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Forget about the snooty, adults-only beach communities that line the East Coast. If you are searching for an immensely-affordable, family-focused and convenient place to catch some rays and waves, go directly to Virginia Beach, Virginia. The whole family will love the range of entertainment and recreation options available for everyone to enjoy.
Virginia Beach Boardwalk
Of course, every visit to Virginia Beach has to start on the boardwalk. The three-mile oceanfront path is a hub of activity. Along the boardwalk, you can play Pac-Man or Skee-Ball, grab a box of saltwater taffy, or pick up some beach gear. Since the boardwalk is 28 feet wide, there’s plenty of room for strolling, rollerblading and biking, either standard or Surrey (four-wheel bikes that can be ridden by up to four riders). Entertainment is offered nightly in the summer, with four oceanfront stages showcasing live musical acts. For an Instagram moment with a Roman god, visit. King Neptune, a massive 12-ton bronze statue standing at the entrance to Neptune Festival Park.
Ocean Breeze Waterpark
There’s no better place for a little slip and slide action on a hot summer’s day than Ocean Breeze Waterpark. A million-gallon wave pool gives you the option to ride the waves or relax in the shallow end. Grab a free inner tube and float down the Adventure River. Or get wet and wild in the Neptune’s Revenge monster slide complex. While the kids cavort among 30 rides and attractions, the adults might want to consider renting a cabana or poolside VIP seating for a little R & R. Ocean Breeze Waterpark, just two miles from the main drag in Virginia Beach, has a variety of restaurants, plus vendors selling carnival treats like Dippin’ Dots, funnel cakes, and slush cups.
The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center
Looking to slide in a bit of education with the summer fun? The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center is water-logged with tanks filled with more than 800,000 gallons of fresh and saltwater aquatic critters. More fun stats: The facility is home to more than 10,000 creatures representing more than 300 species. Kids can get their hands wet, literally, or observe magnified sea life on film in the National Geographic 3D Theater. Also located on-site is an aerial adventure park packed with ropes courses and tree-to-tree zip-lining trails.
Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge
For more outdoor exploration, the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is an enormous (9,108 acre) refuge made up of barrier islands, sand dunes, marshes, maritime forests, ponds, and ocean beaches. It’s the perfect place to introduce the kids to the wonders of nature. More than 300 species call the park home, which affords some of the best bird-watching opportunities on the East Coast. Sandpipers, sanderlings, and willets feed in the intertidal moist sand, while osprey, gannets, gulls, and terns can be seen fishing offshore. Explore the unique beauty and diversity of wildlife in its natural habitats by foot, tram, boat or kayak.
Cape Henry Lighthouse
Climbing the 191 steps of Virginia Beach’s historic Cape Henry Lighthouse will reward you with a bird’s-eye view of both the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, plus a look back into history, as well. The lighthouse was America’s first, built in 1792. It was actually the first federal work project of the new United States government to be fulfilled and it became an important fixture in the region’s maritime enterprises and military. Though a new lighthouse, which is still in use, was built adjacent to it in 1881, the old Cape Henry Lighthouse still stands as a reminder of Virginia Beach’s historic past.
First Landing State Park
The area’s historic past includes the arrival of three small ships (the Discovery, the Susan Constant, and the Godspeed), which brought the first English settlers to America in 1607. Nestled within the Chesapeake Bay, First Landing State Park is a 2,888-acre park and ancient maritime forest, with more than 19 miles of hiking trails through protected salt marsh habitat, freshwater ponds, dunes, tidal marsh and cypress swamp. The park’s trail center is the main hub for accessing the nine interpretive trails that run through the park. There’s also a mile-long Chesapeake Bay beachfront, which is often one of the least crowded beaches in the entire area.
If you are up for a short (20-ish miles) drive, nearby Norfolk has a few family-friendly attractions, as well. Nauticus is a maritime discovery complex located along the waterfront in downtown Norfolk. Through interactive exhibits and STEM programming, Nauticus uses the museum, the historic Battleship Wisconsin, and the Schooner Virginia to tell the story of the area’s maritime environment, industry and the military.
The Virginia Zoo
A short drive away, the Virginia Zoo offers an alphabet soup of exotic animals, from Asiatic black bears to Zebu cattle (the latter of which are named Clover and Cool Hand Luke). Playgrounds include The Run Wild Discovery Zone, which offers all sorts of nature-based activities, including a bamboo maze, stump jump, willow tunnel, and balance beams.The kids will also love slithering around Snavely the Rhinoceros Viper, a 67-foot-long, 9000-pound snake sculpture that doubles as a children’s play structure.
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