We’re entering into the last leg of the summer season as the month of August begins. The retail stores are already busting out their “Back 2 School” marketing campaigns. While all the clever marketing and the promise of fresh backpacks, notebooks, and autumn wardrobes may excite high school students, we jaded college students are digging in our heels and clinging to every last drop of summer we can get before the fall semester begins.
For my fellow summer junkies and sun worshippers, I offer this list (it’s not too late to put it to good use!). If you feel like your summer has slipped away without getting enough quality beach days, here is your local’s guide to the best beachfronts in Hampton Roads. Save yourself some trial and error by choosing the one that best suits your desires– or make it your final summer mission to visit them all and decide for yourself which ones you like best.
Let’s start with the most obvious. The Boardwalk is the strip of oceanfront, shops, and cement that stretches from Rudee Inlet up to 40th St. This is the main tourist attraction in Virginia Beach, and not without good reason. It’s an exciting place to go on a date because there are tons of things to do: amusement parks, haunted houses, mirror mazes, shopping, specialty stores, live music shows, local festivals, historical landmarks, as well as a plethora of restaurants, bars, and night clubs. Did I mention the beach? No? Well that’s probably because if you were only looking for some sand & sun, this probably wouldn’t be your first choice. It’s swarming with tourists during the summer months and has sparse parking accommodations (none of which are free), which make for a less than enjoyable beach-only trip. However, if you are looking for some social interaction (and inevitable cat-calls if you are a lady) and an endless selection of ice cream shops to choose from while you walk the strip, the Boardwalk is the perfect choice for you. Don’t forget to pay King Neptune a visit!
Tip: Beware of the tow trucks. They are ruthless! Better keep a watchful eye on your parking meter. If you find a restaurant that has valet parking, it is often well worth it during the crowded summer months, so take advantage of it! And for goodness sake, tip your valet.
Pro-Tip: The best way to enjoy the Boardwalk and look like a real local is to ride your bike there and forget about all your parking woes! Don’t forget a bike chain for when you want to stop into a store or restaurant.
The North End
There could be some debate as to what constitutes the “North End” of the oceanfront since the more northern streets of the Boardwalk (30th through 40th) have recently been branded as the North End. For our purposes, the North End refers to the residential area that stretches from 42nd Street near the historic Cavalier Hotel all the way down to 80th Street by Shore Drive. Virginia Beach locals love to go to the North End to escape the tourists and parking dilemmas of the Oceanfront Boardwalk. Since it is a residential area, street parking is free and there are plenty of beach access points (one on every block, to be specific). Because it is less crowded, the North End is great for surfing, boogie boarding, and setting up camp for an all-day beach excursion. The main thing the North End has to offer is the good all-natural beach; there are no amenities nearby. However, if duty calls or your stomach grumbles, the Boardwalk is only a short drive away.
Tip: I like to park within a few blocks of the Wyndham (57th St.), for bathroom emergencies. They don’t encourage non-guests to use their restrooms, but if you stroll in inconspicuously and do not abuse the restrooms, you will go unnoticed.
Pro-Tip: Go pee in the ocean. It is a liberating experience! Besides, everyone else is doing it…
First Landing State Park
First Landing State Park (also referred to as Seashore State Park) is a government-protected area of land connected to the Chesapeake Bay that can be accessed from both 64th St. and Shore Drive. There are several breathtaking hiking and biking trails to explore. You will feel as if you have stepped into another world as you take in the views of the landscape in its most natural state. Spanish moss hangs low over the tree-lined trails and the marshy inlet (called The Narrows) is brimming with wildlife. There is also a boat launch, camping sites, and $4 on-site parking on weekdays, $5 on weekends & holidays. It is permissible to take your four-legged friend on the beach at First Landing State Park, which is a big plus for pet owners.
Tip: Please do be sure to snag one of the complimentary doggy bags to clean up the landmines your pup is sure to leave.
Pro-Tip: If you don’t mind a bit of extra exercise, you can park for free in one of the residential neighborhoods outside of the park entrance and do a light hike to the beachfront. The scenic views and slight sweat from your walk will make your plunge into the water so much more rewarding.
Croatan is a well-kept local secret, tucked away inside the residential neighborhoods which branch off of Dam Neck Rd. They have a large parking lot where Virginia Beach residents enjoy $3 all-day parking starting from 6am; non-locals can park for $5. After 6pm all parking is free. One of the biggest perks of going to Croatan is not just the convenient parking; they have a public restroom, shower area, and dressing area, which is great for rinsing the sand off before heading home after a long sun-filled day. Croatan’s bonus is that they have a special area reserved for surfers only, so if you’re an expert surfer or just beginning to learn, you can ride the waves without worry of any pesky swimmers getting in your way. If you just want to swim, you’re covered too: there is plenty of beach space and ocean for you to enjoy without having to fear that you might be run over by a wayward surfboard.
Tip: Carpool to save on parking!
Pro-Tip: Befriend someone with a Virginia Beach license. As long as they are in the driver’s seat, you get the parking discount.
If you’d like to get away from tourists altogether, Chick’s Beach is a great option. Located off of Shore Drive, Chick’s Beach is a local darling, and far less renown than the Oceanfront. Shore Drive is a long road, and almost anywhere along this road there are beach entrances, which make for endless parking possibilities. A distinctive feature of Chick’s Beach is the calm waters. The waves are not conducive for surfing and boogie-boarding, but the more placid water is excellent for kayaking, floating, small children and timid swimmers.
Pro-Tip: Choose a parking spot by a fast food restaurant or convenience store for easy snacking and restroom access.
The 30 min trek down the spindly country road that leads to Sandbridge Beach will make your beach trip feel like a stay-cation. The quaint local shops and restaurants in the area are resident fixtures that make Sandbridge uniquely Virginia Beach. The beach stretches down a sandy strip of owned and rented beach homes. There are free parking lots and ample restroom options, plus foot showers to rinse off sandy feet. While many tourists do opt to stay in the countless beach rental properties located at Sandbridge Beach, the pace is much more relaxed and the atmosphere much more family-friendly than at the oceanfront boardwalk.
Tip: If you’d like to make an event of it, there are also some picnic shelters that can be reserved ahead of time, and they include volleyball nets and charcoal grills.
Pro-Tip: Rather than packing a cooler with Wal-Mart goodies, consider investing in the local economy by picking up some freshly picked fruits at one of the few Farmer’s Markets that line Sandbridge Road.
Are there any beachfronts that you think should be included in this list? What pro-tips would you add?