Virginia Beach is one of those places that will surprise you. With 35 glorious miles of coastline complemented by the 3 miles of the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, it is no wonder that Virginia beach attracts millions of visitors each year. Located on the Atlantic Ocean in south-east Virginia this beach town offers more than just fun in the sun. Yes, the beach is fantastic, but pair that with an amazing food scene, interesting museums, and outdoor adventures, and you will see that there are so many things to do in Virginia Beach you just may need a couple of extra days.
Top Things to do in Virginia Beach
One of the things that attracted us to Virginia Beach was the laid-back atmosphere and slow pace which made it the perfect place for a relaxing vacation. Add on the great selection of outdoor activities and choice of restaurants and you can understand why this place is so popular. To help you plan your time in this cool East Coast city we put together our 15 best things to do in Virginia Beach that you don’t want to miss.
1. Go Hiking at First Landing State Park
Did you know that Virginia was the first established European settlement in the United States? It was right here at First Landing State Park in 1607 that 100 English settlers landed. This 2,888-acre park not only has 1.25 miles of beachfront but there are 19 miles of walking trails through protected salt marsh habitat. As the most visited park in all of Virginia, it is not to be missed.
First Landing State Park in VA Beach is beautiful and a perfect day trip for hiking or biking with the family. There are freshwater ponds and picturesque swamps. There is a great visitor center here with museums and interpretive centers telling visitors of the history of both the pilgrims and Native Americans. After you’ve had a good hike and learned about history, you can spend some time on the beach enjoying a beautiful sunset at the dunes.
Read more: A Historical Look at Virginia Beach – 2500 Shore Dr, Virginia Beach, VA 23451
2. Kayak in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge
The Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is a bird lover’s heaven. Kayaking through the backwaters is a relaxing experience away from all the hustle and bustle. We booked a guided tour with Surf & Adventure where we launched from the dock at their shop for an hour-and-a-half paddle through grasslands and channels.
It features more than 9000 acres of refuge and is the perfect place to spend an afternoon if you want to get away from the busy beach and bask in the tranquility of nature.
We spotted bald eagles and sea birds during our hour-long and relaxing trip through the National Wildlife Refuge while taking in the view. The tour ended at the restaurant Blue Pete’s, a local favorite specializing in seafood dishes.
Surf and Adventure address: 577 Sandbridge Road Virginia Beach, VA 23456
3. Take a Flight in a War Plane at The Military Aviation Museum
When we went looking for the ultimate adventure on your Virginia Beach vacation, we didn’t expect to have one of the greatest adventures we’ve had in our travels. Virginia Beach’s Military Aviation Museum not only offers a tour of dozens of classic planes from World War I and II but they give you the opportunity to fly in one! Visitors to the center can fly with a genuine pilot in a World War II biplane.
We met Captain Rober ‘Boom’ Powell at the runway and donned our flight suits for our 15-minute flight over the area where he showed us the old runways left over from WWII. Biplanes cannot take off in high crosswinds. Back then the runways were set up crisscrossing each other so the pilots could take off in any direction.
After all, war doesn’t wait for wind. It was a thrill of a lifetime as Boom dove through the air and did maneuvers as the wind ripped through my helmet. Yes, we actually wore leather helmets just like the fighter pilots of World War II. This is definitely one of the best things to do in Virginia Beach. Check out more of the amazing history of Virginia Beach.
For more information visit the Military Aviation Museum 1341 Princess Anne Road Virginia Beach, VA 23457
4. Adventure Park
If you want to feel like a kid again, and you are looking for some adventurous things to do in Virginia Beach then the Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium is a fun way to get the adrenaline pumping. Dave and I love doing via ferratas when visiting Europe. The high ropes at the Adventure Park are as close as you’ll get to the thrill of scaling a mountain.
Don’t worry if you don’t have experience on high ropes, guides will show you how to lock your harness to the cables keeping you safe and sound. There’s no possible way to unhook once you are on the course so you are free to try any obstacle you choose. The climb is a ton of fun as you cross cable bridges and pull yourself along opens spans on surfboards.
Courses range from beginner purple to double black diamond. You could spend an entire day challenging yourself to seek new heights. Addres: 801 General Booth Blvd, Virginia Beach, VA 23451, United States
5. The Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center
If you are visiting with the family then one of the top Virginia Beach attractions you will want to catch is the Virginia Museum and Marine Science Center. Located on General Booth Boulevard and with over 300 species which include Otters, seals, and loggerhead turtles, the family will have plenty to keep them interested. There are also themed exhibits as well as the Habour Seal Exhibit that you will not want to miss.
717 General Booth Blvd., Virginia Beach, VA 23451, USA
6. Virginia Beach Boardwalk
When it comes to VA Beach tourist attractions this has to be on the top of the list. Virginia Beach’s boardwalk stretches 3.4 miles along the Atlantic Ocean and features a ton of restaurants, shops, and entertainment. The Virginia Beach oceanfront is the perfect place for a nighttime stroll or you can grab yourself a bike and use the dedicated bike lane to explore the beach.
Don’t forget to stop at the King Neptune statue. This 34-foot tall bronze statue is hard to miss as it overlooks Neptune Park at 31st Street and Atlantic Avenue. Admire the detail that went into it and snap a picture to share on your social media!
7. Pleasure House Oysters Boat & Tasting Tour
Oysters play a huge part in Virginia Beach’s economy. Going on an oyster boat tour gives you insight into how the industry works and how the economy depends on it. Captain Chris Ludford is as passionate about oysters as he is about the environment and going out to his oyster farm is fun and informative.
We met him at his boat in the Lynnhaven Marina, close to First Landing State Park, where we took a tour out to his plot of oysters. The fishermen of Virginia Beach are very focused on making sure the waters are sustainable. They’ve been working towards regrowing the oyster corals and bringing the numbers back to the area.
After learning about how he raises the oysters to the optimal three-inch size, we took a tour of the canals to check out the mansions and waterfront homes. Rapper and producer Pharrell Williams has a house right on the shore. He was born and raised in the area and comes home often. If you are looking for something different to do, this is definitely a unique tour. When looking to book oyster tours, contact Chris directly.
It’s a relaxed tour where you are free to really do anything you choose. Be sure to bring your appetite as Chris will feed you as many oysters as you can stomach. There is nothing better than a freshly shucked oyster right out of the sea.
Where to Eat in Virginia Beach
We have an entire article on where to eat in Virginia Beach. The food scene here is outstanding with restaurants serving everything from classics like Carolina pulled pork biscuits, to contemporary cuisine and fine dining serving fresh seafood and oysters. Our favorite places were Terrapin, Esoteric for their charcuterie board and Commune for a delicious breakfast. See our full breakdown here. The very best places to eat and drink in Virginia Beach
8. Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
One doesn’t usually go to a museum when visiting a beach town, but the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art is a great afternoon trip. If you are interested in expanding your modern art knowledge, this is a superb stop. The museum fosters awareness, exploration, and understanding of the significant art of our time. Exhibitions change regularly.
When we visited the exhibit “Mindful: Exploring Mental Health Through Art” was the cornerstone display where exhibitions used art to showcase insights and opportunities to change lives. It was moving and inspirational all at once.
For information on current exhibitions visit MOCA Address 2200 Parks Avenue Virginia Beach, VA 23451
9. Cape Henry Lighthouse
One of the most interesting lighthouses we’ve ever visited was the Cape Henry Lighthouse. What makes this unique is that it is located in the middle of an operating military base. Located within Fort Story Military Base, you’ll have to show ID and they’ll search your car before letting you into a very restricted route to the lighthouse.
There are two lighthouses at Cape Henry, the newer modern structure aptly named the New Cape Henry Lighthouse, and the Old Cape Henry lighthouse. The latter was the very first first-ever federally funded lighthouse, fully completed, and lit by George Washington and the U.S. federal government. It makes sense that it is a National Historic Landmark.
The Old Lighthouse was in use for about 100 years before it was replaced by the newer one nearby. Make sure you take the time to head up and get a great view over the Chesapeake Bay while you are there. Address: 2100 Parks Ave, Virginia Beach, VA 23451, USA
10. Go on a Brew and Distillery Tour
Microbreweries are popping up all over VA beach and there are plenty of places to sample the local ale. Some are within walking distance from Virginia Beach and others are located out at Chesapeake Bay. The good news is there are free shuttles that take you out to the bay so you don’t have to drive.
The top choices for samples and brewery tours in Virginia Beach are Back Bay Brewery, Green Flash Brewery, Chesapeake Bay Beach, Commonwealth Brewing Company, and Pleasure House Brewing. Now that’s a lot of microbreweries. Another interesting stop is a tasting at the Chesapeake Bay Distillery where you can sample their vodka.
Take a guided tour of the ViBe Creative District is a fun way to explore the murals of this funky district. See what inspired each artists’ with their stories and passions followed by sampling the craft brews at Vibrant Shore Brewing Company. Book this highly rated tour here.
11. Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel
If you have a car, make sure to drive over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. It is a huge bridge spanning 17,2 miles connecting Virginia Beach to the Eastern Shore. This bridge is considered one of the 7 man-made wonders of the world, so it is not to be missed! It takes about 25 minutes to cross and there is a stop where you can take in the sights and see the Navy Ships heading out to sea.
12. Take in the Food Scene
Virginia Beach has a burgeoning food scene that will excite any foodie traveler. From fine dining to diners and dives, Virginia Beach has it all. There are places like Commune that are run by farmers and follow the farm-to-table movement to a tee.
Seafood is on the menu nearly everywhere in Virginia Beach but it is also infused with contemporary cuisine and seasonal fresh farm ingredients. You’ll get unique dishes created by award-winning chefs.
Even the diners have been featured on TV and owners take pride in creating heavenly dishes from locally sourced farms. A few of our favorite eats were Esoteric, Commune and Bay Local Eatery for Breakfast and Brunch, and Leaping Lizard Cafe near First Landing State Park and the Back Bay Gourmet for lunch. If you want to take advantage of all that Virginia Beach has on offer when it comes to food, make sure to visit during the Virginia Beach Restaurant Week.
13. Hunt Club Farm
If you are looking for things to do with the whole family, Hunt Club Farm offers 30 acres of adventure and fun. It’s a petting farm, aviary, and adventure playground all in one. The new TreeWalk Adventure lets kids climb wooden bridges to treehouses where they can learn about the birds and critters that dwell in the trees. It’s a safe environment with safety nets making it great for kids.
14. Eat At Terrapins
One place to eat in VA Beach that deserves its own mention is the Terrapin Restaurant. Located just off the beach this fine dining restaurant was one of your favorite places for dinner. Using seasonal, farm-to-table ingredients Executive Chef Rodney Einhorn has created the perfect menu that features dishes like truffle mac and cheese, mouthwatering scallops, and a Rib Eye for 2 that will knock your socks off.
Pair that with an intimate setting (the restaurant only seats 60 people) a great cocktail and Craft Brew menu and you have the makings of a perfect night out. It is no wonder that Terrapin Restaurant was voted one of the Top 50 Restaurants in America by Open Table. Make sure you make reservations as this place get very busy very fast.
15. Ocean Breeze Waterpark
The Ocean Breeze Waterpark is the perfect place to spend a day with the family. Located not far from the Oceanfront this Caribbean-themed Virginia Beach waterpark has 30 different rides that include 16 slides, a wave pool, and a pirate ship just to name a few. The fun doesn’t stop there. Once you have had enough of the rides or you just want a break you can hit up a private cabana to relax for a while or hit up one of the cafes or restaurants for a meal.
Make sure to take the kids on a visit to the snack stands as well so they can get their fill of slushies and funnel cakes. After a day at the Waterpark, you can do some shopping at the on-site gift shops to take home a souvenir memory of your time at this cool Virginia Beach attraction.
16. False Cape State Park
If you are looking to get a little exercise while you are in Virginia Beach then a visit to False Cape State Park should be on your list. The park has five different hiking/biking trails that take you on a journey to beaches, sand dunes, swamps, and marshes. Located close to the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, you will forget you are close to a populated beach as this place has a feeling of being very rugged and remote.
While on your hike in False Cape State Park make sure to stop by the abandoned community of Wash Woods and check out the ruins that have been inhabited for the last 8 decades. It makes for an interesting stop on your tour through False Cape State Park.
17. Atlantic Fun Park
If you enjoy amusement parks, head out to Atlantic Fun Park for some midway entertainment. There are family-friendly rides and rides for thrill-seekers like the ultra-fast spinning Gravitron, 100 ft tall Skyflyer, and the Sea Dragon swinging ship. There are go-karts, a rock wall, and a midway filled with games to play. It’s Virginia Beach’s best amusement park, so it is not to be missed!
18. Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum
For a little break from the beach, check out the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum that is located in The historic De witt Cottage. The cottage dates back to 1895 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. In 1995, 100 years of its existence, it was made into a museum dedicated to bird art, bird decoys and sculptures. It’s definitely one of the more quirky things to see in VA Beach. Located at 1106 Atlantic Avenue in VA Beach.
19. Ferry Plantation House
No visit to America’s southern states would be complete without stopping to see a historic plantation house. Ther Ferry Plantation dates all the way back to 1642 but the house that stands today is the manor house from 1830. Take a tour to see what life was like on the plantation, but what really draws people to this 10 room farmhouse is the haunting of Grace Sherwood.
She was the last witch to be convicted in Virginia’s history. In 1706, the Witch of Pungo was tried by water. If she sank, it meant she was innocent, if she floated to the top, she was guilty. Sherwood floated to the top and was convicted of witchcraft where she was sent to prison for 8 years.
20. Sandbridge Beach
If you are visiting during high season and you are looking for a break from the more crowded beaches in Virginia Beach then you will want to make your way out to Sandbridge Beach. Located relatively close to the Boardwalk, this beach is five miles of beautiful sand dunes, and an endless coastline, making it the perfect escape for a more quiet experience.
This is the perfect place to grab yourself a picnic and stroll along the soft sand taking in the gorgeous landscape that unfolds before you. The entrance fee for the beach is no charge, so it is usually near the top of the list when you are looking for free things to do in Virginia Beach.
21. Lynnhaven House
The Lynnhaven House is one of the more quirky and interesting things to do in Virginia Beach. Built back in 1725 by Francis Thelaball, who was a plantation owner and a ship’s carpenter, the Lynnhaven House is a great example of the architecture of that time.
Located on Wishart Road this building is surprisingly in great shape considering everything it has been through. We recommend jumping on a guided tour to learn about what daily life was like for families at the time as well as the Tidewater world back in the 18th Century.
22. Grommet Island Park
One of the top family-friendly attractions in Virginia Beach is Grommet Island Park. This 15,000 square foot island park is a beautiful green space that has a great beach and is dotted with Palm trees. This park has something for everybody in the family and is ADA accessible which makes it inclusive for everyone as well.
Whether you just want to stroll the beach and admire the sculptures or you want to participate in some of the water activities you can easily spend a full day here and not feel like any time has passed.
23. Harrison Opera House
Celebrating the military history of VA Beach, the Harrison Opera House was a USO theater during World War II. Today it is the home of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and the Virginia Opera. There are also live theater performances. If you are looking for something to do at night in Virginia Beach, take in a show for a little bit of culture and fun. 160 W Virginia Beach Blvd, Norfolk, VA 23510
Looking for something unique to do in Virginia Beach? Take this 1/2 day e-bike tour to explore Norfolk’s Neon District to learn of the narratives behind each high-tech work of art. On the comfort of an electric bike tour the area including USS Wisconsin BB-64, Fort Norfolk, The Bakehouse at Chelsea, and the pre-revolutionary Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church. Details here.
24. Whale Watching and Dolphin Tours
There is nothing better than seeing marine life flourish in their natural habitat. If you can get on the water we highly recommend it. Rudee Flipper Dolphin tours in Virginia Beach’s longest-running dolphin cruise company. They offer 90-minute cruises to see dolphins. Sightings are guaranteed throughout the season between March and October.
Ruddee Tours also offers two-hour whale watching tours from December to February. At this time Humpback whales migrate through the area and you can often see them breaching in the seas off the east ern shore. They are so abundant during this time, that if you don’t see them, you get to go out and ride again for free!
For a more intimate way to see dolphins, take this 2-hour sunset kayaking tour as you paddle along the East Coast in search of Bottlenose dolphins. Tour leaves from First Landing State Park Find out more here.
Where to Stay in Virginia Beach
You can base yourself right downtown Virginia Beach and still be close to all the main attractions like False Cape State Park and First Landing State Park.
Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront – For luxury accommodation on Virginia Beach, this is the top. Located at Neptune Park, it has a roof top bar and infinity pool the largest raw bar in VA Beach, and houses Virginia’s only AAA Four-Diamond Steakhouse.Hilton Garden Inn Virginia Beach Oceanfront – For a slightly more affordable option this four star hotel is located just down the beach on the boardwalk. There’s an indoor/outdoor pool, and Lager Heads Restaurant on site.
How To Get To Virginia Beach
We flew into Norfolk International Airport located just 20 minutes from the beach. There are two international airports, Norfolk and Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport.
When driving, take I 95, I 85, or U.S. 17 when driving from the North. We rented a car that we picked up at the airport and found this to be the best way to get around Virginia Beach.
While you may be planning a trip to Virginia Beach to spend all your time in the surf and sand, there are many other things to do that can mix things up and put some excitement into your usual beach vacation. Virginia Beach, VA is much more than a beach, it’s an adventure.