A Guide to Cape Charles, Virginia

A Guide to Cape Charles, VA

On the southern tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, near the mouth of the country’s largest bay, lies Cape Charles—a town where the word “rush” doesn’t exist. People stop to chat in front of Watson’s Hardware Store, many residents opt to drive golf carts around town to enjoy the bay breezes, heck, there’s only one stoplight: it’s at the highway intersection to remind visitors to pick up the pace once they leave. This is one of the few beach towns left on the Delmarva Peninsula (a term coined by the states that form it: Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia) that is not overcrowded with hordes of loud tourists during the summer—there’s not even metered parking along the main streets or beach drag (yet).

Established in 1884, Cape Charles became a major railroad terminus. This final stop at the end of the peninsula was an important shipping point where trains would meet steamships to carry freight and passengers across the Chesapeake Bay to Norfolk. The town prospered during this era, erecting some of the largest concentrations of late-Victorian and turn-of-the-century buildings on the East Coast. After World War II, the town experienced an economic downturn with the decline of the railroad industry and the construction of Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel that linked the peninsula with Virginia’s mainland. Many of the historic building fell into ruins and the town was almost forgotten. However, within the last couple of decades, there has been renewed interest and growth.

Mason Avenue is the main street of Cape Charles
Old rail cars at the Cape Charles Museum and Welcome Center
The town's marina
Entrance to the town's public bay beach
Arts Enter Cape Charles

 

In 1991, Cape Charles was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many visitors rediscovered the town’s quaint charm and nearby natural wonders. Retirees from urban areas in DC, Virginia, and North Carolina were drawn to Cape Charles for its affordable waterfront properties and laid-back living. Cape Charles has come to life again with a surprising amount of sophisticated shops, gourmet restaurants, and unique accommodations—perfect for travelers looking to explore the coastal beauty of the Chesapeake and Atlantic in a relaxed setting.

Stay

From historic B&B’s to RV camping and boutique hotels, Cape Charles offers accommodations that suit every taste and budget.

Hotel Cape Charles

Hotel Cape Charles is a warm and modern boutique hotel in the heart of the town’s main strip. It is only a few blocks from the public bay beach, dog-friendly, and has a veranda with lovely views of  the sunset. Amenities include organic breakfast, WiFi, iPod docking station, mini fridge, and flat screen TV with cable and offers garden, harbor, and loft room options starting from $149/night. 235 Mason Avenue Cape Charles, VA 23310; (757)695–3854; www.hotelcapecharles.com

Hotel Cape Charles
Marina Village has many homes for rent through Bay Creek Resort

Home Rentals

Cape Charles is famed for its historic Victorian architecture. Several homes in town are for rent by their owners as well as newer homes found in the private Bay Creek community. Rentals are an economic option for groups or families who plan to stay in the area for three nights or more.

  • Bay Creek Resort: Bay Creek offers rentals in a couple of its communities interspersed among Cape Charles. Homes and condos are available in the award-winning Golf District and jelly bean-colored cottages can be rented at Marina Village, on the waterfront just outside of town. Guests will gain access to the community’s private bay beaches, kayak and bike rentals, and concierge services. If you stay here, make sure to visit the large 2-mile uncrowded bay beach on the other side of the golf course (follow the signs to the Beach Club Fitness Center, you’re not required to be a member of this club to gain beach access). 3335 Stone Road, Cape Charles, VA 23310; (757)331-8600;  www.baycreekresort.com/resort/vacation-rentals
  • Private Rentals: Additional listings in and around town can be found on RentalsinCapeCharles.com, Kings Creek Marina, and Flipkey.com. Homes typically go for a daily rate of $140-$350.

Bed and Breakfasts

Cape Charles has several quaint, antique-style bed and breakfasts located in historic homes around town. For a full listing, visit the Cape Charles B&B Association page at www.capecharlesbnb.com.

Camping

There are several campgrounds, RV lots, and cabins situated about 10-minutes from town. They are mostly located on the bay side and offer amenities like water, bathroom facilities, picnic areas, and grills. Below is a list of popular sites:

  • Cherrystone: This family-friendly camping resort is situated on 300 acres by the waterfront of the Chesapeake Bay. Guests can hookup their own RV or rent basic sites, deluxe cottages, camping cabins, rental trailers, or deluxe campers. Rates range from $24-$184/daily. 1511 Townfield Dr, Cape Charles, VA 23310; (757)331-3063; www.cherrystoneva.com
  • Kiptopeke State Park: This park has access to one of the area’s nicest bay beaches (with views of old World War II concrete ships) as well as nature trails, a fishing pier, ranger tours, and kayak rentals. Facilities include campsites, 2- to 6-bedroom family lodges, rental RVs, yurts, and a camping lodge. Camp and RV sites range from $20-$67/daily, cabins and lodges from $62-$410/daily. 3540 Kiptopeke Dr, Cape Charles, VA 23310;  (757)331-2267; www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/kiptopeke
Eat

Diners will be find a variety of restaurants on Cape Charles’ main street, Mason Avenue, and its outlying areas. With the town’s proximity to the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic, fresh seafood is the area’s specialty. However, diners will be pleased to find a variety of gourmet and home-style fare.

Oysters on the half shell at The Shanty
Vegeterian flatbread, kimchee cucumbers, and Old Bay fries at The Shanty
Early 20th century architecture of the Cape Charles Coffee House
Soda fountain inside of Rayfield's Pharmacy
Roadside produce stand on Route 13

The Shanty

The Shanty is a funky, laid-back restaurant and bar that overlooks the town’s marina. Guests will find an upbeat atmosphere with live music on weekend evenings, Thursday karaoke nights, and cornhole sets on the deck. The menu focuses on creative, fresh seafood dishes like Hungars Creek oysters, Caribbean style tacos, and crab cakes served with Sriracha aioli. Vegetarians will be pleased to find some unique options like kale and quinoa salad, fried avocado tacos, and tasty sides like cucumber kimchee and french fries served with Old Bay seasoning. 33 Marina Rd, Cape Charles, VA 22310; (757) 695-3853; www.shantyseafood.com

 

Gourmet Alley

Gourmet Alley is the perfect place to find freshly prepared sandwiches, salads, soups, and dishes for a picnic (or to enjoy on the premise). Pescatarians and vegetarians will find many options like the fresh tuna poke with wakame salad or grilled veggie muffuletta sandwiches with summer vegetable pilaf. Don’t miss their hand-filled, one-dollar cannolis to finish of your meal. 321 Mason Avenue, –
Cape Charles, Virginia, VA 23310;(757) 331-6900; www.facebook.com/gourmetalleycapecharles

Deadrise Pies

Deadrise Pies

The owners of Shanty recently opened another hangout, a pizza parlor, on Mason Avenue. The pies are made with wholesome, quality ingredients that are locally sources whenever possible. Even the oil and vinegar used to make the pizzas are sourced from Drizzles Tasting Shop down the street. In addition to pies, the menu also offers a variety of hearty salads and subs which can be eaten on the spot or ordered to-go. While you’re waiting for your food, entertain yourself by playing some of the restaurant’s vintage arcade games. 425 Mason Ave, Cape Charles, VA 23310; (757) 331-6232; www.deadrisepies.com

Cape Charles Coffee House

Cape Charles Coffee House takes coffee seriously and pulls some of the best shots on the Eastern Shore. The staff is warm and friendly, making the former bank-turned-parlor space a great place to unwind with delicious drinks, breakfast, or lunch. 241 Mason Avenue, Cape Charles, Virginia 23310; (757) 331-1880; thecapecharlescoffeehouse.com

Hook U Up Gourmet

This upscale bistro serves fine dinners, baked goods, and dessert. Check the Facbook page for the daily specials that include fresh flounder stuffed with jumbo lump crab. 227 Mason Ave, Cape Charles, Virginia, VA 23310; (757) 331-2275; www.facebook.com/hookuupgourmet

Brown Dog Ice Cream

Brown Dog serves ice cream made onsite in small batches using quality ingredients that are often locally sourced. Its mission is to rekindle the childhood memory of enjoying a delicious cone on a hot summer day near the seashore. Classic flavors include vanilla bean and milk chocolate, but there are also satisfying sophisticated options like lemon vanilla chia, cherry chocolate chip, and black raspberry. Check Brown Dog’s Facebook page for a list of current offerings. The parlor closes at 8:00 pm so make sure to allow enough time at the end of dinner for a dessert run. www.facebook.com/pages/brown-dog-ice-cream/160221647438884

Rayfields

Rayfields is a family-owned drugstore on the edge of town that has a legit, old-fashioned soda fountain and ice cream bar. Locals flock here to grab a seat at the counter or booths at all times of the day to enjoy Southern-style breakfasts, blue plate specials, sandwiches, frothy milkshakes, and signature home-made vanilla Cokes. 2 Fig Street Cape Charles, VA 23310; (757) 331-1212; www.capecharlesbythebay.com/business/rayfields-pharmacy

Farm Stands
Don’t miss the colorful farm stands along Route 13 that sell fresh produce. The Eastern Shore’s economy relies primarily agriculture and is famous for its white Haymans sweet potato, a crop coveted by top chefs up and down the Atlantic coast.
Shop

Shoppers will find a slew of of antiques, art galleries, jewelry shops, and beach-themed  boutiques along Mason Avenue and Route 13. Antique and flea market vendors are savvy to city prices so you may not always find great steals, but you will discover finds unique to the Eastern Shore.

Wine selection at Gull Hummock Gourmet
Art selection at Ellen Moore Gallery
Whimsical souvenirs at Chuckletown Productions
Windsor House's chair-making studio
One of several flea markets along Route 13
Entrance to Watson's Hardware, a Cape Charles institution

Gull Hummock Gourmet

This shop stocks locally-made food, treats, and microbrew beers. Stop in for a weekend wine tasting or to purchase edible souvenirs and gifts. Our favorites include Sweet Annie’s Chocolates and cinnamon bread by the Bakery at Riverside Farm. 115 Mason Ave, Cape Charles, Virginia 23310; (757)331-1500; www.facebook.com/pages/Gull-Hummock-Gourmet-Market/180588737992

Chuckletown Productions

Chuckletown is a quirky shop in the Cape Charles Hotel that sells original town-themed mementos and handy beach accessories. Shopper will find prideful “Cape Chuck” souvenirs like pint glasses, golf cart magnets, silk-screened souvenir shirts decorated with original designs or the store’s mascot—a mustachioed Boston Terrier. 237 Mason Avenue, Cape Charles, VA 23310; (757)331-0483; www.facebook.com/CapeChuck

Seagrass Studios in Cape Charles

Seagrass Studio

Seagrass is a unique floral studio in the Cape Charles Hotel. Not only will customers find beautiful arrangements, there are also lots of takeaway gifts for home decor. There’s a DIY terrarium bar, modern planters, and a variety of low-maintenance potted pets like succulents and air plants. 235B Mason Ave., Cape Charles, Virginia 23310; (757)331-2072; www.seagrassfloral.com

Ellen Moore Gallery

Ellen Moore runs a small gallery that sells paintings, prints, pottery, and jewelry by artists connected to the area. Ellen has a sophisticated eye and close ties with the artists. Many of them work at the gallery, making it a personal way to meet and talk to them about their creations. Some of our favorite works are by Marty BurgessRussell Jones, April Flory, and Jonathan Aumen. Collections rotate every couple of months, Ellen’s Facebook page will provide a glimpse into current exhibitions. Art-lovers will also discover several other galleries on the main strip like Stage Door Gallery and Willows Artisans223 Mason Ave, Cape Charles, Virginia 23310; (757)442-0833; www.ellenmooregallery.com

Windsor House

Windsor House is a restored Victorian era home off Route 13 that sells antiques, furniture, and local folk and fine art. The stars here though are Kurt and Sally Lewin’s handcrafted, authentic Windsor chairs. If timed correctly, visitors may be lucky enough to watch the furniture being constructed onsite in their workshop space, using traditional tools and methods from the 1700’s. Corner of Rte. 13 and Capeville Drive, Cape Charles, Virginia 23310; (757)331-4848;  www.facebook.com/windsorfolks

Activities

Cape Charles is situated between the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay on the southern tip of the Delmarva peninsula, making it an ideal destination for nature lovers.  Land lubbers can hike and bike while sea-goers can partake in paddling, swimming, fishing, and boating activities.

Cape Charles' public beach
Kiptopeke State Park's giant LOVE chairs is a public art project that plays off state motto 'Virginia is for Lovers'
WWII concrete ships loom on the horizon at Kiptopeke State Park
The beach behind Sunset Inn & Grille lies close to the Atlantic

Bay Beaches

Cape Charles has several beautiful bay beaches. Calm waters make it swim-friendly and is safer for children than the strong current on the Atlantic side. Since these beaches are close to where the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, you will find bluer, saltier, and clearer water than bay beaches further north. The beaches around town and barrier islands are also great place to hunt for sea glass.

  • Cape Charles Town Beach:  This popular, public beach is walking distance to the town’s shops and restaurants, with free parking and access along Bay Avenue. It has a good stretch of sand for swimming, sunbathing, and paddle boarding as well as a fishing pier and public restrooms at the southern end of the beach. During the off-season, expect to have this beach mostly to yourself. www.capecharlesbythebay.com/about
  • Kiptopeke State Park: This park is several located miles south of Cape Charles, off Route 13. It has a crescent, half-mile wide swimming beach with eerie World War II concrete ships in the distance. There is a fishing pier, kayak launch, and picnic area at the end of the beach by the parking lot. There is a $4 daily parking fee for those not already camping on the grounds. 3540 Kiptopeke Dr, Cape Charles, VA 23310; (757) 331-2267; www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/kiptopeke
  • Sunset Beach: This is the closest bay beach to the Atlantic, only a half-mile north from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Surrounded by ecologically protected lands, this beautiful beach is owned by Sunset Beach Inn and RV Resort, but visitors can use it if they patronize its beach-front restaurant, Sunset Grille. This lively café serves typical bar and beach grub, holds frequent beach parties, and features free musical entertainment on weekends (check the Facebook page for current listings). This is a great spot to people-watch, kick back with a drink, and admire the view. From town, drive south on Route 13 for 11 miles and turn right into the lot for the Sunset Beach Inn, just before the entrance to the bridge-tunnel. Follow the road behind the resort until you hit the parking lot for Sunset Grille and take the stairs down to the restaurant and beach. 32246 Lankford Hwy, Cape Charles, Virginia 23310; (757)331-4229; www.sunsetbeachresortva.com

Kayaking

Kayaking both the Atlantic and Chesapeake side is a great way to discover Cape Charles’ natural beauty up close. Kayaks rentals are available at the town’s marina, by The Oyster Farm at Kings Creek, and at Kiptopeke State Park. However, to get away from the crowds, we recommend taking a tour or renting from Southeast Expeditions. The guides are passionate about the outdoors and can show you special spots, deserted islands, and wildlife you may not find on your own. Tours for beginner and experienced paddlers include visits to the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge on the Atlantic side, Chatham Vineyards, the marshes of Folly Creek, and Kayak Clamming on Cherrystone Creek.

Southeast Expeditions is located on Route 13, 10 miles south of town by the Sunset Beach Resort. It is recommended to contact them ahead of time to schedule a tour or lesson, the company is also happy to deliver kayak rentals to you in town or anywhere along the Eastern Shore.  32218 Lankford Highway, Cape Charles, VA 23310; (757)331-2680; southeastexpeditions.com

Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP)

The calm waters of the Chesapeake create the perfect conditions for learning SUP. Rentals, tours, and lessons can be booked through Southeast Expeditions. It is recommended to contact them ahead of time to schedule a tour or lesson; the company is also happy to deliver boards to town. See the kayaking entry above for contact information.

A kayaking tour with Southeast Expeditions to Raccoon Island
Paddle boarding lessons at the Cape Charles town beach
Saltmarsh overlook at the Eastern Shore of VA National Wildlife Refuge
Birdwatching on a boating eco-tour around the Barrier Islands

Wildlife Parks

As one of the most important migration stop-overs on the East Coast, thousands of songbirds, butterflies, and raptors converge in the area on their long journey south. A couple of parks in the area have great spots to enjoy the outdoors and to view over 406 bird species that visit area. Kiptopeke State Park has numerous hiking and biking trails in the forest and along the bay (see “Beaches” entry above) .

On the Atlantic side, the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge near the tip of the peninsula has some easy trails that go through a variety of ecosystems that include woodland, shrub, and marsh (plus a World War II bunker). We recommend stopping at the serene and panoramic saltmarsh overlook on the Wildlife Trail. The refuge is also a gateway to the Barrier Islands, complete with boat ramps and kayak launches. 5003 Hallett Circle, Cape Charles, VA 23310; (757)331-2760; www.fws.gov/refuge/eastern_shore_of_virginia

Breezes Day Spa in Cape Charles

Spa Date at Breezes

Cape Charles nicest spa, Breezes, is an ideal place to unwind after a long day in the sun. Dutch owner, Marian, is a master esthetician and massage therapist who relocated to the Eastern Shore after running a salon outside the Washington, DC area. Breezes is a relaxing oasis that offers an extensive list of indulgent services like massages, facials, wraps, manicures, and pedicures. The recently expanded spa also sells an extensive assortment of resort clothing and skincare products. Make sure to call ahead to book an appointment. 7 Strawberry St, Cape Charles, VA 23310; (757) 331-3108; www.breezesdayspa.com

Day Trips
Cape Charles serves as a convenient home base for day trips along the Eastern Shore. Most of these attractions are within a one- to two-hour drive:

Events

There are many fun events that take place in the area, particularly from late spring through early autumn. Below are a few popular ones, visit Cape Charles by the Bay’s events section for a full calendar listing.

July 4th Parade through town (photo by M. Vargas)
The historic Palace Theatre is the main venue for performances (photo by Harbor for the Arts)

Tall Ships

In June, historic tall ships, skipjacks, sloops, and schooners grace Cape the Charles Town Harbor. Festival-goers may explore the decks and meet costumed crews and re-enactors. The event also features food, arts, and crafts vendors as well as live entertainment by local performers. www.tallshipscapecharles.com

4th July Celebration

The town holds an annual seafood festival and parades through town on Independence Day, ending with fireworks by the harbor at sundown. Embellished golf carts and children with decorated bicycles are encouraged to join the parade. www.facebook.com/capecharlestownharbor

Eastern Shore Birding and Wildlife Festival

Based in Cape Charles, this annual October festival is a great opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts to experience wildlife. The southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula is an important migratory bird stopover location along the Atlantic coast. Participants can attend keynote presentations, expert guided tours, boat trips, and nature hikes. www.esbirdingfestival.com

Experimental Film Virginia

This summer project gathers artists and dancers from all over the world to convene in the town and create short films inspired by the people and places of historic, small-town America. The group of 40-50 resident artists gather for an intensive two-week process that culminates in workshops and two public events: Art in a Barn and the Film Premiere. www.experimentalfilmvirginia.com

Resources

Discover more in our photo essay, “The Natural Beauty of Cape Charles”»

Lara Dalinsky
Lara Dalinsky

Lara was instilled with the travel bug at an early age and has visited over 25 countries. Her mother’s job as a flight attendant enabled a childhood of exploring the world. In addition to being the founding editor of En Route Traveler, Lara also works as the Art Director for the branding firm, Belmont Inc., in Alexandria, VA. In her spare time, she instructs high-energy Zumba dance classes, contributes as a Local Expert to AFAR, enjoys vegetarian cuisine, dabbles in photography and, of course, travels as much as possible. Lucky for her, her parents have retired in Cape Charles, a great place to visit and bring friends to escape city living.

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  1. Tammy Holloway
    Tammy HollowayJuly 25,14

    Lara,
    Thank you for capturing the beauty of the quaint life here in Cape Charles. We enjoy seeing the joy travelers find as they stop in Cape Charles in route to somewhere else and then LOVE watching them try and figure out how they can stay longer once they have found this gem!

    With most appreciative thanks for a story that really says it all!
    Tammy Holloway, Inn Keeper
    Bay Haven Inn of Cape Charles

    • Lara Dalinsky
      Lara DalinskyJuly 26,14

      Thanks Tammy! Cape Charles is definitely an undiscovered gem that reserves more recognition (but not too much, we like it quaint). Thanks for doing you part in helping discover its charm.

  2. Emily
    EmilyJuly 21,15

    Great info! We are visiting with family next month for the first time and with our 20 month old daughter. Any specific places we should be sure and visit that she would enjoy? And any specific beach locations that are excellent for some family pics?

    Thanks!
    Emily

    • Lara Dalinsky
      Lara DalinskyJuly 21,15

      Hi Emily, we highly recommend Shanty for lunch or dinner and Brown Dog for a family-friendly ice cream experience. The town beach (recently expanded with a lot more sand) is perfect for a picnic and walking distance to town. You could grab a prepared meal at The Hookup or stop at the grocery store to prepare your own lunch. Another place to eat or drink by the water is Sunset Beach. It’s about a 10-15 minute drive south of town behind the Sunset Beach Hotel. There’s a beach-side restaurant on the premise that has a large, casual deck for dining and the beach there is beautiful. You’ll find that the bay waters are much calmer for little ones! Keep us posted on your visit.