Why You Should Add Virginia’s Cape Charles to Your Go List

Set on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Cape Charles is still relatively unknown, even among those who’ve lived in the state most of their lives (ahem, me).

Cape Charles is nearly equidistant from coastal darlings Virginia Beach and Chincoteague. One hour south, Virginia Beach has its surfing waves and a three-mile boardwalk. To the north, Chincoteague is a 75-minute drive and is beyond famous for its wild ponies (though there are plenty of other things to do on Chincoteague Island too).

Escape to Cape Charles

So, what’s the deal with Cape Charles? Like, what’s there to see and do? So much.

Earlier this summer, we broke out the tent, sleeping bags, cots, grill and cooler for a four-night camping getaway at Cherrystone Family Camping Resort in Cape Charles. We (okay, me) were eager to get to know this little-known coastal town.

Thanks to my new-found interest in camping, I’m in all the camping groups on Facebook. Literally, all of them. Everyone in every group loves Cherrystone. They go camping there every year and can’t say enough good things. I had to check it out for myself.

Cape Charles is just over four hours from the Washington, DC area. There are two ways to get there and both take about the same amount of time.

Your first option is to go east, drive over the Bay Bridge in Maryland onto the 170-mile long Delmarva Peninsula. From here, continue south into Virginia and on to Cape Charles near the tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Alternatively, drive south to Virginia Beach. Here, take the 23-mile Chesapeake Bridge-Tunnel north to reach Virginia’s Eastern Shore. From here, it’s a short drive to Cape Charles.

Those who don’t like bridges typically opt for the tunnel route. However, there is a fairly hefty toll. As in, $18 one-way during peak season. If you return within 24 hours, the toll is $2 during peak season, but you must have E-ZPass to get the reduced rate.

We’re Here, Now What Do We Do?

You won’t find a bustling boardwalk or gram-worthy wild ponies in Cape Charles, but you will find a relaxing vacation destination well worth your time. While in town, here’s what you’ve absolutely got to do.

1. Spend the Day at the Beach.

To be clear, there are no surfing waves. Cape Charles is on the west side of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, on the Chesapeake Bay. The water is warm, the waves are gentle and you can walk 50 or more yards out into the bay and you’ll still only be in up to your knees.

The sand is also soft and perfect. The beaches here are absolutely ideal if you have toddlers and small children. There is a beach at Cherrystone, but there is also Cape Charles Beach. Both are beyond relaxing and safe for children.

2. Snap a Selfie with the LOVE Sign.

While you’re at Cape Charles Beach (which is steps away from the historic district, by the way), take a photo with the iconic LOVE sign that sits right on the beach.

Each letter of the LOVE sign reflects a different aspect of Cape Charles. The “L” is made of sea shells (beach life), the “O” is a tractor tire (agriculture), the “V” is made of two kayaks (water adventures) and the “E” features crab pots (fishing and crabbing).

3. Order a Scoop at Brown Dog Ice Cream.

Brown Dog Ice Cream sits right on the main drag in Cape Charles (Mason Avenue). Walk up to the window and order up a scoop of Vanilla Latte Chip or Muddy Paws. The flavors change fairly often, but you can’t go wrong with any of the unique flavors available each day.

If you meet anyone who’s been to Cape Charles, their first recommendation is always to go to Brown Dog Ice Cream. The scoop sizes are generous and the prices are reasonable. There’s no question that a cone makes the perfect after-dinner treat. For dinner, try The Shanty. This Cape Charles restaurant is right on the water at the marina.

4. Go Kayaking at Kiptopeke State Park.

Kiptopeke State Park in Cape Charles is beautiful. The white, sandy beach is a true delight, but this state park offers more than a good time at the beach. It’s a must to rent kayaks here to get up close to the concrete WWII “ghost ships” that sit one-quarter mile from shore.

Bring your own or rent a one- or two-person kayak to paddle out to the ships. One word of advice, however, is to watch the tides. It’s better to paddle at low tide when there is less water and the current is slower. The net-net is that the seas are calmer at low tide.

If you want to hike while at Kiptopeke State Park, there are a few miles of trails, but this park is more about exploring on water than on land. However, for the best hikes in Virginia, I hope you’ll check out my new website, Go Hike Virginia. Let me know what you think.

5. Savor a Spectacular Sunset.

Since Cape Charles is set on the west coast of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, the area is generally blessed with a colorful sunset every night. It’s truly fantastic.

Some say that the Cape Charles Marina is the best place to watch the sunset. However, I don’t think it matters where you watch the sunset. It’s honestly nice to see any sunset since Virginia is better known for sunrises being on the east coast.

6. Go Chicken Neck Crabbing.

The last time I tied a chicken neck to a string and dangled it from a dock to catch blue crabs was no joke more than 30 years ago. I’m definitely dating myself here but I was so happy to be able to do it again while in Cape Charles.

You need four things to go crabbing: a throw line, a crabbing net (one that’s long enough that you can scoop the crab up as it’s being pulled up through the water), a bucket and chicken necks (or gizzards) to use as bait.

Check the tides before you go crabbing for best results. The very best time to go crabbing is one to two hours on either side of high tide. We caught nearly two dozen crabs, then tossed them back in once we’d gotten our crabbing fix.

What Else Can We Do?

The great thing about Cherrystone Family Camping Resort is that you don’t need to leave if you really don’t want to do so. The campground is massive. There’s so much to do.

Even better, they have RV and tent sites, as well as cabins if you don’t have a tent or an RV. Here’s what you can do during a stay at Cherrystone.

1. Swim in the Swimming Pools

There are four swimming pools in one central outdoor pool complex. Feel free to bring a pool float or beach ball. One pool has zero-entry access with a mushroom waterfall fountain, while another pool has what they call a lazy river. Really, it’s just a donut-shaped pool.

The other two pools are basic rectangular pools. There is also an adults-only pool near the Bait and Tackle Shop but it was closed while we were there due to coronavirus restrictions.

2. Play Mini Golf.

Adjacent to the pool area is an 18-hole mini golf course. It’s free to play so feel free to putt around as much as you like for as many rounds as you like.

The mini golf course is next to a snack shack, so order up fruity sno-cones for everyone after a round of golf. Next to the snack shack is a huge general store with literally everything you might need for a camping vacation.

3. Join Campground Activities.

There are lots of socially-distant activities that take place each day at Cherrystone. We couldn’t find many that fit into our schedule, but we did play Bingo one night. We did not win (not one single game), but it was still fun.

The campground also hosts arts and crafts activities, cornhole tournaments and scavenger hunts. Not into organized activities? There are playgrounds and several jumping pillows.

4. Get Out on the Water.

Bring a beach chair and a float to Cherrystone Beach to relax in the bay waters. You can also rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards at the Bait and Tackle Shop. For a chill morning or afternoon, Cherrystone has pedal boats that you can take out for free on Lake Cherrystone.

5. Go Crabbing at the Pier.

I know, I know, I’ve already mentioned the crabbing, but it was so fun I had to mention it twice. There are four fishing piers at Cherrystone plus a Bait and Tackle shop with everything you need, so there’s no reason not to go crabbing.

When we arrived, we literally had no crabbing gear. Well, we had a bucket. Fortunately, the Bait and Tackle Shop came to the rescue. They had multiple throw lines and nets. Plus, chicken necks, of course. So, we geared up and walked outside to the pier to let the crabbing festivities begin.

Of course, at our campsite, we also did all the things you do on a camp-out. We chilled in hammocks, toasted s’mores and generally enjoyed summer breezes. I’m ready to go back.

I can’t speak more highly of Cape Charles. It was a really fun place to take the kids for a long weekend in the summer. Have you been to Cape Charles? Let me know in the comments section below. I’d love to hear any more suggestions or must-dos.