Boaters’ Guide to Visiting Cape Charles

Whether you’re arriving to Cape Charles via boat or bringing your boat along on your Eastern Shore vacation, you’ll find that the town is very boater-friendly. Here’s what you need to know about bringing your boat to Cape Charles.

Where to dock your boat in Cape Charles

There are a few options for docking your boat in Cape Charles. Cape Charles Yacht Center is known as the premier Chesapeake Bay marina and boatyard. Its 18-foot-deep channel can accommodate vessels of all sizes, including megayachts. Cape Charles Harbor, managed by the Yacht Center, hosts commercial and recreational vessels with 1200 feet of dock space and 95 slips. Another option is the Oyster Farm Marina, which boasts 124 fully cushioned slips that can accommodate vessels up to 150 feet.

Boat launches near Cape Charles

Just looking to launch your boat in or around Cape Charles? There are plenty of places to begin your exploration of the Chesapeake Bay, whether you’re looking to do some fishing or just taking a pleasure cruise. You can find a list of all of Northampton County’s boat ramps here.

  • The Wise Point Boat Ramp is located within the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge. If offers access to both the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Virginia Inside Passage.
  • There is a boat ramp at Kiptopeke State Park offering easy access to the legendary fishing around the park’s concrete ships. 
  • Launching and hauling boats from the ramp at the Cape Charles Harbor is free. The ramp gets busy during warmer months, and boaters should also plan in advance for parking and trailer storage.
  • If you’re heading offshore to explore the Barrier Islands, Oyster Harbor is a great place to start. There’s no fee to launch from here.

Boating safety around the Eastern Shore

The tidal marshes, underwater grass flats, and strong winds that are common in the area can present a challenge to even experienced boaters. Be sure to keep an eye on the weather as well as the tides to avoid getting caught out in the open by a storm, or being stranded by the tides. If you’re exploring the Barrier Islands, the best time to do so is on a rising tide. Also keep an eye out for “No Trespassing” signs to avoid landing on private property, and be aware that some islands may be closed periodically to protect nesting birds. 

Somewhere between the beach bums and the seafood seekers on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, you’ll find another group of visitors drawn to one of the area’s more unique attractions: Birdwatching. Whether you’re an experienced birder or just a beginner, you’ll discover an impressive array of bird species in and around Cape Charles.

Why is the Eastern Shore a destination for birders? To find out, we chatted with Martina Coker of Birding Eastern Shore

Cape Charles Main Street: What is so special about birding on the Eastern Shore? 

Martina Coker: The Eastern Shore provides an exceptional location for birding, with its location on the Atlantic Flyway. Birds heading south on the fall migration funnel through the narrow peninsula, often hesitating prior to heading over the Chesapeake Bay. The resulting staging area allows birders a great opportunity to observe the birds as they wait to cross. There have been 439 bird species recorded on the Eastern Shore. Winter brings large numbers of waterfowl to the area. The spring migration is not as dramatic as the fall, but has a magic of its own, as birds return or pass through on the way to their summer homes. 

CCMS: What are some of your favorite places around Cape Charles to look for birds?

MC: The large amount of conserved land on the Eastern Shore provides varied habitat for birds living in and moving through the peninsula. Visitors to Cape Charles will find many locations to bird, from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel at the southern tip of the peninsula to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge near the Maryland border.

Twenty-six excellent birding locations are listed on the Birding Eastern Shore website. Each location has a description of birds and other wildlife seen at the location, along with details that make it easy to plan your visit. 

There are some great birding areas very close to Cape Charles including Cape Charles Harbor itself. On recent visits, I saw an Eared Grebe (a rare visitor), Greater Scaups, Long-tailed Ducks, Buffleheads, Common Loons, Horned Grebes, American Oystercatchers and a Savannah Sparrow. 

There are usually nesting Ospreys on pilings in the harbor, providing a nice show while you dine at The Shanty. Other great locations nearby include: 

Cape Charles Beach

Cape Charles Natural Area Preserve

Custis Tombs on Plantation Creek

Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge

Fisherman Island Wildlife Refuge

Indiantown Park

Magothy Bay Natural Area Preserve

Northampton County Nature Preserve

Savage Neck Dunes

Brownsville Preserve

The Village of Oyster

Willis Wharf Overlook

The hawkwatch at Kiptopeke State Park runs from September 1 through November 30 each year. Immense numbers of migrating raptors are counted by on-site biologists over the hawkwatch platform. Visitors are welcome to join the biologists as they document the migration and provide education for visitors. 

The above locations are all in Northampton County, within 30 miles of Cape Charles. The Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve’s 14 Barriers Islands also provide prime birding locations. There are several captains, who are also certified ecotour guides, who can take you to the islands including Eastern Shore Boat Tours LLC, Seaside Ecotours, and Broadwater Bay Ecotours. Kayaking provides another spectacular way to get close to birds in and around the extensive network of waterways on the shore. Virginia Water Trails provides good information to access kayak trails throughout the Eastern Shore.

Cape Charles and the surrounding area provide visitors with an incomparable birding experience. Birding trips can be enhanced by visits to restaurants such as The Shanty and The Cape Charles Brewing Company, and capped off with delicious ice cream at Brown Dog Ice Cream.

Find out more at Birding Eastern Shore.

Picturesque vista from a trail in Cape Charles

We all love Cape Charles in the summer. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, this little beach town truly shines with summer concerts in the park, sunny days on the sand, spectacular sunsets, and lazy nights cooled by Bay breezes. But when the summer visitors have packed their bags, the town and all of its attractions remain. And that’s when some folks will tell you that Cape Charles shines the brightest: in the off-season.

 

Why should you visit Cape Charles in the off-season? Whether you’re considering a visit in the winter, spring, or fall, here’s why Cape Charles will never disappoint.

 

Crowds are thinner. Although Cape Charles rarely feels over-crowded — even in the height of summer — crowds are much thinner in the off-season. Shoot for the shoulder season (late spring and early fall) to enjoy all the benefits of the town’s beautiful public beach without worrying about finding the perfect spot on the sand.

 

Dining out is easier. No one loves being waitlisted at a restaurant or waiting in line for ice cream, but unfortunately it’s just a fact of life during the peak season in Cape Charles. But in the off-season? You’re a lot more likely to walk right in and claim a table at your chosen restaurant — and to receive quick, friendly service. Just be sure to check seasonal hours — some businesses do close for part of the year.

 

Two words: Oyster season. You can eat oysters any time of year, and some of the best are harvested off the Eastern Shore. But local watermen will tell you that the ideal time to enjoy local oysters is in months that contain the letter R — and yes, that rules out the summer. For the juiciest, most succulent local oysters, do your shucking from September through April.

 

Local shops often hold off-season sales. After the busy summer season, many local shops are eager to clear out inventory to make room for new stock. That means special off-season sales, especially at the end of the year and during the annual spring Sidewalk Sale.

 

The weather may be better. Now, this may not hold true for, say, February, but shoulder season weather is indeed often superior to summer weather on the Eastern Shore. The summer heat can be extreme, particularly in July and August, and the mosquitos can be a nuisance as well. April, May, September, and October promise sunny days minus the heat and humidity of high summer.

 

You can take advantage of off-season rates. There are a limited number of beds available in Cape Charles, which means prices can be high in the peak season. Whether you’re staying in a local hotel, inn, or vacation rental, you can often shave a significant amount off of your nightly rate by planning your trip in the off-season.

 

 

What should you pack for a trip to Cape Charles? This isn’t your typical beach town, and your packing list should reflect that. Sure, you’ll need all your standard beach-going gear — swimsuits, flip-flops, beach towels, etc. — but there are a few more items you should pack that will help you make the most of your trip.

Before we get into our list, a quick note: Cape Charles is located in a fairly remote area on the tip of the Eastern Shore, but it’s not completely isolated. There’s a Food Lion and a Dollar Tree in town, plus a Walmart not too far up the road in Onley. And of course, it’s just a quick trip across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel to reach Hampton Roads, one of the biggest metro areas in the Southeast. In other words, if you forget something, it’s not a big deal.

#wanderlove

Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s talk about a few not-so-basic items you should consider packing for your trip to Cape Charles.

  • Pool floats. With its location on the Chesapeake Bay, Cape Charles’ waters are calm and shallow — no monster waves here. That makes it the perfect place to kick back on a pool float to enjoy the gentle waves. It’s also perfect for kayaking and paddleboarding; bring your own or rent them once you arrive in town.
  • Walking/hiking shoes. If you’re visiting Cape Charles in the warmer months, you may think sandals are the only footwear you’ll need. And that’s fine if you’re planning to spend your entire visit on the beach. However, you should know that Cape Charles and its surrounds offer some excellent hiking trails. It’s also fun to simply take a long stroll around town.
  • Binoculars. Cape Charles and Virginia’s Eastern Shore are major destinations for serious birdwatchers [link to birdwatching blog post]. But you don’t have to be an expert to engage in some ornithology. Check out Birding Eastern Shore’s website to learn a bit about local species, then see what you can find at the beach or on local hiking trails.
  • Oyster knives, crab crackers, etc. If you’re planning to prepare some local seafood in your rental home (and you absolutely should!), make sure you have the proper supplies. While some properties may stock oyster knives, crab pots, and other necessities, you can’t always be sure they’ll be available to you. Whether you’re looking to shuck some local oysters or hold a crab boil in the backyard, it’s a good idea to pack what you’ll need just in case.
  • Telescope. If you have a telescope gathering dust in your attic, now’s the perfect time to brush it off and bring it with you. Cape Charles’ remote location makes it ideal for stargazing. Even if you don’t have a telescope, be sure to go outside and stare up at the stars at least once during your stay.

#wanderlove

So you’ve visited Cape Charles, and suddenly you find yourself wanting to buy a home here. Don’t worry — it’s a common enough occurrence. The town tends to have that effect on people. Whether you’re a retiree, a young family, or somewhere in between, Cape Charles offers the chance to live a vacation lifestyle year-round. Luckily, there are homes available for every type of buyer. 

Buying a home in the Cape Charles historic district

Cape Charles’ historic district is a compact area mostly populated with homes built at the turn of the century. This is one of the more sought-after parts of Cape Charles for buyers thanks to its charm and walkability — residents can enjoy easy pedestrian access to the beach, Central Park, and downtown from anywhere in the historic district. The area is increasingly popular with second homeowners who may rent out their properties to vacation renters for extra income when they’re not staying there themselves. Homes range from tiny bungalows to sprawling Victorians to duplexes, offering a range of sizes for different types of buyers.

Buying a home in Bay Creek

Bay Creek isn’t just a resort with an incredible golf course. It’s also a thriving community that’s home to hundreds of residents. Set on over 1,700 pristine acres, Bay Creek boasts a large private beach and miles of hiking trails through a nature preserve. Homes here are new with a classic coastal aesthetic.

Homes in King’s Creek Landing and Beyond

Look beyond the historic district and Bay Creek to find some of the area’s best values. Developments like King’s Creek Landing offer newer homes within just a short drive of Cape Charles proper. You can also find nearby homes situated on the water, on farmland, or in neighboring communities like Cheriton, Eastville, and Oyster.

Ready to buy a home in Cape Charles? See our list of local realtors here [link to “Living in Cape Charles” page] to get started today.