With mom-and-pop shops, tattered video game arcades and even a bike-through Dairy Queen, Virginia Beach in many ways has the feel of a quaint shore town -- but the vacation spot actually is the largest city in Virginia. Large resorts share the boardwalk with summer rentals, neighborhoods and small motels. Secluded beaches and nature preserves are a short ride from the crowded boardwalk. With tourist attractions such as Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens less than an hour away, Virginia Beach is more of a tourist mecca than a sleepy beach community.
According to National Geographic, Virginia Beach is among the 10 best boardwalks in the country. A separate winding bike path runs along the entire 3-mile stretch of the Virginia Beach boardwalk. Despite rampant development along the beachfront, the lush greenery, landscaping and nautical-themed sculptures, including the famous 34-foot-tall bronze King Neptune statue, give the boardwalk a park-like atmosphere. There are dozens of inexpensive, casual and moderately priced upscale ocean-view dining options concentrated along the resort stretch of the boardwalk. Of course, one of the largest pleasure beaches in the world is the star of the boardwalk.
Cape Henry Lighthouse
Built in 1792 and commissioned by George Washington, the Cape Henry Lighthouse is, according to Preservation Virginia, among the oldest surviving lighthouses in the country. More impressive than the history of the lighthouse is the 360-degree view of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean from the top of the structure. Children under 42 inches are not permitted to climb the stairs to the observation deck, and the lighthouse is closed when temperatures in the lighthouse reach more than 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
Located just minutes from the boardwalk, the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center offers an ocean experience that can't be found at the beach. Harbor seals, loggerhead turtles, sand tiger sharks and Komodo dragons are on display at the aquarium. Most notable is the Chesapeake Bay exhibit, which provides a glimpse at the sea life in the waters that surround Virginia Beach. The center also contains an aviary highlighting indigenous coastal seabirds. Rainy days are a perfect time to explore the aquarium; unfortunately, that also is when the exhibits are most crowded. Crowds are smallest in the early morning and late afternoon.
There is more sea life in Virginia Beach than just in the aquarium and on the dinner menus. Chesapeake Bay dolphin-watching cruises from Virginia Beach offer an abundance of porpoise-sighting opportunities. Cruises guarantee at least one dolphin sighting, although boat operators might just as easily guarantee a dozen sightings. Depending on conditions, many cruises also offer a view of the Cape Henry Lighthouse.
North End Surfing
Virginia Beach's North End is home to the East Coast Surfing Championship, as well as being the only stretch of Virginia Beach where surfing is permitted. For the crowds that gather to watch from the relative safety of the boardwalk as surfers ride the waves, being a spectator is satisfying enough. For the more adventurous, board rental and a surfing school are at the ready.