Grab your gal pal and head for the Shore, where old-fashioned fun—and great food—await!
Soaked to the skin, hair dripping wet, my friend Gini and I are cruising around in a golf cart in the rain and having the time of our lives. Who knew golf carts were so much fun?
Gini, my high school buddy, and I are enjoying a girlfriend getaway in Cape Charles on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Our visit has coincided with less-than-ideal weather, but we're so glad to leave the worry and stress of the pandemic behind us, we wouldn't care if it snowed! This picture-postcard town is the perfect place to forget our troubles.
"Cape Charles is open for business," says Smitty, a 4th generation Shore local. Smitty owns CC Ryder Golf Cart Rentals on Mason Street and fixes us up with our cart soon after we arrive. "For heat or A/C, you adjust the front window up or down," he says with a twinkle in his eye. Eying the clouds overhead, he pats the roof and says, "And in case of rain, we got you covered."
Smitty loves living on the Shore and says, "One hundred percent of the people who come here love it." I can see why. It's peaceful, quaint, quiet, and safe. OK, so the sidewalks roll up pretty early in Cape Charles, but who needs night life when you can look at the stars or the moon reflecting off the Chesapeake Bay.
During our visit, we'll see precious little of the sun or the moon, but Gini and I make the best of it. We don't have much planned—just catching up on girl talk, tasting good food and wine, and taking it easy.
Hotel Cape Charles: Very Zen
Grab a Sammy at Coastal Baking Company
We couldn't have chosen a better place to chill than the Hotel Cape Charles, a boutique hotel right in the middle of town, which opened in 2012. Our two-room suite is lovely, clean, and spacious with a complete kitchen, living area, and two fluffy queen beds—perfect for a girlfriend getaway.
The hotel is walking distance from the beach, restaurants, shops, and has a lovely garden patio out back, bikes for rent, and a small café, which serves breakfast in the morning and sells "carefully curated" wine by the glass, pretty much whenever you want it. Gini and I love sitting in the lobby, soaking up the sleek ambiance and listening to serene lounge music. Very zen.
Our first day is meant mostly for shopping and eating. Sounds good to us! There are dozens of retailers and restaurants along Mason Street and side streets, featuring gifts, jewelry, clothing, furniture, candy, and cuisine. Our first stop is a cute-as-a-button café called Coastal Baking Company, known for its desserts, pastries, Creole-inspired entrees, and sandwiches. We meet Cassie and Bobby Patel, the owners, who tell us they've been open two years. Bobby's from India and met Cassie while studying in Aiken, S.C.
Big fans of New Orleans, the couple has brought some of NOLA's cuisine to Cape Charles, including King Cakes and Muffelettas. I choose a Sicilian-style Muffeletta for lunch, and it's the biggest sandwich I've ever tackled. Piled high with quality deli meat and cheese and homemade olive spread, it proves too much for me to finish in one sitting. Gini's pastrami sandwich is also huge, so we decide to try one of the bakery's famous desserts next time. We are stuffed!
Shopping is the perfect way to work off calories. Luckily, the rain has stopped, so we saunter along Main Street, window shopping and admiring unique handicrafts, jewelry, and home décor. But the golf cart is calling and before long we hop aboard for a tour of Cape Charles. We cruise through the adjacent neighborhood along streets named after fruit—Peach, Strawberry, Plum, and Fig—lined with mostly Victorian-style homes, many painted in pastel colors. Yards are abloom with hydrangea, daises, and lilies, and it feels like we are driving through the pages of Southern Living magazine.
Our tour takes us to Oyster Farm at King's Creek, a marina, restaurant, and event venue on the north end of Cape Charles. Surrounded by water, it's a picturesque spot with pricey new homes sprouting up, many with waterfront views. To the south Bay Creek Resort is a gated community featuring a golf course, luxury homes, and condos. Real estate is booming in Cape Charles as more and more people are discovering this peaceful paradise. But you don't have to buy. Many homes are available for vacation rentals, so you can get a taste of the mellow life here on Virginia's Eastern Shore.
Sunset and Cornhole at The Shanty
Don't Miss Breakfast Treats at The Bakery on Mason
There's lots to do besides shopping if you favor a more adventurous itinerary. Southeast Expeditions offers guided kayak tours and rentals as well as paddleboard rentals. You can also take a sunset cruise with Capt. Pete, who owns Eastern Shore Boat Tours. Unfortunately, stormy weather means we have to cancel our sunset tour, so we brave the elements our first evening and take the golf cart over to The Shanty, a well-known waterfront seafood restaurant near Cape Charles Town Harbor.
Even though it's a Monday night, The Shanty is busy. Gini and I score a nice corner table and settle in for cocktails and ceviche. I try the basil ruby martini—yum—and Gini orders the orange crush. The Shanty is "the" spot for sunset views and offers outdoor seating and cornhole, but the rainy weather keeps us inside. We're happy, though, especially when our fried oyster and shrimp baskets arrive, overflowing with succulent shellfish, plus an order of melt-in-your-mouth hushpuppies. The Cajun cole slaw is our favorite—crunchy, spicy, and sweet.
Back at The Hotel Cape Charles we have fun playing a visioning game called "The Answer is Simple." You pick three cards and each is supposed to help you resolve a problem or a situation you are wrestling with. My cards say: "Step away from the crowd," "You are safe," and "Decide the outcome." Hmm, Gini and I ponder what these words mean, especially the last one which reminds me that I have the power to decide what happens in my life. For that matter, don't we all?
The next morning, we head across the street to yet another stellar bakery called The Bakery on Mason owned by Louise and her husband, Andrew. Louise used to sell her mouthwatering breads at the Old Beach Market in Va. Beach as well as other markets. Soon she decided it was time for a bricks-and-mortar location, and the couple chose to locate in Cape Charles.
Lucky locals! Gini and I feasted on a delicious ham and cheese croissant, a unique breakfast muffin with an egg baked inside (!), and a few other goodies. Louise is known for her sourdough and baguettes, but plan to get your bread early since she often sells out. The bakery also sells yummy sandwiches and cakes.
Time for a walk after all those carbs. Gini and I head to Cape Charles' lovely beach for a morning stroll. We are hoping for better weather today, and the sun even peeks briefly through the clouds as we walk along the coast looking for shells, enjoying the breeze, and listening to gentle waves lap on the shore. Families love hanging out on this beach with its shallow water and tiny waves—perfect for kids—but the clouds soon begin to gather, and beachgoers will have to wait for another day.
Taste Wines at Chatham Vineyards on Church Creek
Best Meal Ever at Ambrogia Caffé and Enoteca
Gini and I hop in the car for a quick ride north first to Machipongo Trading Company to pick up BBQ sandwiches and then Chatham Vineyards on Church Creek, where we plan to picnic and sample wines. Matt, a high school P.E. teacher who's helping with the winery during the summer, leads us to the back patio, where we can eat our sandwiches, but the weather has other plans.
The wind picks up and starts blowing our sandwich wraps across the grass. Lightning flashes, thunder booms, and the rains come. We hunker down behind a tractor, gobble down our lunch, and hurry into the winery for a tour and tasting. So much for our peaceful picnic!
Chatham's delicious wines offer the perfect antidote, and we taste a flight consisting of five varietals and a blend. All are exceptional, but our favorites are the rosé (strawberry and watermelon), the steel chardonnay (tropical fruit and minerals), and the Vintner's Blend (ripe tannins, blackberry, and coffee). Guests can also order bread and cheese boards and relax (in good weather) at one of the many outdoor tables, spaced well apart to ensure social distancing.
En route home we stop at Savage Neck Dunes and hike through a pristine natural preserve. Amazingly the rain holds off as we wind through maritime forests, past ponds and swamps, and finally over large dunes along the edge of the bay. A magnificent view awaits on the other side of the dunes, and we sit a while in silence, loving the peace and tranquility here. Except for one family we pass on the trail, the preserve is empty, which makes us feel that much further away from the "sturm" and "drang" of our lives back home.
Our last night in Cape Charles we dine at Ambrogia Caffé and Enoteca. It's a darling spot with simple décor, rustic vibe, and delicious Italian food. The owner, Cristina, used to be an oceanographer, but her heart pulled her toward food and she opened Ambrogia with her boyfriend, Keith, in 2019.
"The town came together and hugged us," says Cristina in her lilting Italian accent. She's from the northern region of Italy, a place where polenta is popular. She says she can eat polenta every day and not get tired of it.
Gini and I begin with a salumi and formaggi board featuring incredibly flavorful Italian meats and cheeses. I love the creamy mortadella with pistachios and black pepper and the provolone piccante. With our starters I order an Aperol spritzer and Gini has a glass of Sicilian chardonnay. We relax and nibble on the delicious plate of Italian fare, which Cristina says is a great representation of "my country."
For a main course, I choose housemade ravioli stuffed with braised ribs in a creamy basil sauce. It's divine. Gini orders the shrimp with polenta and cured tomatoes and loves the flavorful combination. In fact, we agree Ambrogia is a hidden gem on the Shore, worth making a detour if you're on Rt. 13. Many agree, and with limited seating due to the coronavirus, people are turned away the night we dine. Reservations are definitely recommended.
For dessert, Cristina serves us a beautiful tiramisu: soft ladyfingers, cream, cocoa powder, and a light dusting of salt on top, a concoction unlike any other with layers of flavors that explode on your tongue. It's the perfect finale to an exquisite meal. Cristina and Keith bid us farewell, and we promise to return soon.
Like the people we meet, Cape Charles has a way of making you feel at home. Even though it's less than an hour away, it's the perfect destination to disappear for a while. As Gini and I drive south, she says this little getaway has changed her world. We've all been cooped up now for too long. It's time to get out and live a little. You'll find what you're looking for in Cape Charles.
All You Need To Know
Follow These Recommendations for an Amazing Trip to Marvelous Mendoza
Mendoza Travel Information
For more information on accommodation options, restaurants, and activities, go to www.visitesva.com.
Need a Golf Cart?
Smitty's rentals on Mason St. are super convenient. Check the website for rates and how to make a reservation: capecharlesgolfcarts.com
Best Boutique Hotel
You'll love staying in the middle of town, and the beach is just two blocks away! For rates and reservations, visit hotelcapecharles.com.
Stuffed Sandwiches, Cakes & More
You'll love the tasty offerings at Coastal Baking Company. For updated menu, visit coastalbakingco.com.
Kayaks & Paddleboards
For guided tours, rentals, and more, give the folks at Southeast Expeditions a call or check out rheir website for rates and more info! southeastexpeditions.com
Your Own Private Boat Tour
Capt. Pete shares Eastern Shore Lore and some of the prettiest sunset views on his private yours. Visit easternshoreboattour.com for rates and schedule your tour today!
Best Sunset Views & Tasty Eats
Check out the menu, opening times, and cocktail offerings at shantyseafood.com.
Baguettes and Sour Dough Bread
Visit the bakeryonmason.com and see what's been baked today. You can also find opening hours and check out the menu.
Cool Gift Shop & Lunch Fare
Before you head to the winery, grab a tasty picnic lunch at this cute little spot on Rt. 13. Check esvamtc.com for menu. Don't miss the local products also on sale.
When It's Time To Wine Down
Head to Chatham Vineyards on Church Creek. Try a tasting flight. Read more about their whites, red, and rosés at chathamvineyards.net.
Take a Hike
Get lost in the ancient dunes. Find directions at dcr.virginia.gov/natural-heritage/natural-area-preserves/savage
A Taste of Italy
Authentic Italian Cuisine is on the menu at ambrogiacc.com