A Perfect One-Day Itinerary for Chincoteague Virginia

I went to Chincoteague VA for the first time in 2010.  I was a new Virginia resident, excited to explore the state and to search for wild ponies.  I hadn’t been back since, mainly because I did things the wrong way the first time.

You see, I spent all my time at the beach.  I popped into a few souvenir shops and I walked through the exhibits at NASA’s Wallops Island, but I didn’t bother to do any sightDOING.  My day trip to Chincoteague Island was good, not great.

Fast forward six years — exactly six years, based on my Facebook memories — and I returned to Chincoteague for two nights as a “do-over”.  And sure enough, when I sprinkled in more than the beach, I found Chincoteague was quite special.

How to Spend One Day in Chincoteague

Breakfast in Chincoteague

When I’m on vacation, I waffle between indulgent and healthy.  On a hot summer’s day, I went straight for indulgent.  Order a “chincochino” (basically a caramel frappucino) and pastry for breakfast from the Main Street Shop.  Take it to go and eat at the Robert Reed Waterfront Park while watching boats go by.

at the Robert Reed Waterfront Park chincoteague va
Right in Downtown Chincoteague

TIP: If you’re up early, like I was after a 5am rocket launch (!), grab breakfast at Mr. Baldy’s as early as 6am.  It’s standard breakfast fare, but as far as I could tell, it was the only place open that early.

Look for Wild Ponies in Chincoteague!

It’s pretty easy to spot ponies in Chincoteague, but a lot harder to see them up close.  That’s how Captain Dan’s tours add value.  You’ll head out by boat and go around the island, looking primarily for wild ponies.  You might also see dolphins, herons, egrets, ibises, and other wildlife if you’re lucky.

ponies chincoteague va
Chincoteague ponies

TIP: You can see ponies all day long, but if you go in summer, take the first morning trip just to avoid the strong sun!  No matter when, I recommend packing a pair of binoculars.  My favorites are Nikon Trailblazers, a good balance between quality and price.

Have a Picnic Lunch

There aren’t a ton of good restaurants in Chincoteague, so I was thrilled to see some food trucks in town.  I ate at two during my visit, and The Farmer’s Daughter was my favorite.

Pick up a sandwich — like soft-shell crab stuffed with blue crab — and eat it on site while playing cornhole or pack it up to go for a picnic on your afternoon adventure.  

Don’t worry, non-seafood lovers can find Mom’s meatloaf or jerk chicken sandwiches.

chincoteague food trucks
Grab a bite and eat outside!

Create Your Own Adventure

Ready for some sightDOING?  Pick up a rental bike from the Refuge Inn and make sure your backpack is loaded with lunch, water, sunscreen, a beach towel, and other must-have beach items.

From there, it’s just up the street to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and Assateague Island National Seashore.  Bikers can enter free (otherwise, pack your America the Beautiful pass).

bike chincoteague va
My cruiser in Chincoteague!

If you want to hike to the lighthouse, do that first, since it closes early.  Otherwise, the main road through the park — the Wildlife Loop — is an easy bike ride that leads to a short walking trail to hit the beach.  This is your chance to enjoy the ocean.  The waves here are fun, but other than that, it’s no frills.

assateague beach chincoteague
Assateague National Seashore (on the Virginia side)

On the way out, take a detour down the Black Duck Trail to the Woodland Trail.  The highlight here is a short hike to an observation platform to see the ponies, who are often in the distance.

TIP: Do yourself a favor and bring bug spray for the woodland trail.  Since malaria and zika aren’t an issue in Virginia, DEET isn’t necessary and I love chemical-free Bugs Be Gone.  On a budget?  You can make your own mosquito repellant by combining witch hazel, citronella, and eucalyptus oil.  Shake before every use.

All in all, the hiking and biking is just enough activity to be interesting but it’s not so hard you can’t finish.  Seriously, I bet you can do it.

Choose Dessert First

Uh, it’s vacation.  No one will judge if you eat ice cream before dinner.  There’s a little bit of a friendly rivalry in town, with the Island Creamery serving up homemade scoops and Mister Whippy offering soft serves.  The winner is more a matter of preference, in my opinion.

I chose Island Creamery and ventured beyond my normal flavor profile.  The choice of the day?  Birthday cake: cake batter ice cream with buttercream swirl and rainbow sprinkle.  The first three bites were great and then I settled into a state of hyperglycemia.  Holy sugar!  What was I thinking?

Birthday cake ice cream at the Chincoteague Island Creamery
Birthday cake ice cream at the Chincoteague Island Creamery

TIP: Lines get long at Island Creamery, but in general, are shorter in the afternoons compared to evenings.  Another great reason to eat dessert first!

Eat Some Chincoteague Salts

I know you’re not hungry after that ice cream, so we’ll keep dinner light.  When you’re in Chincoteague, you have to try the local oysters.

chincoteague salts bills seafood
I love oysters, but a half dozen Chincoteague Salts is enough because of their intense flavor.

“Chincoteague Salts” are one of Virginia’s 8 distinct oyster regions and are named for their bold briny flavor.  You can get them straight from the watermen if you ask around, but it’s a pain in the butt to shuck them.  Order a plate at Bill’s Prime Seafood and Steaks to keep things simple.

TIP: Now, here’s the problem with Chincoteague.  Everything closes early.  Bill’s is actually one of the restaurants open the latest, to a whopping 9pm.  If you’re the type of person who likes to eat late and linger over a glass of wine, book yourself a condo with a kitchen.

Drop Everything and Make Sure You’re Outside at Sunset

Because let’s face it, Chincoteague is the best kind of magic.

sunset
Not photoshopped. That’s a real sunset.

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Chincoteague is at the far northern end of Virginia’s Eastern Shore and in my opinion, two days is just about right.  Longer stays are viable if you’re planning on day-tripping to Saxis, mid-peninsula destinations like Onancock or Wachapreague, or the Maryland-side of Assateague.  Or if you just like being on island time ๐Ÿ™‚

I stayed at the Island Motor Inn Resort, which hasn’t been re-decorated since the 1980s, but has great waterfront views from their balconies or the communal pier.  Bonus points for being walking distance to town and offering a pool, grilling area, and laundry facilities.

Not sure that Chincoteague is for you?  Get a feel for the other cities along the Eastern Shore and choose the one that’s best for you.

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

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This year’s trip to Chincoteague was graciously hosted by the Eastern Shore of Virginia, who was insistent that I needed to see what I missed during my first visit.  

29 thoughts on “A Perfect One-Day Itinerary for Chincoteague Virginia”

  1. AHH, I want to spend a few days here so badly. My parents took us once, but we ended up cutting the vacation short (I think we were the one day of a three day trip) because we got sick, so I don’t remember much except the house we were staying in ๐Ÿ™‚ One thing on my bucket list is to visit Chincoteague for the pony swim one year!

  2. Really idyllic spot and you captured it really well with your shots. I thought the ice-cream looked good but then the oysters… Wow! Great stuff Becky

    1. @Claire, I like beach days, but if that’s all I want, I usually choose the closest place. Chincoteague is worth a visit, regardless of how long the drive.

  3. I have been going down there several times a year for 15 yrs. The whole Island is great to just explore little off the beat places to walk around on path’s for different flower. And if you are lucky enough to be there when the oldest house on the island is open there is a great story behind the house and they have someone telling the story. The house itself is really nice to see the inside very small but nice to see. It’s called the Captain Timothy Hill House.

  4. We camped in the Virginia’ and other eastern States a few years back, missed Chincoteague. A great article and inspiration to return in the near future. Looks wonderful! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Aghhh loved this post! I grew up in RVA but never made it out here until just a few weeks ago! It had been a dream and I was roadtripping and made it happen. It really didn’t disappoint and man are you on point about the bug situation there lol. We got eaten alive!

    Speaking of Chincoteague, I have a speeding ticket I must pay from there today ๐Ÿ™

  6. I’ve had a home on CI for 18 yrs. It’s nice to see an article like this to be reminded of what we sometimes take for granted.

  7. My first trip to chincoteague was in 1963 as a 10 year old. I’m now 65 and haven’t missed a summer yet. The folks almost take me as a local. It has attractions for all ages and it’s super laid back atmosphere is addicting..

  8. I have been going to Chincoteague, Va for 21 years now to the Pony Penning. Also go to the Seafood Festival, Oyster Festival and for Thanksgiving. Love there and they also have a carnival starting the end of June through Pony Penning. My 2nd home for sure

  9. My husband, 4 kids and I have been visiting here
    for the past 27 years. It is such a wonderful place to get away and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere and the natural beauty of the island. Love love love it there!!!

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