Just three hours from the bustle of Washington, D.C. is the scenic Chincoteague Island, a refreshing escape unlike any usual traveler’s getaway. Chincoteague, which sits off the coast of Virginia and just off the Maryland border, is Virginia’s only resort island. Every year, more than 1.4 million travelers savor the natural wonders of the island’s dunes, forests and marshes. But most tourists make their journey to goggle at the world-renowned Chincoteague ponies which actually inhabit the longer barrier island of Assateague.
Assateague Island, which lies on the eastern coast of both Virginia and Maryland, is just a walk or bike ride away from Chincoteague. It is here that the fanciful tale in Marguerite Henry’s 1947 book titled “Misty of Chincoteague” stirs into reality. Thousands of locals and tourists convene for a week-long carnival on the final days of every July. Gobbling down their celebrated oyster sandwiches, visitors watch their children mount the carousel and delight in all the festivities leading up to the pony penning. Bystanders gaze into the waters watching Chincoteague’s “Saltwater Cowboys” herd about 150 ponies across the Assateague Channel during Wednesday’s Pony Swim. Children restlessly await Thursday, when the foals are auctioned and buyers have the opportunity to bring home their very own “Misty of Chincoteague.”
Things to Do
During the summer, visitors can roam the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and learn about the island’s rich wildlife and cultural history. Refuge employees or volunteers guide tourists on bird and marsh walks through photography hikes and beach camp fires, while also offering guests crabbing and surf fishing demonstrations.
Near the entrance to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, visitors can find the Museum of Chincoteague Island, formally known as the Oyster and Maritime Museum (CNWR). For 45 years, CNWR has been attracting audiences and sharing historic tales of seafaring legends, shipwrecks and chilling accounts of stranded seamen. Exhibits displaying ancient fossils and legendary images capture the story of Chincoteague’s oyster industry from the era when oysters were harvested with hand tools down to the development of the island’s aquaculture industry.
Today, knowledgeable captains take visitors around the inland waters of Chincoteague and Assateague where travelers can fish for flounder, sea trout, bluefish, croaker, kingfish and sea bass. These charter fishing boats also offer non-fishers a nature cruise, giving commuters a glance at the island’s native wild ponies, egrets, terns, osprey and many other dwellers.
Chincoteague Pony Swim and Auction
Although the pony swim and auction only occurs in July (July 25-27 in 2012), year-round, Chincoteague Pony Farm sells beautiful and healthy fillies and colts, offering families everywhere a piece of Chincoteague starting at $1,500. For more information, visit http://www.chincoteague.com/pony_swim_guide.html.
Where to dine
Most recurring travelers boast on and regularly return to Bill’s Seafood Restaurant. Since 1960, Bill’s Seafood Restaurant has been serving seafood, hand-cut steaks and chops. Open all year, seven days a week, travelers can end their day of recreation with an evening of beer, cocktails or one of the restaurant’s international wines. (http://www.billsseafoodrestaurant.com/)
Allergic to seafood? Don’t worry. Famous Pizza’s fresh homemade pizza, pastas, subs, salads and sandwiches keep families stuffed without a visit to the emergency room. (http://www.famouspizzaci.com/)
Whether before a trip to the beach or following an evening meal, visitors have enjoyed family-owned and operated, Mister Whippy, for a cold, delectable treat. On a hot summer’s day, sundaes, shakes, banana splits, waffle cones or Mister Whippy’s famous cyclones can be very appealing.
Where to stay
Although most of the attractions are across the bridge at Assateague Island, visitors stay at hotels, bed and breakfasts and guest cottages throughout Chincoteague.
Eagle’s View Waterfront Rental http://www.bayfronthouse.com/