15 Best Things to Do in Chesapeake Bay

Chesapeake Bay
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The Chesapeake Bay is a playground for travelers who want to explore this vast estuary filled with natural, historical, and cultural attractions.

The entire estuary has more than 22 miles of lakes, rivers, waterways, canals, and parks known for its outdoor recreation opportunities across multiple towns and cities.

This region in the United States has multiple islands and islets, each with its unique beauty and identity.

If you’re looking for a travel destination that guarantees you a wonderful experience, the Chesapeake Bay is a highly recommended place to visit.

To give you an idea of the awesome things that await you there, here are the 15 best things to do in Chesapeake Bay:

Relax at the Buckroe Beach & Park

Rocks along the shore of Buckroe Beach & Park
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The Buckroe Beach & Park in Hampton in Virginia is one of the most accessible beaches along the Chesapeake Bay.

This beach situated on the eastern shores of Hampton boasts a ¾ mile white-sand shores known for its picturesque view of the Chesapeake Bay.

Most of those who spend their time at Buckroe Beach & Park are usually those coming from visiting the Fort Monroe further south in Hampton.

Porch swing at Buckroe Beach & Park
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So, when you’re planning to visit Fort Monroe, it would be best to include Buckroe Beach & Park as your next destination.

The beach has many outdoor recreations you and your loved ones can enjoy, such as jet skiing, kayaking, and paddleboarding.

In addition, the beach is adjacent to restaurants and retail centers, making it more convenient to visit.

So, when you pass by Hampton during your Chesapeake Bay travel adventure, be sure to bring your beach essentials and head to Buckroe Beach & Park.

People swimming at Buckroe Beach & Park
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Visit the Yorktown Battlefield

Second siege line marker at Yorktown Battlefield
Ken Lund from Reno, Nevada, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Situated in Yorktown in Virginia, the Yorktown Battlefield is one of the most important historical landmarks in the United States.

It’s where the United States fought the last major battle during the Revolutionary War against the British Empire.

It's where the first president, George Washington, and the allied-French forces besieged British General Charles Lord Cornwallis in the fall of 1781.

Cornwallis and his army eventually surrendered, which ultimately ended the American Revolution and paved the way for the United States’ independence.

First allied siege line marker at Yorktown Battlefield
Ken Lund from Reno, Nevada, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, it’s a highly-popular historical attraction for people who want to learn the history of the United States.

You can start your exploration at the Yorktown Battlefield by checking out the visitor’s center, where you’ll come across a museum including the field tents which served as Washington's resting place during the war.

A guided walking tour across the battlefield is available to make your visit there more convenient.

You’ll be amazed to see the well-preserved cannons and fortifications used during the pivotal battle while touring there.

The hornwork marker at Yorktown Battlefield
Ken Lund from Reno, Nevada, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Traverse the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel

Scenic view of Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel
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The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is a major thoroughfare and a tourist attraction along the estuary.

It connects mainland Virginia and the Eastern Shore of Virginia, which spans roughly 18-miles.

Waves below the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel
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While traversing this famous architecture, you'll see through your window the stunning view of its structure and the natural scenery of Chesapeake Bay.

Crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel takes about 25 minutes, and once you reach the north toll plaza in East Virginia, you can visit a gift shop to buy exciting souvenirs.

Cars going in and out of Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel
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Camp at the Point Lookout State Park

Aerial view of Point Lookout State Park
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The Point Lookout State Park nestled in Smith Island is a top-notch outdoor destination.

Smith Island, located on the eastern side of the Chesapeake Bay, is known throughout the region for its magnificent outdoor recreational activities.

While you're there, you can enjoy camping, fishing, hunting, swimming, kayaking, and hiking.

In addition, the island has numerous historical sites to visit, such as the Fort Lincoln & Museum, the Point Lookout Civil War Museum, and the Point Lookout Lighthouse.

Exterior of Point Lookout State Park lighthouse
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Many visitors spend several days exploring the entire island and enjoying its attractions.

It has 143 campsites equipped with various amenities and features.

Moreover, it has a vast hunting ground featuring various animals such as deer and waterfowl.

The best way to get to Smith Island and Point Lookout State Park is by ferry from Crisfield.

A family fishing at Point Lookout State Park
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Climb the Cape Henry Lighthouse

The old and new Cape Henry Lighthouse
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Lighthouses always have that dramatic appeal and distinct beauty, and one fine example of that is the Cape Henry Lighthouse in Fort Story in Virginia Beach.

This lighthouse is an excellent tourist attraction to check out while traveling across the Chesapeake Bay.

In terms of historical value, the Cape Henry Lighthouse is the first authorized lighthouse built by the U.S. Federal Government in 1792.

The old Cape Henry Lighthouse
Sherry V Smith / Shutterstock.com

The second lighthouse was built in 1881 to preserve the historical value of the first one.

The first Cape Henry Lighthouse was listed on the National Historic Landmark in 1964, while in 2002, it was listed as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Climbing the old Cape Henry Lighthouse brings nostalgia and learn a lot of its purpose back in the 1700s, while the newer lighthouse offers a different historical perspective.

The new Cape Henry Lighthouse
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Wander through the Tangier Island

House on Tangier Island marshes
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Tangier Island is a group of small islets situated in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay and one of the best places you should explore.

The island is known for its fresh seafood, such as crabs and oysters.

A cruise to Tangier Island from Reedville in Virginia is the best way to get to this attraction.

One of the most popular cruises you need to hop on is the Tangier Island Cruise in Reedville, where you’ll be riding the 90-foot, 300-seater passenger boat called Steven Thomas.

Shacks crab traps on Tangier Island
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This small island became popular when John Crockett settled there in the 1600s, along with many English settlers.

Today, Tangier Island is one of the most frequently visited places among the smaller islands in the Chesapeake Bay.

In addition, Tangier Island has a history museum where you can browse through artifacts dating back to the 1600s from its early settlers or perhaps go straight to its beautiful white-sand beach.

Shacks along Tangier Island
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Spend the Night at the Janes Island State Park

Trees at Janes Island State Park
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The Janes Island State Park is situated outside of Crisfield in Maryland.

Like the Point Lookout State Park, Janes Island is also a popular outdoor destination for camping and outdoor activities.

The park has more than a hundred campsites, cabins, and lodges, making it a perfect campsite for those who want to stay there.

A trail in Janes Island State Park
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Some of the most popular recreations to enjoy with your loved ones in this park are kayaking, canoeing, boating, swimming, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, climbing, wildlife viewing, and hunting.

During winter, the park becomes a haven for skiers.

Take a Dip at the Yorktown Beach

Waters of Yorktown Beach
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Yorktown isn’t just a significant historical location; it also boasts a beautiful public beach that has its namesake.

Whether you’re an avid beachgoer or an average tourist, Yorktown Beach has something to offer to everyone who visits there.

Its short stretch of white sand beach is a popular place to soak under the sun and enjoy its pristine waters.

River bridge near Yorktown Beach
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Its beachfront is relatively small, spanning only two acres, but it’s full of fun activities for the family.

Aside from swimming, many people visit this beach for kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding, while some rent bicycles to tour the town.

Overall, Yorktown Beach is worth checking out while you’re wandering across the Chesapeake Bay.

Browse through Casemate Museum of Fort Monroe

Exterior of Casemate Museum of Fort Monroe
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Casemate Museum of Fort Monroe is situated in Hampton in Virginia, near the southern edge of the Chesapeake Bay.

If you’re interested in more history while you’re traveling across the Chesapeake Bay, this museum details the rich military history of Fort Algernourne and Fort Monroe.

These forts served as defensive fortifications back in 1609 and served their purpose until the American Civil War in the 1800s.

Mortar displayed in Casemate Museum of Fort Monroe
DrStew82, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Aside from being a military fortification, Fort Monroe was named the “Freedom’s Fortress,” after the Union Army granted refuge for thousands of enslaved Africans who escaped their slavers from the south.

Today, most of the artifacts are well-kept in the Casemate Museum’s exhibits, making this place fascinating to explore whether you’re a history buff or not.

Side exterior of Casemate Museum of Fort Monroe
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Commune with Nature at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Swans on Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge waters
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The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge in Maryland is known in the Chesapeake Bay as the “Everglades of the North” because of its vast wetlands inhabited by a wide array of wildlife.

The Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge spans 27,000 acres of tidal wetlands that feature the eastern shores of Maryland.

This wildlife refuge is home to bald eagles and the Delmarva fox squirrels.

A heron at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
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In addition, the wildlife refuge serves as these animals’ breeding ground to repopulate its threatened population.

Visitors can explore the wildlife refuge and enjoy various recreational activities like nature and wildlife viewing.

Overall, the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is an astonishing place to visit with your loved ones to see various free-roaming animals.

Discover the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum

Hornet aircraft in Patuxent River Naval Air Museum
Balon Greyjoy, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Patuxent River Naval Air Museum in Lexington Park in Maryland is a one-of-a-kind museum that features the United States Navy’s aviation research, evaluation, development, and testing.

It means that most of the previous and current technology of the U.S. Navy are displayed at this museum.

With that in mind, it’s a spectacular place to visit, especially with your loved ones, and be amazed at how the U.S. Navy developed its military technology from the 1800s to the present day.

An aircraft in Patuxent River Naval Air Museum
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While browsing through the museum, you'll come across World War II fighter planes and the modern Lockheed Martin X-35C.

In addition, you can experience becoming a fighter pilot through its Fly Mach Combat simulator while kids have tons of educational and interactive activities to enjoy there.

Once you’re done browsing through the amazing exhibits of the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum, you can proceed to its gift shop to buy cool souvenirs.

Hawkeye aircraft in Patuxent River Naval Air Museum
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Watch Celestial Bodies at the Chesapeake Planetarium

In Chesapeake, Virginia, you can take your loved ones, especially kids, to the Chesapeake Planetarium to learn fascinating stuff about the galaxy and the universe.

The planetarium boasts a facility called the “Sky Theater.”

It is a hemispherical dome ceiling that projects high-definition videos and images of the celestial bodies.

Visiting this place is highly entertaining and educational, especially for children.

In addition, the planetarium has an observation telescope for the public to experience.

Appreciate Nature’s Beauty at the Great Dismal Swamp

Solitary trees on lake Great Dismal Swamp
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The Great Dismal Swamp is situated on the southwestern portion of Chesapeake City that borders Virginia and North Carolina.

Although it does not directly lie within the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Dismal Swamp is still a worthy place to check out.

This gorgeous natural attraction is a few minutes' drive from Chesapeake City, making it very accessible.

Trees on the Great Dismal Swamp
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Great Dismal Swamp has a historical significance for African Americans during the Civil War as this served as their place of refuge to hide from their slavers.

Today, the swamp is known for its beautiful and eerie atmosphere.

It is also a designated National Wildlife Refuge.

Visiting this place offers you a unique experience as you tour through the swamp’s mysterious and foggy landscape, making you feel like you’re in a different world.

Solitary trees on lake Great Dismal Swamp
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Learn Fascinating History at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum

Entrance of Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
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The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels in Maryland is an excellent place to learn fascinating maritime history.

The museum boasts an extensive collection of watercraft used in the old days to navigate the Chesapeake Bay like skipjacks and log canoes.

Spring day at Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
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In addition, the museum that covers 18-acres facing the Chesapeake Bay has a working boatyard where most old wooden and historic boats are being restored to their old beauty.

Furthermore, the museum has a butterfly garden and an old lighthouse that are equally worth visiting.

Lighthouse in Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum
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Unwind at the Chesapeake Park

The Chesapeake Park in Chesapeake City, Virginia, also known by locals as “City Park,” is a vast 90-acre land solely dedicated as an outdoor recreational space for everyone in the city.

If you’re planning to spend your day having a picnic with your family, this is your go-to place.

This park also has a vast open space perfect for sports activities.

Aside from the park’s natural beauty, it’s also a popular place in Chesapeake City for major events such as the annual Chesapeake Park Whisper Concert Series.

In addition, the park has a children’s playground, a dog park, a skate park, and a horseshoe pit.

Overall, Chesapeake Park is an excellent place for family bonding and to watch concerts.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re exploring the Chesapeake Bay alone or with your friends or family, you’re guaranteed to have a fantastic experience.

So, make sure you pack enough clothes, lots of energy, and enthusiasm because it takes a couple of days to explore this gorgeous region in the northeast.

If you haven’t figured out where to go first, you can always refer to this post.