Virginia's only resort island, Chincoteague captures the essence of the Chesapeake Bay, the waterman culture and the nostalgic summertime rituals reminisced over by so many families in the region. Its small town is a quaint collection of charming boutiques, divine seafood restaurants, and museums chronicling life on the sea. On this small barrier island, life revolves around the water, the source for both residents' livelihood and visitors' pastimes. Waders in the shallow water rake for clams, while others crab with nets and baited lines. The rewards are the time-honoured traditions of the clambake and crab feast. Brown paper is unrolled across tabletops and guests take up their mallets to crack open freshly steamed crabs smothered in the region's ubiquitous red seasoning, Old Bay.
Chincoteague is connected by a bridge to the large barrier island of Assateague, empty but for pristine stretches of beach, a historic lighthouse, and herds of wild ponies. Along the Assateague National Seashore, in the absence of vendors and noise, beachgoers bask in the sunshine, read books under umbrellas, and enjoy the peaceful beauty. At the height of summer, the event for which Chincoteague is best known takes place: the annual pony swim, poignantly captured in Marguerite Henry's children's classic, . Each year, to manage the wild population, ponies are rounded up by local firemen. These 'saltwater cowboys' then swim the ponies across the Assateague channel to Chincoteague, where they are auctioned off to buyers eager to own one of the unique breed.