10 Things to See and Do in Virginia Beach

Old Dominion’s most famous city is probably the state capital, Richmond, but the oft-overlooked Virginia Beach is the state’s most populous city—and an amazing tourist destination. Combining all the attraction of a seaside resort with historical importance, pride and a bit of Southern charm, Virginia Beach offers visitors plenty to see and do on the shores of the Atlantic, where the ocean meets Chesapeake Bay. Whether your idea of a relaxing vacation includes lounging on a sunny beach, fishing in a scenic park or learning more about the aquatic creatures who make their home here, Virginia Beach is the place for you. Virginia Beach attracts thousands of visitors each year and it’s not hard to see why. With festivals, great regional shopping, and plentiful outdoor activities—including a boardwalk, hiking, camping and boating in state parks—there is something to whet every appetite and pique every interest. Here are just 10 ideas of what to include on your Virginia Beach itinerary.

10. Explore Aquatic Life at the Marine Science Center

Given Virginia Beach’s proximity to the Atlantic and the sea’s important role in the area’s history and culture, it only makes sense that it would be home to an aquarium funded by both the city and the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center Foundation. The aquarium is home to more than 800,000 gallons of aquatic exhibits in 4 different exhibit areas, including one focused on the Chesapeake Bay area. The exhibits are immersive and interactive, as part of the aquarium’s mission is to help educate the public and advocate conservation of vulnerable habitat and endangered species.

The Bay and Ocean Pavilion focuses on demonstrating the various types of aquatic ecosystems that occur in Virginia, from rivers to oceans. The exhibit includes a touch pool, where visitors can get up close and personal with some of the creatures. The Restless Planet exhibits are intended to show how aquatic forces have shaped Virginia over time. In the Marsh Pavilion, visitors can see river otters, seahorses and snakes. There is also an aviary, which showcases waterfowl and is home to about 70 individuals representing approximately 30 species.

Sea Turtle Virginia Beach

9. Visit Thoroughgood House

In the neighborhood of Thoroughgood, you can visit one of the oldest colonial homes still standing in Virginia and indeed anywhere in the U.S. The house, once thought to have been built in 1636, dates to 1720 and much of the current structure was laid down by Argall Thoroughgood, the great-grandson of Adam Thoroughgood, one of the earliest colonists and a renowned community leader in Virginia Beach. Argall died during construction and the house was finished by his wife, Susannah, and his son John, who added many of the features the house is known for. The house has been restored 3 times, in 1923, 1957 and again in 2011. Since the late 1950s, the house has served as a museum.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The house is known for extensive wainscoting and paneling, as well as a dramatic spiral staircase. Guided tours of the house are given hourly on the half-hour and the museum is open Tuesday through Sunday. The parlor and the passage have been furnished as they may have been circa 1720.

Photo by: Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Wikimedia Commons

8. Attend the Neptune Festival

This annual festival has been held each year since its inception in 1973. The first festival attracted 50,000 visitors; today, 500,000 attendees revel in the streets of Virginia Beach during the final weekend of September. The event is free, with the exception of a sandsculpture viewing tent, which charges an admission fee. The Boardwalk Weekend is host to the North American Sandsculpting Championship, so the price is worth it to see the best of the best! Other attractions include a parade, a volleyball tournament, a surfing tournament and 5- and 8-kilometer races.

The festival was created by Richard Kline, then-president of the city’s chamber of commerce, to celebrate Virginia Beach’s heritage. The festival has since grown to include many local artists who showcase their crafts and sell to tourists looking for a unique momento. Daily concerts now happen at designated festival stages scattered throughout the boardwalk area. Food is plentiful as well and visitors can delight in sampling everything from crabcakes to authentic Italian cuisine! A fireworks display is usually scheduled for the Saturday night of the festival.

King Nepture Virginia Beach

7. Check out the Cape Henry Lights

Two lighthouses stand at Cape Henry, one of the most important signals in the history of the United States. The lights are used to warn the considerable shipping traffic that moves through the area on the way to ports in Chesapeake Bay and on nearby rivers. The first lighthouse was built in 1792 and was the first lighthouse authorized by the federal government of the United States. In 1881, a newer structure was built following concerns about the stability of the original building.

The 2 lighthouses stand side-by-side on the coast. The 1792 tower was designed by John McComb Jr., and is constructed of Aquia Creek sandstone, the same as used in the White House. It was damaged during the Civil War, but restored in 1863. A lightning strike in the 1870s cracked the foundation and led to the construction of a new, higher tower, 350 feet to the southeast. The old tower remains standing today and is used as a daymark and for triangulation. The new tower was fully automated in 1983 and remains operational today. The lighthouse is open to the public and you can enjoy the view from the observation deck.

Cape Henry Lighthouses Virginia Beach

6. Stroll the Boardwalk

As you may have guessed from the Neptune Festival entry, Virginia Beach is home to a fantastic boardwalk. The famous area is a 3-mile long strip along the coast with fantastic oceanfront views. A number of hotels and attractions are linked by the concrete path. It functions as an entertainment district for tourists and beach-goers, offering up concerts and other performances such as magic shows and juggling. The boardwalk is also a great area for people-watching. The number of outdoor cafes only adds to the area’s appeal. Cyclists can use the bike path and surreys can be rented for use on the boardwalk. The esplanade is also handicap accessible, and many ramps lead down to the sandy shore.

The hotels along the strip are famed for their ocean views. With several museums also located along the boardwalk, the area is also considered by many to be the “heart” of Virginia Beach. There are also numerous monuments and sculptures along the strip, as well as the Virginia Legends Walk, which showcases some of the state’s most famous citizens, including Ella Fitzgerald and Thomas Jefferson.

J. Bicking / Shutterstock.com
J. Bicking / Shutterstock.com

5. Conquer Mount Trashmore

Driving toward the ocean along I-264, you’ll likely notice a huge hill rising from the horizon to 60 feet and stretching along for 800 feet. This is the highest point in Virginia Beach, a man-made hill called Mount Trashmore because, well, it’s made out of compacted layers of solid waste and clean soil.

While that might sound disgusting rather than attractive, Mount Trashmore is surrounded by a 165-hectare park that includes 2 lakes (Lake Trashmore and Lake Windsor) where fishing is permitted and a skate park. The park is an example of landfill reuse; the area was a dump site until the early 1970s when it was converted to a park. Since its conversion, the park has become one of the more popular parks in Virginia Beach, with an average of 1 million visitors per year. The park boasts several walking trails, including a “mountain” trail that takes you up to the tip-top of Mount Trashmore. There are several playground areas for children and basketball and volleyball courts. The park is open 7 days a week from 7:30 a.m. until sundown.

Mount Trashmore Virgnia Beach

4. Discover Henry Town

Discovered in 1955, Henry Town is an archaeological site that was only recently determined to be the Henry Town settlement referred to in several early colonial documents. The town was first described in a 1613 letter. Other documents from about the same time mention several forts at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, one of which might have been Henry Town. Excavation of the site since 1955 has revealed artifacts that date to around 1635, suggesting connection with Adam Thoroughgood and his plantation.

Currently, the site is being recreated and will eventually feature more than a dozen structures that replicate an early English colonial setting, such as the one believed to be at Henry Town. The area will also feature an outdoor stage and performances of historical dramas. The constructions are expected to cost around $700,000 and will turn the site into both a museum and a tourist destination commemorating early colonial times and one of the earliest established towns in Virginia.

Archaeologists

3. Shop at Lynnhaven Mall

One of the largest malls in the Virginia Beach area is the super-regional Lynnhaven Mall, an enclosed shopping center that opened in 1981. Since then, the mall has served as an important economic retail location for Virginia Beach. The mall, with over 1 million square feet of retail space, is one of the largest malls not just in Virginia, but along the entirety of the East Coast.

The mall is currently undergoing renovations, as the mezzanine is being dismantled and a vacant space, once occupied by Lord & Taylor department store, is being demolished. These renovations debuted a new food court and an open atrium in late 2014. The mall’s carousel, which had greeted shoppers since the building’s opening, was removed to make way for another 29,000 square feet of space. The mall also features an outdoor pedestrian plaza near the AMC theater, which is known as “the Inlet.” The mall features 3 anchor stores and around 180 shops in total. While the shops that are in the mall have changed over the decades, a number of luxury goods, department stores and services have locations in the mall. Apple, AMC theater, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Macy’s and H&M all have locations currently.

Window shopping

2. Explore the Tidewater Arboretum

The Tidewater Arboretum is a great place to spend a sunny afternoon and enjoy a relaxing hike. The 5-acre park is maintained by Virginia Tech’s Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center. The arboretum was founded in the 1970s and is home to 12 theme gardens and  small, woody plants that thrive in the Southeastern Virginian climate. The arboretum is open daily and admission is free. About 1,000 different plants have been planted in the park since its inception.

The arboretum was founded with an eye to promoting the types of plants that can be found in small gardens in urban areas in Virginia Beach. Arranged by scientific name and family, the plants showcase what’s available in the nursery trade and being propagated by Virginia growers. It’s also a quiet and relaxing spot, a haven of nature, in the midst of an urban industrial park, which demonstrates how nature and green spaces can be incorporated into city landscapes.

Tidewater Arboretum Virginia

1. Visit First Landing State Park

The first planned park within the state of Virginia, First Landing State Park is near the site of the first landing on April 26, 1607. Located near Cape Henry, the park boasts over 19 miles of trails that are popular for biking and hiking. Swimming and fishing are also popular at this seaside park. Camping facilities are available for a fee. Boating and picnicking are other activities commonly enjoyed by the park’s 1 million annual visitors. It is the most popular state park in Virginia and has also been designated on the National Register of Historic Places.

Due to its location as the site of the first landing, the park also offers several educational history programs, as well as nature programs designed to enhance understanding and appreciation of the ecosystems in the area. Some of the land includes cypress swamp area and lagoons, bays and marshes are also encompassed by the park’s area. Guided kayak tours are available, enabling exploration of this unique area.

Cyprus Swamps First Landing State Park

7 Most Beautiful and Underrated Cities and Towns in the U.S.

The family vacation is another one of America’s favorite pastimes. Every year, millions of citizens pack their bags and head out in search of fun and relaxation. Popular cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, and Orlando, become flooded with tourists. However, the struggling economy has caused many people to think outside the box. While not as popular, there are plenty of remarkable cities to visit in this country. Here is a list of seven of the most underrated towns and cities in the United States.

7. Lincoln, Nebraska

When most people think of the state of Nebraska, images of rolling hills and rugged landscapes come to mind. The city of Lincoln, however, has become a modern diamond in the rough. It has high-end shopping, quality museums, and a wide variety of nightclubs. There is also a wonderful exhibit showing the evolution of Nebraska over the past 100 years.
Lincoln Nebraska

6. Perdido Key, Florida

Perdido Key, also referred to as the “Lost Key,” is a small hidden gem actually located within the city of Pensacola. This town is the perfect spot for those who enjoy the beauty of nature. Beaches, parks, and wildlife preserves take up more than half of the area. Diving enthusiasts can also have an underwater adventure by exploring a sunken military ship.
Perdido Key Florida

5. Newport, Rhode Island

Unless you are a Rhode Island native or a history buff, you may not be familiar with the refined taste of this city. A formerly favored spot of the legendary Kennedy family, Newport is home to some of the most beautiful mansions and delicious seafood in the world. This city is also a popular location for sailing.
Mansion, Newport, Rhode Island

4. St. Petersburg, Florida

Although not as popular as Miami or Tampa, this city is the perfect example of why Florida is called the “Sunshine State.” The warm, clear weather lasts nearly year-round. True to its coastal nature, St. Petersburg has some of the most beautiful beaches in the state. Those in search of culture can also visit the Salvador Dali Museum, which holds the largest collection of his work in the western world.
St. Petersburg Florida

3. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia Beach has miles and miles of extraordinary coastline. For avid surfers, these beaches also welcome large and abundant Atlantic Ocean waves. In the evenings, the boardwalks offer mouth-watering restaurants and peacefully romantic scenery. Vacationing families can enjoy the thrill and excitement of the Busch Gardens amusement park. Virginia Beach is also extremely close Jamestown, which is America’s oldest existing settlement.
Virginia Beach, Virginia

2. Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston is another beautifully historic costal town. Dating back as early as the 1600’s, there are plenty of authentic buildings and Civil War memorials. The quaint, lovely streets and “Gullah” traditions make visitors feel as if they have stepped out of a time machine. For the modern traveler, Charleston also has beautiful beaches, famous golf resorts, and plenty of art galleries.
Charleston South Carolina 1

1. Tunica, Mississippi

Tunica, also commonly known as “The Vegas of the South,” is a surprisingly fun city. Home to at least nine casinos, Tunica has a risk and spice of a typical gaming town. There is more to this little known spot than gambling, however. The city has 4-star golf courses, gorgeous hotels, and several popular nightclubs, including a variety of famous blues clubs.

Tunica Mississippi
Eugene Buchko / Shutterstock.com

 

10 Can’t Miss Sites and Attractions in Virginia Beach

If you are looking for a fun vacation destination that’s close to everything, yet far enough away to still feel like a vacation, Virginia Beach is a great choice. Even though it’s a water-based resort town as its name implies, Virginia Beach enjoys a mild climate year-round. Winter temperatures rarely dip below sixty degrees, which means there is no real bad time of the year to visit. Virginia Beach is full of wonderful attractions and points of interest that offer something for everyone. In this article, we’re going to highlight ten of the very best of those attractions and provide you a bit of information about each one.

1. King Neptune Statue

The King Neptune Statue is an amazing 34 feet tall bronze statue depicting the Neptune – God of the Sea. He stands guard at the foot of the ocean, guarding the city and all who visit her shores, and was created to pay homage to the importance of the sea in the development of the city. The King Neptune Statue is located at the entrance of Neptune Park.

2. Old Cape Henry Lighthouse

The Old Cape Henry Lighthouse was built in 1772 and guided ships into the Chesapeake Bay for over 100 years. The lighthouse is no longer in service, but you can climb the steps up to the top and tour the grounds at your leisure.

3. Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is 9,000 acres of beach, marshlands, and woodlands that you can explore at your leisure. The refuge offers a great way to get up close and personal with some of the area’s natural flora and fauna.

4. First Landing State Park

First Landing State Park gives you the chance to view the Virginia Beach area the way the original settlers found it. First Landing State Park encompasses nearly 3,000 pristine acres that are untouched by time or man. There are camping sites and other outdoor activities within the park along with guided tours and lectures.

5. Virginia Beach Legends Walk

The Virginia Beach Legends Walk is Virginia Beach’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Virginia Beach Legends Walk pays tribute to some famous Virginians and each one has its own dedicated plaque that gives visitors a short bio of the person.

6. Brookdale Farm

Just because you’re on vacation, doesn’t mean you can’t eat healthy – or organically, even. Brookdale Farm allows visitors to pick their own produce from everything that’s in season. Bring your own containers or use theirs.

7. Ferry Plantation

Ferry Plantation was built in 1642 and was the home of the local ferry operator that ferried goods, people, and animals across local waterways. There are guided tours available of the three original buildings on the grounds and is a great site to visit to learn some of Virginia Beach’s history.

8. Capt. Jack’s Pirate Ship

Kids and kids at heart will love Capt. Jack’s Pirate Ship. It is an exact replica of a Spanish galleon and is staffed by an entire pirate’s crew in full regala. You can sail the mighty seas on one of their tours and even try your hand at firing their water cannons.

9. Mount Trashmore

Sherry V Smith / Shutterstock

Mount Trashmore is a 165-acre complex that actually used to be a landfill. Through an organized community and city effort, the site was recycled to create something new and useful in 1973. The area is now home to a skate park, playgrounds and natural lakes.

10. Virginia Beach Boardwalk

Hisham Ibrahim / Getty Images

The Virginia Beach Boardwalk draws millions of visitors each year and has been doing so since it opened in 1888. The Boardwalk has been designated America’s Favorite Boardwalk many times over the years and has also been featured in a number of high-end magazines. It’s handicapped accessible and lined with quaint shops and stands, including bike rental facilities. The Virginia Beach Boardwalk is definitely the place to seen and be seen in Virginia Beach.