The first time a jellyfish ever slid inside my swimming trunks, I was in Cape Charles, Virginia, at a spot called Pickett’s Harbor, a long beach with sand dunes and a breakwater of sunken ghost ships just offshore. I was six, bobbing around in baggy boardshorts when suddenly my crotch exploded. The pain passed, but my fondness for the place didn’t. My dad grew up in the town of 1,000, about 200 miles southeast of D.C., on the far southern tip of Delmarva, and every summer we’d head “down the road.” We’d put lightning bugs in mason jars, ride bikes down the empty boardwalk with its zero shops, or steam blue crabs we caught at the docks.
Now that I’m a dad, Cape Charles has become my go-to spot, too, though these days there’s much more to do. You can rent a breezy beach house and kayak the Virginia Coast Reserve, a 14-island, 68-mile wonderland of unmolested coastline, marshes, and lagoons. There’s kitesurfing at Sunset Beach and pints at Kelly’s, a pub inside an old brick bank. On most visits, though, I let my world compress to the places I can walk in flip-flops. I find a quiet spot along the town’s half-mile-long beach and watch my four-year-old daughter play in the shallow Chesapeake until her puffy hands are prunes. We eat pizza at Veneto’s and wait for the forests to light up with bug butts. We walk down the boardwalk, which is still miraculously devoid of shops. Maybe one day she’ll feel a connection to this place, too. I just hope hers never stings.
Access: Arrange vacation rentals—and everything from kayak rentals to hang gliding—through SouthEast Expeditions.