Chincoteague – A Nearby Island Treat

26 May
May 26, 2011

There is no shortage of vacation spots for Washington, D.C. natives to frequent in the summer. From the dunes of North Carolina’s Outer Banks to the cape off Massachusetts, the entire Eastern Seaboard doubles as a vacation spot.

Most of the best beach locales, though, are at least five hours away.  What if you want something closer to home, a drive that’s short enough for a long weekend trip, but far enough away that you feel like you’ve left the hustle, bustle and humidity of the metro area behind?

For those looking for that balance, Chincoteague, Virginia provides an excellent destination to relax and unwind, without the massive influx of summer vacationers.

Just 180 miles away from Washington, D.C., Chincoteague is a small town on Chincoteague Island, one of Virginia’s hidden treasures. The island is just 37 square miles and with fewer than 5,000 permanent residents it feels cozy and small.

Because of the small population, the town has never been overdeveloped. There are no buildings higher than four stories. There are no malls or movie theaters, and there are very few chains. It’s something rarely experienced on the East Coast, a treat in its own right.

To get to Chincoteague, one must actually head through Maryland. Leaving Washington, DC, take Route 50 out of the city and cross the Bay Bridge. From there, Route 50 goes down the peninsula and crosses back into the Old Dominion. After that, simply turn on Chincoteague Road, which takes you over Horntown and Shelly Bays and on to the island.

There are several hotels on the island, including a Best Western and a Quality Inn. There are also a number of houses available to rent, which have prices much lower than their counterparts at other, more popular beaches.

If you’re looking to lounge on the beach, you’ll want to head to Assateague Island. Just a few miles down the road, Assateague shields Chincoteague from the Atlantic, and is the island’s only access to the ocean. It’s a federal park, and a day pass costs $8 per car. The sandy beach stretches for miles and there are trails throughout the island for running and biking.

While on the island, be sure to keep an eye open for ponies. The Chincoteague ponies are some of the most famous horses in the world. Supposedly descendants of a wrecked Spanish ship, the ponies have lived on the island in seclusion for over 300 years.

To keep the population under control, yearly, on the last Wednesday of July, the island holds one of America’s most famous events.

The ponies are herded to the edge of Assateague and pointed toward Chincoteague. Once there, they jump in the Bay and swim to the other side of the island.  Some of the ponies are auctioned off, with a portion of the money going to charity. The remaining ponies are taken back to the island to continue living and breeding.

If you aren’t able to make it to the island in July for the pony crossing, Chincoteague still offers plenty to do. While it’s enjoyable to just sit and relax, there are a number of local restaurants to head to for dinner. A.J.’s on the Creek offers upscale American dining, and is a great option if you’d like to splurge for a “fancy” dinner on your trip.

Then, after a meal, or on your way out of town, be sure to check out the Island Creamery, an old-style ice cream parlor. They cook their waffle cones right in front of you, pulling them off a waffle iron, rolling them up and filling them with homemade ice cream while they are still warm.

It’s a slow-paced treat in a fast-paced world, just like Chincoteague Island, the perfect place for a calm summer vacation.

-David

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