by The Mystery Consumer
Chincoteague, Virginia (CNBNews.net)--Here’s a vacation destination that’s not too far, but far enough to feel like you’re out of the local orbit. It’s about 3 ½ hours from South Jersey. We’ve visited there four times, once in December. It’s a small, quiet town with a “Main Street” that has several restaurants and shops.
The best on the street I think is Bill’s, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. In our six day stay recently, we ate three meals there. It’s a cozy place with wooden booths and tables, a nice menu, good quality, and a friendly atmosphere. It’s open year round. I asked a gentleman there who appeared to be in charge if he were Bill. He said, “I’m Ken, but I’m Bill.” On the night we went to dinner there, I called and made a reservation and asked for a booth. When we got there, they had a little reserved sign on the booth. Pretty nifty I thought, for a small restaurant in a resort town in the summer when they expected a busy evening.
The local bookstore, Sundial Books, is well-run, and well-stocked with books and other nicely selected general merchandise, including jewelry and saops. It is also open all year. I bought a pastel there of what I thought was a charming Chincoteague style cottage by a local artist. My wife got inspiration from the many water views and birds in the area. She’s a water color artist. I paint too – wood trim and spray painting lawn furniture touchups.
There is also a variety of the usual shops selling tourist and artistic merchandise. A particularly nice shop is The Silver Cricket. I purchased a faux, French flower canvas for my wife (no surprise for anyone who knows my love of France and Paris) and also got a poster of classic looking birds. They will help keep my wife’s two small parrots, Pansy and Jasmine company☺
My wife liked The Funky Closet, a women’s clothing store, which she said was inexpensive compared to home and had some nice items. She took a dress, a small jacket, and a piece of bird jewelry off their hands. (More birds - just what we need.) The sales personnel were very helpful. It also met my major dress store requirement. It had a comfortable chair.
The town also has a movie theater, The Island,on Main St. It has only one screen and four showings per day during the summer season. It’s a real throwback to all the single showing theaters we used to have in South Jersey like The Century, The King, and The Harwan.
Each time we went, we stayed at The Hampton Inn, (757-336-1616) which has been rated as one of the best in the country. It is on Main Street, but sits back from it. Many rooms have a view of the bay and the causeway bridge, the only way in and out of town. There are many rooms with balconies, and some with patios. There’s a very good, free buffet breakfast kept attractively by two very wonderful ladies, whom I enjoyed speaking with. The desk personnel are very helpful too, before you arrive and while you’re there. There is a pleasant indoor pool and weight room with conveniently adjacent rest rooms.
The whole facility is kept immaculately clean, both inside and out. I met Tom Derrickson, the General Manager, who reflected the friendly, easy-going and orderly atmosphere. He said that the good people he had there made his job very easy.
We have a Hilton Honors American Express Card. Each time we stayed, I used accumulated honors points so that our stays cost nothing. Reservations need to be made through Hilton Honors. The Inn’s rates are very reasonable in the off season. Naturally, as a resort town, they are higher in the summer season. It’s an easy walk to the sights on Main Street from there. The Inn has a large, well-lighted parking lot. The whole town is about as safe of a place as you could ever hope for.
What else is there to do? Going straight into town off the bridge is Maddox Boulevard, the other major artery. It leads directly to the beach at Chincoteague a few miles ahead. There is an entry fee to the park, however a lifetime “Senior Pass” may be obtained for $10, which allows admission to all national parks. The beach area has rest rooms and small changing booths, large sandy beaches, cruising birds, the ocean and nothing else. There is lots of free parking.
From the start of Maddox Boulevard, you will pass two ice cream places, “Mr. Whippy” (love the name) and the Island Creamery, both on the left. There is also miniature golf, and several highly regarded sandwich destinations on the left that we did not visit. Next time ☺
Another frequent tourist stop is The Brandt (as in duck) which contains general and tourist merchandise. It’s at a traffic light on the right. You can’t miss it. I had a very pleasant and lengthy conversation with Mr. Harris Berry. He’s a very colorful man with a great deal of business and sales experience, and knowledge of the Island. He and his wife own The Brandt. It’s a good place to stock up on many items and to obtain local information.
A terrific restaurant that’s open for lunch and dinner, all year, except in January and February, is A.J.’s On The Creek. It sits on the left, just before the Park entrance. We had two lunches there and enjoyed them both. A big specialty on the Island is oysters, which are excellent. Keeping with Southern tradition, in many restaurants, things are going to be fried, including artichokes, unless otherwise noted. That’s part of the reason I gained nine pounds in six days that I’m working down now.
Another very good restaurant that has drop-dead gorgeous views of the water and woodland areas of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, complete with red geraniums and hummingbird feeders, is Etta’s. We ate two dinners there and enjoyed them both. They are not open for lunch and are also not open year round. Dinner reservations are essential. Etta’s is located on the other side of town. Go to www.ettaschannelside.com to see their beautiful views, especially of the Assateague Lighthouse, and their menu.
Seeing the “wild horses” is also a major attraction here. One of the best ways to see them is by taking Captain’s Dan’s Boat Cruise that leaves from next to The Hampton Inn and also from the Town Dock. Dan also has a “Sunset Cruise”, and others. We took it and enjoyed it. My son was also in Chincoteague recently. He took Captain Barry’s Boat Cruise and said that he and his family enjoyed it a lot.
We also spent one day going over to Ocean City, Maryland, which is about 75 minutes away, and can only be reached by going back out to the main highway. My wife went to an Ocean City boardwalk hotel “day spa” for a massage and a facial, while I walked on the boardwalk and got a blister. The boardwalk is quite long, so it’s probably better to start at a low numbered street where most of the activity is.
We had a fantastic lunch at Liquid Assets in Ocean City, which not too conveniently was located all the way at the other end of town, not far from the Delaware shore. The restauran is entered through a very well-stocked wine and liquor store, that also has tables interspersed. We ate in the adjacent, and more pleasant, but fairly small, dining room. We were told it gets very crowded for dinner. If my memory serves me correctly (and it often doesn’t), they do not take reservations. It was a great lunch however, well worth going out of the way for.
July is a big time for Chincoteague. They have a Fireman’s Carnival and also the famous “pony swim” which attracts 20,000-30,00 people at the end of July. Misty of Chincoteague is a classicbook that can be found at many places on the Island.
We also took the time to look at a few properties for sale. Chincoteague also has many properties for rent, principally in season. Angie Abell, a lifelong Chincoteague resident and the broker-owner of Beach Bay Realty on Maddox Boulevard, was very helpful to us, even though we soon realized that it was not the best time for us to be buying or renting, since it be will be a long time until I retire and my job requirements make me as mobile as a parking meter. Beach Bay Realty’s sale listings may be found at www.Beachbayrealty.com. They handle rentals only occasionally. If I were buying a property in Chincoteague, I’d recommend Angie highly.
One of the best things about Chincoteague is its very slow pace. It creates that relaxed feeling we get when we are at our Shore for a few days, and with far less hubbub. Compared to the activity level at Ocean City, Sea Isle and Wildwood, Chincoteague is very low-keyed, with an emphasis on water views and birds - including occasional ducks walking on the sidewalk, and new and traditional homes, but it’s a relaxing place to get away from it all for a while.