Virginia Beach is actually quite a large, sprawling city in Virginia’s Hampton Roads region, which sits about 3.5 hours southeast of D.C. ... on a good day. But anyone willing to brave the brutal summer weekend traffic on I-95 and I-64 generally isn’t interested in anything but the oceanfront. You’re in it for the beach, sun and fun, right? So, set your GPS for Atlantic Avenue and get ready for a few days of blissfully slurping some beers and oysters, catching a few waves and cruising the boardwalk. Go ahead and make it a long weekend so you won’t have to waste any more time in traffic than necessary.
Where to stay
Most of the tourists flock to the stretch of sand on the lower end of the strip, from about 17th Street to 30th Street, while locals know to head to the higher numbered streets or down to Sandbridge for a more chill beach experience. This should help you figure out where you want to stay. Those who want pampering and old-world charm should book a room at The Cavalier hotel, which originally opened in 1927 and just underwent an $85 million restoration that includes an on-premises distillery, spa and an indoor saltwater pool.
If your needs fall somewhere short of opulence and you like to be near the action, try the Hilton Garden Inn Virginia Beach Oceanfront, which boasts an indoor-outdoor pool, a sundeck and instant access to the boardwalk. Travelers with small wallets and a large sense of adventure can always opt to pitch a tent at First State Landing Park, which features 20 miles of hiking trails and a bayside beach, or Virginia Beach KOA, which offers bike rentals the beach.
Things to do
After you’ve had your fill of lounging on a towel and bobbing in the waves, families might want to make their way down to Grommet Island Park, a seaside playground for little ones; explore the outstanding Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center; play a few rounds of mini golf at Jungle Golf of Virginia Beach or King Neptune’s indoor and black-light mini golf course, which is perfect for those blazing-hot afternoons or rainy days.
Meanwhile, couples could check out the well-regarded Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art and then pick up some art to take home from The Artists Gallery in Virginia Beach. Nature lovers will want to tap into the surfing culture by taking a lesson or two from Seth Broudy School of Surf or taking a kayaking dolphin tour through Kayak Nature Tours. When evening falls, take a seat at Catch 31, where you can sit at the outdoor bar while keeping an eye on the kids playing in Neptune’s Park or watch one of the frequent free concerts there. Other opportunities for fun include a pirate boat experience for kids, fishing trips leaving out of Rudee Inlet or shopping for surf merch at the famed 17th Street Surf Shop.
Where to eat
There’s no shortage of fish and shellfish in Virginia Beach, whether you’re talking blue crab (the best in the world, if you ask us), oysters or one of the ubiquitous fried seafood platters found at many local restaurants like Waterman’s and Rudee’s on the Inlet. For a change of pace without losing the vacation vibe, try the Cuban and Puerto Rican fare at Mojito Cafe, where you can dive into ropa vieja and pernil in addition to fish tacos. If you’re looking for romance and elegance, make a reservation at the newly opened Becca featuring coastal modern American cuisine in The Cavalier hotel.
Our analysis: We think this beach is best for families with young kids and teens, multi-generational vacations and a couple’s retreat