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12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Virginia Beach

Written by Lana Law
Jun 8, 2020

Known for its outstanding beaches, Virginia Beach is a haven for summer vacationers, particularly families, who come to swim in the ocean and bask in the sunshine. The casual atmosphere and relaxed pace make it a great getaway or holiday destination.

Off the beach, you can find a variety of outdoor adventures and interesting things to do. If you want to get active, head to the parks and natural areas for hiking or kayaking. Get the adrenaline pumping on the aerial walks at the Adventure Park. On rainy days or for a break from the sun and sand, check out the zoo or some of the local museums.

For more ideas on the best places to visit check out our list of attractions in Virginia Beach.

See also: Where to Stay in Virginia Beach

1. Virginia Beach Boardwalk & the Oceanfront

Virginia Beach Boardwalk and Resort Beach | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

During the summer, most vacationers come to Virginia Beach to enjoy the glorious beaches. The city's most popular stretch of beach runs north of the Virginia Beach Fishing Pier, in front of a long line of hotels. This is also where you'll find the famous Neptune Statue.

This 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. Nonetheless, there always seems to be enough room to accommodate everyone.

Backing the beach is the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, a wide paved walkway running along the oceanfront for three miles. The boardwalk is 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 parallels the boardwalk and 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

Red Sea Tunnel | Photo Copyright: 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.

The large complex, divided between two buildings, is well laid out with displays showcasing 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 you out to see dolphins and whales in their natural environment. This excursion is an additional fee.

Address: 717 General Booth, Blvd., Virginia Beach

Official site: http://www.virginiaaquarium.com/

3. First Landing State Park

First Landing State Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

History and nature combine at this lovely park. 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. You can opt to 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.

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 if you want to get out and enjoy some water sports. Depending on the time of year, bug spray may be in order, particularly for anyone camping or walking the trails.

Official site: https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/first-landing

4. Sandbridge Beach

Sandbridge Beach | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

To the south of the main beach and boardwalk is the quieter Sandbridge Beach. This is technically all the same oceanfront beach, but out here, away from the hotels and condos, the atmosphere is more peaceful and relaxed.

This is the perfect place to visit if you want 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 you almost feel like they are not in a city at all.

5. Back Bay Wildlife Refuge

Back Bay Wildlife Refuge | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

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 place for a wander along nature trails or paddleboarding 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.

Official site: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/back_bay/

6. The Adventure Park

The Adventure Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

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, test your skills while you're securely roped into this ziplining obstacle course.

Staff offer instructions on how to use the equipment and then set you free to explore on your own, with spotters on hand to help out when needed. This is the perfect activity for families with older children.

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. You can book your ziplining and climbing adventure in advance. Participants must be five years of age or older.

Address: 801 General Booth Blvd., Virginia Beach

Official site: http://virginiabeachadventurepark.com/

7. Military Aviation Museum

Military Aviation Museum | Joanna Poe / photo modified

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

Official site: http://www.militaryaviationmuseum.org/

8. Chesapeake Bay Beach

Chesapeake Bay Beach | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

North of the main beach, Chesapeake Bay Beach is another popular area. 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 beach, 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

False Cape State Park | Virginia State Parks / photo modified

This beautiful park to the south of Virginia Beach protects 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. You can come here and find your own patch of beach, often with no one else around, and discover a whole new level of solitude.

Official site: http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state-parks/false-cape

10. Boat Tours and Water Adventures

Whale Watching

Virginia Beach's position along the coast makes it the perfect place to enjoy 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.

If you're looking for an organized kayaking tour, the Sunset Dolphin Kayaking Tour combines a beautiful two-hour paddle at sunset with a chance to see bottlenose dolphins.

Whale watching season runs from early to mid-January through to late February. Jet Skis and non-motorized watercraft 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 you out on the Lynnhaven River for a hands-on experience. You can put on waders and see for yourself how it works.

11. Cape Henry Lighthouse

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.

You 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 today you 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. 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.

Official site: https://virginiamoca.org/

Where to Stay in Virginia Beach for Sightseeing

We recommend these great hotels and resorts in Virginia Beach along the oceanfront:

  • Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront: If you want to be in the heart of the action, this hotel is in a great location, near the Neptune Statue. The luxury high-rise offers stylish decor, a rooftop infinity pool, fitness center, and two restaurants.
  • Hilton Garden Inn Virginia Beach Oceanfront: Just north of the Hilton, this Hilton Garden Inn is also well situated and offers incredible views over the beach and ocean. This is a mid-range high-rise, featuring a large pool with a waterfall, oceanfront restaurants, and kids' play area.
  • Comfort Inn & Suites Oceanfront: Another great mid-range hotel with affordable rates, the Comfort Inn features an indoor pool and whirlpool, fitness center, and free breakfast and parking. As the name suggests, it's set along the oceanfront with fine views over the water.
  • Econo Lodge on the Ocean: Extremely popular with travelers who want to be oceanfront but are still concerned with their budget, this hotel provides clean rooms, a heated outdoor pool, and allows guests free use of bikes.
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