The Boardwalk at Virginia Beach. Photo courtesy of VIrginia Beach Tourism
One destination, one easy drive from Richmond, and three different beach experiences. What’s not to love about Virginia Beach? I admit it – this nearby beach had dropped from my radar until recently. I went there for the 2014 Shamrock Marathon, one of the area’s many successful racing events, and I saw the destination with fresh eyes.
If you’re like me, your first image of Virginia Beach is the resort area. The beautifully maintained boardwalk stretches for three miles, providing one pathway for strolling or jogging and another for biking or rollerblading. On one side of the boardwalk lie the Atlantic Ocean and the wide, sandy, lifeguard-patrolled beach. On the other side, you find plenty of top-notch hotel accommodations, a variety of restaurants and lots of shops.
Several miles south of the resort is the laid-back Sandbridge neighborhood. At Sandbridge, you can play along the five miles of sand dunes and dancing sea oats and lifeguard-patrolled beaches, visit the natural wonders of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park, and relax in rental beach homes.
North of the resort lie the quieter waters of the Chesapeake Bay, gentle waves splashing on the shoreline. Here, you can visit First Landing State Park and romp on the beach or explore its lagoons, cypress trees and rare plants, or paddle the region’s backwaters.
Paddleboarding in Chesapeake Bay. Photo courtesy of Virginia Beach Tourism
One cuisine, and one cuisine only, pervades my thoughts at the beach: seafood, of course. And since I like to know where my food comes from and I love to enjoy it fresh, I was thrilled to take the oyster farm tour with Pleasure House Oysters.
This boat tour along the Lynnhaven River gave me an enjoyable education into the farming of one of my favorite delicacies. Not only did the guide explain the process of growing and harvesting oysters, we even stopped at one of the oyster beds and waded through the fields of mollusks. Better yet – we tried oysters fresh from the riverbed. And even better – the guide also served us oysters from other regions so we could viscerally understand how the source affects the end product.
Oh, and as if it could get any better, we also had a charcuterie plate and a bottle of Virginia wine!
An oyster farm tour with Pleasure House Oysters. Photo courtesy of Tim Solanic
From fruits of the water to fruits of the earth – I took a tour of New Earth Farm, a working, sustainable and educational farm. The farm grows and sells all-natural, chemical-free produce and products. It also hosts on-farm participatory cooking classes, where local chefs teach seasonal recipes and techniques, using ingredients straight from the garden. Students participate in harvesting, creating and enjoying a meal.
Several Virginia Beach breweries provide fresh craft beer, straight from the source: Young Veteran’s, Back Bay, Pleasure House, Home Republic Brewpub and Reaver Beach Brewing (formerly known as Beach Brewing), with more on the way.
A flight of beer at Young Veterans Brewing Co. Photo by Annie Tobey
Surf play provides the obvious choice for active playtime in Virginia Beach, but there’s so much more!
To take full advantage of water sports last summer, I hooked up with Surf & Adventure for a guided paddle trip into Back Bay, with kayaks and SUPs (stand up paddle boards) and a group surf lesson. The company offers bike tours, too.
I enjoyed some airtime down at the beach, too, at the new Adventure Park at the Virginia Aquarium. This eco-friendly zipline and treetop playground has 170 tree platforms and 13 distinct color-coded aerial trails, from easy to very difficult, age 5 and up. The Adventure Park provides a course suitable for younger kids, too.
If you have visions of riding horses at the beach, this is your chance! Several local stables and farms offer horseback riding, including Virginia Beach Horseback, which offers beach horseback rides from October 1 through May 22.
The Adventure Park at the Virginia Aquarium. Photo by Annie Tobey
Our Picks for Dining
Leaping Lizard Café
The creative menu highlights fresh, seasonal local products. Open daily for breakfast and lunch, limited dinner hours. Also sells gifts, fresh produce and bakery items. On Facebook at Leaping Lizard Cafe
EAT: An American Bistro
The creative American cuisine makes use of seafood, meat and produce with unexpected but welcome twists, such as the Ants on a Log, basil-fed escargot on roasted bone and marrow, or the Eastern Shore oyster stew, using artisan bacon, corn and sherry to complement the local oysters. EatBistro.net
This popular beach breakfast and lunch eatery features down-home cooking in a relaxing atmosphere, housed in Dr. Waller Taylor Sr.’s circa 1939 beach home and office. Try Dr. Venner’s BLT, Scotty’s biscuits and gravy with andouille sausage or a Bloody Mary. DocTaylors.com
Bubba’s Seafood Restaurant & Crabhouse
This beach institution overlooking the Lynnhaven Inlet provides fresh seafood, delivered daily to their dock, served with natural entertainment – we watched cownose rays swimming beneath the surface of the water as we dined. BubbasSeafoodRestaurant.com
Sonoma Wine Bar & Bistro
The upscale restaurant in The Town Center at Virginia Beach boasts a 400-bottle wine list, 70 wines available by the glass (flight and full) and a blend of eclectic American cuisine with a European bistro flair designed to pair well with wine. SonomaTownCenter.com
A relaxing backwater venue, the Blue Pete’s location near the Back Bay National Wildlife Sanctuary makes it the perfect family spot. Enjoy local seafood as well as walkways along the calm waters of Tabernacle Creek – perfect for amusing the kids. BluePetesPungo.com
The Oceanaire at Virginia Beach. Photo courtesy of the Oceanaire
Our Pick for Luxury Accommodations
Your oceanside room awaits in the heart of the Virginia Beach resort area. From the well-appointed room to the amenities of the hotel, your temporary home at the Oceanaire Resort serves as the perfect complement to your time on the beach. When you can pull yourself away from the comfort of your room, you’ll enjoy the 10th floor lounge and sundeck, oceanfront pools –including an adults-only infinity pool with bar service – the chic Ultra Martini Lounge, and more. Your Oceanaire experience will complete your trip to Virginia Beach.