A BASIC GUIDE
by Mitch Kaplan
Altogether, Virginia Beach stretches from the Chesapeake Bay to the
North Carolina border, encompassing twenty-eight miles of oceanfront and
bay beaches, which allows it to lay claim to being the world's largest
resort city. Sure, there's classic eastern shore development, but the
locals have gone out of their way to keep things user-friendly. No
matter what shore activity your family enjoys, it's here. And, you can
get away from all the hubbub at Seashore State Park with its woodlands
and twenty-seven miles of nature trails.
Beach life centers on a three-mile "boardwalk". The commercial strip
begins at First Street and runs north, with large hotels lining the
beach for about 40 blocks. Make the Virginia Beach Visitor Information
Center (2100 Parks Avenue) one of your first stops. It'll help you get
oriented. Beyond the oceanfront, Virginia Beach is a sprawling city with a
very suburban feel.
The boardwalk isn't literally made of wooden boards. It's paved. A bike
path parallels the walk, which means that here, unlike most eastern
beach towns, you can cycle or in-line skate during peak hours. Even
skateboarders are welcome there - a true rarity. The walk is
grass-lined, and calm - not filled with kitschy amusements and shops -
and each block is well-marked. The 7th, 17th and 24th Street Stages
present performances nightly throughout the summer; look for the
schedule on bulletin boards mounted along the boardwalk.
The main beach is wide, clean and well-kept, but it can get crowded.
Public changing facilities - another feature too often absent at other
eastern shore towns - are located at First Street and Atlantic Avenue.
Several public restrooms are also available. Parking can be a problem;
look for public lots at 4th and Atlantic or 19th and Pacific, plus the
occasional private lot. Metered street parking is hard to find.
First Landing/Seashore State Park (2500 Shore Drive, Virginia Beach, VA
23451-1415; 757-412-2300; www.dcr.state.va.us/parks/1stland.htm ) has a
small beachfront, its own parking and few folks. This is Virginia's most
popular state park. It covers 2,700 acres with camping, displays, three
indoor aquaria, restrooms, showers and offers hiking, water sports and
equipment rentals, along with bicycle trails and bike rentals.
Locals like Little Island Park, a city park that partially borders a
wildlife refuge; plenty of fee-parking, rest rooms a snack bar and a
fishing pier are available.
Once you've parked your car, make use of the trolleys. They cover most
of the important ground. An "Entertainment Express" runs a circuit of
all the major nightspots and hotels until 2:30 a.m.
Biking is well-facilitated here. In addition to the beachfront bike
path, the Seashore State Park trail system can be readily reached by
trail from the boardwalk. It has miles of paved and dirt trails that
travel through the wetlands and along Broad Bay. The main bike also path
runs south of the Boardwalk, following General Booth Boulevard past the
Virginia Marine Science Museum and Ocean Breeze Fun Park.
Traveling with a surfer? Did you know that Eastern surfing began in
Virginia Beach? That was about 1912. Today, Virginia Beach annually
hosts the East Coast Surfing Championships. A plethora of surf shops,
many of which rent equipment, can be found in town.
The Virginia Marine Science Museum (757-425-3474; www.vmsm.com ), a
major aquarium, has recently undergone extensive expansion. It occupies
two buildings - the Atlantic Ocean Pavilion, site of the main exhibits,
and the Owls Creek Marsh Pavilion, which focuses on life in Owls Creek
salt marsh, the waterway on which the museum is located. A short Nature
Trail connects them. Kids love the exhibits that feature sharks,
stingrays, whales and the harbor seals. But, the local sea and lowland
environment is well presented through fun exhibits. Favorites in the
Pavilion are the river otters, seahorses and the macro-marsh, a place
where teeny animals and plants are magnified to ten times their normal
size. A ten-minute film, "The Secret Life of Owls Creek" reveals the
many unseen goings-on among the plants and wildlife. For an extra fee,
the museum offers half-hour salt marsh tours in a fifty-passenger
Virginia Beach is also home to the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum
(757-437-8432), a venue for the work of wildfowl artists; the Oceana
Naval Air Station Tour (757-640-0300; www.nasoceana.navy.mil ),
displaying more than 200 aircraft; Old Cape Henry Lighthouse in Fort
Story (757-422-9421), built in 1791; and The Old Coast Guard Station
(757-422-1587), showcasing local maritime history, including wrecks and
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Virginia Beach Visitors Center. 2100 Parks Avenue, Virginia Beach, VA
23451; 800-446-8038; www.city.virginia-beach.va.us or www.vabeach.com .
Lodging choices are profuse. Among those we'd recommend are:
The Cavalier Hotel. Oceanfront at 42nd St.; 800; 446-8199 or
757-425-8555; www.cavalierhotel.com. . A world-class resort with five
restaurants, indoor and outdoor Olympic-size swimming pools, health
club, and the only private beach in Virginia. They offer Camp Cavalier
for ages 4-12 during summer, a free, supervised program with morning and
afternoon sessions, and Kids Cafi, a dining room for kids only.
Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort. 39th Street & Oceanfront; 800-942-3224 or
757-428-1711; www.va-beach.com/sunspree. A 266-room property with
fifty-five efficiency suites, all with ocean views refrigerators, coffee
makers, irons, ironing boards, in-room movies and Nintendo, and indoor
and outdoor pools. The Kidzone activity program offers supervised
activities for children ages 4-11.
...... Mitch Kaplan is the author of "The Unofficial Guide to the Mid-Atlantic with Kids,"
and a contributor to "The Unofficial Guide to New England & New York
with Kids," as well as "The Cheapskate's Guide to Myrtle Beach" and "The
Golf Book of Lists".