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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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 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
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.
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
La Mer Design
Business partners Nicole Smith and Tammy Van Clief combined their experience in event planning and interior design to create a chic boutique in the heart of town. This beautifully renovated space is covered in white, wooden panels and decorated like a funky French vintage beach cottage – a perfect mix of formal and casual. Shoppers will find an array of unique merchandise and gifts that range from scarves and jewelry to larger-ticket items like furniture and fine art. 215 Mason Ave., Cape Charles, Virginia 23310; (757)331-2072, www.facebook.com/pages/La-Mer-Design/588225607863975
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 Burgess, Russell 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 Artisans. 223 Mason Ave, Cape Charles, Virginia 23310; (757)442-0833; www.ellenmooregallery.com
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, and tees decorated with the store’s mascot—a mustachioed Boston Terrier. 235B Mason Avenue, Cape Charles, VA 23310; (757)331-0483; www.facebook.com/CapeChuck
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
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 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 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, King’s Creek Marina (near Aqua restaurant), 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.
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
Spa Date at Breezes
Cape Charles nicest spa, Breezes, is a great place to unwind after a long day in the sun. Dutch owner, Marian, is a master esthetician and massage therapist who relocated to the area after running a salon outside the Washington, DC area. Breezes is a relaxing oasis in the middle of town that offers an extensive list of indulgent services like massages, facials, wraps, manicures, and pedicures. Make sure to call ahead to book an appointment and visit Marian’s beach boutique, The Boardwalk, a couple of doors down. 321 Mason Ave., Cape Charles, VA 23310; (757) 331-3108; www.breezesdayspa.com
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.
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
Harbor for the Arts
This festival usually takes place in August. Cape Charles has a grant with the National Endowment for the Arts that partners it with a non-profit art organization, transforming public spaces into lively places of art. Artists from all over the globe take residence in the town for two weeks to collaborate, create, share their work and offer public workshops in dance, film, drawing, and theater. www.harborforthearts.com
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
- Cape Charles by the Bay: www.capecharlesbythebay.com
- Cape Charles Business Association Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/CapeCharlesBusinessAssociation
- Cape Charles Wave Newspaper: capecharleswave.com
- Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism: www.esvatourism.org
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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