This past week, my youngest and I took a 3-day mini-vacation to the beach. She had been begging all summer, but she worked full-time and didn't get more than a single day off until this past week. And although Chincoteague is a little bit further from us than Rehobeth or Ocean City, I like the small town atmosphere.

On the way there, we stopped in Salisbury for a visit to their FREE zoo. This is a very small (12 acres!) enclave tucked into the city park, right on the river. Absolutely worth a stop if you're heading along Route 13. There is an emphasis on unusual creatures from South America, including the cavy, capybara, guanico, alpaca, coati, and cotton-top tamarins. This tiny monkey has a miniature black face and a tuft of wild, white fur on top of its head. Unbelievably cute. I thought the animals looked clean, healthy, and well-cared-for, which makes for a much happier zoo experience for everyone.

We stayed at the Refuge Inn, one of the closest properties to the National Wildlife Refuge entrance. There is a McDonald's right next door, if that is a selling point. Also a diner across the street, but we didn't visit either of those establishments. Our room was fairly large, with two queen-sized beds, a bathtub/shower, large TV with cable, and free wifi. The Inn has a very nice indoor/outdoor pool, a hot tub, a fitness room (which I did not explore!) and a bike rental shop onsite. Also several ponies are kept on the property. For 50 cents, you can purchase a handful of corn to feed them. The room rate includes a buffet-style breakfast each morning. Unfortunately, I found the breakfast offerings barely edible. Both mornings, I chose the eggs (once scrambled, once hard-boiled) and both times I had to force them down. But there were no other high protein options. Bread, bagels, cereal, small sugary yogurts, weak coffee, and orange juice rounded out the menu.

We spent much of our time walking on the beach. There is a daily $8 fee to enter the refuge, or you can purchase a $15 week-long pass. I recommend peeking into the Visitors Center at Tom's Cove where you'll discover a wonderful aquarium filled with fascinating creatures. They have hermit crabs crawling over each other, a sea horse hanging onto the grass with its tail, many types of small fish, shrimp, coral, sea urchins, and starfish. There is also a Touch Tank with whelks and horseshoe crabs. Driving through the refuge was our choice of transportation due to the proliferation of ravenous mosquitoes. Perhaps riding a bike would work, as many were doing so, but walking was definitely dangerous! We were bitten mercilessly when we tried. (I avoid DEET, as it is a toxin that can enter the bloodstream through the skin, so we were without repellant.)

We ate at The Eatery our first night there. This is a funky food-truck with outdoor tables next to Woody's BBQ. I had a delicious chicken salad topped with coleslaw and carrots. My daughter had a large crabcake sandwich. The fries were a disappointment: overcooked to a dark brown color. The prices are not cheap, either. We paid $30 for two sandwiches, a small fries, and one drink.

Our second night, we chose Capn. Zack's Seafood. The crabcake sandwich here was only $12 and came with lettuce, tomato, hushpuppies, fries, and a Kosher dill pickle spear. The crabcake had NO filler, just pure crab. I'd call this a great value! Again, you order inside but eat outside on picnic tables.

We later hit Island Creamery for some homemade ice cream. This is a treat I never eat, not just because of the sugar. I'm not a huge ice cream fan. I know, it's bizarre. Anyway, we each tried a single scoop in a cup. The flavors we chose were Java Jolt (coffee ice cream with brownie chunks and chocolate covered espresso beans!) and Pony Tracks (vanilla ice cream with peanut butter swirl and miniature peanutbutter cups.) I couldn't finish my scoop (too much sugar!!!) as they were quite generous with the portion size. A single scoop costs about $3.50.

The tiny downtown area is filled with fun shops with everything from T-shirts to original artwork for sale. You can find your typical beach souvenirs or something truly unique and unusual. They have a bayside park, a movie theatre (single screen!) plus a library and a post office.

If you're looking for a cute and quaint getaway, within easy driving distance from Baltimore or DC, you might want to consider a couple of days in Chincoteague. But bring the all-natural bug spray!