When I was a kid, there were two kinds of girls: horse lovers, and the rest of you.
Even though this was the mid-70s, Misty of Chincoteague, the Newbery-winning book that Marguerite Henry penned in 1947, was our bible.
(For those of you who didn’t grow up with pony fantasies, let me catch you up: in Virginia, there is a barrier island populated by wild ponies. Every summer, the volunteer fire department rounds up the herd and swims them over to a neighboring island where they auction off some of the foals as a fundraiser.)
Misty of Chincoteague is the semi-true story of two children who save their money to buy a pony and her foal at auction.
I liked the book enough to organize a family vacation there for my kids, just as my parents had done for me.
Things to do in Chincoteague with kids
If you’re not feeling ambitious, here’s the short version of things to do in Chincoteague with kids: go to the beach, eat seafood, and look at ponies. If you’re looking for a few more diversions, here were some of our favorite things to do in Chincoteague:
Go to any hardware store on the island (I think there are only two!) and pick up a crabbing kit, which consists of string, a bait clip, and frozen chicken necks — it’s probably best to buy a bucket and a long-handled net too. We didn’t cook and eat our crabs, but we had a huge amount of fun coaxing them out of the water and screaming like lunatics as the waved their pincers at us.
This nature-loving, hands-on, feet-in-the-mud tour of the waterways around Chincoteague is a must do! It’s hugely popular, so be sure to book well in advance. Imagine the best marine science-y field trip of all time, and now imagine something twice as good. You’ll pull in crab traps, dig for clams, catch minnows, throw out nets, wander sand bars, and generally learn a lot about the ecology of this area. My favorite part? When Captain Barry pulled in fresh oysters and shucked them for me — heaven.
4. The Carnival Grounds
There are plenty of places to gawp at ponies on the islands, but in the week after the annual Pony Swim, none is better than the Chincoteague Carnival Grounds. Ponies that are not quite old enough to leave their mothers as well as ponies who are awaiting transportation to their new homes, graze quietly in a paddock in the back. I could have stood watching baby ponies all day. Oh wait, I did.
This is a great way to see the two islands (Chincoteague and Assateague) from the water. The likeable guides at Daisey’s are lifelong islanders who will get you up close and personal with seabirds, hundreds of wild dolphins, and the two herds of wild ponies. The pontoon boats are very comfortable. Since you don’t get off the boat on this tour, it’s a nice complement to Captain Barry’s trip. Early morning trips are best for wildlife viewing, so bring a sweater!
You would have thought that after five days on Chincoteague, I would have had my fill of ponies. Well, you would have thought wrong. On our last day, we visited the Chincoteague Pony Centre — unofficial keepers of the history of Misty. We saw the newest generation of ponies in Misty’s line, watched a fascinating 30-minute documentary of the history of the Pony Swim, shopped for pony tchotchkes, and (most crucially) hugged ponies. There were also pony rides and pony shows, but we didn’t partake of these.
If you go
I did a fair amount of research when deciding where to stay. If it had been available, I would have chosen the Refuge Inn. Alas, it was sold out. We wound up at the Hampton Inn and Suites and we liked it just fine. We had a very large room with space for a rollaway and a balcony overlooking the water.
If we had been staying a week, I would have definitely booked a house. While there are lots of places to eat on the island, we would have been better off cooking our own meals. There’s only so much fried seafood we can face. Speaking of food, there were two standouts: the gourmet groceries and takeout we regularly picked up from Poseidon’s Pantry and the homemade ice cream from Island Creamery (don’t worry about the long line – it moves quickly).
If you feel like you’d like to visit, but you live too far away. Consider adding Chincoteague on to the tail end of a family trip to Washington, DC. In closing, here are a few more pictures of our visit. Any questions? Leave them in the comments.