Known for its excellent beaches, Virginia Beach is a paradise for sun worshipers and families who come to swim and sunbathe in the ocean. Beyond the beach and during the winter months there is still plenty to see and do. Nature abounds, whether in the waters of the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge or in the tanks and exhibits of the Virginia Aquarium. Those who want to get active and experience some excitement can stop at the Adventure Park for a thrill or a day of kayaking on the water. History buffs will want to stop at the Military Aviation Museum or First Landing State Park. Those lucky enough to visit during the summer months will find plenty of beach space and all kinds of water activities.
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1 Virginia Beach Boardwalk and Resort Beach
During the summer, most vacationers come to Virginia Beach to enjoy its glorious beaches. The city’s most famous stretch of beach, known in the tourism industry as the ‘Resort Beach’, stretches north of the pier, along the coast, in front of a long row of hotels. This beautiful wide stretch of soft, golden sand is where most of the beach action lies, and it can be absolutely packed with people during the summer months. Nevertheless, there always seems to be enough space to accommodate everyone.
A wide, paved boardwalk runs three miles along the top of the beach, perfect for walking, running, biking, skateboarding, hanging out with friends, or enjoying some quiet time on a bench overlooking the ocean. Hotels, restaurants and shops line the waterfront behind the boardwalk and Atlantic Avenue, just steps from the beach. This is the place to find beach shops, fudge and candy shops and other light shopping and dining options. The atmosphere is casual, especially in the summer, with many people wandering around in their beachwear and swimsuit cover-ups.
2 Virginia Aquarium en Marine Science Center
For a fun day at the beach, it’s hard to beat the Virginia Aquarium. Located on the banks of Owls Creek, the aquarium is beautifully positioned, with lovely outdoor areas and decks overlooking the water. This tourist attraction is home to many of the big names in the marine world, with sharks, seals, sea turtles, otters, rays and a whole host of other marine life. It also features some unexpected sights, including Komodo Dragons and a rare tomistoma (crocodile) named Gloria.
The large complex, spread over two buildings, is well appointed with displays showing what Virginia was like thousands of years ago and the kind of life the area has supported over the centuries. It is also a great place to get acquainted with the marine life currently found in the lakes, streams and coastal areas. Some of the main highlights include the glass passage through the Red Sea Tunnel, the unique dinosaur exhibition, with mechanical dinosaurs that move and in the second building the otter exhibition. The aquarium also has a 3D Movie Theater.
In the wooded area between the aquarium’s two buildings is the Amusement Park , a zip-lining obstacle course. This park charges its own fee and can be visited without paying the aquarium entrance fee. For adventure lovers, this is a must-do. Another popular activity that can be added to an aquarium visit is a boat tour that takes visitors to see dolphins and whales in their natural environment. This excursion is an additional fee.
Adres: 717 General Booth, Blvd., Virginia Beach
Official site: https://www.virginiaaquarium.com/
3 First Landing State Park
History and nature come together in this beautiful park, where visitors can lie on the beach, walk in the woods, water paddle, learn about the early history of the first settlers, camp along the ocean or even rent a cabin in the woods . First Landing State Park is where English settlers first reached the shores of America more than 400 years ago. Today the park is a haven for residents and visitors. The wide beach stretches for 1.5 miles along Chesapeake Bay, and beyond here, dotted with the shrubby vegetation along the water’s edge, are oceanfront campsites.
The park is divided by Shore Drive, which separates the beach side of the park from the forest side. On the inland shore of Shore Drive are camping cabins and an extensive network of trails that pass through enormous pines, cypresses, sand dunes and along the Broad Bay waterfront. Each of the trails offers a unique view. Jet skiing, paddleboard, boat and kayak rentals are available in the park for those who want to get out and enjoy some water sports. Depending on the time of year, bug spray may be in order, especially for anyone camping or hiking on the trails.
4 Sandbridge Beach
South of the main Resort Beach is the quieter Sandbridge Beach. This is technically all the same ocean beach, but out here, away from the hotels and condos, the atmosphere is calmer and relaxed. This is the perfect place for people who want to get away from the energetic atmosphere of the resort, take a walk, picnic on the beach and enjoy some quiet time. The beach here is wide, with soft sand, and the houses along the beach are far enough out of the water that visitors almost feel like they are not in a city at all.
5 Back Bay Wildlife Refuge
Behind Sandbridge Beach is the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, with more than 9,000 acres of beach, freshwater marshes, dunes and forested areas. The refuge protects important habitat for migratory birds, but is also a pleasant retreat for people who come here to wander the trails or paddleboard in the tranquil waters. From the visitor center, views extend over the waters and islands of Back Bay. Hiking trails provide access to some fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities, and spotting scopes are located throughout the refuge. All kinds of birds, along with deer, bobcats, otters, muskrats and other critters can be seen in Back Bay. It is also possible to access False Cape State Park from here.
6 The adventure park
For a little adrenaline rush, the Adventure Park is the perfect outing. Located on the grounds of the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center , the adventure park is a large wooded area with ropes and platforms dangling from the trees. Stair climbs and challenging sky walks, all high in the trees, challenge participants safely strapped into this zip-lining obstacle course. Participants are shown how to use the equipment and can then explore on their own, with spotters on hand to assist when needed. Set among enormous trees and overlooking Owls Creek, the park is both scenic and pleasantly cool, even on hot days.
Although the adventure park is located within the aquarium, it has its own entrance fee and can be visited independently of the aquarium. Participants must be five years or older.
Adres: 801 General Booth Blvd., Virginia Beach
Official site: https://virginiabeachadventurepark.com/
7 Military Aviation Museum
As the name suggests, this museum is dedicated to military aircraft, featuring aircraft from all over the world. About 60 aircraft from WWI and WWII are on display and almost all of them are flight-worthy. The goal of the museum is not just to display these aircraft, but to restore them to good condition. The planes are usually flown during air shows, but it is also possible to take a short ride in some of these planes for an additional fee.
Adres: 1341 Princess Anne Road, Virginia Beach
Official site: https://www.militaryaviationmuseum.org/
8 Chesapeake Bay Beach
North of the main Resort Beach, Chesapeake Bay Beach is another popular stretch of sand. The character here is more subdued and quiet than the promenade area to the south. The waters here are usually shallow and calm, making it a pleasant place for children and families. First Landing State Park is along this stretch, with showers and restrooms for daytime visitors, but there are also plenty of access points off Shore Drive. At the end of the day, good dining options are within easy reach.
9 False Cape State Park
This beautiful park south of Virginia Beach features six miles of undeveloped beach, along with dunes, marshes and forests, similar to its neighbor, the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge . Hiking and biking trails run through the park, and primitive camping is an option year-round. Access to the park can be found on trails, on foot or bicycle, or by boat. Because of the distance, many people prefer to cycle when they come to visit. This lack of road access has left the park with a remote feel, despite its proximity to town. Visitors can come here and find their own stretch of beach, often with no one else around, and discover a whole new level of solitude.
Official site: https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/false-cape
10 Boat trips and water adventures
Virginia Beach’s location along the coast makes it the perfect place to enjoy a variety of water-based activities, from whale watching tours and charter fishing trips to kayaking and paddle boarding . A number of different operators and facilities offer ocean boat tours. Dolphin and whale watching tours are even available through the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. Whale watching season runs from early to mid-January to late February. Jet skis and non-motorized water crafts can be rented from several places, including a company that operates at First Land State Park. Another unique experience is an oyster farm boat tourwhich takes visitors around the Lynnhaven for a hands-on experience. Guests set up wading birds and see for themselves how it works.
11 Cape Henry Lighthouse
The Cape Henry Lighthouse is an ancient landmark on the Chesapeake Bay. Built in 1792, it was the first US-funded lighthouse and it was authorized by George Washington. Visitors can climb the stairs to the top of this National Historic Landmark for stunning views of the coast. In the late 19th century, a new lighthouse was built nearby and visitors can see both at Cape Henry. The Cape Henry Lighthouse is located on the grounds of the Fort Story military base and as a result, visitors must submit to a security check to visit the site.
12 Museum of Contemporary Art Virginia (MOCA)
This museum offers changing exhibitions ranging from paintings and sculptures to photography and video. The works are those of international, national or local artists. Each experience is different depending on what is displayed, so visitors should check the calendar to see what is happening in the museum. In addition to the exhibitions, MOCA also reaches out to the community through classes and other educational programs.
Where to Stay in Virginia Beach for Sightseeing
We recommend these great Virginia Beach hotels and resorts along the ocean:
- Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront: Luxury high-rise, stylish decor, rooftop infinity pool, fitness center.
- Hilton Garden Inn Virginia Beach Oceanfront: mid-rise, large pool with waterfall, oceanfront restaurants, children’s playground.
- Comfort Inn & Suites Oceanfront: Affordable rates, indoor pool and whirlpool, fitness center, free breakfast and parking.
- Econo Lodge on the Ocean: budget hotel, clean rooms, heated outdoor pool, free use of bicycles.