The communities, farms and former plantations here are inhabited by people who can often trace their linages to early 17th-century settlers, enslaved African-American ancestors or indigenous people. For years, they lived in relative isolation, forging a simple living from land or sea.
But the Eastern Shore is increasingly being discovered by retirees and others lured by small-town life yet is close to Washington and other major cities. Here's a look at some of the major destinations in Virginia's Eastern Bay country.
Perhaps most familiar is Assateague Island, home to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and the Assateague Island National Seashore. Here the famous wild ponies have roamed since the 17th century, when legend says they swam ashore from shipwrecked Spanish galleons.
Cars, bikers and hikers are welcome; however, no pets are allowed - not even in cars - lest they disturb the fragile environment. A two-hour narrated tour departs from the visitors' center and provides a good understanding of these barrier islands and the importance of the seashore in protecting wildlife, especially birds that stop here during long migratory journeys.
There are a few three- and four-story chain motels here, but its bed-and-breakfast inns give this island its charm.
Go 10 minutes in any direction and you will come to the water's edge. Whether enjoying a beach loaded with sun worshippers and surf fishermen, or watching waterman hauling in a catch of oysters, you'll feel that life here moves as slowly as the ebb and flow of the tide.
Continue another 30 miles south along Route 13 to this little coastal jewel, with its Victorian B&Bs - and restaurants ranging from flip-flop casual to fine dining, which you'll find at the Charlotte Hotel & Restaurant. Gentlemen, bring your khakis and golf shirts.
Savvy residents have restored many of the town's old buildings into retail businesses, including several fine-art galleries. Onancock (pop. 1,500) was voted one of the coolest small towns in America in a Budget Travel Magazine survey.
If you're the type of person who falls in love with places, you'll quickly be stuck on Cape Charles, the Eastern Shore's southernmost town and one that's filled with so many early- Victorian and turn-of-the-century homes and buildings that it is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Cape Charles is "almost Mayberry," said Roberta Romeo, while serving her famous Grand Marnier-flavored pancakes at the Cape Charles Coffee House on Mason Avenue, the town's main drag. "It's a collection of exciting people who ask, 'How are you?' and actually wait for an answer."
There is a yearlong calendar of festivals and activities, including a kayak and wine tour by Southeast Expeditions that takes a leisurely journey along the Nassawadox Creek and culminates at the Chatham Vineyards. The Eastern Shore Birding & Wildlife Festival will be here Oct. 8-10.
Mild weather, scenic landscapes, affordable accommodations and a year-round schedule of events and festivals make the Virginia Eastern Shore a prime destination within a short drive.
P.J. Thomas is editor and copublisher of Pathfinders Travel Magazine for People of Color, a nationally distributed publication founded in 1997. Contact her at
firstname.lastname@example.org or www.pathfinderstravel.com.