Virginia Beach: Oceanfront Playground

by Mary and Bill Burnham

King Neptune overseas the Virginia Beach boardwalk

Virginia's most populous city is also one of the East Coast's most famous beach destinations. The new Town Center is home to great shopping and dining, and the state's tallest building, the 38-story Westin Town Center.

The Virginia Beach Oceanfront is the quintessential resort strip, with a three-mile boardwalk busy with walkers and tandem bikes. In season, you can go para-sailing or surfing, listen to live music, or cool off with refreshments at an outdoor cafe.

The Resort area is beach paradise for those looking for action, but few know about the miles and miles of pristine public beach that extend south and north of the resort strip, 12 miles in all.

The beaches north of 42nd Street are quieter and less frequented, and south of the resort area are Croatan Beach, Sandbridge Public Beach, and Little Island Park. Beyond there awaits even more stretches of virtually deserted sandy beach.

Hiking False Cape State Park

Along the four miles of wild, undeveloped beach of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, you're pretty much guaranteed to see some type of wildlife, whether a pelican armada overhead, dolphins offshore or any of 300 bird species, including peregrine falcon and bald eagles.

From the refuge you can walk or take a tram ride four miles south to False Cape State Park. This is Virgnia's most remote state park, accessible only by foot, bike, boat or the tram. Here lies a mile-wide barrier spit with another six miles of unspoiled ocean beach extending to the N.C. state line. False Cape is actually the beginning of the Outer Banks.

Click to read about beach hiking to False Cape State Park.

Pungo, Virginia Beach

For a detour to old Virginia Beach, find Downtown Pungo, little more than a crossroads at Indian River and Princess Anne roads. Depending on the season, Henley's Farm Market, sells blueberries, okra, apples, pumpkins, mums, or the famous Pungo stawberries which grow out back. At the height of the berry season each May the community holds the Pungo Strawberry Festival.

Kitty-corner to the market is Munden's Store located in an unpainted rustic century-old building. Inside you can get subs, fresh salads, a drink in the tavern, and those Downtown Pungo T-shirts. Pungo is a rare find within the boundaries of Virginia's most populous city.

For more on visiting Virginia Beach, go to

Virginia Beach is one of the many places included in the Burnhams' upcoming book Backroads of Virginia.