From the September 2015 issue

Seaside Fun in Virginia Beach

A 34-foot sculpture of Neptune, trident in hand, beckons visitors to play in the sea as they make their way over the boardwalk and into the welcoming waves. At the cusp of Chesapeake Bay and facing the Atlantic Ocean, Virginia Beach has miles of beaches for families to explore.

Beach time

One of hottest spots to catch rays is Virginia Beach’s Resort Area. Picture a three-mile boardwalk lining the sand that stretches into the Atlantic, dotted with lifeguard stands (they’re on duty 9:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. through September).

My kids happily spent the day trying to body surf each wave. When they spied a crab along the beach, they joined other kids and made a canal in the sand to lead it back into the ocean. You’ll only pay for on-street parking or $5-$10 to park all day in lots a few blocks from the action; no other fees required.

Next, stroll the boardwalk. The stretch from 17th to 25th Streets is known as Beach Street USA, where musicians and entertainers give impromptu concerts for passersby. The Neptune sculpture is down at 31st Street in a complex that includes restaurants and a small outdoor theater. At night, bands play music you can hear out on the beach. Like that combo? Visit Sept. 4-6 for the American Music Festival – or, Sept. 25-Oct. 4, hit the International Sandsculpting Competition, where sculptors from around the world turn sand into dragons, mermaids and the occasional castle.

Aquarium adventure

A few blocks away, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center includes 800,000 gallons’ worth of sea creatures to explore. As you walk in, stop by the seals tank to see these creatures swim underwater and then pop up and bask in the sun. Other cool exhibits include the Red Sea Habitat, where you walk in a see-through 40-foot tunnel with eagle rays and zebra sharks swimming around you, and ray touch pool ($22/adults, $15/3-11, more/boat ride, theater, other attractions).

Behind the main building, follow the pathway to the dock to go on the Dolphin Discoveries Sea Adventure. The 90-minute boat ride is narrated by aquarium staff who point out dolphins along with pelicans and sea turtles you might see along the journey ($20/adults, $15/3-11; less with aquarium ticket).

Out on the water

Along the coast 15 miles south, visit the quieter Sandbridge Beach – or, just inland, the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Trails crisscross the 9,200-acre refuge, but the better option, as far as my kids were concerned, was going by kayak. Rent these and more from Surf & Adventure, set on a waterway that feeds into the expansive bay. Choose from guided kayak tours, surfing lessons and kayak, canoe, paddleboard, or bike rentals (kayaks start at $35/daily).

Our guide assured us the waterways were distinct enough that you could rent kayaks and easily find your way around with a simple map and a few instructions. We were grateful, though, to have his narration on our three-hour tour. He described the local ecology, answered my kids’ questions (“No, they’re aren’t any alligators here”), and even snapped a picture of us in our kayaks.

During our trip we kept our eyes open for local wildlife – our guide even spotted a bald eagle perched on a treetop. We watched for several minutes before it flew on.

Ready to hit Virginia Beach? Plan your visit at visitvirginiabeach.com.

Photo courtesy Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau

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