The drive into Chincoteague (pop. 2,941; pronounced “SCHINK-a-teeg”), a low-key fishing village, takes you across miles of glowing gold and blue marshlands through a gauntlet of quirky billboards advertising local motels, restaurants, and sportfishing charters. This mix of natural beauty and tacky tourism aptly reflects the character of the town, which is totally dependent upon summertime visitors but seems to wish that we’d all just leave and let the locals go fishing.
A small bridge along Hwy-175, which runs 11 miles east from US-13, drops you at the heart of town, where casual seafood restaurants line the streets.
Among the many places to stay are several nice B&Bs and a handful of standard motels like the friendly and central Birchwood Inn (3650 Main St., 757/336-6133, $49 and up).
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
Spreading east of town, the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is one of the largest nature preserves along the Atlantic flyway, attracting hundreds of species of birds, including egrets, herons, geese, swans, and snow geese, not to mention thousands and thousands of migrating ducks. A continuation of the Assateague Island National Seashore across the Maryland border, the refuge contains thousands of acres of marshland, excellent beaches, and a number of hiking and cycling trails. The refuge visitors center (757/336-6122, daily) has detailed information on park activities as well as a small exhibit on Chincoteague’s famous wild ponies, which can usually be seen from the Woodland Trail that loops south from Beach Road.
One of the most photogenic spots on the Eastern Shore, Accomac (pop. 519) is centered on an ancient-looking redbrick courthouse. The library down the street, courthouse, and surrounding buildings together make for a great leg-stretch spot, midway along the Eastern Shore. By way of contrast, Accomac is also home to another Eastern Shore landmark: the huge Perdue Chicken processing plant, right along US-13, which produces and packs millions of birds every year.