This charming bayside town is off the radar of most but offers plenty of exciting things do to, beyond sitting at the beach, and that’s exactly what makes it so special. In this article we’ll explain everything we love about Cape Charles and why it should be your next beach escape destination.
I have lived in Virginia my entire life and had never heard of Cape Charles until about 2 years ago, when my sister was introduced the area by her now-husband’s family. Ever since then, we’ve completely fallen in love with the small town charm and laid back beach vibes.
Below we’ll lay out our top 12 favorite places to go and things to do in Cape Charles, Virginia.
Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, two nomads road tripping across the United States with our cat, Fitzgerald, making a new place our home month to month while working full time and adventuring as much as possible. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking, and exploring new places! We hope that our experiences will help you plan for your next adventure and inspire you to be an outlier!
About Cape Charles, Virginia
If you love the beach but hate the crowds and row upon row of highrise hotels and cheap souvenir stores that all too often come with it, Cape Charles is the place for you. A hidden gem on the Chesapeake Bay, Cape Charles is a charming tiny beach town offering a slice of solitude away from the overcrowded, commercialized beaches of Virginia’s mainland coastline. Here you’ll find no Waves, Sunsations or big chains of any kind. Instead, you’ll find locally owned shops, restaurants selling fresh seafood, and a modest, but clean, beach area.
Located just across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge from Virginia Beach, Cape Charles is about two hours from Richmond and under four hours from Washington D.C., making for the perfect weekend getaway. While the town is small, there is no shortage of fun things to do here, beyond enjoying the beach.
Things to Do in Cape Charles
Our top 12 favorite things to do in Cape Charles are listed below. Keep reading or use the links below to jump around the article:
- Grab a beer at Cape Charles Brewery
- Snap a photo at the “Love” sign
- Relax at the beach
- Sip on a cocktail at Cape Charles Distillery
- Enjoy a night out at Hook at Harvey
- Watch the sunset over the Chesapeake Bay
- Go shopping in tiny “downtown” Cape Charles
- Make a home-cooked meal with fresh seafood
- Try something new at Buskey Cider
- Stroll through the historic district
- Visit Chatham Vineyards
- Take a nature walk
1. Grab a beer at Cape Charles Brewing Company
With plenty of outdoor space, a solid selection of bar food and, of course, tasty brews, Cape Charles Brewery is a perfect stop anytime of year. Their Honeysuckle Wheat is a crowd favorite, a light easy drinking beer with the perfect touch of sweetness. The Tangier Island Double IPA, is one of our favorites.
After a long day on the beach, grab a picnic table at Cape Charles Brewing Company for a burger, a cold beer and live music. The perfect end to a perfect Cape Charles day.
2. Snap a photo at the “Love” sign
A local icon, no trip to Cape Charles is complete without a photo of the “Love” sign. Crafted out of an old tire, oyster shells, a kayak, and crabbing pots, it makes for a perfect photo spot to commemorate your time in Cape Charles. Located at the far end of the beachfront, stop here on your way to or from the beach to snap a photo.
3. Relax on the beach
Cape Charles has one main beach area, located just past historic downtown. Due to its location on the bay, the water is shallow and calm, making it the perfect place to relax on a float, cold beer in hand.
The main beach can get crowded during peak season. Our recommendation is to stay in a beach house that is part of the Bay Creek community, as this neighborhood has its own private beach that is accessible only to residents and their guests. The beach here is smaller, but much less crowded and you are still only a few minutes drive to downtown.
4. Sip on a cocktail at Cape Charles Distillery
Producing small batches of handcrafted whiskey, moonshine and vodka, Cape Charles Distillery does a little bit of everything. No matter your preferred spirit, there’s something here you’ll love. The menu features a seasonal selection of handcrafted cocktails that will make it difficult to choose just one. The espresso martini is a favorite among our family. Cape Charles Distillery offers both inside and outside seating, and the cozy seating arrangements will make you feel right at home. It’s the perfect place to wind down after a long day at the beach.
5. Enjoy a night out at Hook at Harvey
Looking for a fancy dinner at the beach? Head to the Hook at Harvey, a restaurant serving upscale food in a casual, cozy environment. Their menu changes with the season, but the seafood is guaranteed to be fresh and delicious all year round.
The Hook at Harvey is located in a beautiful old home with a wrap-around porch right on the harbor with unbeatable sunset views. Seating is limited and tables book well in advance, so be sure to make a reservation ahead of time.
6. Watch the sunset over the Chesapeake Bay
For a sunset that rivals those in Key West, head to the beach or marina. Because Cape Charles is situated on the western side of the Eastern Shore, the beach faces to the west, making it one of the only places in Virginia where you can watch the sunset over a body of water. There is no better way to end your day than sipping a cold drink while watching the sky light up in vibrant colors as the sun slips behind the sea.
7. Go shopping in tiny Cape Charles “downtown”
“Downtown” Cape Charles consists of one main street, lined with boutique shops, restaurants and cafes. Although it may be small, there are several cute shops selling Cape Charles swag, beach apparel and gift items. Stop into Coastal Baking Co. for a croissant and coffee, pick up a new or used book for your next beach read at Peach Street Books and purchase a cozy Cape Charles pullover at the Boardwalk. Rainy day? Look no farther than Table & Tonic for puzzles and games to keep you occupied.
8. Try something new at Buskey Cider
Founded in Richmond, Buskey Cider offers unique hard ciders made with fresh Virginia apples. Try one of their seasonal flavors like Watermelon Rosemary, Jalapeño Lime, and Habanero Mango. If you aren’t feeling as adventurous, their flagship RVA cider is sure to please those looking for a more classic hard apple cider.
Tip: At Buskey, you can mix two different ciders together. Try the Watermelon Rosemary with Jalapeño Lime – it may sound odd, but trust us, it’s delicious!
9. Cook a homemade seafood feast
Oysters, clams, crab, sea bass, shrimp, scallops – fresh seafood of all varieties is readily available in Cape Charles. I can think of few better ways to spend an evening than cracking crabs on the deck, holding a cold beer in an Old Bay covered hand. One of our favorite ways to spend an evening in Cape Charles is to skip the restaurant and cook our own seafood feast, supplied with the freshest local ingredients.
10. Stroll through the historic district
Cape Charles was established in 1884 as the southernmost stop for trains coming from Pennsylvania. From Cape Charles, steamboats would pick up railway cargo and ship the goods across the Chesapeake Bay to Norfolk. The historic district features a diverse collection of recently renovated homes and rustic houses that haven’t been touched in years. It’s the kind of place that you can tell is getting a second wind, and old homes that have seen their glory days are waiting for another chance. The Victorian style homes built mainly between 1885 and 1920 are simply stunning, with delicate pastel colors, wrap around porches and classic Southern charm.
Fun Fact: Cape Charles has one of the highest concentrations of Late Victorian homes in Virginia and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
11. Spend an afternoon at Chatham Vineyards
Cape Charles has its bases covered when it comes to locally produced alcohol. You have Cape Charles Brewery for beer lovers, Buskey for cider drinkers, Cape Charles Distillery for those seeking stronger sprits and Chatham Vineyards for the wine lovers. Chatham Vineyards is a family owned and operated winery surrounded by over 20 acres of vines. Their Church Creek Rose is perfectly refreshing on a warm summer day! There is plenty of outdoor space to spread out – pack a blanket and some snacks for the ideal picnic.
12. Take a nature walk
If you are looking to stretch your legs and get a little exercise in, you have a couple options.
Kiptopeke State Park is located 15 minutes from Cape Charles, and features five miles of walking trails, a fishing pier, and beach area. You can also rent kayaks or paddle boards to explore the bay, or rent bikes to use on the trails. Entrance to the park is $5 per vehicle.
If you are staying in a rental house in the Bay Creek neighborhood, you have access to their newly developed Nature Preserve, which features miles of beautiful trails through the forest and along the water. The trails start from the parking lot of the Coach House Tavern, a pub offering casual comfort food and a great option for a post-walk lunch.
Planning your trip to Cape Charles
When to go
Peak season is in the summer, from June through early September. We prefer to visit during the spring and fall, April through May and September through October, for milder temperatures and fewer crowds. We’ve even visited during the dead of winter and had a great time exploring the town, walking on the nature trails and cooking a homemade seafood boil, despite not being able to hang out on the beach.
Despite being a lesser known beach destination, Cape Charles is actually quite easy to get to. The drive is just over two hours from Richmond and just under four hours from Washington D.C., Baltimore or Raleigh assuming no traffic. You do have to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which can add some time to the trip due to traffic, especially in the summer months. Be aware that crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge requires an $18 toll each way ($14 during the off-season).
Getting Around in Cape Charles
While Cape Charles is quite small and easily walkable, the preferred way to get around is via golf cart, which makes it super easy to transport all your beach gear. There is even a golf cart path leading to Cape Charles Brewery. You can rent carts of all different sizes from Eastern Shore Custom Carts.
Where to Stay
You have a few options for where to stay in Cape Charles, and we will lay them out below.
Located right in the heart of Cape Charles, there are some incredibly beautiful houses available for rent in the historic district. These old Victorian style homes feature wrap around porches in a classic charming Southern style. Many, but not all, of the houses have been recently renovated. They are just a quick walk to the beach and the main downtown strip of downtown.
If you are interested in staying in the historic district, we recommend Sea Glass Haven, a charming and fully renovated 3 bedroom, 2 bath home with a wonderful porch. We stayed here with a group of 10 and had plenty of space. The house was adorable, clean and within walking distance to most of the Cape Charles highlights.
Bay Creek Resort
Bay Creek resort is a relatively new neighborhood still largely under development with row upon row of classic colorful beach houses. It is a little farther from the main beach and downtown area versus the houses in the historic district (but seriously, Cape Charles is so small it hardly makes a difference). The tradeoff is likely worth the modern features and access to exclusive Bay Creek amenities, like the Nature Preserve, neighborhood pool, tennis courts and private beach area.
We highly recommend Seablues, a beautiful 4 bedroom 3 bath house in Bay Creek. Full disclosure: this is my sister’s house, but we truly love it and think you will too! Catherine (my sister) is meticulous about the upkeep and cleanliness of her home away from home, and she will make sure you enjoy your stay. Seablues even has kayaks and a paddle board available for your use and a matching blue golf cart available to rent for an additional fee.
If you don’t want to rent an entire house or you are looking to stay for just a weekend, there are also a few hotel options available. Hotel Cape Charles is a modern hotel located on the main street in historic downtown, the charming Bay Haven Inn is a colonial bed and breakfast in a great location, and the beautiful Northampton Hotel is conveniently located just across from the beach.
Although it may be small in size, there is no shortage of fun in Cape Charles. From the beach to beers, seafood to sunsets, and shopping to cider, Cape Charles has something for everyone and is sure to be a place you love.
For all things Virginia: Virginia Travel Guide
Planning a trip to Cape Charles? Feel free to reach out with any questions – we hope you love it as much as we do!