The location, Virginia Beach. I hadn’t been to Virginia Beach since I was in college for one afternoon when we took a day trip from Washington, D.C. So, I reached out to Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau to help plan our family’s vacation (the official source for travel information to Virginia Beach). With their help, I was able to pull together one amazing vacation. My kids haven’t stopped telling everyone about how much fun we had on our trip to Virginia Beach. Here are some of the reasons why Virginia Beach is a perfect family vacation destination.
Late December is the start of whale watching season in Virginia Beach. My 10-year-old has been obsessed with whales since he was 4. The Whales & Wildlife Sea Adventure at the Virginia Aquarium was absolutely incredible. Although we weren’t guaranteed a whale sighting, we were fortunate enough to see humpback whales in the wild. I will never forget seeing with my own eyes such amazing creatures in the wild. We also saw loads of sea birds and a dolphin pod too. The tour had well-educated guides and hands-on objects for the kids to check out like a whale’s ear bone and real baleen. The boat was roomy, comfortable, with an interior cabin which allowed my non-boat loving child to hunker down. If you are prone to motion sickness, don’t forget to take some Dramamine. I was able to enjoy the trip because of it. There was also a snack bar and restrooms on-board. If you travel during another time of year, other sea adventures are offered including dolphin discoveries and ocean collections. Hands down, this was an incredible, unforgettable experience.
Yes, we visited in the winter and we didn’t think we’d spend any time in swimsuits on the beach. But, we did have one day of 70 degree weather which was enough for my kids to jump in and play in the waves. Aside from that, the rest of the week was not warm enough for short-sleeve shirts and shorts. We still spent hours on the beach though. We still played in the sand, looked for shells and went for walks. It was cool having the beaches to ourselves with few visitors. With more than 35 miles of beach, winter or summer, your family will have no problem relaxing and playing together.
Because we visited during Christmas break, we got to see McDonald’s Holiday Lights at the Beach. It was a drive on the boardwalk (you are charged by the car to drive through). Compared to other drive-by lights displays I’ve seen, this was top notch and the cost wasn’t too expensive. A quick Google search turned up a coupon for us to use. The boardwalk has a separate path for riding bikes (you can rent bikes) but it would also be ideal to bring roller skates/blades. On one of our walks on the boardwalk we stumbled upon the Old Coast Guard Station Museum. The gift shop turned out to be a favorite of mine since it featured many local artists. You’ll also find Neptune guarding the beach – a gigantic sculpture and photo op. Right off the boardwalk you’ll find playgrounds. One of the playgrounds had ropes to climb, a slackline to cross and bars to swing on. It was like a ninja training playground.
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The Virginia Aquarium was a perfect activity to fill our day. We loved seeing the Komodo dragons, touching eagle rays and to watch the sea otters play. There are actually two separate buildings that house exhibits with a sprawling nature tail in between. You’ll also find the Adventure Park with zip lines and aerial ropes challenge courses. We walked through (or, um under) the Adventure Park on our way through the nature trail but it was closed while we were there. Look into visiting Adventure Park if you are a climbing, adventurous family. The aquarium did not disappoint and can easily fill a full day for your family.
Cape Henry Lighthouse
The Cape Henry Lighthouse was completed in 1792. Can you even imagine? George Washington authorized the building of the lighthouse and Alexander Hamilton oversaw the project. It was amazing to see in person and to climb the stairs to the top. It is no longer operational, with its “newer” counterpart nearby (newer means completed in 1881). You can visit the lighthouse which is located on Fort Story. Adults will have to show ID. We were also asked to show proof of insurance and your car registration. There is an admission fee to climb the lighthouse.
Real, Good Food
With us visiting in winter, many of the touristy shops and restaurants were closed for the season (or open only on Thursday-Sunday). There were more than enough amazing local restaurants that offered the best food and it made our foodie hearts happy.
- Big Sam’s is a small, casual place tucked away so that we might have passed it by had it not been recommended to us. The portions are huge, the food is fresh and it is kid friendly.
- The Stockpot offers soups, salads and toasties (open-faced sandwiches). They also serve breakfast throughout the day. The food is so darn fresh and good. Plus, the staff was so kind to my kids. It was so nice to feel welcomed there as a family dining out.
- Bay Local was perfect for lunch after we visited the Cape Henry Lighthouse. It would also be a great stop if you explore First Landing State Park. It’s family friendly, has a great atmosphere and serves great food.
- Hearth Wood Fired has wood-fired pizzas and let’s be honest, my kids love pizza . We happened to luck out and get a table on a weekend but reservations are recommended. It’s more upscale than I had anticipated but my kids all said this was the best meal they had on our vacation. My picky eater was able to request a simple cheese pizza with no trouble. Try eating here during pizza “happy hour” (check their site for details).
- Duck Donuts has several locations in Virginia Beach. We saw one on a morning beach walk and had to stop. Man alive, they are good donuts and they are made to order. Grab extra napkins because these babies are hot and delicious.
We took two all-day trips to nearby Williamsburg, VA. It is a one-hour drive from Virginia Beach. It’s a straight shot so after our first day trip, we opted for a second since it was such an easy drive.
- We visited Busch Gardens, Williamsburg during Christmas Town. Wow. Just, wow. Lines for rides weren’t too long, the lights and decorations were stunning. It was cold, so we had to bundle up. It was so festive with light shows, music and special rides and shows. I loved how rides for little ones were always close to the big thrill rides so that we could easily split up and meet back up. My husband loves the crazy roller coasters and my kids need to keep it tame. We hardly spent any time apart with how close they were in proximity. The entertainment was also great. We saw a show that was short but perfect for all ages. Busch Gardens is open year-round.
- At the last minute, we decided to visit Colonial Williamsburg. My biggest hesitation in visiting was the cost. It’s not cheap and there are many options to add-on which can make it even more expensive. Children under 6 are free (we just missed the cut-off, darn it). My biggest recommendation to save money would be to spend a couple of days there. As with many large attractions, the cost goes down the more days you spend there. There is so much to see, it was really hard to do it all in one day. We had to cram and be really efficient. There is a lot of walking involved and some things might be a little boring for kids if you aren’t careful. In other words, avoid tours or programs that are more than half an hour unless they are specifically tailored for kids. Your program guide will direct you to family friendly activities. Our favorites for our kids were visits to the Wig shop, the Courthouse re-inactment (it helped that their dad was one of the stars of the show) and the dinner etiquette lesson at the Palmer house. Once we spent the day there, I can understand the cost for admission. There is so much rich history to explore and all the “interpreters” are the real deal. They love what they do and they help you understand history through an authentic lens. Although I was hesitant because of the cost, I don’t regret visiting and would do it again.
This post is not sponsored. All opinions are my own. Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Beureu’s website, www.VisitVirginiaBeach.com, is the official source for travel information to Virginia Beach. Visitors can also call 1-800-VA-BEACH to request a complimentary vacation guide. The official Facebook page is Visit Virginia Beach, Instagram is @visitvabeach, Twitter handle is @VisitVABch and YouTube account is VisitVABeach.