Southern Belle in Training

Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle Blog || Est. 2012 || Virginia Beach, VA

July 7, 2020

TRAVEL GUIDE: Mathews VA + The Middle Peninsula

     I spent the 4th of July weekend this year in Mathews, Virginia. Mathews is both the name of the county and the main town in the area. Mathews County is actually the second smallest county in the state, and the entire surrounding area has a quintessential small town slow pace of life. While this isn't a destination that would normally be on my summer radar, it was the perfect place to safely escape to for a few days during COVID-19. This county has had one of the lowest case counts in the entire state, and I felt extremely safe traveling and visiting there due to the natural social distancing that comes from being in a more rural place. 

    I wanted to get this Travel Guide up as quickly as possible, so that there's still a few more months of warm weather left for fellow Virginians (or those from neighboring states) to plan their own escape here to enjoy the relaxing pace of life and beautiful sights. Let's get to it! 

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The Middle Peninsula:
     Geography 101: Eastern Virginia is comprised of three different peninsulas that go out into the Chesapeake Bay. The smallest and southern-most one is ironically the most populated- that's where places like Williamsburg and Newport News are. The two northern peninsulas are known as the Northern Neck (the northernmost one) and the Middle Peninsula.
     The Middle Peninsula is the most sparsely populated of the three peninsulas. It's comprised of six rural counties, and traffic lights are few and far between. Fishing and vegetable farming are the main industries here. Mathews County is located at the southeastern part of the peninsula, right along the rivers and Chesapeake Bay.
    Normally places that are so small and rural aren't my preferred travel destinations, but with COVID-19 shaking up most other travel plans, Mathews seemed like the ideal destination for the 4th of July this year. A tiny town with beaches and other outdoor spots to explore? Yes please!

     Mathews was just under three hours from Charlottesville or DC, and it's an hour and a half from most places in Richmond. There are no interstates on the Middle Peninsula, but traffic is few and far between, and you'll find yourself driving easily and quickly on the rural county roads.
     If you're not from Virginia but want to add a stop here on your East Coast itinerary, Richmond would be the closest airport.

     The Northern Neck is more widely known for tourism, with a plethora of inns to be found. But the Middle Peninsula and town of Mathews have a few lodging options. There are a couple bed and breakfasts, and Airbnbs or house rentals are popular options also. My friend Mercedes and I decided to go the Airbnb route for our weekend.
     We stayed in this Airbnb in Port Haywood, which is a small area about 15 minutes from downtown Mathews. It was a garage apartment that had two beds and a kitchenette. There was wifi and a small TV with a DVD player (no cable). It was an incredible value to stay here, and we both enjoyed it. I also really liked the decor and color scheme- it had a very beachy and coastal vibe. This was actually my first time ever staying in an Airbnb, so I was glad it was a pleasant experience! Here are a few pictures:

     Oh my word- this might have been one of the best weekend trips for food that I've had in a long time. This area of Virginia might be small, but it's not lacking in tasty food!
     We did brought our own breakfast foods for both mornings at our Airbnb, and did one lunch out and two dinners. I would highly recommend every restaurant we went to- I liked everything so much I'm not sure what my favorite meal was, and that's a high compliment! One restaurant was right in Mathews, and the other two were in the nearby towns of Gwynn's Island and Deltaville.
  • The Table (16273 General Puller Highway, Deltaville) - This was the first restaurant recommendation that I took from this Virginia Travel Guide from Heather Bien! (Heather is the blogger who introduced me to ImPRESS nails so it's safe to say I trust her recommendations 110%.) It's in a very random location- in the middle of a small strip mall. I was a bit curious when we arrived there from the outside ambiance... but the food certainly makes up for this. Mercedes and I both had fried chicken sandwiches and they were divine. Not greasy at all and so flavorful! The prices were also very reasonable here. I will absolutely be eating here again if I return to the area. As far as COVID-19 dining goes, The Table had a special outdoor seating section set up in their parking lot, which we did! The indoor tables did look very socially distanced though.
  • Hole in the Wall (384 Old Ferry Road, Gwynn's Island) - If I had to pick an absolute favorite meal of the trip- it would have to be here. (And this was another recommendation from Heather!) This is a very casual spot located right on the river in Gwynn's Island, but the food is absolutely out of this world. We had our 4th of July lunch here, so I treated myself to Old Bay wings and hush puppies. I'm not exaggerating when I say these were the best hush puppies and wings I've ever eaten. Absolutely delicious and I ate every last bite! Hole in the Wall has limited outdoor seating and we were lucky to snag one of those tables upon arrival, but it would've been worth a wait even if had to. I can't recommend this spot enough. 
  • The White Dog Bistro (68 Church St., Mathews) - Our second dinner was our fancier meal of the weekend, at The White Dog Bistro, the nicest restaurant in Mathews. It's located in a beautiful old Southern home just steps from downtown. The building reminded me so much of The Corner Spa in Sweet Magnolias (pictured above)! This restaurant was phenomenal as well, but at a little bit of a higher price point than the other two places we ate (dinners were $25-30). They had a wonderful menu, and I was intrigued enough by one of the vegetarian dishes to try it, which I ended up really liking! 

     Beaches: The main reason that a weekend in Mathews appealed to me for the 4th of July was because it seemed like a safer option to enjoy a beach! I personally wouldn't want to be anywhere near a large and overcrowded beach like Virginia Beach this summer with COVID-19. I was really missing the feeling of sand in my toes and being in the water, but I knew if I visited a beach in Virginia it would have to be one that was a lot quieter than most. Mathews County is home to three public beaches on the Chesapeake Bay! We visited two of them: Bethel Beach and Haven Beach. I honestly liked both Bethel and Haven a lot- they're only a few miles apart and not very different. The water was a little bit more shallow and smoother at Haven, so Mercedes and I agreed that beach might be better for swimming. Haven also had a small parking lot and two rock jettys that people were fishing on. But I really did like Bethel as well- you can't go wrong with either. Both have plenty of sandy areas and are very safe to swim- the Bay doesn't have beach currents like the ocean does. One important thing to note- both beaches weirdly had several tree stumps in the sand in the swimming areas. I accidentally put my foot down on one and cut my toe! It was sharp. Had I brought my river shoes with me, this probably would've been solved. So if you do have river shoes or Chacos- I recommend them here for being in the water!

     Kayaking: We didn't personally do this during the trip, but Mathews County is well-known as one of Virginia's best kayaking destinations! There are several rental places around, and over 100 miles of waterways in the area to explore. 

     Northern Neck day trip: We spent most of Saturday in the Northern Neck, exploring the towns up there. The Northern Neck is a little more populated than the Middle Peninsula, and is home to slightly larger towns with more stores, lodging options, and also some wineries! Mercedes and I spent a couple hours walking around Downtown Kilmarnock, enjoying shopping in all of their cute boutiques and antique shops. We then visited the Dog and Oyster winery in the neighboring town of Irvington, and I did a wine tasting! 

     Mercedes and I had a wonderful 4th of July weekend in Mathews- it was socially distanced, filled with natural beauty, and very relaxing. While I do feel like I really got to see a lot of what the Middle Peninsula area had to offer, I am dying to head back to Eastern Virginia to explore more of the Northern Neck! Since the towns there were a little bit bigger I feel like I'd have a lot more to explore. And luckily for me, the delicious restaurants we went to in and near Mathews are all a short drive away from there! 

     Please let me know if you have any additional questions about this trip. Check out my general thoughts about travel during the pandemic in this post, and other Virginia Travel Guides here.

     God Bless,

     xoxo Annaliese 



  1. Whaaattt? How do I not know about this area until now? It looks SO cute. I just put it in my Google Maps to see and it's only 3 hours away. What a great recommendation. Just might have to check this out! Thank you!


  2. You do such a great job with your travel guides- they are so thorough and full of details! This town sounds wonderful and the perfect place to safely vacation right now. I"m so glad you were able to get away and relax!

  3. I'm literally so close to this. For my 3rd year at UVA, I definitely want to explore more of the smaller towns in VA.
    - Gigi

  4. This looked like so much fun! That Airbnb is fabulous. I am dying to take a little social distancing trip.


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