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Somewhere on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, there’s an inlet with incredible views of the waterfront over humongous dunes. Another beach is one of the best places on the entire east coast to collect sea glass. There are gardens home to migrating monarch butterflies if you know when to be here. And when you’re sick of crabs and clams for dinner, you can buy fresh lobster fresh off the boat — but only if you know who to ask for.
Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to find these secret places on the Eastern Shore and to discover what makes this unassuming peninsula such a delight.
Learning the secrets takes a certain kind of waltz. If you dive in with blunt questions, you’ll be disregarded entirely. You have to introduce yourself while you’re waiting in line at the coffeeshop. You have to talk to gallery owners about the stories behind their art. And — no shame — you have to eavesdrop at the diner counter.
The best nuggets of information are the ones you don’t seek out. You’ll only find out which restaurant has blow toads this week (or even what blow toads are) when you freely offer information on where you bought freshwater pearl earrings just north of there. You’ll get an invitation to a locals-only hangout spot when you rave over last night’s music at the former McDonald’s.
Forget google, social media, and guidebooks. Put down the phone already. The discoveries come when you actually talk to people and share information the old-fashioned way.
Some secrets are heavily guarded to make sure tourism doesn’t change this beloved area too much, too fast. Other secrets are just deemed so normal by locals that they don’t realize out-of-towners think neighborhood oyster roasts are a novel treat.
I’ve been entrusted with the locations of hole-in-the-wall restaurants, live music, how to access the old coast guard lighthouse, and which barrier islands have the best shells. But my lips are sealed and it’s for your benefit.
You see, one of the other secrets that the Eastern Shore doesn’t share with you is that it’s the act of making the discovery that is so special. It’s the journey, the search, the scavenger hunt that will make you fall in love.
If I just wrote down business names and addresses, you’d feel like you were in any other small town in any other state. You’d come back and email me and say, “I don’t get it. The seafood was fresh and the scenery is nice, but why do you keep going back?”
So in-between kayaking to vineyards and searching for wild ponies, clear your schedule to start wandering. It’s how I found the most-delicious cookies laced with pine nuts at a holiday pop-up stand (then I was the one sharing my discovery with locals rather than the other way around!). Pop into local galleries and bars and take the time to make connections. Choose your own adventure.
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Although I won’t give away the secrets of the Eastern Shore, I wouldn’t be a good travel blogger if I didn’t at least point you in the right direction. Here are a few places that are good for striking up a conversation and seeing where it takes you:
Cape Charles Coffeehouse: The prime clientele seems to be returning visitors and/or people with second homes on the shore (wouldn’t that be nice?). It’s the perfect blend of local knowledge and knowing what information first-time visitors find interesting. Try a legendary scone.
>>>>> Cape Charles is my favorite town on the Eastern Shore. Read more about my love for this small town.
Yuk Yuk and Joe’s, Eastville: The cross-section of people who come here is unbelievable, from rich to poor, old to young, groups to solo patrons. I’d recommend coming in the evening. Hint…the pizzas are huge, so find someone to share with.
Onancock Farmer’s Market (Saturday mornings, May through October): The vendors love to talk about their locally-produced foods and handmade crafts, but it’s easy to segue into other topics. Bring cash because you’ll want to buy everything.
Pico Taqueria, Chincoteague: You might think it’s just a taco stand, but there’s nothing like eating outside and playing cornhole with new friends. Perfect place to start talking…or at least have fun during dinner.
Not sure which town on the Eastern Shore is for you? Check out my guide on where to stay on the Eastern Shore to pick the right town!
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P.S. I’m going back in April for flounder season — so if you seek out the secrets of the Eastern Shore in the meantime, will you comment with just a little tease of what you found?
Do you love Virginia as much as I do? Check out all of my Virginia travel articles!
16 thoughts on “Secrets of Virginia’s Eastern Shore”
Ok, that Taco stand is amazing and you are my personal hero for eating 3 doz oysters!! That is my dream, lol. But I don’t want to freak anyone out when I order more than 2 dx for myself. This is a really beautiful place, and the food alone would bring me there, but I really love anything on the water. Thank you for sharing!
@Kelsi, The trick to that many oysters is only to order half dozen at a time…then most people won’t notice how many you ate altogether 🙂
Can I just say how much I love, love, LOVE this article? Gave me all the feels, Becky. Can’t wait to see you back in April! Maybe we could meet for a cocktail.
@Laura, It’s a date!
L?ve the Eastern Shore….stay on Chincoteague Island and enjoy going to Assateague beach. ..have ventured to other small towns…found amazing places to eat…like The Island House..met the owner…found the best Gumbo in Pocomoke. .still have more to explore….
@JoAnna, I stayed on Chincoteague Island in June…what a lovely spot! I haven’t yet made it to Pocomoke (or really, much of the Maryland side) so I have more to explore. Thanks for sharing your experiences and hope you get a chance to return.
Love the Eastern Shore and Onancock is my favorite. Cute shops and delightful restaurants and you can get there by boat or car. Our favorite places are Mallard’s for lunch or dinner, Shirley’s for breakfast, The Charlotte Hotel as a place to stay or eat (Their food is fantastic.}. Also several Museums with lots of art for sale and I love Dawn’s gift and dress shop. Another fun place is The Corner Bakery. You most certainly will run into many locals.
@Libba, I haven’t tried Shirley’s yet, but you can bet it just got added to my list! I also love the shopping in Onancock 🙂
Libba is my mom and she meant Janet’s, not Shirley’s. I live in Onancock. Grew up in busy Northern VA and moved here in 1997 and have never looked back! The Shore, although spread out, has a great sense of community, where everyone looks out for everyone’s children, etc. Our little slice of paradise that is the Eastern Shore, nestled between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, is truly a special place!
@Ann, Even as a visitor, I understand the sense of community (and slice of paradise). You live somewhere so special, glad you enjoy it!
I think she means Janet’s. It’s amazing especially for breakfast…softened butter in a butter dish is always on the table!!! You’ll love it 😀
YukYuk and Joes has THE BEST wings.
The Club Car Cafe is an old drug store in Parksley that still operates a “lunch counter” On Fridays they fire up the grill out back for the BEST steaks you will ever have.
Go to the very Northern end of the Shore to Greenbackville for the most amazing food and views at The Krusty Krab…you won’t be sorry. Their crab dip over fries is to die for. Eastern Shore version of poutine.
Happy EATING and exploring
@Tina, You’re making me hungry…I might have to return before April. YUM!
We love the Eastern Shore so much we are making Onancock, Va our retirement destination. Every time we visit this area we discover something new. Cannot wait to make it our home! PS You MUST try Shirley’s for breakfast or lunch…then spend a little extra time perusing the old record shop next door!
@Terry & Don, What a perfect place to retire. Also, I’ve gotten a few recommendations for Shirley’s now, so I better check it out.
My grandparents lived at public landing outside of snow hill, md. I spent many summers there as a kid crabbing off the public pier and swimming off the pier also. Occasionally we would go to ocean city to walk the boardwalk and enjoys caramel corn. My parents retired there and my 91 year old mom is in Salisbury in an independent living retirement home where many of her childhood friends have returned. It’s such a special place, I go every 6 weeks!
@Donna, Hope you can treasure that time there with your mom!