The drive into Chincoteague (pop. 4,317; pronounced “SCHINK-a-teeg”), a low-key fishing village, takes you across miles of glowing gold and blue marshlands through a gauntlet of quirky billboards advertising local motels, restaurants, and sportfishing charters. This mix of natural beauty and tacky tourism aptly reflects the character of the town, which is totally dependent upon summertime visitors but seems to wish that we’d all just leave and let the locals go fishing.

A small bridge along Hwy-175, which runs 10 miles east from US-13, drops you at the heart of town, where casual seafood restaurants line the small wharves that stretch along the bay. For breakfast, head south of town, where the popular Mr. Baldy’s Family Restaurant (3441 Ridge Rd., 757/336-1198) serves up hearty meals across from the “pony swim” landing at Black Point. Near here, at the end of Beebe Street just outside the refuge boundary, you can pitch a tent or park an RV at the very pleasant, privately owned Tom’s Cove Campground (757/336-6498).

Among the many places to stay are several nice B&Bs and a handful of standard motels like the friendly and central Birchwood (3650 Main St., 757/336-6133, $60 and up).