Shhh…Don’t Share My Secret

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If I had the money for a beach house, the first place I’d look is Cape Charles VA.

That’s something I never thought I’d say about a town that’s only ten blocks long.  You can bike from the harbor on the far edge of town to the beach in under 10 minutes.  How could that possibly be enough to keep me from going stir crazy?

Cape Charles VA: A town that's frozen in time. Find out what to love about this city and nature on Virginia's Eastern Shore.
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Just north of Virginia Beach on the southern end of the Eastern Shore is Cape Charles.  Before I went, I thought it was the type of town for a quiet retreat.  You can fish, kayak, and eat oysters without a crowd at the beach.  That’s lovely, I guess, but only for a weekend.  So what is it about Cape Charles that made me want to return over and over?

cape charles va love signWelcome to Cape Charles VA, a place I quickly fell in love with.

This small town created an instant connection, as if I’d been going there all my life.  I felt transported to the Finger Lakes, another of my favorite places.  Despite being hundreds of miles apart, they’re both seasonal destinations with small towns, a focus on nature and the arts, and unmatched hospitality.

It’s a town where people still work to live, instead of the other way around.  There are no apologies when shopkeepers post a sign in the window that they’re closed that day to watch their daughter’s summer camp recital.

One restaurant turned me away because they were closing soon and said I’d be disappointed if they rushed my meal.  “Try Kelly’s tonight and come back to us tomorrow.”  (I did, and both meals were fabulous.)

This is what life used to be like, before the rat race of corporate offices and scrambling to everything, all the time.  Cape Charles focuses on what’s important in life and makes no apologies to anyone else.

sunset sail in cape charles vaSunset sail in Cape Charles VA

Not all small towns succeed at letting you temporarily join the community, but even with just two nights, I was invited to see one local’s garden, have breakfast at another’s home, and grab drinks with yet another.  Whether I buy a house there or not, Cape Charles was my home for two nights.

Good thing, too, because a beach house is NOT in my budget.

Even with two nights and a town that’s only ten blocks long, I didn’t see it all.  I spent too much time bopping into shops and galleries and talking to the owners — I still haven’t decided whether or not I want that $70 fish leather bracelet.  It’s too easy to be distracted by a town frozen in time.

cape charles va gallery
My favorite gallery in Cape Charles VA. The photography — featuring local scenes — grabbed my attention every time I walked by.

If you’re looking for sightDOING, you’ll find it.  Try making wooden chairs at the Windsor House on the Eastern Shore Artisan Trail.  Rent a bike to burn off the calories from a double scoop at Brown Dog Ice Cream (best I’ve ever had).  Stop by the harbor and ask to go crabbing with one of the watermen.  They’ll work you hard at 4am, but you’ll learn a lot.


In-between chatting with locals at a pharmacy soda counter or on a rocking chair in front of the hardware store, I found more to do than I had time for.  The absolute highlight was Savage Neck Dunes, about twenty minutes north.

The destination is a wild beach, inaccessible by road.  Walking through maritime forest was a first for me.  There was no one else around, except for some turtles and a rabbit, and dozens of birds. It’s one of those places where you’re not quite sure if you like the journey or the end result better.

savage neck dunes cape charles va
On the trail to Savage Neck Dunes (near Cape Charles VA)

I never even had time to go to Kiptopeke State Park. I didn’t sweat it at the time, but as soon as I got back, my cousin said I missed one of the best parts of Cape Charles.  I have to go back, which doesn’t upset me at all.

Cape Charles is not for everyone and maybe that’s why I like it.  You can’t be all things to all people and they don’t try.  If it matches your personality, you’ll be instant friends with all the locals and all the visitors.

If it doesn’t mesh with you, head north through Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  There are a dozen other towns, one of which is sure to please you.

If you go to Cape Charles VA…

Cape Charles is easily accessible from Norfolk airport (just over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel; watch out for those tolls!), but it’s also a great addition to other east coast vacations, like if you come say hi to me in Richmond or if you spent some time in Washington D.C.

waterfront restaurant cape charles vaWaterfront restaurants in Cape Charles VA.

Where to Eat in Cape Charles:

  • The Oyster Farma great little seafood restaurant just outside the main town area.  If you like oysters, do a side-by-side tasting of the day’s freshest bay-side (Chesapeake) vs sea-side (Atlantic) varieties.
  • Hook-U-Up GourmetThe outside looks pretty casual, but the food is amazingly well done.  I love how it’s run by a husband and wife team, like so many businesses in Cape Charles.  Come hungry.
  • Rayfield’s PharmacyThe food’s basic, but the soda fountain atmosphere is awesome.  Even after my short visit, I was running into people I met there and having great chats over a cup of coffee.  Try the sweet potato pancakes.
  • Cape Charles Coffee HouseBest place for breakfast in town and the inside of the cafe is beautiful.  Be careful over the syrupy lattes if that’s not your thing (but I loved the loose leaf tea).
  • Brown Dog Ice CreamI mentioned it was the best I’ve ever had, right?
  • The ShantyThis is Virginia, so summer is hot and you’ll need a place for an ice cold drink.  This is the spot, with great harbor views and casual food if you want something to eat at the same time.

If you’re planning a trip to the Eastern Shore, check out my other stories!

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I’m not sure if I love or hate Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism for hosting me in Cape Charles.  On the bright side, I fell in love with this bayside town.  On the other hand, now I’m tempted to return every weekend and I just can’t afford that beach house yet.  Drats!

37 thoughts on “Shhh…Don’t Share My Secret”

  1. Had a nice time joining you on that sunset cruise with Capt. David Lee of Cape Charles Boat Tour Co. Was a great opportunity for us to talk about The Nature Conservancy’s restoration work on the Shore!

    1. Thanks for the shout out, Margaret! We always enjoy showing first time visitors why we love the area. We’ve had some requests for our web address so here it is –

  2. Sounds quite like a little home away from home! 🙂 This would be a fun weekend trip for us since we live in VABeach so thanks for the round up of places to go and eat. The personalities of the locals and atmosphere is definitely appealing; I love people who are authentic and you can just jump into any conversation with.

    1. @Ruth, I wish I was as close as you – it would be great to pop over a few times a year to check out the different seasons. Hope you carve out some time to visit soon (I know that life gets busy!)

  3. We’ve been going to CC since before its revitalization and it was awesome even back then. It’s a great spot to find sea glass and the beach is perfect for kids as there are very small (if any) waves and the fact that you can walk out so far in the water and it only come up to your mid-thigh! We spend 4 to 5 days on the ES of VA every year and we find new things to do every year! Have you been to Chincoteague? It’s awesome too!

    1. @Jennifer, Wish I had seen Cape Charles 10 years ago, but I wasn’t even living in Virginia then. I didn’t see any sea glass in Cape Charles, but I found a ton farther north on the eastern shore. I was in Chincoteague for 2 nights — more stories about it still coming.

    1. @Laura, You’re so sweet! I’m trying to get my husband to commit to a fall weekend with me on the shore. (P.S. Let me know if you’re in Richmond ever!)

  4. Great article about my hometown. Please come see us at the Eastern Shore of Virginia Wildlife Refuge just past the Bridge Tunnel, next to Kiptopeke Stat park.

  5. We first came to Cape Charles in August of 2006 and promptly fell in love with the town. In Feb of 2009 we closed on our house on Tazewell Ave. We are done moving. They will take me out of this house in a box.

  6. Christina Tyler

    I live on the Eastern shore of VA and am so glad you enjoyed your trip. Having been born and raised here I recently moved back. Yall come on over and we will welcome you with hugs and supper

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