This July I spent a long weekend on the beautiful island of Chincoteague off the coast of Virginia. It proved to be a perfect location to experience some great views, interact with some exceptionally nice people, and eat some delicious tacos.
We drove from Rochester, NY which ended up taking about 10 hours total. It seems almost impossible to avoid Philadelphia traffic when you are driving southbound during a weekday, and we did not break this tradition. We arrived at the hotel around 5:00 pm, checked in, unloaded the car, and felt refreshed enough to make the poor decision to walk to dinner. A “feels like” temperature of 99 degrees was not ideal for our 20 minute stroll.
We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites which is located near the entrance of the island and our destination rested on the opposite side – down the main road. Turning left out of the parking lot, we walked a short distance down Main St., turned right onto Maddox Blvd., and were already feeling the blistering heat. We walked past TripAdvisor staples like Main Street Shop Coffeehouse, Island Creamery, Captain Zack’s, Bananas, and Smokey’s before finally making it to our destination, Pico Taqueria.
This taco restaurant catches visitors from late April until early October of each year and does not disappoint. When we arrived in the early evening, there was a line nearly out the door. There were about five groups in front of us and thankfully we could feel the air conditioning strengthen after each group placed their order and we were able to move up. Sweet relief! They really had quite the system, with one cashier they are able to ensure that the kitchen does not get backed up and food can be ready in a timely manner. Also, once you get to the front of the line, they take a few moments to ask you about your day and your visit before getting to business. Classic Chincoteague hospitality.
How was the food? Delicious of course! They have very unique, fresh, and tasty taco combinations. They are also very good with allergies and food restrictions, just make sure you let them know! Although, their expertise was not a surprise since all four of the owners have a culinary backgrounds which include high-end establishments and two have certifications in Culinary and Baking and Pastry Arts.
The ambience of the restaurant was very charming. Teal chairs and accents complimented the white walls plus the screen doors and windows almost tricked me into thinking I was at summer camp. There was also a sandy outdoor area with a beanbag toss to add to my delusion, although we were trying our hardest to spend as little time in the heat as possible. After two delicious tacos, some blueberry habanero salsa, and a light, juicy sour ale I was refreshed enough for our return trip to the hotel.
From our balcony we could hear the live music from the Chincotiki Bar & Grill and (after the sun went down) walked the few steps to experience their island vibes. A yard of sand outlined a small, 3-sided bar structure whose inhabitants churned out drink orders left and right. Even with a thirsty crowd, the bartenders were pleasant and kind to everyone who placed an order, and I’d urge you to try and find more patient patrons. The remaining area was full of colorful picnic tables, games, and the glow from twinkle lights that were fastened from the perimeter of the property and stretched up to one main pole like the mast on a ship. The soloist was very entertaining and, in my opinion, just the right volume. We enjoyed a few drinks paired with the sound of a wave or two splashing on the nearby break wall. An excellent way to spend the evening.
Saturday was beach day! After stops at the Main Street Shop Coffeehouse and Dollar General we were equipped and ready to head over to Assateague Island ($20 admission). The southern half of Assateague Island is a part of Virginia and the northern half is a part of Maryland. The island is separated with a fence that keeps two different herds of wild ponies apart. Once a year, experts round up the Virginia ponies and guide them on a swim over to Chincoteague where some are auctioned off and sent home with loving owners. This is done to keep the island populations under control and the process is overseen by several animal rights groups. The ponies are happy and healthy and it draws many tourists to this destination, even just for the spectacle.
Assateague Island is a wildlife preserve and includes several nature trails, a visitor center, and a beach. Since friends and family were prompting us repeatedly for pony pictures, we decided to attempt to catch a glimpse. The easiest and closest trail seemed to be the Lighthouse Trail so we started there. In just a .25 mile long loop, I must have been bitten by approximately 1,000 mosquitoes. Even with my buggy misfortune, it was very cool seeing the historic structure. Though I could not bring myself to attempt the climb in the high 90s weather. The visitor center seemed like a fantastic place to cool down. After driving over there and taking a self-guided, air conditioned, tour of their fascinating exhibits, we received an insider tip that all of the ponies were currently being held in a nearby pen. Apparently it was time for a quick check-up before the big swim.
Thanks to my new handheld smartphone tripod, I was able to snatch an exclusive photo and then, finally, it was time for the beach.
Driving to the parking area, you would have thought the beach was packed. More cars were coming in than were leaving, and there was not a spot in sight. Good thing we kept driving! As we continued to drive, more and more spots appeared and we realized it wasn’t full at all. We parked right in front of a wall of sand where a narrow valley of footprints had made an indent. We gathered our gear from the car, walked through the valley, and found a spot on the sand nearby. Our schedule for the afternoon went as follows: plunge in the icy water, bake in the hot sun, plunge, bake, plunge, etc. A perfect combination.
Chincoteague and Assateague Island were a great choice for our mid-summer getaway and we will definitely be back. However, a more temperate month might be preferable. If you’d like to learn more about planning your visit to this area or any other area for a mid-summer getaway, contact Van Zile Travel to speak with a vacation coordinator.
Authored and photos by Carol Gabbert, Van Zile Travel