Though the Eastern Shore is getting more crowded, it still beckons as a relaxing day trip or weekend getaway. Leave congested Hampton Roads behind, cross the 17-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and head up Route 13. You'll feel the pace slow as you pass miles of farmland and explore the towns and sites along the way.

Gardeners can check out the numerous garden centers that dot the highway. Visit one of three wineries, take in a historic restaurant for lunch or dinner, play golf at the swanky Bay Creek Resort and Club. Museums, gardens and historic attractions pull you off the highway into quaint towns like Cape Charles, Eastville and Machipongo.

"People think of the Eastern Shore as a place to get from Point A to Point B," says Charles Thain, chef at the Eastville Inn. "They don't realize that when you get off the highway, it's a wonderful place."

Don't try to see everything on one visit. Here are a few suggestions for a memorable day or weekend excursion on the lower end of the peninsula.

Towns to visit



Cape Charles. The southernmost town on the Eastern Shore, Cape Charles was laid out in 1884 to be the terminus for the New York, Philadelphia & Norfolk Railroad. Its seven square blocks are now a nationally registered historic district. Stroll along Mason Avenue, with its restaurants and galleries or soak up the area's history at the Cape Charles Museum.

Bay Creek Resort and Club. This newly built resort community surrounding the town of Cape Charles contains shops, galleries, restaurants, a marina and award-winning golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. 757-331-8600. www.baycreek.net.

Eastville. The Northampton County seat since 1631, the courthouse contains the nation's oldest continuous court records. Visit the courthouse green, craft shops and Christ Church built in 1828.

Off the beaten path. For a leisurely drive through rural scenery, check out Seaside Road (Route 600), a 45-mile trek that starts near the bridge-tunnel and winds along the ocean to Accomac. There's also Bayside Road (Route 618) on the other side, though that route gets interrupted from the many inlets coming off the Chesapeake Bay.

Local culture



Eyre Hall Gardens. 3215 Eyre Hall Drive, Cheriton. Located off Route 13 between Cape Charles and Eastville, this private home is surrounded by gardens open to the public that are among the oldest in the country, circa 1800. Ancient boxwoods and gnarled crape myrtles spread over traditional swept dirt paths, all enclosed by a wall of brick brought as ballast from England.

Barrier Islands Center. 7295 Young St., Machipongo. Housed in a former poorhouse, this collection of artifacts chronicles the history and colorful people that once lived on the chain of 18 islands along the Eastern Shore's Atlantic side. Enjoy a guided tour by historian Larry Doughty, a Barrier Island descendant. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. 757-678-5550. www.barrierislandscenter.com.

Family Fun



Schooner Serenity. 505 Monroe Ave., Cape Charles. This 65-foot, gaff-rigged schooner takes sunset sailing cruises on weekends out of Bay Creek Marina. Departure times vary with the sunset. Reservations required. $40. 757-710-1233. www.schoonerserenity.com

SouthEast Expeditions. 611 Mason Ave., Cape Charles. Guided kayak tours of area creeks and secluded islands, also a trip to the Chatham Vineyards winery. $85 half day, $125 full day (includes lunch). 757-331-2680. www.sekayak.com. Editor's note: Read about Daily Press reporter Patrick Lynch's kayak trip on page G15.

Beaches. Clean beaches with shallow water await you along the Chesapeake Bay. "The Cape Charles beach on the western end of town is really nice for families because the water is really shallow," says Cape Charles resident Mary Ann McDevitt. "On Sunday afternoons, boaters gather off Sunset Beach Resort (near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel) for music and to watch the sunset."

Biking. Off Route 13, you can enjoy miles of flat seaside and bayside roads with minimal traffic.

The Great Machipongo Clam Shack. Route 13 at Nassawadox. Reasonable priced local clams and other seafood. Ships to your home as well. 757-442-3800. www.greatclams.com.

Good Eats