore and Reedville from the mainland, and the island’s inhabitants travel Tangier’s short series of roads by foot, bicycle, or golf cart. Visit the Tangier History Museum to learn about the small island’s long and captivating history.

Where to Stay/Eat:

Sample fresh seafood at The Fisherman’s Corner Restaurant or Lorraine’s Seafood Restaurant. If you’re interested in staying overnight, book a stay at the Bay View Inn Bed & Breakfast.


Virginia has dozens of small towns that offer endless charm, hospitality, and memorable adventures. Whether you visit a small town for outdoor lovers or head to the best foodie destinations, Virginia’s charming small towns welcome you to discover a unique vacation experience.


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Avatar Jennifer Bowhey says:

Kilmarnock! Awesome fun coastal town with farmers markets, festivals, shopping and about 1000 residents.

Avatar Mary Burnham says:

Corrections for the Onancock section: Burnham Guides rents kayaks, SUPs and does tours from the historic Steamboat Ticket Office at Onancock Wharf. http://www.burnhamguides.com/virginia Also, Inn and Garden Cafe is closed. It’s now “Maurice.”

Also in Cape Charles there are several historic renovated B&B’s. All are walking distance to restaurants and shops! You can view them all at http://www.capecharlesbnb.com

Avatar Nicki Tiffany says:

Several! Check out esvatourism.org There is a tab for lodging, then a pic of a dog, click on that and you will see them. Come Visit!

Avatar Mike Hedden says:

Does anyone know if there are dog friendly hotels at any of the Virginia Eastern Shore areas?

Avatar Myra Blaszak says:

Sun Set Beach Resort, Cape Charles. Look it up. We went with our fur baby and had fun.

Avatar Karen says:

Some vacation houses allow dogs, but be aware that you cannot take ANY pet, even confined in your car, onto Assateague Island. Sorry, but our waterfront home, Eagle’s View, is not pet friendly basically because of the amount of time the dogs would be left alone in the house while their families are at the beach, hiking the trails, eating out, etc.

Avatar Linda S Nicola says:

The Spinning Wheel B&B and the 1882 Colonial Manor Inn B&B are both family friendly and dog friendly.

Avatar Vivian Shey says:

This company Harbor Rental in chincoteague has many different size homes that are pet friendly. Their web site has section that shows only pet friendly rental. We have been using them for 6 years and the service is great. Check out the web site or call them +1 800-221-5059

Avatar JOHN Griffith says:

The Cape Charles hotel is dog friendly.

Avatar Grace says:

Garden and Sea Inn Bed and Breakfast is pet-friendly.

The Hotel Cape Charles on Main Street innCape Charles is dog friendly and a great spot!


The Inn at Onancock loves dogs, and your pup can meet the resident, Dante, the friendly Shepherd.

Avatar Jim says:

Holiday Inn in Exmore is pet friendly.It is about Midway up the VA Eastern Shore.

Avatar Rhonda Webber says:

Next to my home in West Virginia, Wachapreague is my favorite place!

I fully agree, I was born here and still here. Have a great antique shop on Main St. just as you enter town “Seaside Antiques and Art”. Open Saturdays and Sundays or if you catch me in the yard, I live right next door. #40 and #42.

Avatar Lynda says:

I’d vote for the Refuge Inn when in Chincoteague. Great location just a short walk from the wildlife refuge with nicely appointed rooms and decks/patios.