Beach Getaway: Assateague and Chincoteague Islands

These Virginia and Maryland coastal islands offer the chance to enjoy nature up close, with their wild ponies and unspoiled beaches. And you might see a rocket launch.

By: Andrea Poe

You can explore the coast by bike or kayak at the Marine Science Consortium.

Assateague and sister island Chincoteague—off the Maryland and Virginia coasts—are where to go for an unprogrammed vacation. You don’t visit for the stuff to do but for the unspoiled natural beauty of the area, with its quiet beaches, and the chance to hike among the flora and fauna, including Assateague’s famed wild ponies.

Most people explore both islands in a single trip. Assateague, 37 miles long, is prized for its beaches and ponies, and Chincoteague, seven miles long, is known for its wildlife refuge, dunes, forests, and marshes. Most visitors use Chincoteague Island, a fishing village with shops, restaurants, hotels, and a marina, as a base because no development is permitted on Assateague. Click here to reserve a camping spot.

WHERE TO STAY:

Tom’s Cove Park
8128 Beebe Rd.; 757-336-6498
Many campers stay across Assateague Channel from Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in one of the campgrounds on Chincoteague Islands, such as Tom's Cove Park, where there’s access to water and sewer hookups. A tent site is $31.50; a hookup site starts at $49.

Visitors looking for creature comforts will find hotels, motels, inns, and B&Bs on Chincoteague Island. A bridge connects the town to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

Miss Molly’s Inn
4141 Main St.; 800-221-5620
Fans of Misty of Chincoteague can book a room at, a seven-room B&B where Marguerite Henry wrote her famous children’s book. Guests can borrow beach cruisers to ride around the island as well as beach umbrellas and boogie boards. Rooms begin at $150.

Refuge Inn
7058 Maddox Blvd.; 757-336-5511
Families will like the Refuge Inn, which is owned by native islanders and has an indoor/outdoor pool, swings, bike rentals, free wi-fi, and its own herd of gentle Chincoteague ponies. Rooms start at $165.

BEST BEACHES:

Toms Cove Visitors Center on Assateague—not to be confused with the campground—is the best starting point to explore the beaches. There are secluded nooks in both directions as well as showers and a guarded beach. Click here for directions and information on ranger-guided programs.

THINGS TO DO:

Wallops Flight Facility
Rt. 175, Bldg. J-17, Wallops Island; 757-824-1344

You can see a rocket launched from the NASA Visitor Center observation deck and check out a moon rock during a free visit to Wallops Flight Facility.

Marine Science Consortium
34001 Mill Dam Rd., Wallops Island; 757-824-5636
The  Marine Science Consortium offers day and half-day programs that start at $10 a person, such as the hands-on Under the Sea Workshop, which teaches kids about marine animals.

GOOD PLACES TO EAT:
All of the following eateries and shops are on Chincoteague Island.

More Beach Guides:

Bethany Beach

Smith Island, VA

Rehoboth Beach

Cape May

Dogfish Beer in Lewes, DE

Channel Bass Inn
6228 Church St.; 800-249-0818
A civilized breakfast awaits you at the Channel Bass Inn. The B&B serves this meal to non-guests who make reservations. Breakfast might include cranberry nut bread, egg-and-cheese casserole, and scones made by the very British owner.

Woody’s Beach Barbecue
6700 Maddox Blvd.; 410-430-4429
Woody’s Beach Barbecue is an outdoor venue with award-winning barbecue and crabcakes. Pull up a beach chair while dining and play ring toss with the locals.

Bill’s Seafood Restaurant
4040 Main St.; 757-336-5831
Bill’s Seafood Restaurant, an island tradition known for local seafood such as breaded oysters, is about as upscale as you’ll get here.

Saigon Village
4069 Main St.; 757-336-7299
Saigon Village is a cozy Vietnamese restaurant, owned by an expat named Hahn, that makes an authentic version of the soup pho.Order takeout and dine at the waterfront park out back.

WHERE TO SHOP:

Sundial Books
4065 Main St.; 757-336-5825
Sundial Books has two floors of new and used books, free wi-fi, and a porch overlooking Chincoteague Bay where you can sip a cup of coffee.

Decoys, Decoys, Decoys
4039 Main St.; 757-336-1402
Decoys, Decoys, Decoys is a museum-quality shop with 2,000 decoys from nearly 100 carvers.

DON'T MISS:

Pony Swim

Join 40,000 other visitors at the Pony Swim (this year on July 27), an event that has taken place every year since 1925. To thin the herds of wild horses on Assateague, the fire department rounds up about 150 ponies to make the swim across the channel. Some ponies are auctioned off afterward; the others are returned to Assateague to live wild on the island.

Island Cruises
757-336-1796
Captain Carlton Leonard, a natural storyteller born and raised on Chincoteague, runs Island Cruises , which takes visitors aboard his pontoon boat for the best views of the 300 or so wild ponies that live along the shore. Bald eagles, ospreys, and dolphins are spotted as well. Tours depart from Curtis Merritt Harbor.

RAINY-DAY DIVERSION:

Libertino Lanes
3649 Willow St.; 757-336-1575
You can take the family bowling at Libertino Lanes on Chincoteague for $4.50 a person.

WITH THE KIDS:

Chincoteague Pony Centre

Chicken City Rd.; 757-336-2776
At the Chincoteague Pony Centre, families can visit with the ponies descended from the original Misty and take pony rides and lessons.

Assateague Island National Seashore Visitor Center
410-641-1441
In the summer, park rangers at Assateague Island National Seashore Visitor Center host beach campfires. Roast marshmallows as you listen to stories about the island, including some about Blackbeard and his lost treasure.

OR STAY IN OCEAN CITY, MARYLAND:
If you’d like to see the unspoiled beaches of Assateague Island but staying on Chincoteague Island sounds too tame, you could make Ocean City, Maryland, your base for a day trip. The northern entrance to the state park is 20 minutes from Ocean City.

Dunes Manor Hotel
2800 Baltimore Ave., Ocean City; 800-523-2888
All the rooms at Dunes Manor Hotel are oceanfront. Located a block from the boardwalk, it has a heated pool, a sundeck, and rocking chairs on the veranda. Rooms in summer start at $244.

Princess Bayside
48th St. and Coastal Hwy., Ocean City; 888-622-9743
Rooms at the Princess Bayside have refrigerators and microwaves. In addition to a bayside beach, there’s a rooftop pool and bar with a magnificent view of the bay. Rooms start at $189 in summer.

the washingtonian summer guide 2011
This article appears in the June 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.


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