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Colonial Beach, Va. has lots more than long beaches

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Can you believe the second-longest beach in Virginia is along the Potomac River, just across the river in Colonial Beach, Va? I visited last Saturday after hearing about it from Greenbelt friends Jay Bellamy and Bethany Gresser, who spent four nights there in mid-September. The amount of beach there is something the town’s tourism website promotes, and they’re clean and pretty wide, too. So pretty.

From Greenbelt during off-rush it’s about a 90-minute drive.
A tip about the drive – don’t count on your GPS to land you where you want to go – mine led me to a deadend in a residential section. Instead, put a business name in your map search, like the one I chose from the restaurant options Google offered – Dockside Restaurant. It couldn’t have felt more welcoming.

 

People rushed to the bar when the restaurant opened at noon.

Dockside has live music outdoors and indoors both, plus a Bourbon Room (for sampling/drinking bourbons, of course), among its attractions. The aging hipster bartender told me the place is packed four deep at the bar during the summer season.

I ordered fish tacos at the bar and ate them right here.

Colonial Beach has a very nice boardwalk, and here’s a nice guide to walking it. Colonial Beach is probably best known for the Riverboat on the Potomac – it’s literally the only thing I knew about Colonial Beach, dubbed, “Little Las Vegas” by the Saturday Evening Post.

Its quirky history is all about different gambling laws in neighboring states. Because the state line follows the Virginia shoreline and Maryland “owns the river,” the entrance is in the Old Dominion but everything else is in Maryland.

This big joke is celebrated with a “Welcome to Maryland” sign in the entryway.

Here;s how it came about: 

In the 1950s, Colonial Beach in Virginia’s Northern Neck was a notorious gambling hotbed, a wildly popular nightlife resort drawing revelers from throughout the region. The town had been a popular summer getaway for the urban set since the early 1900s. But when a quirk of geography let Colonial Beach take advantage of Maryland’s slot machine laws, the resort went on a gaming spree that lasted nearly a decade. Source – Washington Post..

 

Maryland had legalized slot machines in the 1940s, and for a time, four counties in southern Maryland were the only places outside of Nevada where a person could play the slots. In 1949, gambling operators in Maryland found a way to ease the burden on their Virginia customers who had to drive across the U.S. 301 bridge: build piers from the Virginia side of the Potomac River past the low-water mark—not far off the Virginia shoreline—and put the slot machines there (brought over on boats to get around interstate commerce laws). Now, customers could simply stroll down a pier into another state to try to line up their lemons and cherries. Source – Fredericksburg.com.

So gamblers! Remember you have another option besides National Harbor – one with a bit of history and long beaches.

The view from the Riverboat’s deck is just over the top. I want to go back and have lunch here.

Colonial Beach Brewing is a spot I wish I’d gone in, after seeing it it spotlighted by the visitors center. They even have live music!.

Denson’s farm-to-table establishment sure has an authentic look!

The gorgeous mid-Century Modern Riverview Inn is where I might just book a room someday.

I’d hang out here in Riverview’s pool-side front yard and watch people walk by on their way to the town pier.

What to do in Colonial Beach

My friends who stayed several days told me they enjoyed local antique and second-hand shops, as well as historic sites like the birthplaces of both George Washington and James Monroe.

If I go back I’ll check out the live music at Dockside and Colonial Beach Brewing.

A nice overview:

Its relatively flat terrain provides a perfect place for a leisurely walk or bike ride. If you want to move around town a bit faster, golf carts are legal on the streets. The water views are calming, the architecture of some of the old houses and cottages is captivating and the sunsets on Monroe Bay rival any you’ve seen. You’ll see (and hear!) Ospreys in the summer, be mesmerized by soaring Bald Eagles, and enjoy spotting a large variety of both water and woodland birds throughout the year. There are marinas for boaters, a 2-mile stretch of beach, fishing and picnic areas, friendly people and lots more….Source.

Suggestions from Trip Advisor.

Follow Susan Harris:
“Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that first blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog at GardenRant.com. In 2021 Susan joined the Board of Directors of Greenbelt Access TV.

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