Now that the summer holidays are well upon us, the heat indexes are rising and cabin-fever is hitting all-time highs (or is that just me?), you might be looking for ways to get your family out of the house to enjoy all that summer has to offer. One of the many advantages of living in Richmond is our close proximity to just about everything – including some of the East Coast’s best beaches. Our world-class beaches offer a wide variety of activities, including everything from festivals and live entertainment to wild ponies and historical tours. Best of all, most are within a two-hour drive, making for an easy day trip.
Whether you’re looking for teeming tourist destinations or quiet residential beaches, the following list can help you find exactly what you need to make the most of Virginia’s beautiful coastline this summer – or anytime of year.
Virginia Beach Oceanfront, Virginia Beach
Approximate driving time from Richmond: 1 hour, 45 minutes
If you’re from Virginia, chances are you’ve hit the Virginia Beach “strip” at least once. While this part of Virginia’s coastline can get crowded and a bit commercial, that’s no reason to stay away. With a free beach manned by lifeguards, golden sand and plenty of surf, Virginia Beach is an easy drive from the Richmond area – and a perfect place to find fun for the whole family.
What to do while you’re there: Whether you make a week, a weekend or just a day trip out of Virginia Beach, the oceanfront is packed with activities. There are countless concerts, festivals and events along the three-mile boardwalk and in Neptune Park. If you’re family is looking for larger attractions, you might like Ocean Breeze Waterpark and the Virginia Aquarium.
Tips for your visit: The City of Virginia Beach has made great efforts in the past decade to make the oceanfront a family-friendly environment. In addition to strictly enforced curfews and a no-cursing law (yes, you can actually get a ticket if you don’t watch your mouth!), the beach offers public restrooms and metered parking. For a complete list of tips and handy do’s and don’ts for Virginia Beach, visit the city’s website here.
Virginia Beach Trivia: Virginia Beach holds the Guinness World Record for the “world’s longest stretch of pleasure beach.” With 35-miles of coastline, the Virginia Beach area includes the Oceanfront (or “resort area”), the Chesapeake Bay Beach and Sandbridge.
Chincoteague Island, Eastern Shore
Approximate driving time from Richmond: 3 hours, 20 minutes
While Chincoteague Island’s wild ponies received international attention after Marguerite Henry’s 1947 novel, Misty of Chincoteague, Virginians have long known the island as one of the gems of the Eastern Shore. Filled with history, culture and some of the best preserved beaches in the country, Chincoteague Island makes for an ideal family beach getaway.
What to do while you’re there: Chincoteague Island is not only Virginia’s only resort island, it is also home to the world-famous annual Pony Swim and Auction. Chincoteague has also earned a name for itself with oysters, fishing and laid-back tourism. For family activities, you can rent bikes and boats, go crabbing, enjoy fresh seafood, or get out and explore sites like the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
Tips for your visit: If you’d like to experience the Pony Swim and Auction for yourself, this year’s event will be held from July 27 – July 29, 2016. For a complete list of festivities and tips for attendance, click here.
Chincoteague Island Trivia: The annual Pony Swim and Auction has been a Chincoteague tradition for more than 90 years. It first began in 1925 as a fundraiser for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company after a series of fires devastated the small island town. However, the tradition of “pony penning” dates back as far as the 1700s when farmers would gather loose herds then join together as a community for an annual celebration.
Assateague Island, Eastern Shore
Approximate driving time from Richmond: 3 hours, 50 minutes
Located just across the channel from Chincoteague Island lies the island of Assateague. As the year-round home to the wild ponies, Assateague has enjoyed exceptional environmental protection, resulting in some of the state’s most pristine beaches.
What to do while you’re there: Assateague Island is home to the Assateauge Island National Seashore. While most of the park actually falls across the Maryland border, it can be accessed from the Virginia side, about a quarter of a mile from Chincoteague. This park, untouched for centuries, offers wide, sandy beaches that are perfect for camping, exploration, bird watching or just lying in the sun.
Tips for your visit: Although the park covers both Maryland and Virginia, many consider the Virginia side to be the best. Families can enjoy the untouched beaches and explore the historic 1867 Assateague lighthouse as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge. In addition, you can find as many as 70 newborn ponies on the Virginia side each summer.
Assateague Island Trivia: The wild ponies who inhabit Assateague Island are thought to have come to the island more than 400 years ago. While theories vary, the most common belief is that the ponies are descendants of Spanish horses who came ashore when a Spanish galleon shipwrecked off the coast of the islands in the 1600’s.
Chesapeake Beach (a.k.a. “Chic’s Beach” or “Chick’s Beach”), Virginia Beach
Approximate driving time from Richmond: 1 hour, 40 minutes
While this particular beach may be called by many names, one thing remains constant – locals love it. And when visiting from out-of-town, who better to learn from than the locals? This quiet beachfront stretches two miles from Lynnhaven Inlet to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, making it just the right size for a peaceful family beach day.
What to do while you’re there: With breathtaking views of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, it is an ideal location to relax and enjoy the scenery. Whether it is a day of relaxation or a long getaway in one of the many vacation homes that line the shore, Chesapeake Beach is perfect for any length of vacation.
Tips for your visit: Because this is one of the less built-up areas of Virginia Beach, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. Parking can be scarce, so be prepared. Likewise, there are no public restrooms. But on the upside, the waves tend to be mild which makes it a perfect beach for smaller children.
Chesapeake Beach Trivia: Although officially called Chesapeake Beach, the name Chic’s Beach (given by the locals) came from a beachfront shop called “Chic’s” known for its fresh limeade and ice cream. Although the shop is long gone, the name has stuck.
Sandbridge Beach, Virginia Beach
Approximate driving time from Richmond: 2 hours
This picturesque beach south of the Virginia Beach resort area has long been known for its vacation rental homes and quieter, more family-friendly appeal. The beach features five miles of coast lined with homes, shops and restaurants well-suited to families looking for an extended beach stay.
What to do while you’re there: Because Sandbride is close to Virginia Beach’s larger attractions like museums, theme parks and historic sites, there’s no shortage of activities. If you’d prefer to stay a little closer to home, take advantage of the many local shops, restaurants, fishing excursions, golf courses and nearby parks like Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park.
Tips for your visit: As a vacation home haven, booking a house in Sandbridge is the best way to enjoy its many offerings. For better rates, consider going in with another family or taking advantage of off-season rates in spring and fall.
Sandbridge Beach Trivia: While many Virginians make the annual trek to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Sandbridge offers a much closer alternative and is even known as the “Outer Banks” of Virginia.
First Landing State Park, Virginia Beach
Approximate driving time from Richmond: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Located on Cape Henry along the Chesapeake Bay, First Landing State Park isn’t just a beach, it’s a part of history. The park earned its name from the fact that it is the site where colonists first landed on Virginia’s shores in 1607. One and a quarter miles of sandy beaches are surrounded by freshwater cypress swamps. There are a wide array of activities and attractions that make First Landing State Park an ideal location for a day trip or for overnight camping or cabin rentals.
What to do while you’re there: Stop for a picnic at one of the park’s picnic facilities, explore the 19 miles of walking and hiking trails, go fishing, rent bikes or take advantage of the park’s boat launch. No matter what you choose, you’ll be anything but bored at this beautifully diverse park. If you’re interested in staying overnight, camp sites and cabin rentals are available at the First Landing State Park website.
Tips for your visit: Because the beach is located within the state park, there is a small entrance fee to help with maintenance and upkeep. Admission is $4 per vehicle, Monday through Friday, and $5 on the weekends. The park is open daily from 8 am until dusk, unless you’re staying over. With marshes, forests, wetlands and beaches all within the park, the bugs are as diverse as the landscape – so be sure to bring your bug spray!
First Landing State Park Trivia: The Narrows is a small waterway within First Landing State Park connecting Broad Bay and Linkhorn Bay. Legend has it that Blackbeard and his band of pirates, who were known to frequent the waters along the Chesapeake Bay, used this small, constricted waterway as a hiding place.
Croatan Beach, Virginia Beach
Approximate driving time from Richmond: 1 hour, 50 minutes
While Croatan Beach is technically a residential area within the City of Virginia Beach, this small three-quarters of a mile stretch of beach is a surfer’s haven. Located between Rudee Inlet and Camp Pendleton, the beach offers two designated surfing areas, parking, public restrooms, showers and lifeguard services.
What to do while you’re there: Croatan Beach is an ideal spot for families to enjoy a day of sun and surf. While it’s near the main Virginia Beach Oceanfront, this small, residential beach offers something different for those looking to get away from the craziness of the boardwalk. With summer surf camps and surfing lessons available June through August, there’s truly something for everyone in your family – from the sunbathers to the surfers.
Tips for your visit: Beach access is available through a public parking lot at the southern end of the beach. While the beach itself is free, parking is only free before 10 am. After 10 am, rates go to $5 a day for non-residents of Virginia Beach and $3 a day for residents.
Croatan Beach Trivia: Located on a prime stretch of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, Croatan Beach was once the intended site of a religious and educational resort named Chautauqua-By-The-Sea. A religious group purchased nearly 200 acres of the beachfront land for $13, 500 in 1898 with plans to build an elaborate training center. However, for reasons unknown, the plans were never carried out.
North End Beach, Virginia Beach
Approximate driving time from Richmond: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Another one of Virginia Beach’s hidden treasures, this small beach is a favorite for locals. North End Beach begins at Fort Story and stretches south to the resort area. Surrounded by residential streets, nearly every road along the beach offers access. Known for being dog-friendly and quiet, North End is ideal for families.
What to do while you’re there: Fort Story, located at the northwest end of the beach, is home to Cape Henry’s historic lighthouses. The two lighthouses stand side-by-side and are open for tours. However, if you’d rather just stay put for the day, North End Beach offers seaside beauty and tranquility to spare.
Tips for your visit: While there are trash cans and “doggie bags” located at most of the beach access points, the beach is residential, therefore, does not offer facilities. Parking can also be a bit of a trick, so be prepared to follow street signs and look out for no parking zones as residents aren’t shy about having non-local cars towed.
North End Beach Trivia: The Old Cape Henry Lighthouse was the first lighthouse to be commissioned by the U.S. government in 1792. Although it was replaced in 1881 by a new lighthouse that stands nearby, the original light was relit in 1983 and still shines today.
Ocean View Beach, Norfolk
Approximate driving time from Richmond: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Set along an eight-mile stretch of Chesapeake Bay coastline, Ocean View Beach offers a quieter, more family-oriented alternative to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. Because it’s on the bay, the water is calmer than the Atlantic, making it perfect for family swimming. With easy public beach access, pet-friendly policies and lifeguards throughout, Ocean View is one of the best beaches for a day trip.
What to do while you’re there: Ocean View Beach Park is one of three city-maintained beach parks located along the beachfront and offers a unique beach-going experience with public parking, picnic tables, restroom facilities, performance spaces and a boardwalk. Perfect for picnics or family get-togethers, the Ocean View Beach Park is also a designated festival park and holds events throughout the year.
Tips for your visit: Ocean View hasn’t always gotten the best reviews with some claiming that it is not as pristine as other Virginia beaches. However, the City of Norfolk has made great efforts in recent years to make the Norfolk beachfront a beautiful space for everyone. Locals suggest sticking to the east end of the beach for the most family-friendly experience.
Ocean View Beach Trivia: Ocean View Beach Park was once the site of the Ocean View Amusement Park. Both the park and its famous wooden roller coaster, “The Rocket,” were featured in a 1977 film called, Rollercoaster. Unfortunately, changing economies forced the park to close in 1978.
Cape Charles Town Beach, Cape Charles
Approximate driving time from Richmond: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Set in the quaint town of Cape Charles on the Eastern Shore, Cape Charles Beach offers beach access from every block along Bay Avenue. It provides a peaceful place for family outings, fishing, swimming and other recreational activities. With warm, calm water and a more intimate beach setting, Cape Charles Beach makes a perfect family beach.
What to do while you’re there: Cape Charles Town Beach offers an almost park-like setting with picnic pavilions, benches and public restrooms, which means that you can easily spend a peaceful day – or two – just enjoying the atmosphere. For those looking for a little more activity, try your hand at crabbing and fishing at the public fishing pier located at the southern end of the beach or rent paddle boards and kayaks. And, of course, the town of Cape Charles itself can’t be overlooked with its historic streets, cultural attractions and wide variety of dining and shopping options.
Tips for your visit: Cape Charles Beach is the Eastern Shore’s only free beach – with no admission fees required for parking or beach access. The fishing pier also offers free access, and best of all, the town provides a saltwater fishing license for the entire pier, which means individual licensing is not necessary.
Cape Charles Beach Trivia: Cape Charles was incorporated in 1886, and thanks to railroad lines, soon became the economic center of Northampton County. It was one of the first towns on the Eastern Shore to offer paved streets, electricity, telephones and a central water and sewage system.
Buckroe Beach and Park, Hampton
Approximate driving time from Richmond: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Buckroe Beach and Park offers three-quarters of a mile of beachfront along the Chesapeake Bay. Perfect for families, the beach offers picnic shelters with grills, a children’s playground, public restrooms, a performance pavilion and lifeguards.
What to do while you’re there: With plenty of open space in the park and on the beach, Buckroe Beach offers something for everyone with kayak and paddle boat rentals, gentle waves, clean sandy beaches and live music performances on the weekends.
Tips for your visit: Although admission and parking are free, there are small fees associated with picnic shelter and watercraft rentals. Also, be sure to keep in mind that while the park is dog-friendly at times, dogs are not allowed in the park from May 15th to September 15th.
Buckroe Beach Trivia: Buckroe Beach has a history that might just surprise you. This particular stretch of beach in Hampton is actually one of the oldest recreational areas in the state, having been first designated for public use in 1619 by colonists of the Virginia Company of London. In 1883, a public bathhouse was opened and in 1897, a hotel, dancing pavilion and amusement park were built. Although the amusement park closed in 1985 and was demolished in 1991, the park’s carousel and Bruder band organ were preserved and moved to the downtown Hampton waterfront.
Of course, the beauty of living in Virginia, particularly Richmond, is that we have access to countless bodies of water, including beautiful lakes and rivers. But I think we can all agree, in the summer, it’s hard to beat the beach. Do you have a beach that you consider to be one of the best beaches in Virginia that isn’t on our list? We would love to hear about it in the comments below!