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Exploring Virginia's Chesapeake Bay
What you'll find in this article: trip planning advice, restaurant recommendations, hotels, driving directions, and other activities near Chesapeake Bay, Virginia Day 1: Richmond to Reedville My friend Sam and I land in Richmond just after noon and head northeast. The Northern Neck was named after its shape: It's a long, narrow peninsula that looks somewhat like a chicken's wobbly throat. Bordered by the Potomac River to the north, the Rappahannock River to the south, and Chesapeake Bay to the east, the Northern Neck has been well preserved, thanks to dedicated conservation. We cross over the Rappahannock on a simple two-lane bridge, leaving behind strip malls and tract houses for wide expanses of farmland. It feels as though we've traveled much farther than 50 miles from Richmond. Virginia is proud of its history, and vocal about it, too. Markers along the side of Route 3 declare it historyland highway. The Historic Christ Church, a 1735 Georgian church outside of Irvington, has a particularly interesting story. The man responsible for building it, Robert "King" Carter, was a busy guy, as we learn in a museum next door. Carter was a member of the House of Burgesses (Virginia's colonial assembly); acting Governor of Virginia; and ancestor of "three signers of the Declaration of Independence, two presidents, eight Virginia governors, a Supreme Court chief justice, and Robert E. Lee." The list grows every day; in fact, a guestbook asks if visitors are Carter descendants. An increasing number of people from Richmond and D.C. are buying second homes in the Northern Neck. To furnish them, they go to the antiques stores in the town of Kilmarnock. We arrive just before 5 p.m. and race to the Kilmarnock Antique Gallery before it shuts for the day. Gallery is an understatement. The large warehouse has dozens of stalls selling everything from costume jewelry to antique oyster plates. I pick up a set of 1950s anodized aluminum ice-cream cups for my mom. GrandView, our B&B for the night, is about 20 miles up the road. The large house sits on the Great Wicomico River, and water laps against sand in the backyard. Inside, an earnest but precariously cute aesthetic prevails. My bedside lamp is in the shape of a lighthouse, and a plaque on the wall reads a boat is a wood-lined hole in the water in which you pour money. The owners, Chris and Sandye Mills, bought the property in 1984 and spent weekends sleeping in an old Richmond city bus that came with the land. "Eventually we decided it was too cold in the winters and too hot in the summers," says Chris. So they ditched the bus and built a B&B in its place. After checking in, Sam and I play fetch on the beach with the Mills's enthusiastic mutt, Survivor. We go to dinner in Reedville. The town was founded in 1874, and it did well for itself thanks to a small, oily, bony fish called menhaden. (It's used in the manufacturing of everything from animal feed to lipstick to bread.) The catch made sea captains so wealthy that they built Edwardian-style mansions, many of which still line Main Street. At the Crazy Crab on Reedville's marina, I introduce Sam, a Connecticut Yankee, to the Southern goodness of hush puppies (deep-fried balls of seasoned cornmeal) while we sit on the deck and watch the sun set over the water. Our night ends at another marina, Great Wicomico, where we toast locals with $2 Buds at the Boathouse Lounge. Lodging GrandView B&B114 Riverside Ln., Reedville, 804/453-3890, from $80 Food Crazy CrabReedville Marina, Reedville, 804/453-6789, crab cake dinner $16 Boathouse LoungeGreat Wicomico Marina, Burgess, 804/453-3351 Activities Historic Christ Church420 Christ Church Rd., outside Irvington, 804/438-6855 Kilmarnock Antique Gallery144 School St., Kilmarnock, 800/497-0083 Resources Northern Neck Tourism Council800/393-6180, northernneck.org Day 2: Reedville to Kinsale After the B&B's breakfast of homemade coffee cake and scrambled eggs, we drive back into town to go to the Fishermen's Museum. Before this trip I'd never heard of the menhaden, and now I can't stop hearing about the bony little fish. We learn that they're still very much alive and swimming. "This is a success story!" crows the narrator of a video presentation about the menhaden fishing industry. A house at the museum was restored to reflect the daily life of an average 1900s local fisherman. Our docent, Bob Matthews, says he and his wife, Natalie, are originally from the Boston area. "We're come-heres," he says. It's clear from the looks on our faces that Sam and I don't understand, so Bob explains. "There are born-heres, come-heres, brought-heres (such as kids or spouses), and come-back-heres. Reedville, itself, is named after a come-here, Elijah Reed, a sea captain from Maine." After the tour, we don't have much time to linger--we've got a ferry to Tangier Island to catch. Two things make Tangier Island tick: soft-shell crabs and tourists. Three ferry services bring about 20,000 visitors each year to the self-proclaimed soft-shell capital of the world (quite a title for what's all of three square miles). A display between souvenir shops shows live crabs in tubs with placards explaining the industry. Fishermen set traps, keep an eye out for crabs about to molt--the edges of the paddle fins turn dark red--and place them in holding pens until they shed their shells. Once they're soft-shell crabs, they have to be removed immediately or their hard-shelled neighbors will eat them right up. The island has a days-gone-by charm: Clapboard houses with white-picket-fenced yards line the shore. Golf carts are the main vehicles used to get around, though locals drive them like they're sports cars. We hop on a cart waiting by the dock for a tour by Tangier Island native Sylvia Parks of Parks Tours, a guide for 31 years. "There aren't many secrets here," Sylvia says, lead-footing it around the narrow dirt roads. "Everyone knows everyone and everything." Locals don't even pretend they're not watching your every move. Later, as Sam pets a dog, two men on a golf cart pass by and, without stopping, shout, "The dog's name is Milli--as in Milli Vanilli." We have lunch at the Fisherman's Corner restaurant, run by three fishermen's wives. "They can be sure their catch is fresh," says the hostess. "It comes directly from their husbands, after all." I have my first-ever soft-shell crab sandwich. The two deep-fried crabs, wedged between slices of Wonder bread, look and taste as though they crawled straight from the bay into the fryer. Sam and I walk past crab traps on the piers and stop at a bulletin board. A handwritten sign reads $1 for 10 tangier island recipes, and there's a bucket for money tacked to the frame. (Aunt Nellie's Crabmeat Casserole and Mom's Coleslaw both require generous amounts of mayo.) The Reedville ferry, which usually makes only one trip a day to Tangier, departs soon. It's a 90-minute ride to the mainland, and we get back around 7 p.m. Since things close early on the Neck, we have to make good time to get to Kinsale, 45 minutes away, in time for dinner. Transportation Tangier Island FerryBuzzard's Point Marina, Reedville, 804/453-2628, tangiercruise.com, round trip $25 Food Fisherman's Corner4419 Long Bridge Rd., Tangier Island, 757/891-2900, soft-shell crab sandwich $9 Activities Parks ToursTangier Island, 757/891-2261, $5 Reedville Fishermen's Museum504 Main St., Reedville, 804/453-6529, $5 Day 3: Kinsale to Westmoreland Park Sam and I have signed up in advance for the 10 a.m. departure of a kayaking tour on the Potomac, at Westmoreland State Park. Our destination is Horsehead Cliffs, a section of the coast that used to be under a prehistoric sea. The area was popular with sharks, and the predators' fossilized teeth can be found in the sand. When we arrive at Fossil Beach, visitors are sifting the sand through screens and pocketing their discoveries. Park policy, surprisingly, is that you can keep whatever teeth you find--which would've been cool, if we'd found anything. Westmoreland Berry Farm, about 15 minutes away, has a similar keep-what-you-find policy. In addition to u-pick strawberry and blueberry patches, there's a petting zoo and barn with fruit preserves and berries for sale. Instead of picking, Sam and I opt for a tour around the property on the kiddie train, which is pulled by a tractor. Sam tries to bail mid-route, claiming his spine is going to snap from all the bumps, but by the time he's about to jump off the train, the eight-minute ride is already over. A slice of fresh-baked berry pie à la mode helps speed his recovery. On the other side of Westmoreland Park, Stratford Hall Plantation was home to several generations of Lees, the most famous being Robert E. At the visitors center, photographs and excerpts of the family's personal correspondence highlight the accomplishments of a litany of Lees, but the plantation history itself also grabs me. Stratford Hall was built after another house burned down, killing a servant. (The fire is believed to have been set by indentured servants.) We're staying the night on the property: Our simple guesthouse has Northern Neck ginger ale in the vending machine and a back patio overlooking the woods. Before the trip, I'd heard good things about the Driftwood, a restaurant in Coles Point, 25 miles away. I order the fried oysters and a chardonnay from a local vineyard, Ingleside. I'm rewarded on both counts. The wine is sharp and satisfying, and the lightly breaded oysters from the Chesapeake are salty and slick. After coffee, Sam and I retire to the back patio of the Stratford Hall guesthouse to stargaze. Good Eats Café is a gourmet restaurant in a former gas station outside Kinsale, and it's more great than good. Star lanterns hang in the windows, and bright ceramic suns are mounted on the yellow walls. Most of the decorations are souvenirs from regulars' travels. I understand why the place inspires such affection when I taste my dinner: pan-seared scallops and potatoes baked with rosemary and Parmesan. Sam has pork loin in Thai basil sauce with broccoli, pecans, and cranberries. We're so full that dessert is doomed. Lodging Stratford Hall Plantation483 Great House Rd., Stratford, 804/493-8038, stratfordhall.org, from $115, house tour $10 Food Driftwood StateRte. 612, Coles Point, 804/472-3892, oysters $19 Good Eats Cafe , 12720 Cople Hwy, 804/472-4385, goodeatscafe.net Activities Westmoreland State Park1650 State Park Rd., near Montross, 804/493-8821, car fee $4, two-hour tandem kayak tour $22 Westmoreland Berry Farm1235 Berry Farm Lane, Oak Grove, 804/224-9171, pie à la mode $2.50, train $1 Day 4: Westmoreland Park to Richmond We're the only ones at breakfast in the plantation's dining hall. It looks like a mess hall from summer camp, but the buttery biscuits, moist corn bread, and strawberry preserves, all made on the premises, are anything but camp quality. Maybe 11 a.m. is a little early for a wine tasting, but when we pass a turnoff for Ingleside Vineyards, in Oak Grove, I remember last night's chardonnay and decide to go for it. During a tasting of eight varietals, our guide explains that Virginia's conditions are ideal for grape cultivation. The Petit Verdot grapes thrive more on the Northern Neck than in either California or France. Even the vineyards in Virginia can claim historical significance. During the Civil War, Union soldiers used Ingleside's property as a fort. At the winery museum, displays show how the local roadways follow routes of old Native American trails. My wine buzz wears off around the same time I read about how Pocahontas was supposedly kidnapped from this very area. On our way to Richmond, we stop at Goolrick's Pharmacy in Fredericksburg. The decor hasn't changed much since the '40s. Aluminum stools are lined up along a Formica counter, and vintage Coca-Cola signs hang on the walls. The menu hasn't changed either: The soda fountain has always served rich milk shakes in only one size (large). Sam orders a large coffee shake. I ask for a small nonfat vanilla. Sam sighs, and the waitress looks at me blankly. I quickly amend my order to a large chocolate. In these parts, tradition is to be respected. Food Goolrick's Pharmacy901 Caroline St., Fredericksburg, 540/373-9878, milk shake $3.50 Activities Ingleside Vineyards5872 Leedstown Rd., Oak Grove, 804/224-8687, wine tasting $2.50 Finding your way The Northern Neck is a seasonal destination: Many restaurants and services have reduced hours or close completely October through April, so call ahead before visiting. The ferry from Reedville to Tangier Island begins its summer service May 15. As for the driving, the main roads around the Northern Neck are Routes 3, 200, and 360. The best scenery, however, is on the side roads, such as Routes 649, 644, and 657--all in the tip of the Neck around Reedville. You can pick up free detailed maps of the area at the Crazy Crab in Reedville and many other local businesses.
No plans for Labor Day?
It's not too late to squeeze in a summer getaway! One place to start is Travelzoo.com's grab bag of Labor Day discounts, everything from an oceanfront suite in Myrtle Beach ($79) to an air/hotel package for Bermuda ($499). Other great resources are the aptly named websites Lastminute.com, formerly Site59.com, and 11thhourvacations.com. For ideas on where to go, try our special section devoted to long weekends and our list of favorite road trips like the Colorado Rockies and Virginia's Northern Neck. If you are heading south in Virginia on September 1, you might want to make the laid-back town of Irvington part of your itinerary. Read These Grapes Are Made for Stomping. Related: A new road trip planning tool. Photo: A statue of boys having some last summer fun, snapped by Ray, Flickr/Creative Commons. It's of a bridge in Singapore -- by the Fullerton Hotel.
More Places to go
Middlesex County is a county located on the Middle Peninsula in the U.S. state of Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 10,959. Its county seat is Saluda.
St. Marys County
St. Mary's County, established in 1637, is a county located in the U.S. state of Maryland. As of the 2010 census, the population was 105,151. Its county seat is Leonardtown. The name is in honor of Mary, the mother of Jesus.St. Mary's County comprises the California-Lexington Park, Maryland Metropolitan Statistical Area, which also is included in the Washington-Baltimore-Arlington, DC-MD-VA-WV-PA Combined Statistical Area. It is part of the Southern Maryland region. The county was the home to the first Maryland Colony, and the first capitol of the Colony of Maryland. Settled by English Catholics, it is considered to be the birthplace of religious freedom in North America, at a time when the British colonies were settled primarily by Protestants.The county is home to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station and St. Mary's College of Maryland. Traditionally, St. Mary's County has been known for its unique and historic culture of Chesapeake Bay tidewater farming, fishing, and crabbing communities. But with the advent of the military bases, growth of an extensive defense contractor presence, and the growth of St. Mary's College of Maryland, as well as increasing numbers of long-distance Washington, D.C. commuters, it has been undergoing a decades-long transformation which has seen the county's population double since 1970.
Mathews County is a county located in the U.S. state of Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 8,978. Its county seat is Mathews.Located on the Middle Peninsula, Mathews County is included in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC Metropolitan Statistical Area.
The Eastern Shore of Virginia consists of two counties (Accomack and Northampton) on the Atlantic coast detached from the mainland of the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States. The 70-mile-long (110 km) region is part of the Delmarva Peninsula and is separated from the rest of Virginia by the Chesapeake Bay. Its population was 45,553 as of 2010.The terrain is overall very flat, ranging from sea level to just 50 feet (15 m) above sea level. It is characterized by sandy and deep soil. The weather in the area has temperate summers and winters, significantly affected by the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The rural area has long been devoted to cotton, soybean, vegetable and truck farming, and large-scale chicken farms. Since the late 20th century, vineyards have been developed in both counties, and the Eastern Shore has received recognition as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). The region has more than 78,000 acres of preserved parks, refuges, preserves and a national seashore and is a popular outdoor recreation destination for fishing, boating, hiking and kayaking. It is also an important birding hotspot along the Atlantic Flyway at the southernmost tip of the Delmarva Peninsula. There are public beaches at Cape Charles, Kiptopeke State Park, Savage Neck Dunes Natural Area Preserve, Tangier Island and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge abutting the Assateague Island National Seashore. The area includes 70 miles of barrier islands, the longest chain of undeveloped barrier islands in the global temperate zone and a United Nations International Biosphere Reserve. At the northern end of the Atlantic side is the beach community of Chincoteague, famous for its annual wild pony roundup, gathered from Assateague Island. Wallops Flight Facility, a NASA space launch base, is located near Chincoteague. At the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay coast, the beach community of Cape Charles, a historic railroad town, is home to the Cape Charles Yacht Center, a super yacht service center. The town of Wachapreague on the Atlantic coast is a popular destination for fishing and guided trips out to the wild barrier islands. Onancock, a harbor town on the Chesapeake Bay, has a ferry service to Tangier Island, off the western shore in the Chesapeake Bay, during spring, summer and fall. The Eastern Shore, geographically removed from the rest of Virginia, has had a unique history of settlement and development influenced by agriculture, fishing, tourism, and the Pennsylvania Railroad. William G. Thomas describes the Eastern Shore during the late 19th and early 20th century as "a highly complex and interdependent landscape". He continues: It was a liminal place, a zone of interpenetration, where the settlement patterns, speech, demography, and political outcomes defined its place in the South but its engagement with technology and rapid transformation of the landscape betrayed other allegiances, motives, forces, and effects. The 17.6-mile-long (28.3 km) Chesapeake Bay Bridge–Tunnel, which is part of U.S. Route 13, spans the mouth of the Bay and connects the Eastern Shore to South Hampton Roads and the rest of Virginia. Before the Chesapeake Bay Bridge–Tunnel was built in 1964, the Little Creek-Cape Charles Ferry provided the continuation of U.S. 13 across this stretch of water.