Virginia Beach, Virginia, has an enviable location on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Technically, it is part of the Hampton Roads region, which is also the name for the body of water where the Chesapeake Bay flows into the Atlantic. Other cities such as Newport News, Norfolk, Chesapeake, and Suffolk are also parts of Hampton Roads. Virginia Beach has the feel of a suburban neighborhood, everybody-knows-everybody area but is, in fact, the city with the largest population in Virginia. If you are flying to Virginia Beach, you will land at the Norfolk International Airport (ORF).
Four military bases are found in Virginia Beach, most of which are associated with the U.S. Navy. Many people think of it as a resort city, and it is, but over time, it has also become a coveted place for families with its many cultural and recreational opportunities and its laidback atmosphere.
During a recent stay in Virginia Beach, I found 11 fabulous things to do that I would highly recommend and would happily repeat when I return.
Virginia Beach CVB and Southeast Tourism Society hosted me during my visit, but all opinions are entirely my own.
1. Spend Time On The Boardwalk
One of Virginia Beach’s greatest assets is its 3-mile-long, 28-foot-wide boardwalk along the ocean’s edge. It is perfect for walking, jogging, dog-walking, watching people, anticipating a brilliant sunrise, and appreciating the many art installations. Most consider it to be the best boardwalk on the East Coast. Numerous festivals and concerts are staged in various parks along the path, and you will find hotels, restaurants, and a 12-ton, astonishing King Neptune statue where you will want to pose for pictures.
2. Gaze At The Sea Life On Display At The Virginia Aquarium
The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center provides 800,000 gallons of water where a wide variety of animals live and thrive. In fact, there are 10,000 animals representing 300 species inside this vast facility. Exhibits are designed to educate young and old on the importance of protecting the marine environment. The aquarium is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but advanced reservations are required to limit the number of visitors and provide a safe experience. The Osprey Café is open every day for morning coffee at 9:30 a.m. or for lunch beginning at 11 a.m.
3. Check Out A Wide Variety Of Aircraft At The Military Aviation Museum
Any place that claims to have “the world’s largest collection of…” gets my attention. In this case, the collection housed at the Military Aviation Museum is full of historic military aircraft used in World War I, World War II, and the Korean Conflict. Most are in flying condition and have been restored using original equipment. History has been carefully documented, tracing each aircraft from leaving the assembly line to its specific missions. The planes came from the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and other European countries. In addition to admiring and learning how each aircraft was used, you can experience a thrill ride firsthand during the flight season of early April through late October, for an additional charge, of course.
The museum hosts two airshows annually, plus a children’s summer camp and popular hangar dances.
4. Stroll Through The ViBe Creative District Spotting Its Colorful Murals
Between Pacific Avenue and Parks Avenue and from 16th Street to 22nd Street, you will find a vast display of public art including dozens of murals. During the 2021 Mural Festival, for instance, 10 murals were painted in 10 days by 10 different artists, and the number of art installations here continues to increase. The city blocks are highly walkable, and the intent is to have art accessible to the public free of charge 24 hours a day.
5. Indulge In A Massage Or Body Treatment At Edgar Cayce Association For Research And Enlightenment
Edgar Cayce was described as a clairvoyant who lived in the United States from 1877 to 1945. He claimed to have visions and be able to interpret dreams and concoct cures for diseases while in a hypnotic, trance-like state. His words while in this state were recorded by trusted friends, and more than 14,000 of these “readings” have been cataloged and housed at the Edgar Cayce Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.) at 215 67th Street in Virginia Beach. The Association continues to develop tools for physical wellness and growth based on Cayce’s New Age Spirituality.
At the A.R.E. Health Center & Spa, holistic services include massage therapy, hydrotherapies, acupuncture, and chiropractic treatments. Those who have experienced one of these massages rave about the benefits.
6. Enjoy Sunday Brunch At Becca Restaurant & Garden Inside The Cavalier Hotel
Indulging in a decadent Sunday brunch while on vacation has to rank among the most delightful of splurges and having such an indulgence in the signature restaurant of a historic hotel adds to the occasion. A house-made cinnamon bun or deviled eggs with caviar make great starters, but I highly recommend saving room for the Cavalier Benedict consisting of two perfectly poached eggs, lump crabmeat, wilted spinach, and creamy hollandaise sauce. A gourmet coffee will give you ample reason to linger.
Pro Tip: Allow yourself time to roam through the public areas of The Cavalier Hotel admiring the Jeffersonian-style architecture and hundreds of framed photos reflecting past guests, including ten U.S. presidents and celebrities such as Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and Elizabeth Taylor.
7. Splash In The Pools During Your Stay At Holiday Inn & Suites In Virginia Beach
Admittedly, there are many beachfront hotels in Virginia Beach, but I noticed several special amenities at Holiday Inn & Suites that would have particular appeal to travelers with children or grandparents with grandchildren in tow. First among them would be the variety of pools available for guests. From early May to late October, a large outdoor pool is open with fun water slides. During winter months, a heated indoor pool, children’s pool, and lazy river create tye feeling of a beach vacation even when there are freezing outdoor temperatures.
Splash Kamp is an attractive kids’ play area that includes a resident tortoise, and a 48-seat movie theater allows a fun time without leaving the premises. The hotel hugs a section of the wonderful Virginia Beach boardwalk, and the Isle of Capri Restaurant on the sixth floor offers a magnificent view of the Atlantic Ocean and delectable Italian cuisine.
8. Eat Great Seafood At Waterman’s Surfside Grille
“Waterman” is a term used to designate a person who is exceptional in fishing, surfing, or other sea-related pursuits. Waterman’s Surfside Grille is exceptional in several categories: location, seafood, and family history. Situated in a prime spot along Atlantic Avenue with incredible views of the rolling surf, Waterman’s is particularly known for its crab cakes, she-crab soup, and its original Orange Crush drink. You will find salads, burgers, ribs, and steaks on the menu, but most arrive in search of great seafood.
Before or after your meal, plan to spend time browsing The Beach Nut, a clothing and gift boutique shop inside the restaurant.
Pro Tip: I ordered the crab cakes, and they were as good as advertised.
9. Attend The Annual East Coast Surfing Championships
Scheduled each year at the beginning of hurricane season when the waves are likely to be the best, the East Coast Surfing Championships will bring in surfers from around the world for this year’s 60th-anniversary event. This late August contest is sponsored by Coastal Edge Surf Shop, one of the most impressive stores of its kind. Thousands of visitors will line the beach from 1st Street to 9th Street planning to support food vendors, craft artisans, and those participating in the surfing contests as well as contests for flag football, volleyball, skateboarding, and swimsuit modeling. Both amateurs and professionals have appropriate categories to enter.
Pro Tip: Coastal Edge Surf Shop sells absolutely everything needed by beginning and advanced surfers, plus the camera equipment to ensure that your efforts are documented for all to see.
10. Climb To The Top Of Cape Henry Lighthouse
If you choose to walk the 191 steps to the top of the Cape Henry Lighthouse, you will be rewarded with a sensational view of Chesapeake Bay. The lighthouse is historic, having been built in 1792 as one of the first projects approved by the new U.S. government. A second lighthouse followed in 1881. That second one is painted black and white and is the most recognizable of the two. Adult admission is $10. The lighthouse is open seven days a week. Note that visitors must be at least 42 inches tall to climb the tower.
Also of note: The location is near the spot where the first English settlers landed in 1607. You will want to check that out while you are in the area.
11. Watch Whales And Dolphins On A Boat Tour
Whales are active in the area from December to March, then dolphins take over from late March to October. For a chance to get a closer look at the antics of these amazing animals, plan to book a boat tour into their territory. Remember, though, that no tour can guarantee there will be lots of sightings. You might see 20 whales on your tour, and the next visitors might only see one or two.
The Virginia Aquarium is one source for booking a boat tour. Rudee Tours is another company that is highly recommended. Check their websites, find a date and time that works best, then follow all their guidelines.
These 11 recommendations give you a starting point, but I can assure you there are more restaurants and attractions, along with numerous festivals and seasonal events that are designed to entertain, educate, and amaze those who visit Virginia Beach, Virginia.