The coastal haven’s dining scene is packed with both tradition and new energy.

With 1,109 miles of shoreline along the Chesapeake Bay and the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers, the Northern Neck, a picturesque peninsula off the Virginia coast, is about a three-hour drive from DC. Its burgeoning food scene is defined as much by its watermen and their rich hauls as it is by the bounty from the farmers working this verdant stretch.

Your first stop in the morning should be the Local (4337 Irvington Rd., Irving­ton), a chipper cafe that pairs strong coffee with friendly service and casual breakfast fare.

Up next: Chesapeake Doughnut Co. (500 Rappahannock Dr., White Stone) for colorful rounds such as lemon cream, maple bacon, and “the Homer,” a Simpsons-inspired pink-glazed doughnut dotted with rainbow sprinkles. For heartier breakfasts, Car Wash Café (481 N. Main St., Kilmarnock) has a killer soft-shell-crab Benedict. Bonus: You can get your car washed next door.

Photograph courtesy of Chesapeake Doughnut Co.

If you want a picnic lunch, hit the River Market (1 Rappahannock Dr., White Stone), a grocery/deli offering crank-your-jaws-wide sandwiches. For a sit-down meal, Lee’s (30 S. Main St., Kilmarnock) specializes in homestyle surf and turf—a hefty crabcake sandwich, lots of burgers, Southern starters such as fried green to-matoes and hushpuppies, and generous wedges of pie.

Cooking for yourself? Head to Miss Mary Seafood (758 Rappahannock Dr., White Stone), a first-class fishmonger whose icy troughs brim with fresh oysters, crabs, and fish. A pit stop at Old Farm Truck Market (453 Rappahannock Dr., White Stone) is requisite for local produce, small-batch foodstuffs, cheeses crafted by nano-creameries in Virginia and Maryland, and loaves courtesy of regional bakeries, including Richmond’s award-winning Sub-Rosa. Speaking of bread, Out of the Oven Bakery (549 Rappahannock Dr., White Stone) is a go-to for pastries, cookies, brownies, pies, cakes, and loaves.

After all that running around, take a breather at Ditchley Cider Works (1571 Ditchley Rd., Kilmarnock) with a glass of lightly effervescent, not-too-sweet Rivah cider. You can also pick up sausages made in-house from the heritage pigs and grass-fed cows raised onsite.

Your must-get dinner reservation is at Adrift (572 Rappahannock Dr., White Stone), run by chef Devin Rose and his wife, Kati, who handles front of the house. His seasonally slanted cooking is an exuberant expression of modern Virginia cuisine. The couple recently divided the restaurant space to make way for Moor, a small wine shop and market stocked with lots of Virginia-made products—sorghum hot sauce from the Shack, Lindera Farm vinegars, cheeses from Twenty Paces. It serves a concise lunch menu of sandwiches and small plates Friday and Saturday.

Another worthy option: Merroir (784 Locklies Creek Rd., Topping), a breezy tasting room on the banks of the Rappahannock. It’s owned by the enterprising cousins behind Rappahannock Oyster Co. and will keep you up to your gills in just-caught seafood and as many oysters as you can knock back.

Where to Stay

Tides Inn. Photograph by Tom Saunders.

The kid- and pet-friendly Tides Inn (480 King Carter Dr., Irvington), right on the water, is a longstanding favorite. While you’re there, book a class—from a deliciously interactive session on oyster farming to others on pottery and cocktail-making.

Things to Do

Photograph courtesy of Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Spend a day at Belle Isle State Park (1632 Belle Isle Rd., Lancaster), where you can rent canoes and kayaks to paddle the Rappahannock and its adjoining creeks, tidal wetlands, and quiet inlets. Alternatively, rent a bike or take a hike to explore the easy trails. Keep your eyes open: Bald eagles, blue herons, and hawks are plentiful.

Fish Hawk Oyster Bar at Tides Inn. Photograph courtesy of Tides Inn.

Icons by Connie Zheng.
This article appears in the May 2022 issue of Washingtonian