by Nick Taylor
Onancock, Virginia, is our favorite out-of-the-way place on the U.S. East Coast. Barbara and I stop there every summer on our way to Nag’s Head, North Carolina, and we’ve grown to love the little town on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake for its scenery, its old stately houses, and most of all for its hospitality. What was once a stop to break up the long drive from New York City has become one of the highlights of our annual beach week. But Onancock is also a perfect spot for a fall weekend getaway.
There’s no mystery about Onancock. It’s a port town whose roots go back to 1680 as a home for people whose lives touch the sea. It lies between two branches of a creek that enters the Chesapeake, and as you walk between the small downtown and the marina you’re never out of sight of water. The marina houses sail and powerboats, and there’s an array of creeks and estuaries to tempt fishermen, canoers and kayakers.
We always stay at the Charlotte Hotel. It’s in an old building North Street and was taken over several years ago by a couple from Pittsburgh who turned it into a delightful boutique hotel with an exceptional restaurant. Charlotte Heath – it’s named for her — is an artist and has used her talent to decorate the inn with charming paintings, murals and wall art in the public areas and the rooms. Gary Cochran runs the hotel and the small and friendly bar where he makes gimlets from scratch – no pre-sweetened lime juice.
The restaurant specializes in local seafood and the talented chef, Sam Yokum, creates pleasing seasonal menus. Crab cakes are light and sweet and you can’t go wrong with fresh soft shell crabs from Hunting Creek. There are other good restaurants around town, too, or so the locals tell us – we’ve never been able to tear ourselves away from the Charlotte
Onancock, about 70 miles from the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula where the Chesapeake Bridge-Tunnel takes to you Virginia Beach and Norfolk, is by no means the only town in the area. The Atlantic Ocean is just a few miles away to the west, and both the Atlantic and Chesapeake coasts are rich with seafaring history and warm with small-town hospitality.
It’s also a great area for bicycling – mostly flat and featuring historic towns, lush farms, and lots of water views. The eighteenth annual Between the Waters bike tour – a one-day ride around the area – starts in Onancock and is scheduled for October 23 this year.
The area is worth a visit if you’re on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, or even if you’re not.