Looking for ideas for your family’s visit to Chincoteague and Assateague?
Here’s a list (with interactive map) of some of the best activities for young kids that the Islands have to offer.
If this article had a subtitle, it would be "Besides the Beach.”
The beach, for small kids, is basically a giant pool splashing up against a giant sandbox! What could be better? Where else can you plop down on a towel and watch your tiny progeny entertain (and exhaust) themselves for hours on end? Or you can jump in, wading into the water with them on your hip and jumping to keep your heads above the waves. You can let them bury you up to your neck in sand. The possibilities are endless.
But… few are the families who want to spend every waking minute of their vacation on the beach. And even if you want to - what if it rains?
Two notes before we begin:
- This list is geared towards kids under 10 years old, and especially towards children between the ages of 3 and 8. Once into the double-digits, kids are more and more able to enter into in the same touristy activities that us grown-ups enjoy. Except, um, adult beverages.
- Also: this list is reflective primarily of our childhoods on Chincoteague and years of vacationing with our three daughters, but we also have numerous friends, family, and Color Me Chincoteague fans to thank for some of these ideas. You know who you are!
1. Feed the ponies you’re supposed to feed.
There’s a page in our coloring book that’s caused some controversy: a family in their car on Assateague, face to face with a wild pony, with one brave/foolish fellow leaning out his window to pet the creature. Don’t pet the wild ponies! But you can feed the ponies behind The Bike Depot, right between Refuge Inn and McDonald’s. There are quarter dispensers of feed corn, or you can buy little bags of corn for 50 cents from the Bike Depot or the Refuge Inn gift shop.
2. Ride the trolley for 25 cents.
Got somewhere to go? Take your bikes or your car. Got nowhere in particular to go? Jump on the red-and-green trolley and cruise around the island. Okay, so it does run a useful route. But it’s also fun to putter around, or catch one of their guided tours on Tuesday & Thursday afternoons for a couple bucks per kid. (Kids 2 and under are free - if they’re on your lap.)
3. Climb to the top of the lighthouse, if you dare.
Admission is free and the view is beautiful… but can your kids handle 175 steps both ways? And if not, are you willing to carry them? There are landings to rest at several points, which makes it more manageable with tinies… And the view really is amazing. One other tip: bring bug spray. The hike to the lighthouse can be buggy, and if the wait is long, you don’t want to spend it as mosquito bait.
4. Bike the Wildlife Loop, or all the way out to the beach.
When it comes to experiencing Chincoteague and Assateague, nature is where it’s at. These islands have a beauty all their own. The trails are a worthwhile outing on their own, but biking to the beach is also awesome. After gearing up, (you may need a bike trailer!) you take the Wildlife Loop halfway, then turn off onto Swan Cove Trail, which takes you straight to the beach. We know some families who take this route every single day of their vacation to experience more nature and the same beautiful beach minus the crowd. And, of course, you may even spot a pony on your way!
5. Touch live sea creatures at Tom’s Cove Visitor Center.
There’s so much to love about this little beachside building: the aquarium tanks, the collection of animal bones and shells, the air conditioning… But our kids’ favorite part is the large touch tank filled with sea creatures. You might get lucky and see the conch peeking out of its shell!
6. Go crabbing or fishing off a pier.
You don’t need a boat to go fishing - there are piers, public and private, where you and your kids can drop a line. Don’t have the gear? You can rent it at Chincoteague Island Outfitters or bait & tackle shops around the Island. While you’re there, ask them about the fishing license regulations for the place you’re planning to fish. If you end up at one of the two public piers, you could also end up catching a beautiful sunset (at the Robert Reed Park - don’t skip the LOVE chairs!) or a sunrise (at the Veteran’s Memorial Park).
7. Take your kids for a pony ride.
Maybe you spotted some of these beauties from afar and your child is enamored? If your kids are filled with fantasies of equestrian experiences, then the Pony Centre is the place to go. The Pony Centre makes it possible to have an up close encounter with a few wonderfully trained ponies from this magical breed. You can drop by for a pony ride or schedule a full pony riding lesson.
8. Read (or color) a Chincoteague book together.
If your kids enjoy books as much as ours do, take a break from the heat at Sundial Books. Jane and Jon keep a well-curated kids section. Pick up a bedtime story that could turn into a family favorite… and grab an autographed copy of our Chincoteague coloring book while you’re at it! Just four doors down Main Street from Sundial is the children’s room of the Chincoteague Library. They have a free Thursday morning storytime for 3-5 year olds called Tales 4 Tots.
9. Get curious with your little future scientists.
Remember that building surrounded by rockets that you drove by on your way to Chincoteague? It’s worth bringing your little future astronauts. They’ve got great interactive Earth science exhibits, and activities for younger kids at 11am and one for older kids at 2pm. (Check their Facebook page for the latest on their reopening process.)
10. Watch a family film together, indoors or out.
Chincoteague’s only movie theater shows first-run films between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and they often have a kid-friendly flick occupying the matinee slot. There are also free outdoor films shown across the street in Robert Reed Park, every other Monday - but they start at dusk, which is too late for most little ones, but may work for some older kids.
11. Hit the playground!
A good playground is perhaps the best free way for your young kids to get their energy out while you catch your breath… and the only free playground on Chincoteague is Veteran’s Memorial Park. For one day in late July every year, this park is crammed to the gills with people watching the Pony Swim. The other 364 days, it’s pretty comfortable. The park also has a fishing/crabbing pier (see #6 above) on which you don’t need an individual fishing license!
12. Splash around at the new waterpark.
While there’s no substitute for the beach, there is now another way to get soaked. If your posse has any waterslide lovers, the new waterpark right off the circle is worth a shot.
13. Make art together.
If your children like to draw, build, cut, paint, color, or otherwise make a creative mess, check out the Cultural Alliance’s free art class for kids! It's usually the first Saturday of the month.
14. Eat ice cream. Lots of ice cream.
There are so many delicious places to eat on the Island that the topic of kid-friendly restaurants deserves its own article. But with the closure of Muller’s Ice Cream Parlor, there are only three ice cream joints in town. Each has its own style, but all three are great places to bring the kids. Just prepare yourselves for long lines if you go after dinner!
An Interactive Map
We've put all these together onto a Google Map that you can save to your phone:
What do your kids love to do?
We’re sure there are more creative ideas out there for vacationing families... Have you spent time on Chincoteague and Assateague with young children in tow? We’d love to hear from you!