Off-the-map Onancock, Virginia

Sail on the Chesapeake
Sail on the Chesapeake

Why you should visit Onancock

Galleries, restaurants, live theater, and romantic B&Bs – you’ll find them in many places, but in a tiny fishing village on Virginia’s Eastern Shore?

You betcha! The town is Onancock, with a population of maybe 1,500. Once a port for steamboats plying the Chesapeake Bay, it drifted into obscurity when that era ended. But entrepreneurs, artists, and corporate refugees revitalized it. Onancock has urban amenities with wetland views and bay breezes.

Onancock Boat ride

Park your car and forget it. Walking is the way to get around. Victorian ladies line the streets. Some are B&Bs, like the Colonial Manor Inn and the Inn at Onancock.

Artists and artisans are inspired by the region’s light and atmosphere. You’ll find traditional “sailboats at sunset” paintings and tapestries exploding with colorful abstract designs. Monthly “Second Fridays” see studios open late. The Red Queen Gallery showcases local artists and high-end crafts in a light-filled, cheerful space and Jack Richardson’s Fine Art displays his oils and works of other artists.

Theater is well-represented at the North Street Playhouse. The year-long schedule is an eclectic mix of stage plays, one-night readings, dance, revues, and new productions. The restored, 1950s-era Roseland Theatre hosts the International Film Series on the second Thursday, featuring foreign films of substance.

Outdoors, SouthEast Expeditions provides guided kayak tours through the marshes to find waterfowl, wildlife, and … wine? Their “paddle and sip” trips visit area wineries via kayak. Hop the ferry to tiny Tangier Island, one of only two inhabited islands in the Chesapeake. Book early to stay at a B&B. The seafood on the island was probably swimming in the Bay that morning. 


Back on the mainland, Mallards has water view dining. Market Street Grill, Bizzotto’s, Charlotte Hotel and Restaurant, and the Inn and Garden Café are all good choices.

For more information, visit

Insight Guides | Fran Severn