Virginia Beach’s stretch of soft sand and Atlantic surf make it a perennial favorite beach getaway for East Coast families. Its swath of unbroken coastline has been recognized as the longest pleasure beach in the world by Guinness World Records. This translates into always being able to find a spot for your towel and beach umbrella, even at the height of summer. Lifeguards are on duty daily from mid-May through mid-September and there is a decidedly G-rated atmosphere here, with a ‘no cursing on the beach’ rule that represents its family-friendly spirit. With hotels that accommodate a range of budgets, no-frills eateries, and free entertainment, this is a top pick for families craving a beach vacation. Colonial Williamsburg is also nearby. Here’s what to do, where to eat, and where to stay in Virginia Beach.
1. Head to the Beach (well, all seven of them)
The sun, sand and surf are free in Virginia Beach, since no costly beach passes or tags are needed. The southern section of the boardwalk tends to be more crowded, the northern end quieter, so take your pick. It is all astonishingly clean and groomed daily.
The three-mile Oceanfront boardwalk has a separate bike path for families that want to get around on wheels or blades. The path is flat and dotted with whimsical nautical-themed sculptures. On a practical note, there are plenty of clean restrooms the length of the boardwalk.
3. Rent a Bike
If you're looking for convenience, Cherie’s Bike Rentals offers reasonably priced bikes and canopied surreys at 15 locations along the boardwalk. Choose from mountain bikes, beach cruisers, family bikes, and even in-line skates. If you don't mind walking a couple of blocks, Conte's Beach Bike Shop is highly regarded in the area.
The playground at Grommet Island Park is lots of fun. Photo by Julie, Dave & Family/CC BY 2.0
4. Explore Grommet Island Park
Located at 2nd Street and Boardwalk, Grommet Island Park is a 15,000-foot oasis that features a 100% accessible playground, so all kids can play here. Entrances are wheelchair accessible, a sensory board is a delight for autistic and visually impaired children, and everyone can enjoy sculptural features that allow pretend surfing and swimming with dolphins.
5. Party on Beach Street USA
From Memorial Day through Labor Day, Beach Street USA presents live family-oriented entertainment along Atlantic Avenue between 17-25th Streets. Enjoy fireworks, historical programs, festivals, and beach parties.
6. Go Fishing
The Virginia Beach Fishing Pier, located on 15th Street & Oceanfront, is open April through October. No fishing license is required, and rods are available for rent while bait may be purchased. A variety of species are caught from this location, including pinfish, black sea bass, sharks, rays, kingfish, king mackerel, and many others. Other activities include catching blue crabs and other sea creatures.
8. Enjoy Aquatic Adventures
The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center is a top-notch facility focused on Virginia’s unique marine environment. There are over 300 hands-on exhibits, touch tanks, plus an IMAX Theater. Enjoy the mock submarine and extensive nature trails, or zip line through the aerial forest in The Adventure Park.
9. Indulge Taste Buds
Not your average market, Virginia Beach Farmers Market is a permanent, year-round ode to Virginia agriculture. Shopkeepers will entice you to buy with tasty samples of farm fresh goods. Browse the butcher shop, seafood market, bakery, and full-menu restaurant. Local produce is great to snack on and Gilly’s Creamery features homemade ice cream worth every calorie.
Striking a pose at Jungle Golf. Photo by Julie, Dave & Family/CC BY 2.0
9. Play Miniature Golf
Mini golf is an essential part of a beach vacation. Try Pirates Paradise Mini Golf,
Jungle Golf, a Virginia Beach tradition for more than 40 years, or King Neptune’s, which features indoor, blacklight, 3D, air-conditioned mini golf, perfect for a rainy day.
10. Ride on a Pirate Ship
Ahoy, Maties! Capt. Jack’s Pirate Ship Adventures offer a 90-minute cruise that lets kids search for pirate treasure on the seven high seas of Virginia Beach. A free shuttle bus takes passengers to the launch site departing from 2nd Street and Atlantic Ave. Open May through October.
11. Make a Splash
Ocean Breeze Water Park features more than 30 rides, 16 water slides, and a giant wave pool. This Caribbean-themed destination is the place to beat the heat if you want a change of pace from the ocean. Parking, sunscreen, and inner tubes are free with admission.
First Landing State Park. Photo by Brian Bailey
12. Reconnect with Nature
First Landing State Park is a popular nature preserve located just outside of the main tourist area on the Chesapeake Bay. Swimming, hiking, boating, picnicking, and camping are possible here. An abundance of nature programming includes twilight hikes. Outdoor showers and clean restrooms are a bonus.
13. Go Wild
Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is a 9,000-acre refuge that offers opportunities to observe wildlife. It is home to loggerhead sea turtles, piping plovers, peregrine falcons, and bald eagles. In December, 10,000 snow geese visit Back Bay Refuge during the peak of fall migration.
14. Celebrate History
Located in a hangar, the Military Aviation Museum is home to one of the world's largest perfectly preserved military aircrafts from World War I and World War II. In addition to the displays, you can participate in special events such as demonstrations, air shows, and concerts. While here, check out Jerrassic Park, a collection of dinosaur sculptures sure to delight children. Admission to see the dinosaurs is free.
15. Embrace the Views
Climb the nearly 200 steps to the top of Cape Henry Lighthouse and revel in the scenic views of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. Kids need to measure at least 42 inches to climb the steps. Authorized by George Washington and overseen by Alexander Hamilton, the lighthouse is located near the "First Landing" site, where English settlers first stopped on their way to Jamestown.
Surf's Up! Photo courtesy of Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau
16. Learn to Surf
Surf and Adventure and Surf & Adventure Co. offer surf lessons where instructors guide participants in how to read the ocean’s tides and ride the waves. If you'd rather learn to paddle, check out Pongo Board House.
WHERE TO STAY:
17. Holiday Inn and Suites North, 3900 Atlantic Ave.
This super-clean hotel features ocean view rooms equipped with fridges, microwaves, and HD televisions. In addition to the indoor pool, the outdoor pool is spacious and features a water slide and lazy river ride. Expect supervised activities for kids throughout the summer, such as Splash Kamp and Mad Science shows.
18. The Belvedere Beach Resort, 3603 Atlantic Ave.
This friendly, old-school, family-owned hotel overlooks the quiet north end of the oceanfront boardwalk. All rooms have balconies with ocean views, microwaves, refrigerators, and free WiFi. Relax by the outdoor pool or take a complimentary bicycle out for a stroll around the area.
WHERE TO EAT:
19. Beach Bully, 601 19th Street
This casual and spacious restaurant serves large portions of North Carolina-style BBQ for low prices. Think brisket, ribs, pulled chicken, tangy pork, beef, and tasty sides like potato salad and hush puppies. The kids' menu choices are all under $5.
20. Citrus, 2265 W. Great Neck Road
Open for breakfast and lunch, this is a good place to come and get some local color while you dine. Locals keep coming back for delightful sweet potato biscuits, fluffy pancakes, and fresh eggs. The establishment prides itself on healthy choices and also features a vegan and gluten-free menu.
22. Bubba’s, 3323 Shore Drive
Named one of the "The 21 Best Seafood Shacks in America," Bubba's is located on a peaceful docks where you can watch boaters and fishermen as you enjoy your meal on the patio. Lots of seafood choices include crab cakes, oysters, and steamed shrimp, plus an excellent burger. The kids' menu is loaded with favorites such as chicken tenders and popcorn shrimp.
Sand sculptures. Photo by Cathy T./CC BY 2.0
WHEN TO GO:
22. Watch the Pros Surf
The East Coast Surfing Championships are held here annually in late August. A key event on the professional circuit, it is exciting to watch and features surfing, volleyball, Monster Jump (BMX) and entertainment.
23. Sand Castle Competition
The Neptune Festival takes place during the last weekend of September. It features the North American Sand Sculpting Championship, so prepare to be wowed with artistic wonders that use sand as their medium. In just three days, sculptors representing 11 countries will turn grains of sand into works of art.
24. Winter Holidays in Virginia Beach
Virginia Beach goes all out for the Christmas holiday. Holiday Lights at the Beach lets you to drive your car down the boardwalk and see it decked out with lights, music, trees, elves, and even Santa.
25. Unleash Your Inner Artist
From May through October, the first Friday of the month has dozens of local artists showing their work at First Friday Art Walk; live entertainment from 5 pm to 8 pm in the Town Center area.
Visit Virginia Beach is full of helpful information for planning your Virginia Beach vacation.
Top photo by Julie, Dave & Family/CC BY 2.0