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20 Things to Do in Virginia Beach

Most people say they travel to Virginia Beach for the gorgeous beaches. With its 35 miles of coastline, long stretches of pristine white sand, beautiful ocean views, and comfortable year-round temperatures, that's not surprising. But the wonders of Virginia Beach don't end there. This oceanside city is filled with endless scenic adventures, art-inspired festivities, and unique foodie experiences.

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01 A walk on the oceanfront boardwalk

Aerial View of the Virginia Beach ocean front looking North Kyle Little / Getty Images

Virginia Beach's famous three-mile boardwalk is, without a doubt, the most popular landmark in the area. With its biking and walking paths, spectacular views, and easy access to nearby restaurants and hotels, visitors can spend a few minutes or a full day relaxing, sunbathing on the beach, or enjoying the street performers. Benches line the concrete path, and the area is clean and well-lit, perfect for relaxing evening strolls or an energetic walk to fend off the day's calories. Bike and electric scooter rentals are available or strap on some inline skates.

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02 Experience the ViBe Creative District

Just a few blocks from the Boardwalk, visitors will discover the ViBe Creative District, the city's cultural arts hub. The district's founders initiated it as a revitalization project in 2008 to attract both technology-based and creative businesses. Today, it is home to artists and technical and artsy companies alike. Both locals and tourists visit this vibrant district for walking tours, exhibits, galleries, shopping, art challenges, and recurring weekly events. Enjoy a Hawaiian coffee or a smoothie at Bad Ass Coffee, or wind down with a happy hour cocktail at Esoteric, an eatery housed in a historic 1920s-era building. A visit to the ViBe district should be on everyone's must-see list.

03 Enjoy the rural splendor of Pungo

The rural community of Pungo is in the southern part of Virginia Beach, surrounded by grain silos, restaurants serving farm-to-table-fresh meals, roadside stands, and 8,000 acres of serene farmland. Spend the day picking your own fresh berries or vegetables, sampling homemade country wines at a local winery, or taking a cooking class from a top chef. Visit the Military Aviation Museum and catch a ride aboard a vintage 1941 Boeing biplane. Make plans to attend the annual Strawberry Festival in Pungo during the Memorial Day weekend and share a 36-year tradition with locals.

04 Grommet Island: fun for EveryBODY

Vacations and weekend excursions can be challenging for those who depend on a wheelchair for getting around. Thousands of local supporters, businesses, and organizations worked together to raise the funds needed to create JT's Grommet Island Beach Park & Playground for EveryBODY. They designed the 15,000-square-foot oceanfront beach playground specifically for children and adults of all physical abilities. With cushioned play surfaces, wheelchair-accessible entrances, raised tables for sandcastle building, sensory boards for visually impaired children and children with autism, and soft play sculptures, JT's lets everyone enjoy a day at the beach together.

05 Winter whale watching

boat in Virginia lake mr-fox / Getty Images

Between late December and mid-March, nature lovers can observe several whale species during their annual migration to warmer waters. Charter boats offer daily whale-watching tours narrated by an experienced tour guide. Bring a pair of binoculars and a camera to catch some unforgettable views. If you prefer not to ride the waters, plan a trip to the Virginia Aquarium instead to score up-close views of more than 300 fish species, sea turtles, sharks, seals, and more. Enjoy hands-on exhibits or explore the nature path or marshlands exhibits.

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06 Take to the skies

Airplane aerial view through window of Alexandria in Northern Virginia on a cloudy day krblokhin / Getty Images

The beach views from the ground may be spectacular at Virginia Beach, but imagine taking in the beauty at 2000 feet. Charter a sky tour aboard a plane or helicopter to take in the splendor of the coastline and points of interest during the day or experience a spectacular night flight. Fall tours are available to view the beautiful fall foliage. Holiday tours in the winter months highlight the spectacular seasonal light displays around the city.

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07 Create your own beach experience

Sandbridge Pier in Virginia Beach at sunrise Tim Pennington / Getty Images

With so many beach destinations, travelers can easily find one to match their mood. Sandbridge Beach is a favorite due to its calmer waters. It's much less crowded than the beaches closer to the Boardwalk. Those seeking more of a surfer's paradise can head to Croatan Beach. Rent a wave board or take surfing lessons. About five miles away, combine a primitive camping experience with your beach time at False Cape State Park. The False Cape beach itself is accessible only by kayak, boat, bicycle, or the park's beach transporter, and the area is teeming with wildlife.

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08 The Neptune Festival

Unlike most festivals that start and end on a specific date, the Virginia Beach Neptune Festival offers around 40 events throughout the year. The annual Boardwalk Weekend in late September has daily concerts, artisan booths, an art and craft show, an 8k race, and an international sand sculpting competition. In May, the annual Spring Wine and Food Festival offers tasting stations for more than 70 wines from around the world and cuisine from local eateries. While exploring the Boardwalk, don't forget to visit the 34-foot bronze Neptune statue guarding the gateway to Neptune Park and the surrounding beaches.

09 Best locations for photos

Mount Trashmore Park Boat Dock in Virginia Beach Sherry Smith / Getty Images

The abundance of popular landmarks around Virginia Beach creates multiple opportunities for memorable photos. A sunrise or sunset beach photo is mandatory, of course. The Miyazaki Japanese Garden is a beautiful, serene site on the grounds of the 97-acre Red Wing Park and is especially photo-worthy in the spring. Visit Mount Trashmore, a former landfill now a sprawling 165-acre park featuring lakes, man-made mountains, picnic shelters, playgrounds, and a skate park. The beautiful surroundings are the perfect backdrop for family vacation photos.

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10 Haunted Virginia Beach

Local folklore is alive and well in Virginia Beach, and its deep historical roots allow it to thrive. Through the years, ghost hunters and the paranormal-curious have targeted buildings and homes for investigations. Those who like a little spooky ambiance mixed in with their sightseeing can join the Stroll of Lost Souls tours held each October. Observers report seeing ghosts and experiencing other strange phenomena at the Ferry Plantation House, the Thoroughgood House, and the Virginia Beach Surf and Rescue Museum, to name just a few.

11 Dine on Virginia Beach's local cuisine

Virginia Beach is famous for its seafood, including soft shell crab and oysters, so a stop at a local pescatarian dining spot will immerse you in this coastal city's cuisine. Try the shrimp and grits at Tautog's. If you prefer your food on the less fishy side, your cravings won't be denied. The Chesapeake Bay is full of treats, from vegan sweets to comfort food.

12 Explore the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center

Sea turtle is swimming in aquarium tank. Chansak Joe / Getty Images

You'll need at least two hours to get your money's worth at Virginia Aquarium and Science Center. The venue is home to thousands of animals, including dolphins, seals, komodo dragons, sea turtles, and sharks. Between the freshwater and saltwater displays, you'll get a thorough introduction to aquatic ecosystems and their swimming creatures—the underwater tunnels are delightful. Take the whale-watching boat tour if you have time and room in your budget.

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13 Go full throttle with outdoor activities and water sports

Banana boat fun. gilaxia / Getty Images

Name the water sport, and you can probably do it in VB. You'll find tons to do close to the Rudee Inlet resort strip, from banana boat rides to surfing, jet skiing, parasailing, fishing, SUPing, and kayaking. Pick what you're comfortable with for a safe and fun morning or afternoon, and check reputable websites for reviews of the various family-owned rental businesses. You can make summer memories with loved ones while capitalizing on the city's winding waterways.

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14 Enjoy family-friendly attractions

Aside from the boardwalk, Virginia Aquarium, and Grommet Island, you can entertain young and old at the Military Aviation Museum or on a mini-trip to see the country's first-ever lighthouse. First Landing State Park's 2,888 acres offer marsh, dune, and cypress swamp hiking. The Old Dominion's most visited state park contains endangered habitats and is historically significant because this is where the English first landed. You can also camp, swim, and cycle here.

15 Discover Virginia Beach's rich history

Native American history in Virginia Beach goes back millennia. Spanish explorers mapped Cape Henry as early as 1524, and the English explored the area in 1584. History buffs should check out Kempsville, formerly knowns as Kemp's Landing, and the Grace Sherwood "witch" statue. A VaBeach retrospective education wouldn't be complete without learning about the city's role in the Revolutionary War or the pirate Blackbeard.

16 Relax in coastal parks and wildlife preserves

Picnic shelters and Dogwood trees at Mount Trashmore Sherry Smith / Getty Images

When you've checked off the mandatory VB itinerary items, you may want to take a day to chill in nature. The climate is mild throughout the year, so you're bound to have a fabulous time.

Mount Trashmore Park sounds a bit dodgy, but it is a world-renowned location comprising two lakes and two mountains forged by humans. By compacting trash, locals created a 60-foot high peak. Take a tram tour in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge or seek snow geese, feral pigs, and wild horses in False Cape State Park.

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17 Take in the city's museums and galleries

Get cultured at one of the many museums and galleries in town. Adam Thoroughgood House was built in 1719 if you're keen on yet more throwbacks. The Virginia Beach Surf & Rescue Museum pays homage to the state's maritime heritage, and the Virginia MOCA (Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art) in the ViBe Creative District is free and features modern art and an impressive Chihuly glass chandelier.

18 Shop till you drop

If it's retail therapy you're after, then prepare your purse for the many shopping centers and hubs in Virginia Beach. The town center is an obvious first stop, and Lynnhaven Mall is a close second. The Shops at Hilltop promise "everything you love." You can even purchase chic items at the stores and galleries in ViBe Creative District. Check out the French Twist Boutique at the Artery and stroll down Atlantic Avenue.

19 Mark seasonal events and festivals on your calendar

Annual festivals bring cheer and a special atmosphere to the city, so look for upcoming marquee events and plan your trip accordingly. Pharrell Williams's relatively new music fest, Something in the Water, is an exciting, star-studded affair over multiple days. Then there's the ever-popular Virginia Beach Neptune Festival at the beginning of fall, which features a regatta, sand-sculpting championship, a grand parade, and other beachy contests.

20 Unwind at spas and wellness retreats

Man enjoying a relaxing day in a hot tub at luxury apartment nemke / Getty Images

Wellness is a big deal in this coastal city, so give your mental and physical health a boost with some well-deserved downtime at one of these excellent local spas or retreats. Check out the mineral hot springs at The Omni Homestead Resort Wellness Center, or detox and destress at Eupepsia Wellness Resort.

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