Story by Jeff and Stephanie Sylva Feature photo courtesy of Virginia Beach CVB
Paddling furiously to get past the breaking waves, we guided our kayak parallel to the beach in our search for dolphin. It didn’t take long for us to spot some of the playful marine mammals less than 50 feet from our kayak, as they are plentiful in the waters off Virginia Beach. We love to kayak; and we enjoy observing nature, especially marine life. So, when we had the chance to take an ocean kayaking tour to view dolphins up close while on our visit to Virginia Beach in June, we jumped at the chance.
Our guide from Chesapean Outdoors was very helpful in getting us loaded onto our kayak and headed in the right direction to get past the breakers, since this was our first time ocean kayaking. But our concerns were quickly forgotten once we were in deeper water and calmly paddling along in search of dolphin. Our dolphin kayaking tour was just one of the many activities that revealed to us that Virginia Beach is much more than simply a stretch of beach with high-rise hotels, but rather a true Water-Lovers Paradise.
Many people are familiar with Virginia Beach’s busy Boardwalk Resort Area and its famed 3-mile oceanfront promenade. The 30-plus blocks of high-rise hotels, oceanfront cafes, and the Boardwalk (ranked in the “Top 10 in the Nation” by ForbesTraveler.com) are perfect for those seeking action. A separate bike path alongside the Boardwalk is perfect for biking and roller-blading, while joggers and strollers enjoy the fresh salt air and perfect views of the beach (rated 4th in the nation of “Top 25 Beaches in the U.S.” by Trip Advisor Travelers’ Choice,2012) and rolling waves of the Atlantic on the Boardwalk. And, of course, whether from a Boardwalk bench or your own hotel balcony, people-watching is a favorite pastime at Virginia Beach. Summer evenings are jumping with nightly entertainment. Beach Street USA, a diverse array of street performers, appear nightly along Atlantic Avenue between 17th and 25th Streets from 7:30 to 11:00 pm. We enjoyed walking the Avenue after dinner and taking in the eclectic performers – from musicians and magicians, to puppeteers and stilt walkers. Free live concerts and theatrical productions by a variety of local and national artists take place seven nights a week on a number of oceanfront stages from Memorial Day to Labor Day. A more tranquil side
However, if you’re looking for less hustle and bustle in a beach vacation, look to the more relaxing shores of the
Chesapeake Bay area or an even more secluded getaway among the pristine sand dunes of Sandbridge Beach south of the Resort Area. Both of these areas offer a wide variety of activities, including fishing, kayaking, hiking, and biking. Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty to do in First Landing State Park in the Chesapeake area and at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park in Sandbridge. Start Paddling!
Surf & Adventure Co.is a great outfitter in Sandbridge that will get you on the water, whether you want the Atlantic or Back Bay. Surf & Adventure staff can provide expert instruction and first-hand knowledge of local waters for surfers, stand up paddlers, or kayakers. A variety of both ocean and Back Bay kayak tours, as well as stand up paddling lessons and tours, and surfing lessons and camps, are offered. Or if you want to go it alone, Surf & Adventure will rent you equipment. We got to experience the beauty of Back Bay Wildlife Refuge on a 2 ½ – hour kayak eco tour with an expert guide.
A number of other outfitters are available to help you explore the more than 120 miles of scenic waterways in Virginia Beach which is famous for outdoor activities, as it ranks 6th in the nation of “Best Cities for the Outdoors” as listed in Forbes magazine. Visit the Virginia Beach website for a wealth of information and contacts for outfitters. Another way to enjoy the waters off Virginia Beach is to take a fishing charter. We experienced four hours of successful fishing while enjoying wonderful views of the Virginia Beach coastline aboard the High Hopes with Capt. David Wright. A variety of fishing charters, both inshore and offshore for the big game fish, are available from a number of marinas and fishing centers. High Hopes sails out of the Virginia Beach Fishing Center in the Rudee Inlet, located at the southern end of the Resort Area.
Pier fishing and surf casting also great ways to make a catch, and no fishing license is required. Getting great views of dolphins off Virginia Beach doesn’t mean you have to paddle past the breakers on a kayak. You can stay dry by taking a Dolphin-Watching Boat Trip, like the one sponsored by the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. Expert narration provides a wealth of information about the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. The Marine Science Center offers a number of other boat excursions and guided eco-tours. The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Centeris ranked among the Top 10 marine science and aquarium facilities in the U.S. and offers 800,000 gallons of aquariums and over 300 hands-on exhibits – a great choice for an educational activity, especially on a rainy day.
For more water-related fun, try a day at Ocean Breeze Waterpark. With 17
water slides, an adventure river, wave pool, and children’s play area, Ocean Breeze is a great way for the family to cool off and experience exciting water attractions. Dining options – coastal cuisine at its best Situated where the waters of the Atlantic meet the Chesapeake Bay, you can be sure that the freshest seafood will always be on the menu, and Virginia Beach has a variety of restaurants serving great seafood in water-themed atmospheres. Such a large resort area as Virginia Beach has all the national chain restaurants that you can think of. But we were looking to enjoy the flavor of the local establishments – and Virginia Beach has plenty of great choices.
Looking for oceanfront dining? Mahi Mah’s, Waterman’s Surfside Grille, and Catch 31 all offer outstanding seafood with fabulous views of the ocean with both inside and outside patio seating. Rudee’s Inlet is home to a great choice of dining establishments all with views of the action in the harbor. Big Sam’s Inlet Café and Raw Bar, Rockafeller’s, and Todd Jurich’s 21st Century BurgerBar are all great options popular with locals as well as visitors.
Be sure to try Coastal Virginia’s cocktail craze, the Orange Crush, which uses fresh-squeezed orange juice. Every place where we dined claimed to have the “best.” We couldn’t decide whose was tops – they all tasted great!
Accommodations – so many choices!
With so much to choose from, deciding where to stay when visiting Virginia Beach may seem a bit overwhelming at first. But once you decide what area of Virginia Beach you want, and then whether you want an oceanfront hotel, small motel, rental home, condominium, or campground, visit the Virginia Beach website for information on all sorts of vacation packages, spa packages, nature packages or event packages.
Wherever you choose to stay, you can be sure that you will be in a perfect place to get on the water and enjoy this Water-Lovers Paradise.
Virginia Beach Tourism: 1-800-VA-BEACH