the warm lazy days of summer, the Oceanfront boardwalk
is filled with vacationing throngs. Couples walking
arm and arm, kids running or skateboarding, older
folks and families pedaling bike carts, and a muscular,
bare-chested hardbody or two on roller blades are
just a few of those who appreciate Virginia Beach
as one of the most eclectic resorts on the East Coast.
from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay to the border
of North Carolina, this city has long attracted a
decidedly mixed crowd. In the early years of this
century, the renowned “Sleeping Prophet,”
Edgar Cayce, told his followers that this resort area
was not only the safest place in the country, but
also the ideal location to carry out his organization’s
healing work. (Even the beach sand is thought to have
healing properties due to its high mineral content.)
a century later, hundreds of thousands of tourists
know Virginia Beach as a premier summer beach destination.
As the most populous city in Virginia and reputedly
the biggest resort town in the country, the city holds
immense appeal to vacation seekers of all stripes
who crowd its streets in the summer and then slip
away at the first chill of Fall.
the city is more than just a fair weather resort.
While it boasts few truly commercial attractions,
there is a quality that seems to draw all kinds of
folks here – including New Age seekers, military
retirees and young families, outdoor enthusiasts,
and those who just want to lie around on the beach
and work on their tans.
quality has also attracted local residents as diverse
as televangelist Pat Robertson, mail order queen Lillian
Vernon, and Rudy Boesch, the retired Navy Seal made
famous by the original “Survivor” TV show.
many, the Oceanfront and its boardwalk – originally
wooden, but now a modern, pedestrian-friendly concrete
thoroughfare – are a focus of year-round activity
for temporary visitors and beach-loving permanent
of every variety line the beach’s white expanse.
On wide stretches of sand and dunes at its northern
end, rows of cottages face out on the Atlantic, providing
both permanent and summertime residences for those
affluent enough to afford the pricey waterfront view.
Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay, of course,
are the main attractions, and no expense has been
spared to make sure that the 14 miles of public beach
adjoining the hotel district is well maintained. Like
many beaches along the East Coast, it has suffered
from the eroding effects of wind and tides. But thanks
to a massive joint local and Federal replenishment
project, sand is being dredged from under the shipping
lanes leading into the Chesapeake Bay to expand the
beach out from the hotel strip. In fact, the lumbering
dredges that pump transported sand through a long
black pipe onto the beach have become something of
a tourist attraction themselves.
a result of these efforts, the rows of tanned and
not so tanned bodies are a little less crowded during
the five or so months of the year that sunbathing
rules. The rest of the time the beaches are mostly
empty, except for the hardy locals who like to walk
and jog and meditate on the ever-changing ocean.
can find hotel accommodations with all the major chains
and in various price ranges. Most of them hug the “resort beach” that stretches from Rudee
Inlet to 42nd Street. Of these, one of the most elegant
is the stately old Cavalier Hotel – which was
a prime destination for Hollywood stars in the 20s
and 30s and today is a national landmark.
fact, the Cavalier is really two hotels in one. The
more recent high rise along Atlantic Avenue offers
conventional rooms and easy beach access. Across Pacific
Avenue looking down from a carefully manicured hill
is the original brick building constructed in 1926.
Its rooms are older and more expensive than its younger
sibling, but this historic landmark fairly bristles
with the charm of an earlier era when it was the hotel
of choice for visiting VIPs.
visitor to Virginia Beach isn’t likely to spend
much time indoors – particularly when there
are so many outdoor attractions to keep you busy.
Nearby marinas at Lynnhaven and Rudee Inlets offer
boats bound for sport fishing or whale and dolphin
watching, and during the summer season, they are bases
for parasailing, scuba diving and jet ski rentals.
on shore you’ll want to travel the Boardwalk
down past 24th Street to the Old Coast Guard Station
for a peek at the city’s early seafaring history.
This restored 1903 facility features exhibits on the
history of the Coast Guard and its many lifesaving
services. There are also displays detailing some of
the many shipwrecks that occurred along the Virginia
coast during the past three centuries.
now you’re likely to have worked up an appetite,
and while there are many fine restaurants along the
Boardwalk, a taste for something different and a one-block
walk along Laskin Road will take you to the Heritage
Store. Renowned for organic produce and health products,
its Café offers a wide variety of dishes. Diners
may even be tempted to down a cup of wheat grass,
which is grown and processed right behind the counter.
to say, the area is teeming with restaurants that
offer the best seafood the surrounding waters have
to offer. Long famous for its oysters and blue crabs,
the Chesapeake Bay also serves up some of the best
flounder and rockfish to be found—just to name
a couple of the local favorites.
little farther away from the resort strip, but well
worth the drive, is a jewel of a restaurant tucked
away on the Lynnhaven River. Located the end of a
quiet road in an unassuming residential neighborhood
is one of the best, unadvertised dining experiences
in the area.
Steinhilber’s Thalia Acres Inn– built
near the former site of one of the East Cost’s
most notorious brothels — offers fine dining
at its best. In operation since 1937, and still owned
and operated by the same family, its business has
grown by word-of-mouth as locals delighted in dishes
such as their famous fried shrimp. The only sign that
identifies their location is found at the entrance
to the property.
fed and energized, you’ll be ready to search
out more of this area’s considerable links to
America’s early history.
vigorous walk north on the beach from the hotel district
will take you to Cape Henry, on the grounds of Fort
Story, an historic military base. Located on the base
are the two Cape Henry lighthouses that have kept
watch over passing ships for over 200 years. Not far
away, you’ll find a granite cross that marks
the spot where the Jamestown settlers first came ashore
in 1607. Abandoning the paradise they had just discovered,
they quickly moved on up the James River and established
the first permanent English settlement in the New
World at Jamestown. It was not until 1621 that the
first settlement inside Virginia Beach was established
on Lynnhaven Bay, and there are several historic homes
from that era that offer tours for history buffs.
Beach is clearly a city well suited for those who
like to spend their time outdoors. The area boasts
numerous RV resorts and campgrounds as well as parks
that offer considerable fun at virtually no cost beyond
shoe leather and driving. These range from the likes
of First Landing and Seashore State Parks to the infamous
Mount Trashmore. Built on the site of a former landfill,
Mount Trashmore is not just the only highest hill
in town, but it is also a recreational Mecca with
trails, gardens and other amenities.
short drive or trolley ride down General Booth Boulevard
takes you to the Virginia Marine Science Museum, which
offers an up close look at the local aquatic environment
through an 800,000 gallon aquarium, live animal habitats
and more than 300 hands-on exhibits, as well as an
IMAX theater. If you arrive at the right time you
can watch the daily feeding of the harbor seals in
a 60,000 gallon salt water filled glass tank at the
front entrance of the modernistic building.
those with a more esoteric frame of mind, a three-story
building overlooking the ocean at 67th Street houses
the Association for Research and Enlightenment, or
the ARE to locals. This organization carries on the
work of Edgar Cayce through a host of educational
programs, including a massage school and a university.
Each year the organization attracts thousands of visitors
attending conferences or seeking information from
its world famous library on subjects ranging from
holistic healing to the lost continent of Atlantis.
ARE is perhaps the perfect example of the wide-ranging
appeal of this resort city. And while Cayce claimed
that he selected the area with psychic assistance,
most visitors need no such help. The appeal of Virginia
Beach is obvious to anyone who takes the time to explore
its numerous charms.