If you ever read Misty of Chincoteague or watched the movie as a child, you probably have always wanted to visit this serene little island to explore the places in the book. I was lucky enough to spend a few glorious days in Chincoteague this fall and loved every minute of my stay. (If you are looking for quiet, going during the off season is key. Pony penning week is packed with people!)
Where to See Chincoteague Ponies
I came to Chincoteague to see the wild ponies. I booked a seat on Daisey’s Island Cruises. We saw dolphins. Tons of dolphins, rollicking and leaping and diving right beside the boat. We also saw some awesome birds. Near the end of the trip, our guide finally spotted ponies. They weren’t very close, but I did get to see Beach Boy, a direct descendant of Misty!
So, with the boat trip over, I decided to try my luck with Beach Road into Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. I saw an incredible variety of beautiful wild birds and was the first to spot a small herd of ponies! If you stop on Beach Road with binoculars or cameras, they will come. I was soon surrounded by families who came to see the ponies and had slowed to see what I spotted. (To see the ponies, look to the right as you are driving into the Refuge.)
Since I wasn’t quite done with my pony fix, I also booked a room at the lovely Refuge Inn, which is the home of three ponies. At that point, I was ready to explore the other things Chincoteague has to offer, but if you want to spend more time with the ponies, you will want to follow the Misty Trail.
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge Beach
If you are on Chincoteague, you absolutely need to visit the beach. It is beautifully sandy and covered in shells. (Limit of 1 gallon a day. How do you measure a gallon? I took 3 shells because even if I knew how to measure it, what would I do with a gallon?) Tom’s Cove Visitor’s Center and the Lighthouse are also a must. Don’t forget to collect cancellations on your passport. (If you don’t have a National Parks Passport, they had cancellations on loose paper at each location, too.)
If you aren’t up to a major hike, the lighthouse is a short walk up a slightly steep path. If you have someone with a handicapped parking sticker, you can actually drop them at the lighthouse and park in the lot beside it.
One of the things we really enjoyed was wandering through the many little charming shops in town. If you are lucky enough to be there during an art stroll, you’ll be able to meet artists at the different galleries, enjoy wine tasting and more. Our favorite stops were Wine, Cheese & More and Bad Ponies. We got some very nice Virginia wines at Wine, Cheese & More. Restaurants include Don’s, a local favorite, and Bills, which is the most popular fine dining restaurant on the island. (Head to Bill’s for Sunday brunch.)
Our favorite restaurant experience was actually off the main drag. Mr. Paul’s Kitchen is a charming little place that feels pretty much like you’ve been invited to breakfast with the family. I had perfect bacon, Paul’s pumpkin pancakes, which reminded me of gingersnaps and smelled divine, and some fairly nice hash browns.
Sunrises and Sunsets
Make sure you are up early enough for sunrise and stay up for sunset. They are both spectacular events. We were right on the water for two days, but our third morning at The Refuge was glorious in a different way. (Head out to the overlook behind the pony pen to watch the sun rise behind the lighthouse.)
Would I visit Chincoteague again? Absolutely. Next time, I’d like to stay in Miss Molly’s Inn and explore Misty’s Trail, which means coming during the summer months when all the tourist attractions are open.