I had never been to Virginia Beach, but the name itself has always sounded appealing to me. I pictured a vast beach on the Atlantic bordered by hotels. And although the beach is endless and there are many hotels, most are not very tall, and the place has a much more intimate feel than what I had imagined. Also, animals and nature seem to flourish in Virginia Beach. The beach was spacious, flanked by a boardwalk that goes on for three miles with an adjacent bike path that is longer. Plenty of bikes and surreys, a type of pedal-powered canvas covered “car,” are available to rent.
The three story high King Neptune statue on Laskan Road is a fun photo stop along the boardwalk. Virginia Beach is an exciting and relaxing place for families and family reunions. Whether lounging by or playing in the Atlantic Ocean, spending the day at a nearby state park, or dining on the cuisine, a trip to VB makes for the perfect family adventure.
Besides having the Atlantic Ocean, Virginia Beach can also claim another body of water. The Chesapeake Bay is the country’s largest estuary, where fresh water mixes with salt. It borders six states and more than 150 rivers and streams drain into it! The last place the Chesapeake Bay reaches is Virginia Beach before it filters out into the ocean. This makes for wonderful seafood. I found several restaurants to rave about:
Bubba’s was one of the first seafood restaurants in Virginia Beach and famous for its fried and broiled seafood and cocktails. It has a Jimmy Buffet vibe because of its casual atmosphere. The rustic restaurant has an outdoor covered deck on the bay where you can watch the seagulls and boats go back and forth. I had local rock fish over salad – incredibly tasty and fresh because the fish is delivered daily. The Bloody Mary Bar has three kinds of tomato juice, horseradish of course, and seven kinds of hot sauce!
Cozy Tautog’s cottage in Virginia Beach, small amidst the tall buildings, is large in ambiance and has great native fish, soft shell crabs, and southern specialties. It is more of a local spot and most likely some customers would love to keep it a secret for themselves. Next door is Doc Talyor’s (same owner) and an excellent choice for breakfast or lunch (turkey club sandwiches or French toast with scrambled eggs and bacon are two of their standards). Both are open every day. Their famous Bloody Mary is just $1.99! Are Bloody Marys a southern thing?!
Citrus is another delightful stop for breakfast, located in a VB shopping center, but with high quality ingredients and an imaginative menu. I loved the pumpkin pancakes and low-cal egg white frittata.
Eat is a small upscale restaurant featuring dynamic appetizers and cocktails. This classy bistro has indoor and outdoor seating and is walking distance from the Holiday Inn North. We tried Hog Island oysters, Middle Eastern tapas that included Halloumi cheese, dates and hummus, and also the blue crab pizza with arugula and white truffle oil. Eat is also known for their custom cocktail concoctions like Peartinis, Espressotinis, and Margaritinis!
Coastal Grill, an award winning restaurant, is a favorite among locals and was definitely one of ours too. It is a surprise hidden among a shopping strip three miles from the beach with wonderful wines, crab cakes, steamed mussels, fried oysters and scallops, and of course steaks and chicken.
Holiday Inn and Suites North Beach was a blast from the past. I had not been to a Holiday Inn since I was a kid staying with my own family. Children and parents love this location, right on the beach, and at the end of the three mile boardwalk. It has two pools, one in the front facing the beach, more for adults, and another towards the back that has an indoor “Lazy River” that slowly brings you outside to the fun collection of water slides at the Splish Splash Lagoon family pool. Parents will love the “Splash Kamp” for kids. The room was comfortable, clean, and inexpensive ($149) – plus I had an ocean view. I just wish they had screens so I could listen to the ocean and breathe the fresh air.
Mt. Trashmore, formerly a trash dump and now an eco-friendly skateboarding and dog park, is a local attraction which I did not visit, but heard is great for skater kids and people with dogs.
I loved the Virginia Beach Farmer’s Market open seven days a week from 10 am – 5 pm. The market has ties to the Old Norfolk Market, the oldest in the U.S., dating back to the 1700’s! The VB Farmer’s Market is part of the nationwide local farm-to-table movement, and provides organic produce and meat whenever possible. The Butcher Shophas free range organic grass fed beef, aged beef, and Edwards Ham which tasted like prosciutto. I have never been a “ham fan” but this ham is fab, man!
Seasons Best Bakery and Candy Shop is next door with all kinds of homemade baked goods. We sampled sweet potato with the aforementioned Edwards Ham, a unique and delicious southern surprise. Their monkey bread is also a local favorite. “Taste of the Market Tour” introduces you to the people and the goods they sell . The cost of the 2.5 hour tour is $15.
Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center is a world class aquarium boasting over 2,000 species including land animals (like two giant Komodo dragons). Kids of all ages will love the eco-friendly environments and the ceiling tank which offers visitors an overhead view of a multitude of marine animals. Other mammoth tanks include the shark tank, where the great predators swim eerily by, the colorful tropical fish tanks, and a vertical tank where jellyfish gracefully sway up and down. A nature trail gets visitors outside to enjoy the beauty along the Rudee Inlet. The Virginia Aquarium has a Sea Turtle Rescue Program which monitors and releases endangered babies.
One of the Aquarium’s most popular exhibits is the touch tank for large cownose rays. The rays are local but also found in other parts of the world. These playful creatures seem to enjoy being touched by humans and they swoop in close after swimming a fast orbit around the touch tank. To me, it seemed that the animals were well cared for and really enjoyed their surroundings and visitors.
And of course, no one can resist the antics of the sea otters and seals. During the summer months, the Virginia Aquarium is the only place in the US where you can get actually get in the water with the seals! This special program – “Seal Splash” costs $175. For reservations, go online or call (757) 385-0300. The ninety minute program includes training and 20 minutes in the water with a wetsuit. There is also a less costly ($50) program called “Behind the Scenes” – an educational tour given by the seal, sea turtle, and shark caretakers.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel is a 17-mile long engineering wonder. It has a restaurant, pier, and gift shop too! They feature many of Virginia’s excellent wines and other state-made products. We had breakfast there and the food was great. The fishing pier is a place for families to enjoy being out in the bay and the bait shop is right on site.
Virginia has 35 state parks and one of the most popular, First Landing State Park, is in Virginia Beach. Family camping near the beach- you can’t beat that! In next week’s journal, I cross The Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where I find how easy and fun it is to “get back to nature”.
This trip was partially sponsored by www.vbfun.com and www.virginia.org