Virginia Beach culls the most compelling aspects of local history and natural splendor for a unique catalog of things to do. Though known and named for its 28 miles of sandy beaches, Virginia Beach has much more to see than just its boardwalk—which does host its share of museums, historic sites, and restaurants . For instance, the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, a 112,00-acre labyrinth of hiking and biking trails packed with so much wildlife that it spills into North Carolina. And First Landing State Park, while somewhat smaller at 2,888 acres, commemorates the coming ashore of Jamestown’s first settlers with water for swimming and fishing and paths for hiking and biking.
Near the famed landing site, Old Cape Henry Lighthouse has served as a historical landmark for almost as long; it was built in 1792 at the behest of George Washington. As one of the newly formed federal government’s first projects, the sandstone pillar embodied the American spirit as an active lighthouse for almost a century. Today, guests enjoy the relic from its highest point, where they can scope out Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Also located along the water, the Old Coast Guard Station devotes two galleries to the U.S. Coast Guard’s many adventures and Virginia’s greatest shipwrecks. Its collection of 1,800 artifacts and 1,000 photos is rivaled in importance only by the building itself, which was known to locals as the Life-Saving Station in 1903.
At the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, modern-day adventurers dive into 800,000 gallons’ worth of exploration. Examine everything from sharks to Komodo dragons at the aquarium, which also houses an IMAX Theater that stretches six stories tall and eight stories wide. Ocean Breeze Waterpark gives guests a taste of life underwater with snaking waterslides, a wave pool, and two tubing rivers.