March 31, 2015 SIGN IN | REGISTER
Roll Call

The Little Town the Eastern Shore Forgot

The hardest part about encouraging people to visit my hometown on the Eastern Shore of Virginia is making them understand where its located.

When your opening line is Its that little part of Virginia thats not actually attached to Virginia, you can get some confused looks. In Washington, the Eastern Shore means Maryland, and I am regarded as someone who clearly failed geography class, even though Im talking about a place where I spent most of the first two decades of my life. Ive settled on this line by way of helping people picture what Im talking about: You know the Delmarva Peninsula? Were the -va.

That sometimes produces a few thoughtful nods as my audience squints, probably calling up a mental image of a coastline map.

The second hardest part is making them believe and/or pronounce the name of my hometown. Yes, really, its Onancock. As in Oh-NAN-cock. Yes, it has appeared on T-shirts featuring dirty-sounding town names.

Hey, at least its not Intercourse, Pa.

But its also difficult to explain to people why, exactly, they should visit Onancock. Not that the town doesnt do a good job of selling itself: Theres a great inn, a picturesque harbor, outdoor activities, a bit of history and some mighty fine restaurants. Its just that my experience of Onancock, and of the Eastern Shore, was special, and difficult to replicate.

Most tourists wont get to do the things I did that made Onancock a little magical. They probably wont scale the dumpsters in the alley behind the main drag to climb up to the rooftops, where theyll spend hours talking with friends. They wont have bonfires on Crystal Beach, a small and private sandy strip of shore just outside town, or ride a convertible along the back roads that crisscross it.

Still, theres a soul to Onancock that even a visitor passing through cant miss. Theres a feeling of possibility, a sense that you might stumble across something amazing, whether its a painting at a local gallery, a rare bird spotted in the marshes or a friendly conversation at the local pub.

Its also a place where fun isnt forced onto visitors. Restaurants keep odd hours, and the towns single-screen old movie house has only one show a day and only on weekends. Onancock isnt the sleepy fishing village it once was, but its still more of a small town than a tourist hub. But for the visitor who finds the crowds of St. Michaels just as stressful as the ones on K Street, thats a good thing.

For lodging, try the Charlotte Inn and Restaurant (7 North St., 757-787-7400). Owners Charlotte Heath and Gary Cochran have created a serene, comfortable vibe at this boutique hotel and restaurant. The beds are dreamily comfortable, and the thick-but-crispy bacon served in the restaurant might be enough reason to make the trek from Washington. If youre not the doily-draped B&B type, this is your place.

One option for dinner is the Flamenco Restaurant (4 North St., 757-787-7780). Proprietors Olga and Ales Gregor hail from the Czech Republic, but the huge menu at this quirky spot spans the continent of Europe, from Spanish fare to Eastern European delicacies.

Another choice is Mallards at the Wharf (2 Market St., 757-787-8558). Margaritas and crab cakes are a couple of the standouts at this historic general-store-turned-restaurant on the town wharf.

Activities include SouthEast Expeditions (2 King St., 757-331-2680, southeast for kayaking, which is a great way to explore the Onancock Creek and the bay. SouthEast has the tours, rentals and gear you need.

Check out Ker Place (69 Market St., 757-787-8012, This Federal-style historic home is the Eastern Shore headquarters of the Virginia Historical Society. It features a museum and library devoted to the areas past.

At the North Street Playhouse, (34 Market St., 757-787-2050, northstreet Artistic Director Terry Bliss does an excellent job of selecting plays and programs with broad appeal.

And dont miss Roseland Theatre (48 Market St., 757-787-2010, roselandonan The vintage marquee of this 1950s movie house is one of Onancocks signatures. In addition to current titles, the Roseland hosts a series of mainstream international films.

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