Photo: Chansak Joe/Shutterstock

Where to Play, Eat, and Stay in Virginia Beach, Home of the World's Largest 'Pleasure Beach'

Virginia Beach Insider Guides
by Cait Kontalis Jun 13, 2024

Of all the coastal destinations on the planet, you might be surprised to learn that Virginia plays host to the “largest pleasure beach” in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. The record belongs to Virginia Beach, a seaside city located where Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, with a coastline that stretches some 35 miles for beachgoers to enjoy.

Having not been to Virginia’s eponymous coastal city since I was eight years old, my expectations of Virginia Beach were drenched with visions of air-sprayed tee-shirts and the smell of chlorine before my recent visit. However, in the 20-plus years since I forged those first memories, the city has elevated itself. Thanks to big-name investors and the passionate folks behind the trendy ViBe District, Virginia Beach is undergoing a shift that’s setting it apart from other beachfront destinations — it’s building impressive community art, innovative activities and festivals, and an up-and-coming culinary scene that removes the gimmicky nature most beach towns suffer from.

One exciting attraction that’s underway is Atlantic Park, a year-round surf park that’s expected to open in the spring of 2025. Together with Venture Realty Group, Grammy Award winner Pharrell Williams is funding the $330 million venue, which will provide perfect wave conditions for both new and experienced surfers. The space will also feature a concert venue called the Dome, as well as restaurants, bars, and shops.

If all that oceanfront and attractions like the ViBe District and Atlantic Park didn’t make it clear enough, there’s never been a better time to visit Virginia Beach. From exciting activities to the best food in town, here’s a rundown of how and where to spend your time in Virginia Beach when you come.

Things to do in Virginia Beach

Bike along the boardwalk


Photo: Cait Kontalis

Great beaches often have iconic boardwalks, and Virginia Beach is no exception. One of the best things about the Virginia Beach Boardwalk is that it has separate paths for cyclists and pedestrians. I rented a bike from Cherie’s Bicycle & Blade Rentals to explore the many memorials scattered across the boardwalk. (Cherie’s also rents out surreys, which are four-wheeled bikes that can seat up to six people and are great for families with young kids.)

As someone whose partner is currently serving in the military, I particularly enjoyed stops at the Navy SEAL Monument and Naval Aviation Monument. But there are many other interesting monuments like the Norwegian Lady, which has a sister statue in ​​Østfold, Norway. The boardwalk also sets a scenic outdoor stage for the annual Virginia MOCA Boardwalk Art Show, hosted by the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, which will take place October 4-6 this year.

Explore the ViBe District


Photo: Cait Kontalis

Since its official formation in 2015, the ViBe District has transformed a formerly struggling neighborhood into the artistic center of Virginia Beach. With more than 60 public murals, the ViBe is the spot for Insta-worthy photos to make your friends jealous. The district also launched the VB Street Art Festival this year to let onlookers see how its art is made up close by inviting artists to live paint 15 sculptures over the course of a long weekend. In addition to the great art, the ViBe District has tons of local eateries and boutiques worth exploring.

Attend a festival


Photo: Cait Kontalis

There’s always something big happening at Virginia Beach. The weekend I attended, the VB Street Art Festival, Jackalope Festival, and the Point Break Music Festival were all happening simultaneously. The Point Break Music Festival was new in 2024, and you can expect to find it back in 2025. The beachfront reggae celebration featured headliners like Sublime and Wiz Khalifa. Whether you’re a fan or the genre or not, vibing to music in view of the ocean is an experience you won’t find at just any festival.

Hit the beach


Photo: Cait Kontalis

Did you really go to Virginia Beach if you didn’t have a beach day? With three miles of sandy shores, there are seemingly endless spots to plop down your blanket and umbrella. The entire stretch is scattered with restaurants, bars, beach shops, and anything else you may need for your ideal day in the sun.

If you’re driving, there are a few parking garages. Be sure to bring cash to expand your options for parking, as some locations don’t accept credit cards. I enjoyed setting up camp near the Virginia Beach Fishing Pier for an added bonus of people-watching.

Where to eat and drink in Virginia Beach

Chick’s Oyster Bar

A true hole-in-the-wall seafood joint, Chick’s Oyster Bar is known for good vibes, Navy Seal spotting, and, of course, excellent oysters. Situated over the water, you can stroll the restaurant’s private dock while waiting for your order to pop up. Chick’s also offers a wide selection of salads, sandwiches, and the local-favorite creamy she-crab soup.

Chick’s Oyster Bar: 2143 Vista Cir, Virginia Beach, VA 23451

Java Surf Cafe & Espresso Bar


Photo: Cait Kontalis

Java Surf Cafe & Espresso Bar is a staple of Virginia Beach’s thriving ViBe District. The owner, Dwayne Appleton, has crafted an eclectic energy that promotes the neighborhood’s fellow small businesses. With a gorgeous patio space, Appleton invites up-and-coming vendors to set up shop and sell crafts, food, and even coffee to his own customers. I enjoyed the Mediterranean breakfast wrap alongside an iced hazelnut cappuccino while browsing the local vendors.

Java Surf Cafe & Espresso Bar: 1807 Mediterranean Ave, Virginia Beach, VA 23451

Orion’s Roof

For a fancy rooftop night out on the town, Orion’s Roof delivers the views. Located 183 feet above the waterfront, the Asian-fusion hotspot offers food as spicy as the panoramas are beautiful. I tried the chicken pad thai while my companions opted for the impressive sushi selection. With or without a full meal, handcrafted rooftop cocktails (or mocktails) are always a treat.

Orion’s Roof: 4201 Atlantic Ave, Virginia Beach, VA 23451

Becca Restaurant & Garden


Photo: Cait Kontalis

Put on your Sunday finest because Becca Restaurant & Garden feels made for royalty. Situated within the historic Cavalier Hotel, the grounds have played host to American icons like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Judy Garland. The restaurant has a stunning outdoor patio filled with jasmine flowers and archways. I enjoyed the plum-glazed maple leaf duck breast with a rich glass of Hedges cabernet. Becca Restaurant is the perfect place to celebrate an anniversary, birthday, or other special occasion when in Virginia Beach.

Becca Restaurant & Garden: 4200 Atlantic Ave, Virginia Beach, VA 23451

May’s Parlor

Whether you’re looking for filling breakfast sandwiches or your choice of French pastries, May’s Parlor is the place to be for your morning meal. I enjoyed a ham and cheese breakfast sandwich (the bread seemed to melt in my mouth) and a to-die-for blueberry Danish. It’s a small space, so be prepared to wait if you plan to sit and stay awhile.

May’s Parlor: 2708 Pacific Ave, Virginia Beach, VA 23451

Aslin Beer Company


Photo: Cait Kontalis

I visited the Aslin Beer Company the week it opened. The roomy patio space and shipping-container design feel like a colorful playground for grown-ups. The brewery serves a variety of craft beers and has an in-house menu that includes smash burgers, pizzas, and salads. I enjoyed a pint of a Mexican-style lager called Swell Maneuvers.

Aslin Beer Company: 823 Virginia Beach Blvd, Virginia Beach, VA 23451

Tides Coastal Kitchen

If you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of Virginia Beach, a trip to Tides Coastal Kitchen (located between Chesapeake Beach and First Landing Beach) is well worth a visit without forgoing prime real estate — the sunset views are unbeatable from its beautiful beachfront perch. As someone who notoriously hates seafood, I put on a brave face and gave the restaurant’s oysters a try. And you know what? I liked them. But if that’s not your thing, there are plenty of options from both land and sea, from burgers and beer-can chicken to shrimp scampi and cedar-plank salmon.

Tides Coastal Kitchen: 2800 Shore Dr, Virginia Beach, VA 23451

Aloha Snacks


Photo: Cait Kontalis

Before heading back to the Norfolk airport, I grabbed a coconut iced latte and “Bacon My Heart” breakfast sandwich at Aloha Snacks to refuel for the quick flight back to Chicago. Aloha Snacks is a little slice of Hawaiʻi in the heart of Virginia Beach. What I particularly loved was its dedication to including Spam (yes, you read that right) throughout its menu, which features in dishes like the Burrito Nui (a diced spam, potato, kimchi, and egg dish). Aloha Snacks is a cute spot with energetic beach vibes radiating from its cozy storefront.

Aloha Snacks: 501 Laskin Rd, Virginia Beach, VA 23451

Where to stay in Virginia Beach

Moxy Virginia Beach Oceanfront


Photo: Cait Kontalis

The Moxy Virginia Beach Oceanfront is affordable luxury at its finest. Its eclectic, stylish rooms feature quirky artwork, trendy decor, and a comfortable outdoor balcony. The hotel is also just plain fun. From the second-floor slide to the weekend DJ, a stay at the Moxy ensures you’re smack dab in the middle of Virginia Beach’s pulsating energy. In addition to a great bar with Asian-fusion-inspired bites, there’s also a pool and patio that serves as a perfect place to unwind — if you’re not on the beach, that is, which is only steps away.

Moxy Virginia Beach Oceanfront: 1201 Atlantic Ave, Virginia Beach, VA 23451

How to get to and around Virginia Beach


Photo: Chansak Joe/Shutterstock

Virginia Beach is a 30- to 45-minute drive from Norfolk International Airport. As a US military hub, there are many flight options available from major US carriers.

Once you’re there, getting around Virginia Beach is a breeze. There’s an affordable trolley service, as well as free rides through Freebee Virginia Beach. Download the Freebee app, and you’ll be able to call on-demand electric vehicles to escort you to your destinations. Traditional ride-share apps like Uber and Lyft are also available.

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