After several exciting days in Virginia Beach, I ventured over the 17-mile Chesapeake Bridge/Tunnel to the rural, coastal Eastern Shore, which sits between the Atlantic Ocean and The Chesapeake Bay. Right from the bridge, a sense of tranquility pervades from the endless water views and natural environment.
Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge has 1,200 protected acres and is found on the most Southern point. I went straight to the visitor center and learned about the bird migration to nearby Fisherman Island. Located at the tip of the Delmarva Peninsula (where Delaware touches Maryland and Maryland hits Virginia), this is one of the most important avian migration stopovers in all of North America.
It is so predictable that there is a festival in its honor every October when millions of colorful birds and orange Monarch butterflies form a kaleidoscope of color as they stop here on their way to the tropics. Protected habitats like this one provide important rest and feeding areas for birds and butterflies during their difficult and tiring journey. Guided tours of Fisherman Island are available Saturdays from October through March and reservations are mandatory.
At nearby pet-friendly Kiptopeke State Park, I toured the deserted beach (except for shore birds) and wished I had time to hike or bike on the four miles of nature trails. There are five 6-bedroom lodges available to rent in the park by the week (great for family reunions), many tent spots, and a unique yurt overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. Virginia has 35 state parks, so you can say Virginia is all about getting outside and enjoying nature!
Chatham Vineyards is about an hour north and sits on a slice of heaven. The original Federal-period brick house was built in 1818 and named after William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham and friend of the American Revolution. Chatham Farm overlooks Church Creek, which is also the name of their award-winning wines. You can go kayaking with South East Expeditions right from their waterway for a fun pairing of wine tasting and paddling!
Near the southern end of the Eastern Shore is Cape Charles Beach, loved by families for its clean, shallow waters and pristine white sand. It is at the end of historic Mason Street. The quaint town is great for exploring the artsy shops, Cape Charles Coffee House, and popular Kelly’s Pub, formerly a bank, complete with old brick walls and a blasted out vault!
Several well known businesses have been founded and remain here, inspired by the beauty that surrounds, such as Eastern Shore Coastal Roasting Company. Founded by Kristin and Jamie Willis, they offer locally roasted coffee products, one of which is named “Zoe’s Decaf” after their three-legged ASPCA Rescue Pooch. I tried the cold brewed coarse ground Sumatra called Marsh Mud. I was thrilled with the smoothness and ingenuity of this product. And it lasts for two weeks in the fridge!
Blue Crab Bay Company is another. It was started in Pamela Barefoot’s kitchen with some clam dip made from Chesapeake Bay seasoning and grew into a multimillion dollar business. The Bloody Mary mix is made with local clam juice and horseradish, and sports a blue and white map of the Eastern Shore. The Eastern Shore provides an abundance of shellfish because it sits on the largest estuary in North America. The clams and oysters are particularly known for their small size and sweet flavor.
Virginia’s Eastern Shore is 70 miles from tip to tip along Route 13. Next time I want to explore all of it, making my way up to the most Northern part to see the wild ponies of Chincoteague, made famous by Marguerite Henry’s books. This is one of the countless adventures to be found here on beautiful, coastal and rural Eastern Shore of Virginia.