Meet Virginia at the beach

From beach bums to foodies, the possibilities are nearly endless in Virginia Beach

May 12, 2011|By Donna M. Owens, Special to The Baltimore Sun

If your idea of a breezy beach vacation involves a plane or passport, then hold off on the tropics and head instead to Virginia Beach.

This resort city of nearly 438,000 people is a laid-back East Coast destination about a five-hour drive from Baltimore.

And with its abundance of sun, sand and surf, it's well worth the trip.

Catch a wave while surfing in the Atlantic Ocean. Glimpse dolphins frolicking near the coast. Kayak through a national wildlife refuge. Or listen to a symphony perform on the beach as the sun sets.

"We have several free concerts this summer," says Wendy Young, executive director of Symphonicity, the city's volunteer symphony orchestra. "We always draw big crowds."

That's just one activity among a dizzying array of happenings this summer in Virginia Beach.

"'Something for everybody' is the mantra," says Bobby Melatti, director of Beach Events, which facilitates concerts, festivals, and other entertainment presented by the city. "And most of it's free."

Here are five itineraries for the perfect day in Virginia Beach. None requires a boarding pass, and one is bound to fit your style:

Family times

The list of family pleasures is a long one in Virginia Beach. Expect a bevy of roaming magicians, jugglers, musicians and bands in the park, and costumed characters near the boardwalk. "We have something for the whole family — all ages, all backgrounds," says Melatti. "We want everyone to feel comfortable, and be entertained."

Glide along the Boardwalk At Cherie's Bike & Blade Rentals, you can rent a bike, in-line skates or a four-person surrey that's perfect for families. Take a breather along 31st Street and snap a photo in front of King Neptune, a 34-foot-high bronze statue. Cherie's has multiple oceanfront locations. (757-437-8888)

Play at Grommet Island Beach Have a ball at this new beach playground, billed as the first in the country specifically designed for children and adults of all physical capabilities. The views are pretty cool, too. (100 2nd Street,

Lunch at Margie & Ray's This casual, down-home restaurant has a rep for super-fresh seafood. Check out the daily specials. (1240 Sandbridge Road, 757-426-2397,

Splash at Ocean Breeze Water Park This 19-acre water park just received a major face-lift and is under new ownership. Two new rides will be in place when the park opens May 21. (849 General Booth Blvd., 757-422-4444,

Go to the beach at night Free family-friendly shows are offered nightly on the 31st Street Stage at Neptune Park. Later, stroll the boardwalk and grab a bite: you'll find popcorn, cotton candy, pizza and other treats. (31st Street and the boardwalk,,

Nature lovers

Virginia Beach was the first destination in the state certified as Virginia Green, a program that promotes eco-friendly practices in the state's tourism industry. It offers wildlife, parks and miles of nature trails.

Breakfast at Big Sam's Inlet Cafe and Raw Bar This casual, smoke-free restaurant is on Rudee Inlet next to the Virginia Beach Fishing Center. Stop by before 9 a.m. for hearty breakfast fare, and later for happy hour. (300 Winston-Salem Ave., 757-428-4858,

Cast a line Experience the thrill of fishing in the "Striped Bass Capital of the World." Anglers can also haul in tuna, flounder, amberjack, wahoo, mackerel and red drum, among others. Choose from half-day or full-day charters. Four local fishing piers offer tackle rental and bait.

Lunch at Waterman's Beachwood Grill Bring your fresh catch and the chef will cook it the way you like it. The restaurant also offers a sustainable seafood "round table" where diners are educated about what's on their plates. (415 Atlantic Ave., 757-428-3644,

Take a hike False Cape State Park is a 4,321-acre expanse that's home to wild horses, wild pigs, loggerhead turtles, American bald eagles and various endangered species. It features six miles of unspoiled beaches in an ocean-to-freshwater bay habitat. Many local outfitters offer guided tours or rentals.

Have dinner at Beach Bully BBQ Restaurant The owners of Beach Bully got their start working at local outdoor festivals. From there, the team honed its skills by mastering pulled pork and smoked beef. That led to the "Beach Bully Sandwich" — a pretty big deal in these parts. They also serve fried chicken, ribs and salads. (610 19th St., 757-422-4222,

Beach bums

If you hang out on the beach, the entertainment often comes to you. Summer festivities run the gamut from Latin Fest and the Mid-Atlantic Hermit Crab Challenge to the Verizon Wireless American Music Festival, and military tributes.

Breakfast at Doc Taylor's This former doctor's office is now a favorite local eatery. Think creative egg and bacon dishes, $1.99 Bloody Marys, and catfish po boys. Many menu items are named for regular customers. (207 23rd St., 757-425-5566,

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