Virginia Beach: Planning Your Trip

Old and New Cape Henry Lighthouses in Virginia Beach
ShoreTie / Getty Images

Virginia Beach is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Virginia with nearly 450,000 residents. With a total of 14 miles of beaches that are free and open to the public, the resort area attracts visitors to enjoy its white sandy beaches, oceanfront hotels and restaurants, historic landmarks, and family-friendly attractions. Virginia Beach offers a wide variety of recreational activities including hiking, kayaking, biking, fishing, golf, and whale and dolphin watching. The region makes a great vacation destination for families, couples, and outdoor enthusiasts.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: If you're coming for the beach, summer is the best time to visit. If you can visit in May or September, you'll enjoy good weather while avoiding the worst of the summer crowds.
  • Language: English
  • Currency: U.S. Dollars
  • Getting Around: During the high season from Memorial Day to Labor Day, there are frequent trolleys that shuttle visitors around the city. Outside of the high season, you can drive, bike, or take a taxi to move around.
  • Travel Tip: With the area’s close proximity to Colonial Williamsburg (an hour’s drive away), you can easily take a day trip to visit one of Virginia’s most famous historical attractions.

Things to Do

Tourists come to Virginia Beach for the sunshine and to swim in the ocean, but there's so much more to enjoy beyond the beach itself. There are parks, museums, and cultural activities that are available year-round. With two state parks and a national wildlife refuge, you can enjoy nature and plenty of outdoor recreation while hiking, biking, camping, fishing, kayaking, or even whale watching.

  • Beaches: The Atlantic Coast is the biggest draw to the coastal city and there are various beach areas depending on what you're looking for. The Resort Area is the lively part along the beachfront with a boardwalk that features live music, street performers, and outdoor cafes. The 3-mile boardwalk extends from Rudee Inlet at First Street all the way to 40th Street. Sandbridge is a relaxing beach community located 15 miles south of the Resort Area, with rental homes and the open waters of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park. The Chesapeake Bay Area (or Chick’s Beach) at the north end of the city provides a tranquil atmosphere along the beach where you can visit the original Cape Henry Lighthouse or First Landing State Park.
  • Virginia Aquarium: Virginia’s largest aquarium and one of the most visited in the nation showcases the state’s various aquatic and marine environments throughout time and features more than 800,000 gallons of aquariums and live animal habitats, as well as an IMAX 3D Theater. With more than 300 hands-on exhibits, visitors experience the wonders of harbor seals, river otters, sea turtles, sharks, an aviary, and more.
  • Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge: Located at the southern end of Virginia Beach, the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge contains more than 9,000 acres of barrier islands, dunes, freshwater marshes, maritime forests, ponds, and ocean beaches that provide a protective habitat for a variety of wildlife including migrating waterfowl and endangered species. Visitors can hike and bike along the scenic trails and participate in educational programs. Sharing a border is the 4,321-acre False Cape State Park, featuring 6 miles of unspoiled beaches in an ocean-to-freshwater bay habitat.

What to Eat and Drink

The cuisine of Virginia includes a blend of Southern comfort food along with fresh seafood, and Virginia Beach showcases the best of the best. Blue crab from the Chesapeake Bay is more often associated with neighboring Maryland, but you'll find plenty of this freshly caught crustacean in local crab shacks (crab season is from April to November). Atlantic oysters are a specialty of Virginia Beach, enjoyed either roasted over a barbecue or slurped raw right out of the shell.

To accompany your meal, be sure to try a glass of locally produced wine. Virginia is one of the top 10 wine producers in the country with over 200 wineries across the state, many of which can only be found in the local area and nowhere else.

Where to Stay

A wide range of accommodations is available including affordable hotel rooms, campgrounds, condominiums, and a variety of rental properties. Stay in the Resort Area if you want to be in the center of activity, where the waterfront promises more than enough restaurant and bar options to keep you entertained for the entire trip. For a quieter retreat, rent a house in Sandbridge or go camping at First Landing State Park. You'll be able to enjoy the tranquil beauty of the coast without having to deal with the hoards of tourists who descend on the city in the summer.

Getting There

Virginia Beach is the easiest beach resort in the region to get to by using public transportation. Amtrak provides train service to Newport News from all over the Northeast, with continued bus service to Virginia Beach taking about an hour. Greyhound and Trailways bus lines also operate in the area and provide transportation from major cities in the area.

There's an airport in the neighboring city of Norfolk, although flight options are limited and generally expensive. The airport in Richmond has a lot more traffic but it's an hour and 20 minutes away from Virginia Beach. If you're coming from Washington, D.C., the drive takes about four hours depending on traffic.

Money Saving Tips

  • Avoid visiting in the peak tourist season between Memorial Day and Labor Day when hotel prices are at their highest. Weekdays in May or September when kids are still in school are a great time to find deals. Winter is the cheapest time of year to visit if you don't mind the cold weather, but many attractions limit their hours or close down in the low season.
  • Food and drinks right on the Boardwalk are the most expensive—and not necessarily the best quality. Walk a few blocks away from the Boardwalk to find cute restaurants without touristy prices.
  • Apart from sitting out on the beach, there are all kinds of free or low-cost activities to enjoy in Virginia Beach. The Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art is right in town and free to visit. There are also the Cape Henry Lighthouse, First Landing State Park, and the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.