Some people love mountains. Some love beaches. People rarely love both. But if you live in Richmond, Virginia, you don’t have to choose. Richmond is a small town with a big city feel as we Richmonders love to say. Located in Central Virginia, Richmond is rich in history because it was the capital of the Confederacy. Go to Brown’s Island in downtown and you will see plaques and read about how the mighty South fell. Modern day Richmond has embraced diversity and is home to some big companies and a horde of Desis. All this wouldn’t be enough if it wasn’t close to the beach.
When you live in Richmond, VA, you don’t have to choose between mountains and the ocean. The Applachian mountains are a hundred miles to the west with the famous Skyline drive and BlueRidge Parkway. And the ocean, the glorious Atlantic ocean, is just a 100 miles to the east. I am of course talking about the city of Virginia Beach!
Virginia Beach is a big tourist attraction. Nearby cities of Norfolk, Newport News, Hampton Roads also have beaches, no doubt. But it is Virginia Beach with its 4 mile boardwalk that won my heart. Even if you don’t live in Richmond, Virginia Beach is well connected via highways. And it is easy to fly in to the nearby Norfolk airport which is a big hub.
From Richmond, going to Virginia Beach is as easy as picking a road and sticking to it till it ends. Literally! Yes, I mean literally! All you gotta do is merge onto I-64 East and keep going. You can follow the small bird of course, but just keep on the Interstate without being tempted by the Busch Gardens exit. I-64 becomes 264 and ends at Atlantic Avenue. And then you just need to park, cross the road and feel the sand between your toes.
I have lost count of the number of times I have hit the road and reached Virginia Beach. Come rain or shine, I can do it in my sleep. You will find some camp chairs and straw mats in the boot of my car all the time, ready to be flung on the golden sand. Yes, life can be that easy and enjoyable. Did I mention simple?
So I have done the tourist thing many a time and visited all the listed attractions. Some are worth a visit once, and some are places that I end up at almost every time. Here’s a snappy list, and you can always grab a free guide book from any roadside kiosk to check out what’s new and happening.
1. Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center
Simply known as the aquarium, this is a must for the kiddies. They have seals and turtles and a shark or two. This is a great way to combine fun with education, and is worth a visit at least once. Don’t forget the gift shop. They have souvenirs like the typical shot glasses and key chains and a lot of other cool stuff.
2. Walk the Boardwalk
The best things in this beach town are free. And that includes the boardwalk. A wide façade of hotels spans the 4 mile walk. You can walk or run to your heart’s content, rent a bike or just sit and gaze at the endless ocean.
Splurge on an ocean facing room in one of the beach facing hotels, and sit in the balcony sipping a cool one. That’s a short cut to heaven, my friend!
3. Indulge your sweet tooth
Beaches equal summer equal ice cream and candy. A Dairy Queen right on the beach ensures your brain freeze. Get some fancy candy at the Candy Shop. Jordan Almonds and all kinds of fudge will spoil you for choice. And don’t forget that salt water taffy, ya’ll. Snow cones are a must in the summer, of course.
4. Flipper McCoy’s, House of Horrors etc.
After you have roamed the beach and done your people watching, you might want to get competitive. Flipper McCoy’s is a games arcade that spells FUN. They have something for everyone, and kids all ages. This is where the teens probably hang out. Shoot some hoops, play air hockey, video games and take goofy photos of yourself. You can sit in a booth and shoot dinosaurs. Or just focus on winning loads of points to win some silly prizes. It is very easy to lose a packet here, once you get caught up in earning those points!
There are a few Haunted Mansion type places that are fun for the kids. I guess it’s an indoor activity for a rainy day. Really! I have been to Virginia Beach in the hottest and coldest seasons, so there are times when a house of horrors or trick mirrors can relieve some boredom.
5. Albies Pizza and Doughboys
Food is something we can’t live without. Being a food blogger, you know I have to write about food! Albies near Atlantic Ave and 21st is one of the best places for Italian food. Don’t be fooled by its appearance. It’s your quintessential roadside place with al fresco and indoor seating! Their pizzas, strombolis, calzones are awesome. Even the fries are something else.
And I will tell you a secret. When you have frolicked in the water for a few hours, showered under those beachside sprinklers, and let the sun dry you off, you can eat a horse. Albies provides several tasty horses.
Doughboys is a couple of blocks away from Albies and is also quite well known at the beach. They have great pizzas too, but I am partial to Albies.
6. Mongolian Barbecue
The Mongolian barbecue is something I really began to appreciate on my visits to VA Beach. Did I mention something about beaches and big appetites? Well, the Mongolian barbecue is perfect because you get unlimited trips to the grill. They have a decent salad bar, dessert bar with fruit and pastries, and tons of toppings for the barbecue that includes most veggies and most meats and seafood. They have noodles, and toppings like roasted peanuts that you can add to your dish.
They bring you sesame crusted flat bread that is just too yum. Their drinks menu is good too. Try the Flaming Inferno (?). And end this spicy, saucy meal with ice cream! All of this is available at a very affordable price which is of course lower for lunch.
D.W’s is a must try when you visit Virginia Beach!
7. Shopping for knick knacks
If you forget to pack any essentials for the beach, you don’t have to worry. The shops on Atlantic Ave have you covered. There are several souvenir type shops that sell swim suits, surf boards, summer dresses, flip flops and all kinds of trinkets. Ships in the bottle, shot glasses, mugs, key chains etc. inexpensive gifts to buy and take home.
If you are traveling from out of state or from far away, the factory outlets at Williamsburg are probably worth a visit, although they are about 50 miles away.
8. Lights on Boardwalk
When the weather cools down, and days become shorter, Virginia Beach has something new to offer visitors. Lights on Boardwalk is a display that comes up during the holidays. These are big, life-size displays of various scenes that are lit up. You can drive along the length of the boardwalk and enjoy these lights. And there is a big Christmas tree too.
9. Chesapeake Bay Bridge
One of the technical wonders of the world beckons when you are at Virginia Beach. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge, all 17 miles of it, connects Virginia Beach to the East shore of Virginia. Remember one of those Mission Impossible movies where Tom Cruise fights off some goons on a bridge in the middle of the ocean? That’s the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, ya’ll.
You travel through alternate expanses of bridge and tunnels until you reach the far end. There is a visitors’ area where you can stop to take photos.
This bridge is a toll road but it is certainly worth the money. Be warned, you won’t be able to really enjoy it while driving, because the road is curvy and there is no stopping on the bridge. So plan to take turns while driving.
I am not a golfer by a long shot J, but I do love miniature golf. When you’ve been in the water, walked and biked to your heart’s content, eaten your share of decadent food and candy, you might want to stretch your legs a bit. There are many mini golf joints in VA Beach, but my favorite is Pirates’ or Jungle Golf. Conveniently located near 21st and Atlantic, it is loads of fun when you are with a group of friends. And the pirate theme is so fitting given that its next to the ocean. You can smell the salt here, and almost hear the waves.
11.Pay homage to King Neptune
Neptune is the lord of the ocean. And the Neptune statue at VA Beach is something you want to visit, gape at, and take pictures of. Located at one end of the boardwalk, it towers over visitors and guards the sea with its trident.
This is not an exhaustive list. There are a lot of the usual activities that you would expect from a beach resort or tourist place like cruises, whale watching, parasailing, ferris wheels etc. This is just a bunch of stuff I enjoy doing.
There is nothing more peaceful than lying on the sand on your back, looking up at the starry sky, as the cool breezes ruffle your hair, the crashing ocean waves create a rhythm of their own, the occasional strong wave tickles your toes and recedes – life seems filled with so many possibilities. And life is just good!