Grab your flip-flops and slather on sun screen! You’re headed for the Chesapeake Bay, where summer is celebrated with gusto. Its 11,684 miles of shoreline are home to beaches with gently rolling waves that wash your cares away. Some of the seaside escapes are hidden in picturesque coves that cater to laid-back waterfront living. Other destinations sport a lively urban vibe with tiki bars serving cocktails that match the colors of a sunset. The key is knowing which beach suits your fancy.
To help you design seamless travel plans, Marinalife pulled together a list of top Chesapeake beaches that starts in Virginia’s southern waters and migrates north to Maryland’s upper reaches of the Bay.
CHESAPEAKE BEACHES IN VIRGINIA
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA
When you enter the mouth of the Bay from the Atlantic Ocean and cruise past Cape Henry Lighthouse, you discover a beautiful two-mile stretch of sandy shoreline. Some call it Chesapeake Beach; locals refer to it as Chics Beach (named after Luther “Chic” Ledington, who ran a hotdog stand here for decades). Beach houses, condos and seafood restaurants create a cozy waterfront community that’s seldom overcrowded. Their most noteworthy neighbor is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel,
a 17.6-mile architectural wonder that connects Virginia’s mainland to its Eastern Shore.
Where to Dock: Rudee’s Inlet Station Marina
Along Hampton’s coastline awaits a trinity of beaches that can fulfill the summer wishes of everyone from historians to hikers. The southern part is Fort Monroe, a decommissioned Naval base that’s open to the public. In addition to savoring miles of gorgeous beaches, guests can tour the historic stone fort, lighthouse, museum and Civil War complex. In the middle of Hampton’s sun-kissed strip lies Buckroe Beach, a former plantation and tobacco farm now dedicated to seaside recreation. Its family-friendly amenities include playgrounds, picnic areas and places to rent umbrellas, jet skis, kayaks and paddle boats. Hampton’s northern tip is home to Grandview Beach & Nature Preserve, 475 acres of protected beaches, tidal creeks, salt marshes and hiking trails known for panoramic ocean views, migratory birds and trophy fishing.
Where to Dock: Bluewater Yachting Center
CAPE CHARLES BEACH
CAPE CHARLES, VA
This charming seaside town is the epitome of timeless Eastern Shore hospitality. Shallow waters and gentle waves allow parents with small children to relax and soak up the sun. Everything is located within walking distance of the beach — a fishing pier, a historic district with park and gazebo, lovely Victorian houses, and streets lines with cafes, shops and an ice cream store. Just south of town is a nature preserve teeming with wildlife and a resort offering signature golf courses.
Where to Dock: Cape Charles Yacht Center
GLOUCESTER POINT BEACH PARK
A pair of petite beaches located where the York River flows into the Chesapeake Bay can accommodate lazy sun worshipers and energetic tourists. On the river’s north side is Gloucester Point Beach, a hideaway with a sandy swimming area, a concession stand, a fishing pier and a view of the J.P. Coleman Memorial Bridge that is exceptional at sunset. On the south side near the base of the bridge, you can discover another beach that meanders along Yorktown’s Riverwalk. When you come ashore and dry off, you’ll find restaurants, shops, museums and historic battlegrounds to keep you busy for days.
Where to Dock: York River Yacht Haven
COLONIAL BEACH, VA
Along the Potomac River on Virginia’s Northern Neck is Colonial Beach, which boasts a half-mile boardwalk and 2.5 miles of soft-sand paradise. This classic riverside town charms its visitors with shops, galleries, playgrounds, a casino and restaurants serving terrific local oysters. A popular getaway since the 1800s, famous folks such as Alexander Graham Bell owned summer houses here. The region is also an incubator for noteworthy historical figures, such as the nearby birthplaces of George Washington, James Monroe and Robert E. Lee.
Where to Dock: Colonial Beach Marina
CHESAPEAKE BEACHES IN MARYLAND
CALVERT CLIFFS STATE PARK
About 20 million years ago, Calvert County was covered by a vast body of water filled with a menagerie of aquatic creatures. Erosion from the receding sea formed a 24-mile stretch of massive white cliffs that lend a dramatic beauty to the Chesapeake shoreline. Calvert Cliffs Beach visitors can simply enjoy the scenery — or they can investigate fossils from prehistoric sharks, whales, rays and seabirds the size of airplanes. With a shovel and sieve, you can sift through the sand and amass a nice collection of ancient shark teeth and oyster shells from the Miocene Era. This archaeological haven is surrounded by 1,079 acres of park land and 13 miles of marked foot trails.
Where to Dock: Vera’s White Sand Marina
CHESAPEAKE BEACH & NORTH BEACH
CHESAPEAKE BEACH, MD
In the late 1800s, Washington & Chesapeake Railroad laid big plans for this part of the Bay’s western shore and built gambling and seaside attractions that lured visitors from DC and Baltimore. The area flourished until the Great Depression when the boom busted. Decades of new development resurrected the twin towns and created two seaside destinations with distinctly different personalities. Chesapeake Beach bustles with a resort hotel, slot machines, gaming rooms, museum and water park for kids of all ages. North Beach presents a more relaxed family-friendly climate with antique stores, galleries, gift shops, a fishing pier, summer concerts, movies on the beach and a Friday farmers’ market.
Where to Dock: Chesapeake Beach Resort & Spa
SANDY POINT STATE PARK
Millions of people drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge every year. But Sandy Point offers a unique perspective where you can dig your toes in the golden sand and be mesmerized by the cars and trucks racing across the towering bridge spans above your head. The 786 acres of beach and picnic areas are a popular place to spend summer days at the Bay. Some sections of the park are designated for fishing and crabbing, and a 215-acre forested nature preserve is ideal for hiking and bird watching. Bring your own cooler and provisions, as the concession stand only offers snacks.
Where to Dock: Bay Bridge Marina
HART-MILLER ISLAND STATE PARK
On the western shore near the mouth of the Middle River are three uninhabited islands that are only accessible by boat. They might look like Mother Nature’s handiwork, but they’re actually man-made structures formed from dredge materials out of Baltimore Harbor and the Patapsco River. Hart-Miller and Pleasure islands comprise the 1,100-acre state park that boasts a 3,000-foot sandy beach with spectacular views. Hiking trails, campgrounds, bike rentals, fishing areas and
wildlife sanctuaries create an oasis of waterfront summer fun.
Where to Dock: Hart-Miller Island Anchorage
During the late 19th century, steamboats from Baltimore shuttled heat-weary vacationers to Betterton’s resort hotels, amusement park and luscious beachfront. Those glory days ended when the Bay Bridge offered an easy drive to Atlantic beaches. Today, Betterton is a quiet, hidden gem with a family-friendly vibe. It’s known for magnificent views of high bluffs along the shore that serve as a backdrop for the five-acre waterfront park, boardwalk, picnic pavilion, public pier and fishing jetty. People flock to Betterton in late summer when sea nettles plague other parts of the Bay, because fresh water from the Sassafras River washes away those bothersome jellyfish. Only one restaurant — lovely Barbara’s on the Bay — overlooks the beach. If you head south past Tolchester Beach into Rock Hall, you find more options to feed a hungry crew.
Where to Dock: Tolchester Marina
ELK NECK STATE PARK
NORTH EAST, MD
Don’t be surprised if you see eagles and hawks soaring around Turkey Point Lighthouse. They’re part of the natural wonders you discover at Elk Neck State Park, along with 2,188 acres of sandy shoreline, white clay cliffs, thick forests and marshlands. It’s a great getaway destination near the mouth of the Susquehanna River near the top of the Bay. Families build lasting memories of dreamy summer days while they swim, camp, fish, hike, kayak, picnic and romp on the beach.
Where to Dock: McDaniel Yacht Basin