If you’re thinking about visiting Cape Charles or Kiptopeke on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, you definitely need to plan ahead. There is so much to do in the area that you’ll want to take time to pick your favorites before you go. The only thing you won’t find there are crowds. 

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Ten miles north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, you'll find the quaint little beach town of Cape Charles. Photo by Adam Lewis, courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation (Virginia.org)

The Cape Charles area was one of the first that settlers moved to after Jamestown in the early 1600s. The area remained agricultural up to the 1880s, when a railroad was planned to run down the shore from Maryland to Cape Charles. Cape Charles is a planned town. It was intentionally designed to serve the railroad and ferries, and the train to Cape Charles carried its first passenger in 1884.

The town grew and prospered as ferries brought people and cargo to the train. The thriving continued until after World War II. Then, the new car ferry at Kiptopeke began to drain traffic. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel that opened in 1964 was another blow, as motorists could drive right by the town on their way to Norfolk or Virginia Beach. The town took a downturn. But that has changed. Today, the town has come alive again with a small-town vibe but big town amenities and fun.   

Downtown Cape Charles

On the way into town by the main road (Route 184) you will find the Cape Charles Museum and Welcome Center on your left. They have changing exhibits about the history of the town. They also know everything you might want to learn about what to see and do in the area, especially with current events. They are open seven days a week from mid-April through November.

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Cape Charles has undergone an amazing transformation in recent years and now has a budding food and outdoor scene. Photo by Adam Lewis, courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation (Virginia.org)

In town, there is everything you could want, from impressive architecture to a bakery, distillery, shops, galleries, a bookstore, and a fine choice of restaurants. There are several nice places to stay overnight. Need outdoor supplies? You can find them at Bailey’s Bait and Tackle. The streets are quiet and safe and enjoyable to stroll along. The town’s beautiful public beach is within walking distance and is a great place to catch a sunset over the Chesapeake Bay.  
Other than walking, golf carts are a primary mode of transportation in the town. Watch for them if you are driving and rent one if you want to participate in the fun.  


Boaters can tie up at the town’s marina or at the Cape Charles Yacht Center. Non-ethanol fuel is available. You can charter a fishing trip or rent a kayak or paddleboard. If you are bringing your own boat, you can launch at the Cape Charles Municipal Marina, which has a beautiful modern ramp. Kiptopeke State Park (see below) has a ramp as well. There are also ramps in Oyster (on the seaside) and in the Eastern Shore of Virginia Wildlife Refuge at the southern end of the shore.  

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This Cape Charles Natural Area Preserve is found on the Bay side of the Eastern Shore. Photo by Rachel Stevens, courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation (Virginia.org)


On the outskirts of the town is the popular Cape Charles Brewing Company. They offer a pet-friendly environment for eating and of course drinking beer. Ahead on Route 13 is Small’s Smokehouse and Catering, a locally owned restaurant that sells local oysters as well as smoked meats. Across Route 13 from Cape Charles, in Cheriton, are two fantastic Latin food trucks open seasonally.  

Up Route 13 a few miles is the marvelous Barrier Islands Center. This farmhouse, which has been converted into a museum, tells the fascinating story of the families who lived on the barrier islands before storms ruined their habitat. Be sure to check their website as they have a number of events all year long. To the south, on Arlington Road, is the Custis tomb. This is for history buffs only. It is the sight of the Custis Family’s Arlington Plantation and mansion. Only the graves remain today. The marker of John Custis, who had a famously bad marriage, contains the very interesting quote, “Aged 71 years and yet lived but seven years which was the space of time he kept a bachelor’s home at Arlington.” Martha Dandridge Custis was the wife of George Washington. 

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The LOVEwork on the beach near main street Cape Charles. Photo by Jason Hunter, courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation (Virginia.org)

Boat tours are available out of Cape Charles and out of the seaside to the east. The seaside tours explore the pristine barrier islands. You will see a variety of birds, as well as empty beaches. These tours are great for shell hunters. The waters on the seaside are full of hazards such as oyster rocks, which are often slightly submerged at higher tides. If you go on your own, it is best to start at low tide and proceed slowly.  

The area is also popular for bird lovers. Kiptopeke State Park, described below, is often listed as a must-stop area during the fall raptor migration. The seaside is home to tremendous amounts of birds in both summer and winter. Peregrine falcons are seen daily year-round. The meadow at the aforementioned Custis Tomb is another popular birding spot. There is a creek, and at low tide, expect to see shorebirds such as herons, American oystercatchers, dunlin, semipalmated plover, and black-bellied plover. 


Kiptopeke State Park is south of Cape Charles. This state park features an informative welcome center, as well as camping, a boat ramp, hiking, and fishing. The welcome center has information on activities, as well as information on the park’s natural environment. Access is free to the Welcome Center, but you must pay a fee to go inside the park. Down the road from the welcome center is the entrance to the park. Beyond the entrance you will find the pier, beach, boat ramp, and a small convenience store. There is a large central parking lot that is convenient to everything.  

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Kiptopeke's Concrete Fleet were brought to the beach in 1948 in order to bring protection to the terminal during severe weather. Photo by Chad Williams, courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation (Virginia.org)

The park offers a variety of lodgings. They have campsites, cabins, lodges with six bedrooms that sleep up to 16 individuals, and a yurt. You can make a reservation on the park’s website.  

Kiptopeke is an excellent area to fish. The pier itself is on the migratory path of speckled trout and red drum. They cruise up and down the area in the spring and fall. Just offshore are the concrete ships. They were placed in the area as a breakwater. They can be reached by kayak or powerboat a short distance from the ramp. This is an excellent spot for a variety of species such as tautog, sheepshead, rockfish, spot, and croakers. 


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Cape Charles offers a free public beach in their downtown historic district. Photo by Erica Jackson Curran, courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation (Virginia.org)

Most of the aforementioned businesses and facilities have their own websites that are easily found with your favorite search engine. However, there is one site that contains a list of just about everything in the county. Categories across the top include eat, shop, stay, play, and plan your trip. You can find that at visitesva.org, and also find more information at virginia.org.

By Kendall Osborne

If you want to learn more about Kiptopeke, check out our article: Kiptopeke Fishing Adventure!