Virginia Beach slows down when summer ends, as if exhaling after all the hustle and bustle. Fall temperatures remain in the 70s and 80s, and the vibe’s a bit lazier, but there’s still plenty to do. There are just fewer people doing it.
Virginia’s largest city (pop. 433,000) has a compact resort area flanked by wide, clean beaches. Here’s a sampling of fun fall activities that will keep your kids grinning—from learning how to hang 10 to watching the graceful aerobatic maneuvers of the Blue Angels.
SAND & SANDWICH
Virginia Beach’s main resort area runs from 1st Street to 42nd Street. There’s ample room to spread out between boardwalk and ocean—the beach is 300 feet wide in places. Lifeguards are on duty till mid-September, and the stores still sell and rent bodyboards, skimboards, slingback chairs and colorful umbrellas. Locals like the quieter beaches at the North End, where million-dollar mansions sit amid the dunes next to cozy bungalows. (But note that the North End has no lifeguards or restrooms.) The mellow Chesapeake Bay beaches are great for young kids.
Before you make your way to the sand, buy a picnic lunch at Taste Unlimited. The Boardwalk Turkey Reuben (smoked turkey, swiss and coleslaw on rye) is highly recommended.
Hankering to hang 10? Head south to Sandbridge Beach, another locals’ favorite, where instructors at Surf and Adventure Co. can teach you how to catch a wave. Two-hour group lessons offer an ideal intro for beginners. “Our instructors focus on providing a fun, relaxed experience,” says manager Chris Stellato. You can also rent surfboards by the day or week.
The same company leads kayak trips on Back Bay, between the mainland and the barrier island of Sandbridge. You might spot a bald eagle high in a loblolly pine. Or just rent a kayak and strike off on your own.
If your kids like to fish, go out on a roomy Rudee Inlet Fleet “head boat” (so called because clients are charged “by the head”). Everything’s included—rod, reel, bait and license—for an awesome half-day spent fishing for tautog, sea bass, flounder and bluefish. Have your catch cleaned back at the dock for a small fee.
Kids love the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center. You’ll see more than 300 species of animals, including sharks, rays, harbor seals and river otters. In the new Restless Planet exhibit, kids who stand up inside an acrylic bubble might find themselves inches away from a komodo dragon. Touch tanks let them handle cownose rays, sea urchins and horseshoe crabs. Outside, a nature trail and boardwalks overlook a 10-acre marsh.
BIKE THE PARK
For more up-close nature, visit the 2,888-acre First Landing State Park, where 19 miles of trails wind past moss-draped cypress trees and over ancient sand dunes. The best way to explore the park is to rent some bikes at Cherie’s Bike Rentals and ride north to enter the park at 64th Street. Turn left for a hilly two-mile ride to a beach at Linkhorn Bay, or right for the Cape Henry Trail, a wide and level six-mile multiuse trail. Before you get started, grab a gourmet picnic lunch at Harris Teeter.
For a high-tech option, hop on a Segway and ride through the park on a 90-minute tour with Segway of Hampton Roads. Watch for stunning views of salt-water marshes, tidal pools and coastal plains. Training is included; beginners are welcome.
The fall festival season begins with the American Music Festival on Labor Day weekend, in conjunction with the Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon. At the Oceana Air Show, held at the nearby Naval Air Station Oceana, you’ll see fireworks and fighter jets, heart-stopping aerobatics, formation flying by the Blue Angels, and parachute jumps by the British Red Devils. Meanwhile, Kids’ Fest entertains with games and face painting.
The Neptune Festival Boardwalk Weekend offers music, arts and crafts, a parade, a regatta, a surfing contest and a sandsculpting competition.
There’s tons more to do in Virginia Beach, like visiting the lighthouses at Cape Henry or riding the go-karts at Motor World. But leave time to just watch the pelicans soar and dolphins swim by. You and the kids will reconnect with nature—and each other.
Taste Unlimited: 36th St. and Pacific Ave.; 757.422.3399
Surf and Adventure Co.: 577 Sandbridge Rd.; 757.721.6210; surfandadventure.com
Rudee Inlet Fleet: 600 Winston-Salem Ave.; 757.422.5700; rudeeinletcharters.com
Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center: 717 General Booth Blvd.; 757.385.3474; virginiaaquarium.com
Cherie’s Bike Rentals: 757.437.8888
Harris Teeter: 2800 Arctic Ave. at 28th St.
Segway of Hampton Roads: 2800 Shore Dr.; 757.412.9734; segwayofhamptonroads.us
Oceana Air Show: oceanaairshow.com
The Neptune Festival: neptunefestival.com
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.