I remember when summer road trips could be spontaneous. There were definitely times when my husband and I decided on a Wednesday that we were going to go away for the upcoming weekend, so we’d book a place to stay and then, well, we’d go. Nowadays, it seems like even small, local places book up super far in advance, so I find myself scheduling summer trips earlier and earlier. When Daughter #2 was a newborn back in late 2021, I wondered aloud where our first summer vacation as a family of four should be. My doula overheard me and responded “You should go to Cape Charles.” I must have stared at her blankly, because she elaborated, I researched, and in my sleepy haze I apparently booked an Airbnb for the summer of 2022. I am sure glad I did.
Cape Charles, Virginia is a quaint beach town located near the southern tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, just a stone’s throw from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which connects the Eastern Shore to Virginia Beach. With minimal traffic, it is a little over four hours from our home in Northern Virginia. What we love about Cape Charles is its protected position on the Chesapeake Bay, creating a shallow and safe swimming environment that is perfect for young families. I found splashing in the water to be so much less stressful there than I ever did when bringing my kids to the ocean.
However, there is more to do in Cape Charles than the standard beach pastimes of swimming and sand play (which of course are also a huge draw). Continue reading for some of my family’s favorite activities while visiting this wonderful destination.
Catch a Sunset
As I mentioned above, Cape Charles is located on the bay side of the Eastern Shore, which means it gives people on the east coast a unique opportunity to watch the sun set over a seemingly endless body of water. I highly recommend heading down to the beach in the evening to watch the sky explode with color as the sun slowly drops into the horizon. The photos I took simply did not do it justice.
Snap a Photo With the Love Sign
Those who have read my blog before know I love a good LOVE sign. I am always impressed by how well these art installations reflect the history, culture, and people of their respective surroundings. In this respect, the Cape Charles LOVEworks sign does not disappoint: the L represents the sandy beach, the O is a tractor tire that pays homage to the region’s agricultural history, the V highlights kayaking opportunities in the area, and the E is composed of the crab traps that have made the bay famous. If you visit Cape Charles, posing with this unique LOVEworks installation is definitely a must!
Rent a Golf Cart
Just like in Colonial Beach, golf carts are allowed on the streets of Cape Charles. Not only does this make exploring the town extra fun, but it also provides an easy way to transport people and items to and from the beach without also filling up your car with sand. Since many residents own their own golf carts, it is sometimes possible to find an Airbnb property that comes with a golf cart, which is what we did. Golf carts are also available via local rental companies, such as C.C. Ryder Rentals or Eastern Shore Custom Carts. I would strongly encourage you to make your golf cart reservation as soon as you plan your trip, because reservations book up very fast.
Stroll Along Mason Avenue
Mason Avenue and a couple of accompanying side streets make up the commercial district of downtown Cape Charles. This stretch is home to shops teeming with clothing, souvenirs, beach supplies, and tasty treats, as well as several restaurants.
Some of Daughter #1’s favorite Mason Avenue activities included getting ice cream at Brown Dog, shopping in K-Coast Surf Shop, and painting at Mermaid Factory (pictured below).
Visit Kiptopeke State Park
Located less than 15 minutes south of Cape Charles, Kiptopeke State Park is magical. It is home to two stretches of unspoiled beaches, as well as campgrounds, a playground, lovely trails, and more. I wrote all about this park here, so I’m not going to go into too much more detail in this post. Just know that of the 14 state parks we’ve visited thus far, Kiptopeke is in my top three. If you plan a trip to Cape Charles, definitely visit this gem – you won’t regret it.
Explore the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge
One of 14 National Wildlife Refuges in Virginia, the Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR is located south of Kiptopeke State Park, about as far down as you can travel on the Eastern Shore. I recall panicking a bit as I prepared to make one of the last turns before the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, nervous that I would miss it and wind up taking a 34-mile detour (don’t worry; it’s an obvious and easy turn). In any case, this National Wildlife Refuge is a stopping place for hundreds of species of migrating birds, and is also home to a wide array of insects, mammals, and aquatic life. I highly recommend pairing a visit with a guided kayak tour from Southeast Expeditions, which is what we did. Their two hour, family-friendly kayak trip takes you through the marsh and across the Virginia Inside Passage to Racoon Island (Note that if you are traveling with a large group and can sneak away for some adult time, Southeast Expeditions also offers a non-NWR kayak trip to and from a local vineyard, which sounds like a perfect date or moms’ day out). The guides were incredibly knowledgeable and did a great job sharing information about the plants and animals that we observed on our trip, like how the periwinkle snails we spotted could spend their whole lives traveling up and down one single blade of marsh grass.
Once on Racoon Island, the kids on the tour got the chance to splash in the water before hunting for additional flora and fauna. Then we retraced our route back to the boat ramp.
If you do decide to go, don’t forget sunblock and insect repellant. Also, be prepared to ride in a two-person kayak with younger kids, which are a little more challenging to paddle. Still, the guides are incredibly helpful and motivating, and this adventure is definitely well worth it – as are the spectacular surroundings.
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I’m still a bit surprised by how few people from my region of Virginia have even heard of Cape Charles, let alone been there. It really is the perfect place for families with young kids to explore the shore. Those who are in on the secret reserve their Airbnbs far in advance, so I definitely wouldn’t snooze on booking a place there. In any case, Cape Charles definitely stole a little piece of our hearts, and we look forward to making even more memories there in the future.