For sand and surf lovers, Virginia Beach is a good bet. We like the area because its 35 miles of coastline that include 20 miles of continuous sandy shores gives us options: a bustling, boardwalk fronted ocean beach, quiet shores for strolling, as well as calm waters for kayaking on the Chesapeake Bay.
Depending on our mood, we mix and match experiences. When we want to be at the epicenter of the resort area, we stay at the Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront. The 31st Street Stage, one of the venues hosting nightly, free concerts all summer-long, adjoins the hotel and steps away on the boardwalk (actually a wide, paved path) looms Neptune, the iconic Virginia Beach statue.
From our balcony at the Hilton we can take in the concert in comfort. If traveling with young kids who bed down early, choose a room facing south away from the stage or select a property such as the Wyndham thatís in the less busy north end of town.
What else do we like about the Hilton? The rooftop deck offers panoramic views and has an outdoor and an indoor pool. Although small, the pools, especially the indoor one, are a bonus on rainy days.
Catch 31, the hotelís oceanfront restaurant, serves some of the areaís best seafood.
With a bustling bar, Catch 31 is noisy or lively, depending on your point of view.
On a recent visit, an over-friendly patron moseyed over, drink in hand, to hit on our colleague. Eventually the waiter walked the misguided guest back to his bar stool so we could enjoy our excellent crab cakes.
For a less busy, but still active beach, we sun and swim in residential Sandbridge, a popular rental home area south of the boardwalk. Siebart Realty and Beach Pros Realty are among the companies that handle rentals.
When we crave more isolated shores, we head to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, about 40 minutes from the resort area, and then through the refuge to False Cape State Park. Back Bay Refugeís 9,000 acres feature beaches, marshlands and wooded areas. While the refuge prohibits swimming and sun bathing, you can stroll the beach or hike and bike on the interior trail. On a recent shore walk, we saw two bald eagles as well as scores of cormorants and gulls.
To reach the 4,321-acre False Cape State Park, a mile-wide barrier spit between the Chesapeakeís Back Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, you must either hike or bike five miles through the refuge or board a tram that follows the interior woodland trail through Back Bay to False Cape. To explore the beach, disembark at the Barbour Hill area and catch the tram back two hours later.
For beach loverís and work weary city dwellers, both Back Bay and False Cape are worth the effort. The nearly 11 miles of dune lined sands even in season are never crowded; visitors are even more sparse at False Cape, where you are likely to see more gulls and sandpipers than people. To explore the bay, contact the rangers at False Cape. At select times, they offer introductory kayak tours on the Chesapeake Bay side of the park.
Following our commune with nature at Back Bay and False Cape, we drove back to the resort area for a dinner of tasty mussels at Watermanís, at the southern end of the boardwalk in the Rudee Inlet area. Thatís what we like about Virginia Beach: options. After all, not every beach resort offers pristine sands and good seafood too.