Walk on a deserted beach or cheer on the Chincoteague ponies at the annual Pony Swim. Kayak along Virginia’s Seaside Water Trail or study the night skies. Watch a decoy carver, cheer on a boat docking competition, listen to a concert in a 17th century church or hike through a maritime forest. On Virginia’s Eastern Shore, the best things in life really are free.
The Artisan Trail
Visit dozens of artists, artisans and agri-artisans from Chincoteague in the north to Cape Charles in the south, and everywhere in between. Grab a map anywhere you see the Artisan Trail sign or download one here, and you’ve got a passport to studios, theaters, vineyards and organic farms down long country roads and in small walkable towns. You’ll meet the people who live, work and create artisan food and wine, fine art, pottery, rugs, wearable art, decoys, furniture and mosaics, and sometimes, get in on the action. The Artisan Trail will lead you to museums, live music and theater, hotels, inns and B&Bs, seafood shacks and elegant bistros on the water and out on the water to explore two coastlines.
Free Public Beaches
Four of the six public beaches on Virginia’s Eastern Shore are free.
Free On the Chesapeake Bay
- The Cape Charles beach is just steps from the town center.
- Savage Neck’s gorgeous wild beach has a moderate hike to reach it. You can park at the trailhead.
- Tangier Island’s beach is on a tiny island off the coast of the Eastern Shore. Take a ferry out of Onancock, or fly into the island’s landing strip. Walk to the beach or rent a golf cart or bicycle.
Free On the Atlantic
There’s no charge to play all day on the wild barrier islands that hug the coast of Virginia’s Eastern Shore for 70 miles. You will, however, need a boat or kayak to get there. Either bring your own and launch out of a free public boat ramp on the Atlantic side or hire an outfitter. Either way, you’ll end up on an uninhabited island that will make you feel like the first person to land in the New World.
Public Beaches With Fees
- The 36-mile Assateague Island National Seashore on the Atlantic Ocean begins on Virginia’s Eastern Shore in Chincoteague and stretches into Maryland.
- Kiptopeke State Park, one of Virginia’s most popular destinations, perches right on the Chesapeake Bay, has campsites, cabins, a yurt and a fishing pier.
- Nine campgrounds on Virginia’s Eastern Shore are all right on the water or very near to it, and have a range of amenities like fishing piers, cabins, swimming pools, restaurants, stores and horseback riding. The campgrounds are on both the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean coastlines.
- Rent a house right on the beach and bring your family and friends. Vacation rentals are a less expensive way for groups of family and friends to travel. You can cook at “home” and save the cost of eating out. Shop local farmer’s markets, seafood grocers, gourmet markets or just throw a line off a local (free) fishing pier.
Walk Back Through History
Virginia’s Eastern Shore dates to 1607 so there is lots to learn about its history. Nine small museums here are almost all free except for a few with very small admission fees (donations are welcome!) The agricultural and seafood industries, life on the water and the railroad shaped the region’s culture. The free NASA Wallops Visitor Center tells the story of America’s first rocket launch on Virginia’s Eastern Shore at Wallops Island in 1945. Today Wallops Island is a major spaceport launching resupply missions to the International Space Station. There are dozens of historic sites to see, too, all free, like the country’s oldest courthouse records in Eastville, the debtor’s prison in Accomac and the Timothy Hill House in Chincoteague.
78,000+ Acres of Free Parkland
Virginia’s Eastern Shore, one of the world’s most important bird migratory flyovers, is one of the most preserved regions on America’s East Coast, with more than 78,000 acres of parks, natural areas, preserves, national seashores and refuges. Entrance to most of this wild land and coastline is free. The Eastern Shore Wildlife Refuge near Cape Charles is free. Kiptopeke State Park and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge/ Assateague Island National Seashore near Chincoteague have entrance fees.
A Bargain on the Water
Virginia’s Eastern Shore, a long 70-mile peninsula, has two coastlines: the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the world’s second largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay, on the other. It’s one of the best spots in America for fishing, boating and kayaking. Bring your own boat or kayak and head to any of 40+ free, public boat ramps, on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. Local captains and kayak outfitters can provide equipment and guided adventures for a fee. Fishing piers on Virginia’s Eastern Shore are free and some town piers have “blanket” fishing licenses so you can even dodge that expense.
Free Cultural Events and Festivals
The Virginia Eastern Shore calendar is chock full of free events, like the annual July Pony Swim in Chincoteague, a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Onancock, open mike night at the Machipongo Clam Shack and an award-winning movie at the Barrier Island Center. Take in a star party or a model rocket launch at the NASA Wallops Island Visitor Center, which has year-round family programs. Check this comprehensive events page for details.