The Keys to a Classic East Coast Getaway
By Cele & Lynn Seldon
Long loved as one of the East Coast’s top coastal destinations, Virginia Beach is better than ever. From its three distinct beaches to lots of inland possibilities nearby, Virginia Beach is a hot place to head come summer. Of course, summer brings sun, sand, and surf to this southeast Virginia city, but there’s also much more to see and do in Virginia Beach than hit the beach.
Located where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, today’s vibrant Virginia Beach has a rich history and many forms of entertainment. Though now a four-season destination, the city’s unique districts shine especially brightly come summer. From the bustling oceanfront area to remote Sandbridge, the calming Chesapeake Bay to bustling Town Center, or the eclectic “ViBe” creative district to surrounding inland areas, there’s something for everyone come summer (and beyond) in Virginia Beach.
Three Beaches Beckon
Even locals think of the Virginia Beach’s famed Oceanfront area as “the” beach, but the city actually features two other unique beach options. Visitors enjoy all three.
As the hub of the city in many ways, Virginia Beach’s Oceanfront is a great place to start the beach life. Features include a wide beach, the famous three-mile-long boardwalk (great for walking, biking, people watching, and more), frequent live music and street performers, many outdoor dining options, Atlantic Fun Park, and the ever-popular Rudee Inlet marina district, featuring tasty waterfront dining and lots of watersports options.
Regularly scheduled live music at the 31st Street Stage and elsewhere is a big hit come summer, as are the frequent fireworks shows over the ocean. From sunbathing to surfing for any level, the Oceanfront is a simply a classic East Coast beach destination.
Gentler waves are found nearby along the calm waters of the Chesapeake Bay. This beach community is commonly referred to by locals as Chick’s (or Chic’s) Beach and it features everything from swimming to sand castle-building and volleyball for all in a laid-back atmosphere beloved by locals and visitors alike. The Chesapeake Bay also makes for great evening strolls on the water or enjoying a romantic dinner as the sun sets over the 20-mile-long Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.
Located about 15 miles south of the Oceanfront, Sandbridge is a relatively secluded beach destination featuring pretty sand dunes and sea oats blowing in the frequent summer breeze. Along with the beach and classic dining at Margie and Ray’s, Mother Nature also provides the pretty marshes and open waters of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park, which are ideal for kayaking and fishing.
Lots of Virginia Beach activities revolve around the water and the possibilities are almost endless. The long list of adventures available from numerous outfitters and operators include: all types of on-water outings (from big boats to kayaks, stand-up paddle boarding (SUP), surfing, wave runners, jet skis, and much more); water tours (including popular spring-to-fall dolphin watching trips—which morph into whale watching tours come winter); parasailing; fishing (whether from the beach, a pier, or by boat); and much more for lovers of the wet set.
Water lovers will definitely want to head to the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. There are so many highlights here, including: 80,000 gallons of marine and animal habitats; 300-plus hands-on exhibits; an outdoor aviary; a National Geographic 3-D Theater; lots of special programs; nature trails; boat trips; marshlands; and The Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium (climbing and zip line fun).
History buffs will find many options in modern Virginia Beach. The Oceanfront is a great place to start, with Virginia Beach Surf & Rescue Museum (new exhibits every summer), the Virginia Legends Walk, the Virginia Beach Navy Seal Monument, and the recently reopened Cavalier Hotel.
Virginia Beach also still has many historic homes. Possible drive-bys or stops include the Adam Thoroughgood House, the Francis Land House, the Adam Keeling House, and the Lynnhaven House.
Aviation history fans will want to head into Virginia Beach’s nearby countryside to Pungo to experience the Military Aviation Museum. The popular museum includes a huge collection of WWI- and WWII-era planes and much more.
The Fort Story area north of the Oceanfront features several historic destinations. Here, visitors will find First Landing State Park (lots of outdoor options), Fort Story’s First Landing Cross (which commemorates the first settlers’ arrival), and two quite historic lighthouses (one is open to visitors).
The ViBe Creative District
Located just blocks from the Atlantic, Virginia Beach’s distinctly different ViBe Creative District has become an exciting hub for artists and spirits, roasters and restaurateurs, museums and much more. Featuring 24 colorful public art murals, this up-and-coming area that was once in need of revitalization includes the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), The Artists Gallery, Old Beach Farmer’s Market, Second Saturdays (varied programming and events at restaurants, shops, galleries, museums, and more), lots of restaurants (including beloved Commune, Beach Bully BBQ, and several others), Chesapeake Bay Distillery, Back Bay Brewing, and so much more.
Plunge into Pungo
Just a few minutes away from the windswept dunes of Sandbridge sits Pungo, 8,000 acres of farmland known mostly by locals and lucky visitors. A trip to this the bucolic agricultural community delivers a rural serenity and countryside charm that is worlds apart from the bustling Oceanfront. Pungo possibilities include: breakfast at the Bee & the Biscuit; shopping at roadside markets; experiencing pick-your-own farms; taking a farm-to-table cooking class at New Earth Farm; catching the waves and surfer vibe at inland Pungo Board House surf and skate shop; and riding in a 1941 Boeing Stearman open-cockpit biplane and more at the aforementioned Military Aviation Museum.
Those in the Virginia Beach area over Memorial Day Weekend will want to head to the Pungo Strawberry Festival. It’s a huge two-day strawberry-centric event featuring more than 50 strawberry delicacies, lots of family activities, carnival, and much more.
Shop ‘til You Drop
Of course, the Oceanfront area offers lots of shopping stops, ranging from classic “beach” stores (like multi-location Sunsations) with seashells, swimwear, T-shirts, beach towels, and more, to one-of-a-kind boutiques with only-in-Virginia Beach souvenirs (like Beach Nut in Waterman’s Surfside Grille). Antiques lovers will want to head to Virginia Beach Antique Mall, while beach sweets lovers (saltwater taffy and more) will want to head straight to the Forbes Candies, Candy Kitchen, or Jody’s Gourmet Popcorn.
Located just minutes from the Oceanfront, Town Center of Virginia Beach features shopping and so much more. Pedestrian-friendly tree-lined streets lead to lots of locally-owned shops and boutiques, plus renowned national retailers, a sporting goods store, an art gallery, a day spa, and more. Dining choices range from steak and more at Ruth’s Chris to world-class Indian fare at Saffron Indian Bistro, which also has a Norfolk location.It’s easy to shop ‘til you drop—before heading out for a bite of Virginia Beach.
Take a Bite Out of Virginia Beach
The culinary scene in Virginia Beach is better than ever, thanks to chefs and restaurants focusing on the region’s local bounty from the sea and rich earth. From morning to night, eating and drinking in Virginia Beach is tastier than ever.
There’s just something special about mornings and coffee on the coast and that’s certainly true in Virginia Beach. Specialty coffee joint choices include American Brew, Bad Ass Coffee Company, and multi-location Duck Donuts. Once the caffeine jolt (and possible donut sugar rush) takes effect, classic breakfast options include: Doc Taylor’s (an old seaside doctor’s office); Pocahontas Pancake House; and Bay Local Eatery.
Come lunchtime, there are many options in the area, depending on stomach cravings that day. Farm-to-table Commune is the place to go to eat local—and meet lots of locals. For burger (and bourbon) lovers, it’s hard to beat Repeal Bourbon & Burgers. Situated on the Lynnhaven River, the views and food at The Back Deck beckon (and their orange crushes are legendary). And, of course, it’s hard to beat eating right on the Atlantic Ocean at local faves like Waterman’s Surfside Grille (originator of the Virginia Beach orange crush and aforementioned shopping in Beach Nut), Catch 31, Lagerheads, Mahi Mah’s, and more.
Come sunset, locals send lots of visitors to Tautog’s, which is situated in an old seaside cottage and is beloved for its friendly service and creative cuisine (reservations highly suggested!). Other varied dinner options include: The Landing; EAT; Commune; Rudee’s On the Inlet; and the huge buffet and more at Cpt. George’s World Famous Seafood Buffet & Restaurant (serving happy locals and visitors since 1978).
Cheers to Virginia Beach
The craft beer scene in the area is inspired by the coastal location and spans the area’s three beaches and beyond. Top craft breweries and beer-focused destinations worth a visit and taste include: Commonwealth Brewing Company (situated in a rustic fire station-turned-brewery); Young Veterans Brewing (founded by two veterans); and the aforementioned Back Bay Brewing in the ViBe District.
Summertime brings lots of regular events to the area, including the Virginia Beach Patriotic Festival, the North American Sand Soccer Championships, the Boardwalk Art Show Festival, the East Coast Surfing Championships, varied Fourth of July festivities and fireworks, Chalk the Walk Artsplosion Arts Festival, the Naval Air Station Oceana Air Show, the Virginia Beach Neptune Festival, many beach parties and events, lots of live music, and so much more practically every day from June to September. Of course, always-bustling Virginia Beach now features events year-round (including Holidays Lights at the Beach, on the Boardwalk).
Given all of these options for Virginia Beach come summer—or any time of year—it’s easy to see why the city is better than ever.
For more information, visit visitvirginiabeach.com.
To plan your next adventure to Virginia Beach or elsewhere, visit our website, thousandtrails.com.