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The Ultimate Guide to Chincoteague Island
Chincoteague Island sits just off the coast of Virginia's Eastern Shore, a 70-mile peninsula that separates the Chesapeake Bay from the Atlantic Ocean.
Chincoteague is known for beautiful beaches, delicious oysters and a famous band of wild ponies, but there's so much more to this tiny island than that. There's family fun that will keep kids entertained for days on end, dining options that range from funky food trucks to white tablecloth restaurants, outdoor adventures, arts and culture and so much more.
This guide is a one stop shop for all the information you need to plan a Chincoteague Island vacation.
You might not expect to find authentic Vietnamese cuisine or a food truck serving Brazilian food in a little beach town, but Chincoteague isn't like most beach towns. Main Street and Maddox Boulevard, the town's two main roads, are lined with restaurants and food trucks that serve up meals for every palate.
Whether you want home cooking at an old school seafood restaurant, a vegan sandwich or a juicy steak and an upscale dining experience you can find it on Chincoteague. Here are a few of the most beloved restaurants on Chincoteague.
Bill's serves up great food breakfast, lunch and dinner. Start your day off right with the crab eggs Benedict or treat yourself to a steak and crab cake at dinner.
For a beautiful view, creative cocktails and delicious food head over to the Ropewalk. Grab a seat on their barge bar or the deck overlooking the Chincoteague Bay and enjoy a bite to eat.
This Chincoteague Island staple draws big crowds and it's easy to see why. Their gourmet tacos come filled with standards like chicken and shrimp, but they're also innovating with fillings like cornmeal fried oysters and crispy cauliflower.
This locally owned ice cream shop has been voted among America's top ice cream parlors more times than anyone can count. Flavors range from classics like chocolate chip cookie dough and butter pecan to innovative creations like candied sweet potato or cantaloupe.
Chincoteague is known far and wide for its deliciously salty oysters. So they're a must try when visiting. An oyster's flavor is influenced by the water it grows in and Virginia has eight distinct oyster regions. Chincoteague oysters are grown on the Atlantic coast of Virginia's Eastern Shore, what locals call the seaside. Seaside oysters have a bold saltiness with a sweet finish. Chincoteague oysters are delicious anyway you can find them, but the best way to appreciate the flavor profile is by slurping them raw.
Black Narrows Brewing
Chincoteague is home to the first craft brewery on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Black Narrows Brewing set up shop in an old oyster shucking house and began serving up brews that use 70 percent local ingredients. Their beers feature flavors from local oysters, heritage corn and Virginia black berries. Grab a pint and play a board game with friends or pick up a meal to go from a local restaurant and bring it into the brewery to enjoy with a craft brew.
There are so many ways to stay on Chincoteague. You can pile your family and friends into a vacation rental, meet new people at a B&B, get back to nature at a campground or enjoy the ease of a hotel. Here are a few of our favorite places to stay on Chincoteague:
Chincoteague island KOA
You don't have to be a hardcore camper to stay at Chincoteague Island KOA. You don't even need to own a tent or RV. Book a stay in an island bungalow or a deluxe cabin and you'll get all of the luxury of a hotel room or cottage with the added benefit of amenities like a pool, playground and activities center.
If you are a camper you'll love all the options at Chincoteague Island KOA. Tent sites range from completely off the grid to deluxe sites with a level surface and lighting. RVers can keep it simple with water and electric only sites or upgrade to a deluxe patio site for optimal outdoor living.
Fairfield Inn and Suites
If you're a bit more indoorsy check out the Fairfield Inn and Suites. This modern, waterfront hotel is located in the heart of downtown Chincoteague. Book a room with a balcony and unwind while enjoying the view of Chincoteague Bay. The view from the waterfront pool deck isn't too shabby either.
Miss Molly's Inn
This charming Victorian inn sits in the heart of Chincoteague's historic Main Street so shops, restaurants and entertainment are just steps away. All the guestrooms at this seven-bedroom inn are cozy and inviting, but one has a special history. Marguerite Henry stayed at Miss Molly's while she penned "Misty of Chincoteague" and you can still book that room today.
Chincoteague Resort Vacations
If you're traveling with a large group of family and friends a vacation rental is a great option. On Chincoteague you can find a cozy cottage for a romantic weekend away or a sprawling house with room for 12. You'll have your pick of amenities too like an outdoor shower, pool, hot tub or porch. Chincoteague Resort Realty has an extensive catalog of rentals that are sure to meet your needs.
Chincoteague has activities for all ages and interests, whether your an outdoor enthusiast, a shopper, a history buff or a busy family in need of fun. Here are just a few of the ways you can have fun on Chincoteague.
Learn more about Chincoteague's history by visiting a museum during your vacation.
NASA Wallops Flight Facility Visitors Center
The Eastern Shore of Virginia has a longstanding connection to space. NASA's Wallops Flight Facility is America's oldest rocket launch range and it's just five minutes outside of Chincoteague. Stop by the visitors'c center and learn about the history of Wallops Island, the facility's work on resupply mission to the International Space Station and the future of NASA.
Museum of Chincoteague Island
See the one and only Misty and her foal Stormy at the Museum of Chincoteague Island. The museum also tells the story of Chincoteague's history, from its first inhabitants through the boom of the seafood industry and the creation of the fire department.
Whether on land or by water, a tour is a great way to see the island through the eyes of a local guide. These experts are authorities on everything from Chincoteague's environment and history to the best place to watch the sunset. Here are a few of our favorite tours.
Daisey's Island Cruises
The expert guides at Daisey's Island Cruises will teach you all about the natural beauty of the island and know just where to find great sunsets, dolphins and wild ponies.
Get a behind the scenes look at Chincoteague Island National Wildlife Refuge. This bus tourtakes you into portions of the park that are typically closed to visitors and are a great way to see the Chincoteague ponies up close.
Stroll Chincoteague's historic Main Street and browse through boutiques, galleries and shops or hop in the car and visit the clothing stores, souvenir shops and boutiques on Maddox Boulevard.
Part of Chincoteague's small town charm is its old fashioned movie theater. You won't find a multiplex here, just a single theater with a few showings a day. Stop by and watch a new release or catch a special screening of a classic film.
There's so much to keep kids busy on Chincoteague Island between the outdoor recreation, educational fun and amusements. Here are a few family-friendly attractions that are sure to be kid approved.
Maui Jack's Waterpark
Maui Jack's has something for the whole family. Little ones can splash and play in the waterfalls, fountains and tipping buckets in the splash zone while older kids take on the twisting, turning slides and go head to head on the racing slides. Parents can lounge in a cabana and enjoy a cocktail or snack from Keko's Bar and Grill. Everyone is sure to love kicking back in the lazy river.
Kids will never want to leave Funland. They can play a round of mini golf, take a ride on the bumper boats, get in the game at the arcade, fly high on the launch pad, race golf carts and so much more.
Tee up for a round of mini-golf and enjoy a little friendly competition.
With water on all sides and a national seashore out the back door there are so many ways to get outside on Chincoteague. Whether you want to hit the trail or cast a line you've got plenty of options.
Kayaking and SUP Boarding
The shores around Chincoteague are teeming with wildlife and natural beauty so there's no shortage of things to see when you hit the water. Bring your own kayak, rent one when you get here or hire a guide to show you the sites.
One of the perks of visiting an island is that the water is so easy to access, which means it's easy to cast a line. You can fish from one of the piers around town, do a little surf fishing on the beach or hire a charter to take you inshore or offshore fishing.
With a few basic supplies from a local tackle shop or hardware store you can be well on your way to catching dinner. Just make sure you're familiar with state regulations before you go crabbing.
Lace up your shoes and go for walk. Between Chincoteague Island National Wildlife Refugeand the Island Nature Trail there's so much exploring you can do. Many of these trials are also open to biking and pets.
Getting on two wheels is a great way to slow down and take in the island. Whether you're biking for fun or you want to get a work out, you'll love exploring the bike paths and trails on Chincoteauge. You can bring your own bike or rent one when you get here.
You won't find any boardwalks or amusement parks on Chincoteague's beaches. Just wild landscape and miles of sandy shore.
Chincoteague Island National Wildlife Refuge is the gateway to the beach. The park is home to the famous Chincoteague ponies, a network of trails for hiking and biking and the Assateague Island Lighthouse. Visitors can access the beach, and Assateague Island National Seashore, through the wildlife refuge.
Assateague Island National Seashore is one of only 10 national seashores in America. It's easy to see why Assateague made the cut. With miles of pristine beach, abundant opportunities for bird watching and a four wheel drive area it is definitely a national treasure.
If you want a little education to go along with your beach day, stop by the Toms Cove Visitor center to learn more about the ecosystem of the park.
For hundreds of years wild ponies have lived on Assateague Island. Their origins are uncertain. Some say that today's ponies are the descendants of horses that swam ashore after a Spanish galleon was ship wrecked. Others say that farmers hid their livestock on Assateague to avoid certain taxes and that over time horses escaped and became wild.
Assateague Island is divided between Maryland and Virginia. On the Virginia side of the island the ponies are corralled into two herds and they are owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department.
The last week of every July, during what is called Pony Penning, the ponies are rounded up by members of the fire department and other volunteers called Saltwater Cowboys. The last Wednesday of every July is Pony Swim. The Saltwater Cowboys swim the ponies from Assateague to Chincoteague. The following day foals from the herd are auctioned off and then on Friday the remainder of the herd swims back to Assateague.
Marguerite Henry's 1947 book "Misty of Chincoteague" and the 1961 movie "Misty" helped launch the Chincoteague ponies and Pony Swim into stardom. The story follows two young children from Chincoteague who save their money to buy a wild pony during Pony Penning.
Outside of Pony Penning, you can see the ponies at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Typically ponies can be seen in the corral on Beach Road and occasionally they can be spotted along one of the trials in the park. Stop by the visitors center and they'll tell you where the ponies have been spotted recently. You can also hop on a boat tour or a Refuge Trek to get a closer look at the ponies.
To clear up a misconception, they are in fact Chincoteague ponies. They are not horses.
At its core Chincoteague is a small, close-knit community and they throw some great small town celebrations. Here are some of the community events where you can get a taste of island life.
Easter Decoy and Art Festival
Chincoteague has produced many great decoy carvers and this event is a chance to see old favorites and up-and-comers alike. Local and national decoy carvers and artists show their works each year during Eastern weekend.
Chincoteague Seafood Festival
Held each May, this seafood festival is a great chance to sample all of the delicious seafood that Chincoteague produces. Visitors can get their fill of steamed clams, fried oysters, fried fish, clam fritters and so much more.
Chincoteague Volunteer Fireman's Carnival
At this old-fashioned carnival you can play games, ride rides, listen to live music and eat classic fair food like cotton candy and french fries. The carnival is typically open from mid-June to late July.
Chincoteague Blueberry Festival
Get your fill of antioxidants for the year and do a little shopping at this festival. It's held on the second to last Saturday of July each year and celebrates both blueberries and arts and crafts.
During this world-famous event the wild ponies of Chincoteague are rounded up and swim from Assateague to Chincoteague where foals from the herd are auctioned off and then the rest of the herd swims back to Assateague. It's held each year during the last week of July.
Chincoteague Oyster Festival
Chincoteague is known for its delicious, briny oysters and this festival celebrates them in all their forms. You'll find oysters on the half shell, steamed, fried and in fritters. Not to mention all the other delicious seafood dishes.
Cork and Craft
Enjoy the beauty of Chincoteague in the fall and sample craft beer and wine at this September festival. Grab a bite to eat from one of the food trucks or browse the booths of artists and artisans.
Chili Chowder Cook Off and Car Show
This late September festival is the perfect way to kick off the start of colder weather. Get your fill of the best chili and chowder around.
Little Island of Horrors
Get ready for some spooctacular fun. During October Chincoteague is transformed into the Little Island of Horrors. There's fun for all ages with special events and a haunted trail at Chincoteague Island KOA.
Christmas by the Sea
Chincoteague becomes a winter wonderland during the most wonderful time of the year. Bring in the season with a Christmas parade, visit with Santa, bring in the new year at the horse shoe drop and start the year off with a ban at the Polar Bear Plunge.