The Yorktown beach and waterfront with the Coleman bridge and a small gazebo

The Best Beach Towns in Virginia for Your Summer Vacation

Virginia's lovely coastline, stretching along the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay, offers plenty of choices when it comes to charming beach towns for a summer vacation. “Old Dominion” (a nickname bestowed upon it by King Charles II) has long been a favorite among travelers seeking both relaxation and adventure, with the state's coastal areas being especially big draws.

While some of the best-known summer resorts include larger cities like Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Virginia's smaller beach towns are certainly worth considering. Discover the best beach towns in Virginia for a memorable summer vacation

Cape Charles

Aerial view of the town of Cape Charles Virginia looking Northeast. Editorial credit: Kyle J Little / 

Cape Charles, located on Virginia's Eastern Shore, is a picturesque beach town known for its charming historic district and beautiful bayfront beaches. The town’s main attraction, Cape Charles Beach, features calm, shallow waters ideal for families and those who enjoy safe swimming. Nature enthusiasts can explore the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge, which offers birdwatching, hiking, and stunning coastal views. For water sports lovers, kayaking and paddleboarding in the Chesapeake Bay are popular activities.

In the summer of 2024, Cape Charles will host the annual Clam Slam, a festival celebrating the region's seafood heritage with live music, a clam-shucking contest, and fireworks. The Cape Charles Fourth of July Parade and Festival is another highlight, featuring a patriotic parade, local vendors, and family-friendly activities. The Cape Charles Historic District is always fun to explore with its old Victorian homes, boutique shops, and local eateries.


Chincoteague bridge across the Chincoteague Bay in Virginia.

One of several pretty Virginia island towns accessible by road, Chincoteague has a unique claim to fame: its wild ponies. This must-visit destination on Virginia's Eastern Shore is home to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, a 14,000-acre wildlife preserve that shelters a herd of Chincoteague Ponies, among other wildlife. While these cute animals can be spotted throughout the park most of the year, the best time to see them is during the Chincoteague Pony Swim. A tradition dating back to the 1920s, this unique event sees the ponies swim across the Assateague Channel, followed by a parade and auction to benefit the local fire department.

Other perks of a vacation in Chincoteague include spending time on the beaches of Assateague Island. Connected to Chincoteague by a short bridge, its unspoiled beaches are perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and building sandcastles. The town itself features charming shops, seafood restaurants, and quaint accommodations like the Inn on Main.

Colonial Beach

A sign on the beach at Colonial Beach, Virginia overlooking the Potomac River.

Colonial Beach, situated on the banks of the Potomac River, offers a quite different (but equally pleasurable) vacation experience. Here, the fun takes place on the riverfront, popular for its sandy, family-friendly beaches and water activities. Great places to visit include the Colonial Beach Municipal Pier, a popular spot for fishing or to take in stunning river views.

History buffs can visit the nearby George Washington Birthplace National Monument and Stratford Hall, the home of the prominent Lees family, some of whom were signatories of the Declaration of Independence. A summer visit also means visitors can enjoy the annual Potomac River Festival with its parades, live entertainment, and a fun carnival. 

Tangier Island

Tangier Island Shanty.

Tangier Island is located in Chesapeake Bay and while remote is a great place for a Virginia beach vacation. Only accessible by boat or plane, the town of Tangier is certainly small, measuring less than a square mile in area and in fact comprising three low-lying islands connected by small bridges. The island is famous for its crabbing industry, its distinctive local culture, as well as, of course, its lovely beaches, the best of which are on the southwestern tip of the main island.

Other fun things to do on Tangier Island include visiting the Tangier History Museum with its fascinating look at the island’s history and way of life. If you’re not able to spend the summer on this lovely island, hop aboard one of the first-rate Crab and Cruise excursions out of Crisfield in Maryland, which sails into Tangier Sound and provides a taste of what the island has to offer. 


The York River and beach in Yorktown Virginia overlooking the Coleman Bridge and the Chesapeake Bay.

Not only is Yorktown one of the smallest communities in VA (its population in 2022 was just 217 people), but it’s also one of the oldest and can trace its roots back to 1682 as one of the original Thirteen Colonies. Set on the York River 35 miles north of Norfolk, Yorktown is part of Virginia's Historic Triangle, which also includes Williamsburg and Jamestown. Known for its pivotal role in the American Revolution, the town’s historic charm is evident in its old colonial architecture and the American Revolution Museum with its immersive exhibits and living history programs. The Yorktown Battlefield, part of the Colonial National Historical Park, is another must-visit and allows visitors to explore the site where the British surrender ended the Revolutionary War. 

Ready for a swim? Yorktown Beach is a 2-acre public beach along the York River that’s popular with locals and visitors. This lovely beach features sandy shores and calm waters, making it ideal for swimming, sunbathing, and picnicking, while the nearby Riverwalk Landing offers a scenic promenade with shops, restaurants, and live music throughout the summer. Kayaks, paddleboards, and bikes to explore the area can also be rented here. 


Sailboat in marina at the center of Onancock, VA. Editorial credit: MargJohnsonVA / Shutterstock

While not strictly speaking a beach town, Onancock is ideal for those who enjoy water-based activities. It’s especially popular with boaters, with the Onancock Wharf and Marina providing access to the Chesapeake Bay, as well as overnight berthing. No boat? No problem. Day and week-long rentals of a variety of watercraft are available from Deep Creek Marine and Boatyard while fishing charters and scenic tours are available from reputable businesses like Holly Cove Charters.

Strolling through the historic downtown Onancock is also time well spent with plenty of diversions including shopping and of course dining on fresh seafood at popular eateries like the Blarney Stone Pub. Opportunities for outdoor fun such as kayaking and paddleboarding on Onancock Creek are also available. The Onancock Harborfest, held in June, is also a fun time to visit and features boat tours, live music, and local seafood.

The Final Say

For those seeking a memorable summer vacation, Virginia's charming beach towns offer a diversity of fun experiences worth considering. From time on the beach (naturally!) and exciting water-based adventures, to the opportunity to explore the state’s best historic sites, nature parks, and even get in some wildlife viewing, there’s no shortage of fun things to do in VA. Bookmark this list of the best beach towns in Virginia for your summer vacation and get out there for some warm weather fun.


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