NOTE: The descriptions of the places in this guide were accurate at the time the articles were posted. Please be advised that you should call ahead before traveling to any of them.

Alligators hula dancing?

By: Michelle Harper

It was another hot beautiful summer day. My partner and I were in the mood to hear the sounds of the ocean washing against the beaches but were not willing to brave the commercialism and crowds of the familiar haunts of Ocean City or Virginia Beach. Thus, pulling out our trusty map, with a sense of purpose and the need for the sea, we found a small dot located on route 205 on the northern coast of Virginia - Colonial Beach.

Happy ClamWithin a few miles of our original destination, we passed Potomac Beach, a little strip which appeared no more than about a 1/2 mile wide. The "beach" consisted of a restaurant called the Happy Clam and an old pier standing solidly next to several rows of rotting remains of water-worn boards protruding up from the river. Somehow the foreboding jagged edges did not deter the local birds from building their nests atop the splintery ruins. We decided to walk out onto the pier to get a closer look at the roosting birds and were able to catch an occasional glimpse of a loudly chirping baby bird peaking out from beneath its mother. We decided to sample the local fare at the restaurant and had a very enjoyable lunch. The food was very good. However, it must be noted that most of the seafood dishes were fried, leaving little choices for anyone in the mood for something lighter.

Happy ClamAfter a nice lunch we headed to Colonial beach. It was a very small town in a distinctly working class neighborhood with homes right up to the water's edge. This was in sharp contrast to the hotels and boardwalks of other waterfront towns. Aside from several antique stores a few blocks away from the river, the area was about as noncommercial as you can get. The tourist center was located in a little trailer just beyond the short concrete "boardwalk", which if it had been located anywhere else it would have been called a sidewalk. In lieu of a string of arcades, amusement parks, junk food and t-shirt shops, we found one snack shop and one souvenir shop which contained the traditional beach-going "necessities" of taffy, tired little sand crabs, and shell sculptures of turtles and alligators hula dancing or some similar nonsense.

Colonial BeachThe beach itself was very rocky with a few shells scattered in for good measure. I learned very quickly not to walk barefoot no matter how tempting it seemed. The waves were fairly calm and children were happily playing all along the water's edge. Some of the activities available included sea plane rides, harbor cruises, and pier fishing. My partner and I walked out on the fishing pier. No one seemed to be getting a bite but they really didn't seem to care. One of the preteen boys told us "they are dancing for us but they won't bite." Fishing gear much like the fishermen themselves seemed to come in a range of sizes - varying from a pole that was at least twice the size of its full grown owner, (I guess he was very optimistic), to the miniature red plastic pole barely reaching over the edge of the pier that was sported by a very small boy fishing with his granddad.

All in all, Colonial Beach was very friendly and family-oriented. No one was self-conscious or shy and everyone seemed quite comfortable with who they were. The beach offered a non-pretentious quiet and relaxing retreat for people who just need a little break but don't want to spring for an expensive get away. Throw a change of clothes, some sunscreen, and a pair of flip-flops in the saddlebag and you've got the perfect day trip.

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