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Summer road trip: Colonial Beach, Virginia

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I’m not really a huge fan of the great outdoors.

I don’t camp or hike, and if I’ve got to be outside for prolonged periods of time, I’d prefer that a body of water be nearby. So when Colonial Beach came up as a possible stop on our summer road trip tour, I was all over it. And, instead of going on a day trip to the beach, we made it a weekend.

Colonial Beach is a small town that’s about 30 minutes southeast of Fredericksburg, making it about three and a half hours from Lynchburg. It sits on the Potomac River (so you don’t actually get to put your toes in the ocean, per say) and, once you enter the water, you’re technically in Maryland. So it’s like two trips in one!

There are no big chain hotels there, only a couple motels (including the adorable Doc’s Motor Court; see our handy info box below for more on the sites and sounds) and a bunch of bed and breakfasts.

After doing some research online, I finally settled on The Plaza Bed & Breakfast, a beautiful, five bedroom Victorian home. The owners also rent out three area cottages, and we were lucky enough to nab one of them. The Carriage House, which boasts a living area with a small kitchenette and a spiral staircase that leads upstairs to a loft bedroom, sits behind the main house and couldn’t have been more perfect.

The best part? It was a two-minute walk to the beach.

We arrived on a Friday afternoon in late July and immediately set out for some sun and sand. The first thing that struck me was how quiet the beach was. I’m used to fighting the crowds to find a prime spot at Myrtle Beach or Virginia Beach. But here you have your pick of real estate. We set up near a line of trees, so my fiancée could sit in the shade while I soaked up the sun.  

Colonial Beach is a golf cart community, so prepare to see plenty of them riding around town. We were only there for a weekend, so we didn’t look into renting one, but I’d recommend it if you stay longer.

By mid-afternoon, we were ready for a late lunch, so we headed over to Denson’s Grocery, which quickly became our favorite Colonial Beach spot. We went there every day that weekend. They serve up lunch — a menu of mostly sandwiches (owner Rocky Denson promised that he had the best crab cake around, and he was right), as well as side dishes like mac and cheese and pasta salad and some yummy desserts (ice cream, cookies and what was quite possibly the best cannoli I’ve ever had).

The store also sells grocery items, fresh produce, gourmet food products and wine and beer.

It became like a little second home for us. We grabbed lunch there the first day, then returned that evening for a wine tasting. Rocky and his wife, Blaire, recommended we check out a local pub’s trivia night, which immediately piqued my interest.

So we were off to Dockside Restaurant and Blue Heron Pub, a seafood restaurant and bar. We signed up for trivia and ate dinner —  an oysters Rockefeller appetizer, followed by jumbo stuffed shrimp for me and a fried seafood platter for him — while we waited for it to begin.

I’d never done the trivia thing before, but was immediately hooked (I so wish one of Lynchburg’s night spots would start doing it!). We had a blast, even though we struggled through the first two rounds. The questions were mostly general knowledge (What is the busiest railway station in London? What horse tranquilizer produces PCP-like effects in humans?) with a few pop culture references thrown in (What band performed the rock opera “Tommy?”).

For the third round, we teamed up with Rocky and Blaire, who had arrived late, and the four of us actually won. After having a couple more drinks with them, we headed back to the Carriage House and were up and at it early Saturday, ready to explore more of the town.

After breakfast at a coffee shop called Tattle Tale, we decided to do some fishing from the pier. Well, to be more accurate, my fiancée fished while I continued to bake in the sun.

He’d forgotten his fishing pole and, since nobody in town rents them out, we hit up a nearby True Value to buy one, along with some bait. He caught a few (and threw them back) over the course of a couple hours. By then, we were ready for some sustenance, so we stopped in at High Tides on the Potomac, a beachside bar, for drinks and a coconut shrimp appetizer, followed by another stop at Denson’s for lunch (what can I say, we’re creatures of habit).

Then we spent the afternoon wandering around Colonial Beach. There are a few antique and consignment stores, and several really nice art galleries, including JarrettThor Fine Arts and Visions by Shirl, as well as The Riverview Inn, a motel that exhibits art in its lobby.

We also stopped in at the town center, which was hosting the Colonial Beach Artists’ Guild’s regional art show, and voted for our favorite pieces.

Next up was a scenic boat tour with Potomac River Charters, which offers several throughout the day for only $8 a pop (the company also takes people out for morning fishing trips, which cost $30 each). They need at least 10 people to go out on the tour, so after a false start at 3 p.m., more people showed up and we took the 5 p.m. tour instead.

There weren’t a ton of actual “sites” to see, mostly just beachfront properties, but the boat ride was so relaxing that I found myself dozing off from time to time.

After docking, we headed home and got ready for dinner, this time at SeaSide Restaurant, which specializes in Thai and French cuisine (and had gotten rave reviews from several residents we met).

We started our meal with dumplings filled with pork, shrimp, crab and mushrooms, followed by two entrees: the Drunken Noodle (stir-fried wide rice noodles with tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, basil and hot garlic chili sauce), my fiancée’s favorite Thai dish, and Pad Se Ew (stir-fried wide rice noodles with chicken, broccoli and egg). It was so good that we vowed to return the next day for lunch before we left town.

We left full, very satisfied and ready for some gambling at Riverboat on the Potomac, an off-track betting facility down the street. We arrived around 9 p.m., enough time to bet on a handful of horse races being simulcast from Charles Town Races in West Virginia and Colonial Downs near Richmond.

I started out strong and actually won $50 on the first race. But my luck ended there, and I didn’t win anything else for the rest of the night.

We’d originally planned to check out some live music at High Tides after the races were over, but the band had already packed up when we walked by around 11 p.m. (we heard that Dockside’s live music usually goes later, so there’s a tip for next time).

On Sunday morning, we hit the beach for one last walk and, as promised, were waiting outside of SeaSide Restaurant when they opened at 11 a.m. We were the only customers there that early, and the owner certainly seemed amused by our dedication.  

My fiancée couldn’t resist getting the Drunken Noodle again, but I decided to change it up and ordered Pad Thai (delicious!), along with some spring rolls.

It was a great way to bring a weekend of good food, and good people, to a close.

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