‘Tis summer! As a Richmond resident, chances are that Virginia Beach is on your list of vacation destinations. Even for those who visit other beaches for longer summer trips, Virginia Beach is a great weekend destination. Before heading east, it pays to do your homework.
Prior to hitting the road, consider your transportation options. If you don’t own a spacious vehicle, it may be worthwhile to rent a vehicle, so that you can bring along all of your favorite beach gear. I drove a Chevrolet Equinox, which was small enough to ensure surprisingly great gas mileage, but had enough cargo space to pack a tent, umbrella, folding beach chairs, a compact beach cart and a small cooler – in addition to luggage.
What to pack? Fortunately, most beach clothes are pretty compact. In addition to your bathing suits, comfy cover-ups, and light day-to-night summer clothing, be sure to pack a warm layer for those cold air-conditioned restaurants, or for breezy nights. I chose to do a Dolphin Discoveries boat trip (it was AMAZING!) and regardless of the June heat, I was glad I had my hoodie for those brisk winds. Pack plastic bags to store wet clothes in for the trip home, and bring plenty of sunscreen – the markup in tourist shops is high, and you’ll definitely regret it if you skip out on applying.
So that you don’t spend precious beach time sitting in those ever-inevitable beach weekend traffic jams, be sure to map your route beforehand and check out alternatives. I used the built-in 4G LTE Wi-Fi and Apple CarPlay system in the car to connect my iPhone to the car’s HD touchscreen, and had Waze maps easily visible, showing me an alternate route when an bad accident on the interstate almost slowed me down before even getting on I-64! If you have little ones (or big ones) whose travel entertainment is delivered via phone or tablet, on-board Wi-Fi is a useful option to have.
For your time on the sand, consider bringing some form of sun shelter, so that your trip isn’t ruined by a painful sunburn. Pop-up tents are affordable and easy to find (I bought mine on Amazon), and usually fit in a compact bag – sometimes with wheels. Beach umbrellas are also a great option for a couple people, but there are also nifty beach chairs with fold-up umbrellas that offer personal shade and are lightweight and easy to carry. Consider investing in backpack beach chairs if you’ll be carrying your gear a long distance. Wheeled beach carts are also handy!
If you’re staying at an oceanfront hotel, you can certainly walk out of your hotel and directly onto the sand, but keep in mind that you’ll likely be sharing space with other hotel occupants. Given that many hotels are completely booked up during the summer weekends, you may have a lot of company. Some people enjoy the mayhem; I am not one of them, so I headed down to 84th Street. It’s far from the tourist scene, but only about a ten-minute drive and well worth the trip. The Equinox I drove had a panoramic power sunroof, which allowed me to feel the sun and smell the salt on the way. On many of the residential streets on the Oceanfront, there are not only well-marked street parking spots, but also very nicely-constructed walkways to the beach. One of my favorite features on the Equinox was the Surround Vision system that gave me an amazingly realistic bird’s eye view of the car, which made parallel parking a breeze!
There are many options for lodging, so it’s important to consider your priorities. If you’re looking for action, it’s easily found on the boardwalk. But if you’re looking for a quiet, peaceful beach getaway, the tourist-packed boardwalk isn’t the best spot to book. Call your hotel before you go, and inquire about festivals, special events, or live music scheduled near your desired hotel. I found out the hard way that despite the classy digs I booked (Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront), there was live music until 11pm each night in Neptune Park, right next door. If you love live music and don’t mind it blaring outside your patio door, you’re in luck; however, it may not be the wisest choice if you have little ones (or tired adults) that need to sleep before 11 at night.
Do your research on restaurants before leaving home. In-hotel restaurants often have extremely long wait times, are very crowded, and you pay for the convenience of not leaving the premises. Taking a short drive away from the Oceanfront may score you a better meal at a lower price, without the wait. Make reservations if possible, so that you don’t find yourself hungry in the dinner rush. Keep in mind that even room service during peak times can easily take an hour to be delivered, so order accordingly.
Consider researching beach alternatives and rainy-day options before heading out. Ocean Breeze Waterpark (849 General Booth Boulevard) is a great, action-packed activity to wear out the kiddos, as well as Hunt Club Farm Petting Farm (2388 London Bridge Road). The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center (717 General Booth Boulevard) and Military Aviation Museum (1341 Princess Anne Road) are both wonderful family-friendly options for when the sun doesn’t shine.
Keep in mind that the weekends are peak times for both beach activities and traffic. If you are able to book during the week, or extend your weekend trip by a day, traveling back on Monday could be an alternative to spending time in weekend traffic backups. Of course, with the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, there are no guarantees! Check your route (and specifically tunnel traffic) before heading home to see if I-664 is a better travel option. Even though it may take you out of your way, some people prefer a longer route that keeps moving to a stop-and-go course.
Go ahead – book your weekend of fun in the sun! Hopefully, you return as refreshed as I did, with enough energy to stop at the Williamsburg Premium Outlets on the way home… So much for saving money!