Getaways: Tangier Island

Photo courtesy of
‘tangier local riding in his little boat to his crab shack.’
courtesy of ‘mrtobo’

Nestled 12 miles west of the Eastern Shore of Virginia, in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, lies Tangier. The island of Tangier was officially settled in 1686 by John Crockett, whose descendants still reside on this 0.2 square mile cluster of small islands and marshes.  Despite its size, Tangier is a fascinating and wonderful summer trip for those looking to getaway.

Getting to Tangier requires visitors to board a ferry from various points on both the Maryland and Virginia Eastern shores.  However, don’t expect to take your car, as the only methods of transportation allowed on Tangier are bicycles and golf carts.  Don’t worry the island is flat and totally walkable. Tangier also has a small municipal airport, but the vast majority of flights in are personal aircraft.

Once there, you’ll be transported back in time, and I’m serious.  For starters the locals, and there are only 605 of them, speak in a unique Elizabethan dialect of American English.  Some linguists hypothesize that this dialect or “accent” has not changed since the occupation of English colonists.  It’s like having Thomas Cromwell or Shakespeare talking to you.

I recommend your first stop off the ferry be the Tangier History Museum.  There you can learn about the island’s settlement, crabbing and oystering history, it’s role in the War of 1812, and much, much more.

There are only three bed and breakfasts on the island, but each offers relaxing and peaceful accommodations.  However, you must book ahead.  Tangier has a handful of restaurants, all of which specialize in serving, well it is an island, seafood. As fellow WeLoveDC author Jenn will tell you, soft shell crabs are in season and there’s no better place to go for a soft shell crab sandwich than Tangier.  In fact, Tangier has been called the “soft shell crab capital of the world” and that makes sense given that the economy of Tangier has been based on crabbing since its settlement.

You’ll also find gift shops, a hardware store, and one pay phone.  What you won’t find is a boardwalk with arcades or concessions, chain stores, traffic lights, a pharmacy, or violent crime.  Of important note: There are no ATMs on the island.  Restaurants and shops have started to take credit cards, but it’s a good idea to bring cash with you.  Also, the island is alcohol free.  I’m not sure if this means you can’t have alcohol at all, or if it’s just not sold there.  I do know that none of the restaurants have alcoholic beverages on their menus.

There are plenty of things to do on and around Tangier.  Aside from swimming, sunbathing and relaxing on the beaches, you’ve got watersports (kayaking, sailing, snorkling, etc.) at your finger tips, numerous tours (bike, the island, waterman’s experience, visit a crab shanty, etc.) and some of the best waterfowl and bird watching in the country.

Tangier Island is truly the ultimate package when it comes to summer getaways.  Proximity, american history, relaxation, sun, swimming, good food, quaint town, charming people……..the list just goes on and on.

Rebecca Johnson

A born and bred New Yorker, Rebecca made the big trip “down south” to DC in 2006 and hasn’t looked back. She spends her days strategizing/planning/ideating how interactive products can help her clients and change the world. In her free time, she explores DC’s ever expanding bar, restaurant and small business scene, plays a crap ton of soccer, attends concerts that contribute to her sleep deprivation and embarks on local adventures. Read why Rebecca loves DC or follow her on twitter.

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4 thoughts on “Getaways: Tangier Island

  1. This is so interesting – I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that they have that dialect. But I’ve never gotten around to planning a trip. Now I really have to!

    Love that photo, too. So rugged. The guy even looks Elizabethean!

  2. Did you actually visit the island? If so, what did you think? Which of the three bed & breakfasts do you recommend?

    Tangier Island sounds like a great getaway…would love any personal insights you could share!