Small getaways have always been a guilty pleasure for my little family, and we have never needed them more than during the pandemic. Although we like exploring new places, we can’t seem to make it through a year without at least one stop in Colonial Beach. In case anyone was wondering where the banner photo on the Young Virginians homepage was taken, now you know!
Located along a sandy stretch of the Potomac River in the Northern Neck region, Colonial Beach is less than two hours from our Fairfax County home. It was a popular resort town for Washingtonians in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, but started falling out of favor once automobiles made it easier for people to make it to ocean-side resorts. Today, it’s a quaint riverfront beach town whose rows of cozy cottages are reminiscent of a bygone era. Some cottages are inhabited by friendly year-round residents (once a lovely neighbor of the cottage we were renting stopped by to bring us extra tomatoes from her garden!), while others are personal vacation homes or Airbnb’s.
When we first discovered Colonial Beach, it was like finding buried treasure. I have recommended it to many friends over the years, but I want to be clear that Colonial Beach is not what I’d consider “sleek” or “fancy”, which is one of the reasons why I love it so much. If you are looking for giant Atlantic waves, miles of active boardwalk, multi-million dollar villas, and five-star hotels, head to the quintessential ocean resort towns. Yet if you’re in search of a down-to-earth, close-to-home town with classic, family-friendly fun, read on for eight ways to spend your time in Virginia’s best kept secret (Disclaimer: I call it that because most of the people I’ve told about Colonial Beach have never heard of it before, but it definitely has many loyal visitors).
1. Splash by the sand – Colonial Beach’s name does not lie; it is in fact home to about a mile of quiet, sandy shoreline (most of which is in the downtown area, with an even quieter stretch several blocks south in the section known as “The Point”). The gentle, lapping river is perfect for little kids to splash in, and while it is always important to be vigilant, you certainly don’t have to worry about the giant waves or scary undertows that come with an ocean visit. The beach to the north of the town pier is a little more pebbly, but the fine sand just south of it is super-soft and makes for fun castle construction.
2. Get moving – Colonial Beach is home to several great playgrounds (including one right in the heart of downtown, one closer to the water tower, and one on The Point). There is also a small swing set right on the sand. The quiet side streets are safe places for family strolls, and Irving and Monroe Bay Avenues are great for runners who want a route with a water view. Feeling more adventurous? Bicycles and various types of watercraft are available for rent by the pier. If you don’t want to skip your regular workout routine, the small gym in town offers inexpensive guest passes.
3. Rent some wheels – Colonial Beach is a golf cart community, which means it is completely legal to drive golf carts up and down the streets of town. Many locals own their own golf carts, and visitors can rent them by the day or half day. This is honestly one of most exciting parts about visiting Colonial Beach for kids and parents alike!
4. Eat your heart out – Colonial Beach has a number of yummy places to eat. For dining out, our favorite place is without a doubt Dockside. Located on the very tip of The Point, Dockside has tasty seafood, but its real draw for families is a large outdoor seating area that features plenty of places to play, as well as its own small beach. For takeout, we adore Suki the Cuisine. This Thai restaurant’s outstanding food rivals most of the places I’ve tried in the DC area, and my semi-picky daughter raved about the chicken and rice we recently ordered off of the kid’s menu. If you’ve got room for dessert, don’t hesitate to head to Nancy’s, a seasonal ice cream hut with delicious soft serve. Those are just some of our foodie favorites, but there are several other great options available.
5. Explore history and nature – Are you raising little history buffs? Within five to twenty-five minutes of downtown Colonial Beach, you will find James Monroe’s Birthplace, George Washington’s Birthplace (maintained by the NPS), and the Lee family’s Stratford Hall. If you’d rather be one with the wilderness – and hunt for shark teeth! – head to nearby Westmoreland State Park. My next blog post will be about our New Year’s Day visit to Westmoreland, so stay tuned!
6. Celebrate a holiday – Colonial Beach locals know how to put on a good party. There are typically a variety of events throughout town on the Fourth of July. In October, you can visit the Fall Festival and watch the Halloween Golf Cart Parade. Come December, it’s usually possible to enjoy the Winter festival and Christmas Golf Cart Parade, and people often gather on the beach on New Year’s Eve for fireworks at a family-friendly hour. Even though our most recent holiday visit was during the pandemic, we still managed to enjoy the Christmas lights in the park, and we happened upon a Polar Bear Plunge and a Christmas tree bonfire on the day after New Year’s.
7. Hunt for outdoor art – It would be easy to make a scavenger hunt out of all of Colonial Beach’s murals, which highlight the town’s history. Also, don’t forget to pose for a photo at the LOVE art installation. I’ve seen lots of LOVE artwork throughout Virginia, but I’ve yet to find another one that includes a golf cart!
8. Squeeze in some grown-up time – If you can sneak away from the kids for a bit, why not carve out an hour or so for a little wine tasting? Monroe Bay Winery, Ingleside Vineyards, and Backporch Vineyard are all a five to fifteen minute drive from town. My mother-in-law and I once spent a lovely afternoon at Ingleside, and I highly recommend it. Have an evening to spare? High Tides on the Potomac – which is right on the water in town – often hosts live music events in its Black Pearl Tiki Bar on summer evenings (during non-pandemic times, of course). The sandy-floored, outdoor bar has great drinks, yummy bar food, and a fabulous view of the little stage, which draws in fun local acts.
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Are you convinced yet? If not, that’s OK. I get that for some people Colonial Beach might be too small, too simple, or too far from the ocean. But for my family, the price, location, and amenities are perfect, and perhaps they will be just right for you, too. If you do decide to visit, we hope you enjoy our “happy place” just as much as we do. Either way, I got the opportunity to pore over years of photos while writing this post, so thanks for joining me on this trip down Memory Lane!