Virginia Beach, VA
In Virginia Beach, almost any day is a good beach day. Located at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay on its northern end and facing the Atlantic Ocean along its eastern edge, the beach city avoids the typical storm paths to enjoy moderate weather all year. In this water lover's paradise, a three-mile-long boardwalk invites leisurely strolls, and numerous pristine beaches alternately encourage visitors to unwind and engage in high-energy sports. For foodies, area chefs create distinctive cuisine with seafood that could not be fresher.
Begin an exploration of Virginia Beach attractions along the expansive boardwalk, complete with wood benches, a bicycle path, charming street lamps and lush landscaping. During the summer, the boardwalk hosts musicians and other entertainers, and the convivial atmosphere makes the stretch feel like a block party and visitors like locals.
Keep the energy going with a kayak lesson from tour operators such as Kayak Nature Tours, Wild River Outfitters or Back Bay Getaways. Many Virginia Beach sightseers spot bottlenose dolphins just off shore, and experienced guides help kayakers navigate local marshes that are home to bald eagles, herons, egrets and river otters. For scuba diving, the Lynnhaven Dive Center sends its boats out to more than 20 shipwrecks and other sites and provides open-water certification. Novice surfers, in particular, will enjoy the gentle waves around Virginia Beach, and Ocean Rentals Ltd. offers lessons as well as rentals.
After some wave time, drive a few miles south of Virginia Beach for sightseeing adventure in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The 9,108-acre refuge consists of barrier islands, dunes, freshwater marshes, ponds and forests. Hikers and kayakers can see an array of wildlife in these varied environments, including many species that are threatened or endangered: peregrine falcons, loggerhead sea turtles and piping plovers.
Just north of Virginia Beach, an attraction that hikers should not miss is First Landing State Park. The most-visited state park in Virginia, First Landing has more than 19 miles of interpretive hiking trails amid dunes, cypress swamps and salt marshes, some leading to beachfront views of the bay. For a dose of history, head to Old Cape Henry Lighthouse, near the site where the English first landed in 1607. A granite cross constructed in 1935 marks the spot where those Jamestown settlers planted their own. For more recent history, see the Old Coast Guard Station’s exhibit of German U-boat activity near the area during World War II.
After a day of beach-based recreation, nature hikes, and historical site visits, replenish with some exquisite seafood selections. One of the city's best-known restaurants is Catch 31 Fish House and Bar, which affords spectacular views of the ocean from its floor-to-ceiling windows. The eatery's signature dish is the "seafood tower," a collection of Chesapeake Bay crab legs, lobster and other recent catches. Waterman's Surfside Grille offers a more casual option. Begun as a hot dog stand in the 1960s, these days, Waterman's is a revamped city landmark that draws raves for its handmade crab cakes.