- Located 32 miles northeast of Norfolk, across the entrance to the Bay
- Established in 1884 as a railroad town, connecting via ferry service to mainland Virginia
- Home to one of the best beaches on the Bay
- East-west streets are named after famous Virginians; north-south are named for fruits.
What Makes It Unique
The origin story for Cape Charles story begins in the 1880s, when the railroad finally stretched south from its terminus in Pocomoke, Md., and ended instead at Cape Charles Harbor. There, people and goods were loaded aboard ferries and barges to sail across the mouth of the Bay to Norfolk, where the railroad picked up again. (Or vice versa, of course.)
The completion of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in 1964 threw a wrench in the engine of economic prosperity, so it has taken this little town at the end of the road a long time and a few false starts to come back. But it’s back in a big way: a charming village full of historic homes with a tossed salad of architectural styles, cute shops and restaurants, and one of the finest beaches on the Bay.
Cape Charles is a fairly short hop across the mouth of the Chesapeake from Norfolk, Portsmouth and Hampton, depending on your starting point. It’s easy to spot as you come across because of the several dozen cargo ships likely to be waiting in the Cape Charles anchorage a couple of miles off its entrance.
You can access the Cherrystone Channel into the harbor from the shallower end (least depth 13 feet) at red 2C or 3 nm farther north at green 1CC. From either point, the channel is wide, deep and well-marked all the way to the harbor entrance between the jetty and the cement plant. Cape Charles Town Harbor’s docks are straight ahead, with the boat ramps, fuel docks, workboat docks and then Cape Charles Yacht Center at the far end.
Coming down the Bay, you’ll want to enter Cape Charles channel at green 1CC. Red 2C denotes the access from the south.
Arriving from the south, you’ll come to the Eastern Shore by way of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (which replaced all those ferries). Then follow U.S. 13 north and take a left at S.R. 184 (Randolph Avenue). Arriving from the north, you’ll be on U.S. 13 and make a right turn onto Randolph. You’ll find the boat ramps at the harbor between the town docks and the fuel dock, accessed from Marina Road.
If you have a deeper draft vessel, we recommend either Cape Charles Harbor and Marina or Cape Charles Yacht Center on the opposite side of the harbor. CC Harbor has 95 slips and four T-heads that can accommodate up to 120 feet, and it’s easily walkable to everything in town. The Yacht Center was specifically constructed to berth and service superyacht-sized vessels, so if you need service, especially anything that requires hauling your boat, the Yacht Center is your best option.
If traveling with kids, we recommend Oyster Farm Marina at Kings Creek. Along with 124 slips, you’ll find a big pool and beach, a new dock bar and easy access to the the Oyster Farm Eatery and accommodations. Rent bicycles or arrange for a golf cart to drive everyone into town.
Staying on Land
The 22-room Hotel Cape Charles has been accommodating visitors for more than a century, but its minimalist-chic style and glass balconies are thoroughly modern.The retro-chic Northampton Inn has been a Cape Charles classic since the 1940s, with a prime location across from the beach. The Oyster Farm at Kings Creek is a popular event venue that accommodates groups of every size, with loft-style apartments and colorful tiny cottages. There’s nothing like a gorgeous Victorian-turned-B&B but Bay Haven Inn stands above the pack for its charming wraparound porch and rooms, ideal location, and hosts that greet you like family—and don’t even get us started on the breakfasts!
Exploring by Water
You have several options for launching your kayak or SUP: the boat ramps, the town beach or the Oyster Farm docks off Kings Creek. Kings Creek is quite protected, but the open Bay can be rough, so keep an eye on the weather, winds and current. Southeast Expeditions will deliver single or double kayaks and paddleboards to you, and they also offer unique tours including a paddle to Chatham Vineyards or tour of the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Area. Cape Charles also has charter boats aplenty, including Miss Jennifer and Top Dog, located on Kings Creek, and Salty Hooker at Town Harbor.
Exploring by Land
Not many Chesapeake destinations boast a half-mile-long, white-sand beach with dunes and a fishing pier, but there’s one right in town, an easy walk from downtown. You are welcome to fish from the town’s Fun Pier—no license needed—or simply watch the sun set over the Chesapeake Bay.
Cape Charles may be a small town, but it’s home to a wide variety of shops. Gull Hummock Gourmet Market is a must for gourmet goodies, wine and cheese, or hit Drizzles for specialty oils and vinegars. Table and Tonic has everything you need for your galley or home bar. Lemon Street Gallery is always worth a look, and Peach Street Books has a great “local area” section, and cute setting in a former gas station. The Boardwalk is a perennial favorite for gifts of all kinds.
Cape Charles has a remarkable collection of architecturally interesting homes, especially Victorians and Greek Revivals. Stroll the fruit streets and visit Cape Charles’s lovely Central Park. Stop by the Cape Charles Museum to learn about the town’s fascinating history, then amble over to the Cape Charles Library; it’s a beauty and the oldest on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
Golfers can head 2.5 miles south to Bay Creek Resort’s two top-rated golf courses, one designed by Arnold Palmer and the other Jack Nicklaus. Both 18-hole courses are beautifully sandwiched between the Bay, sand dunes and Old Plantation Creek.
Cape Charles Natural Area Preserve is also located south of the harbor. A long boardwalk takes you through the preserve’s various habitats, including beach (though no beach access), dunes and marine loblolly pine woodland. The woodland area is especially alive with migrating songbirds.
Cape Charles Distillery features small-batch bourbon, whiskeys, vodka and moonshine, made into cocktails and paired with bites from their raw bar. Cape Charles Brewing Company serves up Assateague Island and Cobb Island IPAs, light pilsners and a Smith Island Oyster Stout, which incorporates bivave shells into the initial boil. Buskey Cider on the Bay is a tasting house for the Richmond-based company, where you can sample ciders galore. Kelly’s Gingernut Pub is friendly Irish bar set in a circa-1907 brick bank.
The Shanty is located on the docks at Cape Charles Harbor, and the fish is fresh and as local as can be. The menu even lists the watermen they buy from. The Shanty also concocts surprising original cocktails (cucumber mint martini, anyone?). Like The Shanty (and a number of other Cape Charles restaurants), Oyster Farm Seafood Eatery features local seafood and local produce, but it also has fish from elsewhere, and great steaks. For a splurge, try the Seafood Tower of oysters, clams and shrimp, lobster poke and tuna salad.
The Bakery on Mason has yummy pastries and breads to go, as well as sandwiches to eat onsite. Popular Deadrise Pies (named for the classic watermen’s boats) has expanded into Deadrise Italian Kitchen, adding pastas and specials like veal marsala to the menu. For more Italian, head to Ambrogia Caffe and Enoteca, where owner Cristina Carollo serves recipes taught to her by her mother while growing up in Milan.