Tangier Island, Virginia

Photo: ChesapeakeLiving.com
Photo: ChesapeakeLiving.com

The ferry is starting to board. Luggage, supplies, mail, and even a kayak are being thrown aboard the Steven Thomas. Seagulls circle overhead. The sun is already heating the dock and your forehead, despite the cool May breeze. You grab your cap out of your bag, find a seat on the sundeck, and stare across Tangier Sound. Let’s head to Tangier Island.

Tangier Island sits in the Chesapeake Bay off the east coast of Virginia. The remote island was once the summer retreat of the Pocomoke people. Colonists from South West England eventually settled here, and the island became a British staging area during the War of 1812. The islanders still speak a unique dialect, which sounds more British than American.

Time looks like it stands still on the quaint island. Fishermen’s shanties dot the bay. Crab traps line the waterfront. Wooden bridges leap over the marshland. And birds—great blue herons, egrets, and pelicans—greatly outnumber people. After deboarding the ferry, switch to a golf cart or a bike to explore. You don’t have to worry about traffic lights, or even traffic, here. There are a few shops, restaurants, and bed and breakfasts in the center of town. Old homes have graves in their front yards. The doors of Swain Memorial Church, built in 1835, are always open to visitors. While someone is already starting to cook crabs in what is considered the soft-shell crab capital of the world.

You’ll be back for those crabs, but first you want to see the rest of the island. The Tangier History Museum, which displays donated and borrowed artifacts, loans kayaks so you can explore the water trails. See salty rivers, tidal streams, and oyster farms. Pass the marina and the little airport. Head down to the wild, windswept beach. Then return once your stomach starts growling. Four Brothers Crab House serves crab cakes, freshly shucked oysters, and steamed clams. But you opt for the flatbread crab melt, a Tangier Island speciality that’s almost as unique as the island itself.


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