Photo Credit: Ryan Self

Given its name, most people immediately associate beach-related activities with Virginia Beach. While fun in the sun – and in the water – is definitely par for the course here, there are a surprising number of historical and cultural attractions to enjoy if you know where to find them. Virginia Beach has a long, proud history that stretches back to the earliest days of colonization in the New World; nearby Cape Henry, for example, was founded in 1607. Still, Virginia Beach owes most of its popularity today not to its fascinating history but to its thriving reputation for being a topnotch resort town. Small surprises are what keep people coming back for more, and it’s easy to see why so many people choose to keep summer homes in the area.

Sightseeing and Attractions: Virginia Beach’s Best Kept Secrets

When planning an itinerary for Virginia Beach, most people pencil in plenty of time to lounge in the sun at one of the city’s great beaches. If you’d like to mix things up a little bit, though – or would like to escape from the throngs of other tourists – consider these great options:

The Cape Henry Lighthouses

There are two lighthouses on Cape Henry, an old one and a much newer one. If you’d like to check them out for yourself, you’re going to have to pass through security since the cape is located on the Fort Story army base. Still, that minor inconvenience is well worth it since the spot is quite secluded and simply breathtaking.

Natural Bridge

By taking a short, 25-mile drive outside of Virginia Beach proper, you can take in a phenomenal sight: the Natural Bridge. As a Virginia Historic Landmark, this spot is a natural geological feature that will mesmerize everyone in your traveling party. First discovered by the Monacan Indians, it is a remarkable way to create lasting memories of your visit to Virginia Beach.

First Landing State Park

If camping is your style, then you can’t do better than First Landing State Park. Conditions here are rarely crowded, but the scenery is unparalleled in the area. Hiking trails meander through cypress lagoons, and there are even cabins available for rent within its boundaries. Whether you spend an afternoon or a week here, you’ll be glad that you came out.

Norfolk Botanical Gardens

A short drive over to Norfolk will allow you to enjoy one of its most delightful attractions: the Norfolk Botanical Gardens. Laid out over large, sprawling grounds, these gardens are an excellent way to take advantage of a fair weather day. This is an especially good option for those who are burned out from the beach.

Best Kept Secrets For Families & Couples

Virginia Beach is the consummate resort town; it achieves that reputation by being equally enjoyable for couple and for families with children. When in the city, be sure to take in these attractions that are especially geared toward couples or families:

Norfolk Naval Shipyard

If you and your sweetie have a thing for maritime artifacts, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard is a prime place to while away an afternoon. Confusingly enough, it is located in Portsmouth – not Norfolk – but this area has been in the ship building trade since its inception and is a great place to immerse yourself in that fascinating culture.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel

One way to give your kids evidence of man’s ingenuity is by driving them through the incredible, 17.6-mile-long Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. Even if your travel plans don’t call for such an excursion, it is well worth it just for the novelty of driving beneath the bay for such a long period of time. Before heading out, be sure that you have enough gas and money; tolls for the tunnel are a little steep.

66th Street Beach

Some of the most popular beaches in Virginia Beach can become positively jam-packed on hot summer days. If you’d like a bit more seclusion and space, try heading over to the 66th Street Beach in Virginia Beach. Chances are, you’ll find plenty of room to spread out and will be able to relax a bit more easily.

Eating - Sample the Local Cuisine

Seafood is a popular choice in Virginia Beach, but it’s important to remember that you are in the south – so why not enjoy a bit of down home southern cooking? Around town, you can find plenty of places peddling genuine southern cuisine; be sure to dig in to some grits before heading out of town. If possible, tuck into some fried chicken or ham, too. There are many eclectic choices when it comes to dining in this seaside city.

When To Go & How to Get There

Flying into Virginia Beach is actually relatively easy, since Norfolk International Airport is quite nearby. From there, it’s just a short drive over to the city itself. Otherwise, several major interstates serve Virginia Beach, or you could always take the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel to get in.

Without question, summer is the best time to visit Virginia Beach. The city and the surrounding area is geared towards outdoor fun, so try to come between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Sure, you’ll have to contend with a lot more people – but you’ll also get to experience the delight of a soft breeze blowing in off the ocean on a hot summer day.