Family Vacations to Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach (courtesy, Virginia Beach CVB)

Virginia Beach Highlights

  • Swim in Atlantic surf and sunbathe on sandy beaches.
  • Try to spot some of the more than 300 species of birds in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
  • See stingrays and sea turtles and find out about native wildlife at the Virginia Aquarium.
  • Climb an 18th-century lighthouse at Fort Story.
  • Cross one of the longest bridge-tunnels in the world to Virginia's Eastern shore.

Virginia Beach's 35 miles of coastline and long stretches of sandy beach are the key family lures in this Atlantic Coast town. Prime time is summer, although a spring or fall visit can be just as rewarding with fewer people clogging the beachfront and boardwalk. A long flat stretch of sidewalk borders the sand in the main downtown strip, creating a great place for strolling, bicycling, and inline skating. The highest concentration of blanket-to-blanket bodies can be found in this area from 20th through 35th streets. Families wanting quieter spots can unfurl their beach towels in Sandbridge at the southern end of town and in the North End, from 43rd Street north to Fort Story, a U.S. Army base, whose beach is open to the public. The 72-foot Old Cape Henry Lighthouse, built in 1792, is located there and commands sweeping views of the sand dunes, Atlantic, and mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

For even more seclusion, head to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and to False Cape State Park. In Back Bay's more than 8,000 acres, nearly 300 species of birds have been observed. Egrets and herons dance on the water along the nine miles of dykes and the calls of geese and ducks reverberate throughout these peaceful barrier islands. At False Cape State Park, enjoy strolling or swimming (no lifeguards) along nearly six miles of unspoiled beaches. The park also has trails through loblolly pine forests and acres of marshlands. The easiest way to get here is to take the tram, available spring through summer, from Sandbridge. There's more wet fun at Ocean Breeze Waterpark, where kids careen down waterslides and "surf" the wave pool's breaks. Buccaneer's Bay, for children 48 inches and shorter, is a pirate ship climb-and-play area.

Off the beach, spend time at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, which showcases Virginia's coastal wildlife and habitats. Stingrays and brown sharks swim through the 300,000-gallon Norfolk Canyon Aquarium, and sea turtles hatch in the laboratory. In the Macro Marsh gallery, kids feel as tiny as hermit crabs as they walk through larger-than-life "grass" and a walk along the outdoor 0.3-mile Nature Trail leads you through a salt marsh.

For a day trip—or longer—cross the 17.6-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel to Virginia's Eastern shore. The structure loops over and under the bay, affording great views and sea breezes. You can also fish from the structure's 625-foot pier, a rare location where you can dangle a line 3.5 miles offshore without a boat.

Tip: Boardwalk Weekend, held the end of September/beginning of October, is a grand finale to summer. Fun includes the North America Sandsculpting Competition, concerts, and a craft show.

Recommended Side Trips: Virginia's Eastern Shore, Norfolk, Richmond, Colonial Williamsburg's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 23 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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