Cover photo: Mary Carter
The Northern Neck of Virginia has 1,100 miles of shoreline along the Chesapeake Bay, Potomac River and Rappahannock River–and that means an ABUNDANCE of seafood options! Read on to learn some of Virginians’ favorite seafood and join our Virginia is for Lovers #WanderLOVE roadtrip, which guides you to the freshest catch in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Photo: Clarke Drone Photography
Town of Colonial Beach, Virginia
Start your journey right here in Town of Colonial Beach, Virginia (CBVA), where you might get a glimpse of local watermen hauling in their catch.
Regional favorites include:
Rocky Denson, owner of award-winning Denson’s Grocery and R&B Oyster Bar, is the Bubba Gump of oysters, recognized for the variety of ways he prepares the mollusks. Denson’s launches two new ventures this spring: Friday, May 21 is the opening of walk-up Chesapeake Cafe, and Saturday, May 22 is their first open air market featuring fresh seafood, Chesapeake Bay-themed condiments, freshly made salads, craft beers and wines. Presently, Rocky and wife Blaire are offering pre-order/curbside at the restaurant and at various local events, locations and wineries via their Chesapeake Beast food truck.
The Chesapeake Beast will be onsite at nearby Ingleside Vineyards & Winery for the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail’s Spring Oyster Celebration, April 24 & 25. Seven other Trail wineries will offer a weekend of wine and oyster pairings, live music and other special events, such as oyster education sessions at their locations. (More information below.)
Denson’s is also one of the first restaurants in Virginia to serve snakehead fish, the invasive, non-native “malicious but delicious” species known as “Frankenfish” because of its predatory nature.
Rockfish (also called striped bass or stripers)
Colonial Yacht Club holds two rockfish tournaments each year. This year, the Spring Tournament, hosted by Colonial Beach Yacht Center, will be held Saturday, May 1 (Registration and Captain’s Meeting Friday, April 30) AND features a second category: a catfish tournament. Several boat charters also take fisherman out to the waters surrounding CBVA for a day angling.
Crabs (notably blue crabs)
You could purchase your own crab trap at our local hardware store, but it’s much quicker and easier to buy crabs by the bushel and other quality seafood at Pearson’s Seafood or Shady Lane Seafood. Smaller quantities are available at local grocery stores Hall’s Supermarket and Food Lion.
If cooking is not your thing, pretty much every restaurant in Town of Colonial Beach can fulfill your appetite for seafood. Dine waterfront at The Lighthouse, Riverboat on the Potomac, High Tides on the Potomac, Dockside Restaurant and Tiki Bar or Wilkerson’s Seafood Restaurant, known for its plentiful all-you-can-eat seafood buffet. (Check with individual eateries to inquire about their operations during COVID.)
Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail
The eight wineries participating in Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail‘s Spring Oyster Celebration are located across the Northern Neck; the closest is Ingleside Vineyards and Winery, just outside Town of Colonial Beach in Oak Grove, Virginia. Next closest is Backyard Vineyard in King George. General’s Ridge Vineyard and Rivah Vineyard at the Grove are in the middle of the Northern Neck in Hague and Kinsale, respectively. At the southern tip of the peninsula are Jacey Vineyards (in Wicomico Church), Good Luck Cellars and Ditchley Cider Works in Kilmarnock, Virginia, and The Dog and Oyster Vineyard located in the Town of Irvington.
Town of Irvington, Virginia
On the road south to the Town of Irvington, Virginia, swing by Reedville Fishermen’s Museum, preserving the rich heritage of the fishermen and watermen of Virginia’s Northern Neck and lower Chesapeake Bay.
Stay awhile in Irvington! Beginning the day before the start of Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail’s Spring Oyster Celebration is The Tides Inn Crustacean Celebration, held Friday, April 23 and Saturday April 24. The world-renowned resort will feature a series of events celebrating Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs, including a welcome gathering Friday night, followed by a Saturday afternoon and evening of epicurean delights and demos with Tides’ Executive Chef Truman Jones and Guest Chef and Live Fire Expert, Eric Gephart of Kamado Joe Grills. Stay onsite at the resort or at The Dog and Oyster Vineyard‘s boutique hotel, Hope & Glory Inn.
Steamboat Era Museum, hosts the Irvington Crab Festival in September. The Museum, which reopens Friday, April 23, preserves the history of steamboats on the Chesapeake Bay and its numerous tributaries–a lifeline for those living on the lower Northern Neck–with Docent-Led Tours, Oral Histories, Children’s Scavenger Hunts, Build a Steamboat activities, special events, and its prized exhibit, the pilothouse from the steamboat “Potomac”, the largest surviving remnant of the Chesapeake Bay steamboat era.
The Dog & Oyster Vineyard‘s SLURP oyster bar is open weekends, serving a variety of seafood including oysters, crab cakes, seafood tacos and more paired with their Virginia wine–where the terroir of the grape meets the merroir of the oyster. Willaby’s in neighboring White Stone offers some of the best sunset views for your seafood dining. The Tides Inn’s Fish Hawk Oyster Bar is a fun waterfront spot to grab fresh oysters on the half shell and an evening night cap next to the resort’s outdoor firepits. Learn everything there is to know about oysters–from harvesting to shucking to eating–from traditional watermen during The Tides Inn’s Virginia Oyster Academy.
An assortment of hands-on, guided tours of the creeks and rivers surrounding Irvington are available with Virginia Watermen’s Heritage Tours. Learn more about oystering, crabbing, fishing, water-to-table tastings, local historic sites and more.
Beyond the Northern Neck
Give back and volunteer to help restore the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams with Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Opportunities for volunteer vacations exist all along the Bay, including Hampton Roads and other Virginia locations.
Across the Rappahannock River from Irvington is Topping, Virginia, home of Merroir, a riverfront gourmet oyster tasting house featuring the farms of Rappahannock Oyster Company. The company also has locations in Richmond; Washington, DC; Charleston, SC, and even Los Angeles, CA!
Nearby Urbanna is home to a much-anticipated annual Urbanna Oyster Festival, scheduled this year for November 5 & 6, 2021. Keep heading north and make a stop at another Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail, Caret Cellars.
Extend Your Roadtrip and Head for the Mountains
If 176 miles aren’t enough and the open road beckons, extend your roadtrip and head west to visit Virginia’s Mountains Region, which includes “Virginia’s Switzerland”, the highest mean elevation of any county east of the Mississippi River. In this region of Virginia you will find an abundance of natural resources such as lakes (Smith Mountain Lake is a favorite), rivers, fisheries, and an 80 ft. waterfall. Fly-fish for mountain trout, a brook trout native to Virginia (and its official fish) that thrives in the cool streams of the region. Travel the Upper James River Water Trail stopping at the charming mountain towns for food, refreshment and supplies.