Road Trip! Destination: Virginia Beach
“Three beaches. One vacation.” That's the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau's new theme, referencing three distinct waterside experiences:
• Resort Beach is the area we mostly associate with Virginia Beach, with the boardwalk and beach fun.
• Chesapeake Bay Beach, to the north, is the place for “kinder, gentler waves.” It's home to a marina and multiple dockside seafood restaurants with sunset views over the Lynnhaven Inlet.
• Sandbridge Beach, nestled against the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge on the city's southern shore, offers a more secluded environment. Trails, marshes and open waters can be explored on biking and kayaking excursions and surfing and paddle boarding.
There's plenty of beach activity coming up: The State Farm FunkFest (Aug. 28 to 30), the Humana Rock 'n' Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon 5K & Health and Fitness Expo (Sept. 4 to 6) and the Virginia Beach Craft Beer Festival (Oct. 17 and 18).
Virginia Beach boardwalk
Named one of America's “Best Beach Boardwalks” by Travel + Leisure magazine, it's easily one of the prettiest on the Atlantic Coast.
Stretching three miles and 28-feet wide, it features a separate path for inline skating and biking along the ocean and by outdoor restaurants and vendors. Many of the side streets leading to Atlantic Avenue are adorned with nautical sculptures.
King Neptune, a 24-foot, 12-ton bronze statue, stands at the gateway to Neptune Festival Park on 31st Street. Not surprisingly, it's one of the most popular photo spots.
During the summer, entertainment is provided nightly. Live music acts perform on oceanfront stages at Seventh, 17th, 24th and 31st streets.
JT's Grommet Island Beach Park and Playground for Everybody (grommetisland.org), on the beach at the southern end of the boardwalk at Second Street, is a 100-percent accessible oceanfront park. The 15,000-square-foot park features wheelchair accessible entrances, raised tables for sandcastle building, a sensory board for children who are autistic and visually impaired, and a sway boat.
Cape Henry Lighthouse
Just a few minutes' drive from the heart of Virginia Beach's boardwalk stands the Cape Henry Lighthouse (757-422-9421, preservationvirginia.org). Construction of the lighthouse in 1792 was one of the first acts of the newly formed federal government, authorized by President George Washington. It was in active use for almost a century before being replaced by a new cast-iron lighthouse nearby.
Cape Henry is one of the oldest surviving lighthouses in the country.
Hearty visitors can climb to the top for panoramic views of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean.
Visitors who come dressed as a pirate Sept. 1 will receive free admission. Historical interpreters will discuss piracy on the Chesapeake Bay and recount Cape Henry's role in the legend of Blackbeard.
The Cape Henry Lighthouse is within Fort Story military base, so visitors must pass through the security gates at 89th Street and Atlantic Avenue.
First Landing State Park
A short walk from the Cape Henry Lighthouse is the Cape Henry Memorial National Park, which commemorates the first landing site of the Jamestown settlers and the Revolutionary War naval battle of the Virginia Capes. English colonists first landed near present-day Virginia Beach in 1607.
Its interior waterways were used by Union and Confederate patrols during the Civil War.
With 20 miles of trails and 1 1⁄2 miles of sandy Chesapeake Bay beach frontage, Virginia's most-visited state park has numerous recreational and educational activities and many unusual habitats: bald cypress swamps, lagoons and maritime forest among them, as well as rare plants and wildlife. A re-created Eastern Woodland Indian village, small aquarium and historical displays are highlighted.
Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center
It will take several hours to absorb one of Virginia Beach's star attractions, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center (757-385-3474, virginiaaquarium.com).
The Bay & Ocean Pavilion houses the “Journey of Water” exhibit, detailing the progression of water as it crosses the state. The huge Norfolk Canyon Aquarium includes three types of sharks and numerous varieties of rays. Crocodiles, frogs, turtles and snakehead fish are found in the Malaysian Peat Swamp. The Red Sea tunnel aquarium has tropical fish, spotted rays and a zebra shark. The Chesapeake Light Tower Aquarium offers loggerhead, green and endangered sea turtles.
A scenic nature trail, with a 30-foot observation tower, separates the Bay & Ocean Pavilion and the Marsh Pavilion, which has a river otter habitat and other marsh exhibits. There's also a children's play corner.
More than 70 birds, including herons, pelicans, egrets and ducks are in the aviary just beyond the pavilion.
Five acres of forest surrounding the Virginia Aquarium has been transformed into Adventure Park (757-385-4947, virginiabeachadventurepark.com), with more than 170 platforms connected by bridge crossings, rope courses, zip lines and other challenges.
The 13 treetop trails are suited to a range of skill levels. Every trail has zip lines, but each requires climbing.
The Labyrinth section has been designed for families with younger climbers — ages 5 to 10.
The Military Aviation Museum
What used to be the Virginia Beach Airport (1341 Princess Anne Road, 757-721-7767, militaryaviationmuseum.org) is now home to one of the largest private collections of World War I- and World War II-era military aircraft in the world, including fighters, bombers and seaplanes. Each has been restored to its prior military condition, using original parts whenever possible.
In addition, there are motorcycles, uniforms, engines and artwork on display.
Most of the planes are airworthy and flown at the museum during flight demonstrations and at air shows throughout the year. Plane rides can be arranged.
Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or firstname.lastname@example.org.