12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Virginia Beach
Known for its outstanding beaches, Virginia Beach is a haven for summer sun seekers and families who come to swim in the ocean and bask in the sunshine. Beyond the beach and during the winter months there is still plenty to see and do. Nature abounds, whether it's in the waters of the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge or the tanks and displays of the Virginia Aquarium. Those looking to get active and experience some excitement can stop by the Adventure Park for a zip-lining thrill or head out on the water for a day of kayaking. History buffs will want to stop by the Military Aviation Museum or First Landing State Park. Those lucky enough to be visiting during the summer months will find plenty of beach space and all kinds of water-based activities.
1 Virginia Beach Boardwalk and Resort Beach
During the summer, most vacationers come to Virginia Beach to enjoy the glorious beaches. The city's most famous stretch of beach, known in the tourism industry as the "Resort Beach," stretches north of the pier, along the coast, in front of a long line of hotels. This beautiful wide section of soft, golden sand is where most of the beach action lies, and it can be absolutely packed with people during the summer months. Nonetheless, there always seems to be enough room to accommodate everyone.
A wide, paved boardwalk runs along the top of the beach for three miles, perfect for walking, running, biking, skateboarding, hanging out with friends, or enjoying some quiet time on a park bench looking out at the ocean. Hotels, restaurants, and shops line the waterfront behind the boardwalk and Atlantic Avenue, just one block off the beach. This is the place to find beach stores, fudge and candy shops, and other light shopping and dining. The atmosphere is casual, particularly in summer, with many people wandering around in their beach wear and bathing suit cover-ups.
2 Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center
For a fun day off the beach, it's hard to beat the Virginia Aquarium. Located along the shores of Owls Creek, the aquarium is beautifully positioned, with scenic outdoor areas and decks overlooking the water. This tourist attraction is home to many of the big names in the marine world, with sharks, seals, sea turtles, otters, rays, and a whole host of other sea life. It also holds some unexpected sights, including Komodo Dragons and a rare tomistoma (crocodile) named Gloria.
The large complex, divided between two buildings, is well laid out with displays that showcase what Virginia might have looked like thousands of years ago and the type of life the area may have supported throughout the ages. It's also a great place to get acquainted with the marine life that currently inhabits the lakes, streams, and coastal areas. Some of the key highlights are the glass, walk-through Red Sea Tunnel, the unique dinosaur exhibit, with mechanical dinosaurs that move, and in the second building, the otter exhibit. The aquarium also has a 3D Movie Theater.
In the forested area between the aquarium's two buildings is the Adventure Park, a zip-lining obstacle course. This park charges its own fee and can be visited without paying the admission cost to the aquarium. For adventure enthusiasts, this is a must-do. Another popular activity that can be added to an aquarium visit is a boat trip that takes visitors out to see dolphins and whales in their natural environment. This excursion is an additional fee.
Address: 717 General Booth, Blvd., Virginia Beach
3 First Landing State Park
History and nature combine at this lovely park, where visitors can lie on the beach, hike in the forest, paddle the waters, learn about the early history of the first colonists, camp along the oceanfront, or even rent a cabin in the woods. First Landing State Park is where English colonists first reached the shores of America more than 400 years ago. Today, the park is a recreational haven for locals and visitors. The wide beach stretches for 1.5 miles along Chesapeake Bay, and behind here, set in the scrubby vegetation that lines the waterfront, are ocean-facing campsites.
The park is divided by Shore Drive, which separates the beach side of the park from the forest side. On the inland portion of Shore Drive are camping cabins and an extensive network of trails that run through huge pine trees, cypress trees, sand dunes, and along the waterfront of Broad Bay. Each of the trails offers a unique sight. Jet Ski, paddleboard, boat, and kayak rentals are available in the park for those who want to get out and enjoy some watersports. Depending on the time of year, bug spray may be in order, particularly for anyone camping or walking the trails.
4 Sandbridge Beach
To the south of the main Resort Beach is the quieter Sandbridge Beach. This is technically all the same ocean front beach, but out here, away from the hotels and condos, the atmosphere is more peaceful and relaxed. This is the perfect place for people wanting to get away from the energetic vibe of the resort area, go for a walk, have a picnic on the beach, and enjoy some quiet time. The beach here is wide, with soft sand, and the houses that line the beach are set far enough back from the water that visitors almost feel like they are not in a city at all.
5 Back Bay Wildlife Refuge
Behind Sandbridge Beach is the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, with more than 9,000 acres of beach, freshwater marshes, dunes, and forested areas. The refuge protects important habitat for migratory birds, but is also a pleasant retreat for people who come here to wander along the trails or paddleboard in the still waters. From the visitor center, the view extends out across the waters and islands of Back Bay. Walking paths provide access to some great wildlife viewing opportunities, and spotting scopes are located throughout the refuge. All kinds of birds, along with deer, bobcats, otters, muskrats, and other critters can be seen in Back Bay. It's also possible to access False Cape State Park from here.
6 The Adventure Park
For a little adrenaline boost, the Adventure Park is the perfect outing. Set on the grounds of the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, the Adventure Park is a large forested area with ropes and platforms dangling from the trees. Swinging stairs and challenging aerial walks, all high up in the trees, challenge participants who are securely roped into this zip-lining obstacle course. Participants are shown how to use the equipment and then set free to explore on their own, with spotters on hand to help out when needed. Set among huge trees and looking out over Owls Creek, the park is both scenic and pleasantly cool, even on hot days.
Although the Adventure Park lies within the aquarium, it has its own admission cost and can be visited independently of the aquarium. Participants must be five years of age or older.
Address: 801 General Booth Blvd., Virginia Beach
7 Military Aviation Museum
As the name suggests, this museum is dedicated to military aircraft, with planes from around the world. On display are approximately 60 aircraft from WWI and WWII, and almost all of them are flight worthy. The goal of the museum is not only to display these aircraft but to restore them to working order. The planes are typically flown during airshows, but it's also possible to take a short ride in some of these aircraft for an additional fee.
Address: 1341 Princess Anne Road, Virginia Beach
8 Chesapeake Bay Beach
North of the main Resort Beach, Chesapeake Bay Beach is another popular stretch of sand. The character here is more subdued and quieter than the boardwalk area to the south. The waters here are typically shallow and calm, making it a pleasant area for children and families. First Landing State Park lies along this stretch, with showers and restrooms for day use visitors, but there are also numerous access points off Shore Drive. At the end of the day, good dining options are within easy reach.
9 False Cape State Park
This beautiful park to the south of Virginia Beach features six miles of undeveloped beach, along with dunes, marshes, and woodlands, similar to its neighbor, the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Hiking and biking trails run through the park, and primitive camping is an option year-round. Access to the park is by trails, either on foot or a bike, or by boat. Due to the distance, many people prefer to bike in if they are coming for a day visit. This lack of road access has left the park with a remote feel, despite its close proximity to the city. Visitors can come here and find their own stretch of beach, often with no one else around, and discover a whole new level of solitude.
10 Boat Tours and Water Adventures
Virginia Beach's position along the coast makes it the perfect place to enjoy a variety of water based activities, from whale watching tours and charter fishing trips to kayaking and paddleboarding. A number of different operators and facilities offer ocean boat trips. Dolphin and whale watching trips are even available through the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. Whale watching season runs from early to mid-January through to late February. Jet Skis and non-motorized water crafts can be rented from a number of places, including a company that operates within First Land State Park. Another unique experience is an oyster-farming boat tour that takes visitors out on the Lynnhaven River for a hands-on experience. Guests put on waders and see for themselves how it works.
11 Cape Henry Lighthouse
The Cape Henry Lighthouse is a long standing landmark on Chesapeake Bay. Built in 1792, it was the first US-government-funded lighthouse, and it was authorized by George Washington. Visitors can climb the stairs to the top of this National Historic Landmark for beautiful views out over the coast. In the late 1800s, a new lighthouse was built nearby, and visitors can see both at Cape Henry. The Cape Henry Lighthouse is on the grounds of the Fort Story military base and as a result, visitors must submit to a security check in order to visit the site.
12 Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
This museum features changing exhibitions ranging from paintings and sculpture to photography and video. The works are those of international, national, or local artists. Each experience is different depending on what is being featured, so visitors should check the calendar to see what's happening at the museum. In addition to the exhibitions, MOCA also reaches out to the community through classes and other educational programs.