1. You have the beaches (practically) to yourself.
Virginia Beach is not one, but three different beaches and, during the fall, with summer’s crowds gone, you’ll have the sand more or less to yourself. It’s warm sand, too — the weather remains in the 70s and 80s throughout the fall months, allowing locals and visitors alike to continue enjoying the best of the outdoors.
Virginia Beach’s famous Resort Beach is where most spend their time, with its iconic three-mile boardwalk, surfing culture, and bustling nightlife. For a more laid-back experience, head north to Chesapeake Bay Beach, where you’ll find dockside seafood restaurants like Chick’s Oyster Bar (a local favorite), the coastal woodland trails of First Landing State Park, and the historic Cape Henry Lighthouse. If nature is what you seek, set your compass due south to explore Sandbridge Beach and the pristine marshes of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
2. Virginia Beach’s fall festivals are unparalleled.
Though the temperatures may be slowly cooling, the fall festival lineup doesn’t follow suit. The highlight of autumn is the Neptune Festival, featuring events like the International Sandsculpting Championship, live music, the Grand Parade, and fireworks. This year the festival weekend is September 30 – October 2, and you’ll know it when you see it — it takes up a whopping 32 blocks along the boardwalk. All you have to do is bring yourself, but don’t forget to leave with a crab cake.
Two weekends before this pièce de résistance (September 17-18, to be specific) is the 20th Annual Neptune’s Fall Wine Festival, where you can swish and sniff and sip the best vintages from Virginia’s leading vineyards. If you’re in town later in the fall, don’t pass up the opportunity to sample 80+ creative brews from around the area at the Virginia Beach Craft Beer Festival, October 22-23.
3. The oysters get even better.
While you can savor Virginia Beach’s oysters any time of year, fall is when they really shine (if the month ends in “-er,” it’s time for oysters!). Virginia Beach is home to the legendary Lynnhaven oyster, in the past served to presidents and royalty for their size (reportedly as big as a dinner plate), saltiness, and creamy texture. As wine is a product of its terroir, oysters are a product of their merroir, with a flavor reflective of the area in which they grow. And the flavor here is unbeatable.
Virginia Beach’s location at the mouth of Cheasapeake Bay results in an oyster with the perfect balance of sweetness and brine. Once on the brink of extinction, these oysters are now featured again at top restaurants along the East Coast thanks to local conservation efforts. Those who appreciate a good oyster should go for a boat tour with Captain Chris Ludford of Pleasure House Oysters — you’ll learn about the complex history and ecology of the Lynnhaven River before sampling oysters straight from the water.
4. Local farmers are ringing in those fall flavors.
Beyond sand and surf, Virginia Beach is home to a vast farmland community just 15 minutes from the shore. Pungo, adjacent to Sandbridge Beach, has 16 “you-pick-it” farms offering everything from blackberries, kale, and pumpkins to straight-from-the-wild wildflowers. In autumn, you’ll find apples, figs, squash, and sweet potatoes starring the show and making appearances at the year-round farmers markets.
To get in on the experience yourself, New Earth Farm is an educational, hands-on organic farm that offers visitors a chance to learn about local produce and sustainability. Sign up for a class with New Earth’s “Food Lab” and learn to make your own kombucha and cheese (don’t worry, not together!), or take a cooking class led by some of Virginia Beach’s top chefs.
5. It’s easier to get back to nature.
Virginia Beach is big enough to be a real city but small enough to still be a nature lover’s paradise — and fall is the best time to explore the latter, thanks to cooler temps and smaller crowds. First Landing State Park protects a unique maritime forest ecosystem, where you can hike miles of trails winding past bald cypress swamps and tidal marshes. It’s also accessible by water via a kayak or SUP tour run by local outfitters like Chesapean Outdoors and Tula Adventure Sports.
Meanwhile, just south of Sandbridge Beach, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park are great for wildlife. As they’re situated along the Atlantic Flyway, you’ll be able to spot over 300 species of migratory birds as well as bald eagles, waterfowl, wild horses, and otters. For an outfitter in this neck of the woods, check out Surf & Adventure Co — they can handle any outdoor adventure, from kayak and SUP tours to fat-tire biking along the dunes.
6. Virginia Beach’s creative spirit is on full display.
Located a few blocks from the Resort Beach boardwalk, the emerging ViBe Creative District is bringing a funky spirit to Virginia Beach. Equal parts beach town and Brooklyn, this part of the city is home to a vibrant community of artists and makers.
North End Bag Co. is known for their line of totes and duffels, each made by hand with timeless full-grain leather and durable cotton twill; these bags are meant to be used and get more beautiful with age. Three Ships Coffee offers a well-crafted coffee without the pretense. Brad Ewing and his wife Amy, a certified wine professional, began roasting coffee in their garage while gathering a dedicated following selling beans and brews at Old Beach Farmers Market. Grab an horchata latte or iced cold brew at their new space in The Alley, in the heart of the ViBe Creative District.
At Commune, farm-to-table is a way of life. If it isn’t grown in the onsite garden they share with neighboring bistro Esoteric, it’s sourced from only the best local farmers, purveyors, and watermen. The menu here changes daily based on what’s in season, but you can never go wrong with a savory buckwheat crepe filled with smoked Virginia ham, melted cheddar, and fresh garden greens served alongside an all-too-addictive burnt honey latte.
7. You’ll get in on the local craft beer and spirits boom.
In recent years, Virginia has seen an upsurge in its craft beer industry, and Virginia Beach is home to some of the best breweries in the state. The compact tasting room of Back Bay Brewing Co., equal parts active brewery and beach shack, is filled with surfer locals and in-the-know visitors throwing back their signature False Cape Ale.
The success of Young Veterans Brewing Company, found a quick drive inland, is no surprise given Virginia Beach is a military town that appreciates a good beer. Military-themed beer offerings include the Semper FI.P.A (with citrus overtones and just the right amount of hoppiness) and the Pineapple Grenade, a fruity hefeweizen.
Vodka more your style? The folks at Chesapeake Bay Distillery are who you should turn to. Head to their beach cottage on 17th Street for a sip of their flagship Blue Ridge Vodka, or pick up their new Ghost Pepper Flavored Vodka for a spicy kick you’ll want to put in your next Bloody Mary.
8. The sky-high adventures don’t stop after summer.
Located a short drive from Resort Beach, The Adventure Park at the Virginia Aquarium is an aerial ropes course with over 170 platforms and a variety of “elements” including ziplines, bridges, and obstacles that offer up a thrilling treetop adventure. You’ll spend hours in the trees feeling like Tarzan, leaping from platform to platform and zooming through the canopy.
For a different aerial experience, minutes from Sandbridge Beach is the Military Aviation Museum — home to one of the largest collections of WWI- and WWII-era planes. You can even sign up for a ride in a real WWII biplane for a bird’s-eye view of Virginia Beach (there’s an open-cockpit option for you photographers, too). And to top it off, on October 1-2 the museum is hosting a WWI fly show. Real planes from the Great War will be flying through the air, showcasing the historic birth of aerial combat. If this isn’t the pinnacle of history-meets-adventure, what is?