1. There’s far more beach than you realize.
You hear Virginia Beach and, if you’ve never been, you’re probably picturing a single stretch of sand. Wrong. There are three beaches here, each with its own vibe. The most popular, Resort Beach, is where visitors head for the buzzing nightlife along our three-mile boardwalk. Sandbridge Beach is home to some incredible rental properties and abuts the Back Bay Wildlife Refuge for an escape into nature (more on that below). And Chesapeake Bay Beach is the laid-back locals’ hangout, with some great under-the-radar restaurant and bar spots right on the water.
All told, our coastline stretches for 35 miles, making it the Guinness World Record-holder for the “longest stretch of pleasure beach.” Forget those itsy-bitsy beaches where you fight the crowds for a rectangle of sand barely big enough for your towel — here there’s room for everyone.
2. It’s super easy — and rewarding — to shop local here.
Over 8,000 acres of fertile farmland reside within the Pungo Community, adjacent to Sandbridge Beach. If you need to impress a date, host a dinner party, or simply feel like the world isn’t going mad, grab a bouquet of wildflowers and make your own pie with fresh strawberries, blueberries, or blackberries handpicked by you at one of Pungo’s 16 You-Pick-It farms. Cullipher Farm Market has some of the best produce you’ve ever tasted; New Earth Farm is a sustainable, organic, and educational working farm where you can get your hands dirty learning about local produce, making cheese and kombucha, sheering sheep, and taking cooking classes.
Off the farm, head for the ViBe Creative District. It’s full of local artists and artisans who’ve mastered their craft — you can find everything from local coffee roasters to art galleries to custom home goods vendors here. Commune and Esoteric are two locally sourced restaurants with incredible menus, and Three Ships Coffee and North End Bag Co. are must-hit spots, too.
3. First Landing State Park mixes history with outdoor adventure.
Today, First Landing State Park — the most-visited state park in Virginia, as well as the first — features 19+ miles of interpretative trails, has plenty of options for biking, boating, and camping, and encompasses over a mile of beachfront. The park’s ecosystems are equally diverse, from salt marsh to beach dunes to maritime forest. In other words, this is nature — and outdoor adventure — at its best.
The landscape probably looked quite similar back in 1607, when Cape Henry was the site of the first landing (hence the park’s name) of the Jamestown colonists. Yep, modern American history got its start right here. In addition to the park’s historical exhibits, make sure to check out the nearby Cape Henry Lighthouse. It was the first lighthouse authorized by the US government and dates to 1792. Climb to the lantern room, take in the views, and feel that much closer to centuries-gone-by.
4. We’re all about camping.
Our hotels are great, but we really shine when it comes to tents, campers, and cabins. The five campgrounds in Virginia Beach contain more than 1,800 campsites and nearly 70 classically rustic cabins, so there’s enough room for the whole family to experience the great outdoors, create memories, and s’more it up — all while not breaking the bank.
And don’t forget that 35-mile stretch of beach we talked about — visitors get to experience both a beach getaway and a camping trip all in the same vacation. Check out the aforementioned First Landing State Park, False Cape State Park, and Holiday Trav-L-Park for some seriously awesome (and seriously cheap) camping options.
5. The Military Aviation Museum’s airplanes actually fly.
This museum lets visitors get up close and personal with American, British, and German airplanes that flew during WWI and WWII, and they’re still in flying condition today; a couple times a year, they’re brought out (and up into the air) for public shows. Additionally, the museum offers the legitimately incredible opportunity to ride as a passenger with local volunteer pilots in some of these same airplanes (yep, authentic WWII planes). Grab your goggles, helmet, and flying scarf, because this might actually be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
If you come for the photo opps, go for the 1941 Boeing Stearman. It’s an open-cockpit flight that takes you over Virginia Beach, the Intracoastal Waterway, and the dunes of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
6. Virginia Beach’s Adventure Park is a unique take on the great outdoors.
This is one of those places that’s so innovative, trying to describe it almost won’t do. At this “aerial forest park,” you can zipline through trees and climb, hop bridges, and dart through “aerial trails.” If doing parkour in the air is something you’re not well-versed in, there are six difficulty levels to choose from. But you’ll probably level up pretty quickly.
The Adventure Park is great all day, but those really in the know go during twilight hours. You’ll receive discounted tickets and can even get epic sunset views from high up in the trees. The park also frequently hosts “Glow in the Park” nights (pictured above), when the entire park is decorated with stranded lights creating a beautifully lit sanctuary.
7. Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last remaining undeveloped areas along the Atlantic Coast.
Budding freshwater marshes, barrier islands, beach woodland, and maritime forests make up the 9,000+ acres of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, originally set aside in the 1930s to provide a habitat for migrating birds. Take a stroll down the six miles of preserved beaches, hike the trails, and keep your eyes peeled for a glimpse of wild horses, otters, loggerhead sea turtles, or even bald eagles. Surf & Adventure Co. runs a Sunset Dinner Tour, which takes you on a kayak paddle through the pristine refuge before docking at Blue Pete’s for a delicious (and local) seafood dinner.
Pro tip: The weather’s best in spring and summer, but the fall and winter months are when the migration of the thousands of birds that visit the refuge really ramps up.
8. Multiple waterfront museums showcase the area’s history.
In 1903, the white wooden building sitting on the boardwalk at 24th Street housed the city’s Lifesaving Station. Now that same building serves as a museum called the Old Coast Guard Station, which showcases an assortment of 1,800 artifacts and over 1,000 photographic images of US Life-Saving and Coast Guard Services, as well as the old-school resort community of Virginia Beach. And because it wouldn’t be complete without it, there’s a ghost tour at the Old Coast Guard Station, too.
The boardwalk’s other museum, the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum, located at 11th Street, is the oldest structure on the boardwalk. Built in 1895, it’s actually a cottage (de Witt Cottage), and is the last remaining of its kind. It shows off exquisite bird decoys, fowl art, vintage shotguns, hunting memorabilia, and an illustrative history of Virginia Beach — all for free.
9. This coastal city does downtown entertainment, too.
Town Center is the place in Virginia Beach when it comes to shopping, dining, and entertainment — a city of half a million people demands such things, of course! There are dozens of shopping boutiques and fine-dining locations (from Italian to sushi to cupcakes) if you’re feeling like soaking up some urban vibes. Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, Zeiders American Dream Theater, and Funny Bone Comedy Club reside in Town Center, too. There’s also plenty of free shows during summer, usually held at Fountain or Sandler Center Outdoor Plaza.
It’s like everything is planned for you. Hit up a show for date night, head to TWIST martini bar afterward, and if you still have any energy, you can be stargazing on the beach in minutes.