This East Coast City is an Unexpected Paradise for Winter Adventures
Virginia Beach may bring visions of sun, surf and sand to mind, but this coastal retreat offers as much to do in colder temps as it does in warmer seasons. Whether you’re looking for a little adventure, a taste of farm-to-table or an up-close-and-personal experience with local wildlife, the dynamic destination has something to satisfy every sense. Here’s why the chillier months are an unexpectedly wonderful time to visit, and what to enjoy during your escape.
In partnership with Visit Virginia Beach
One of the biggest perks of visiting Virginia Beach in winter is it’s the one time of year when whales grace the waters with their majestic presence. The best months for sightings are usually January and February. Rudee Tours offers a winter whale watching cruise where you’ll be guided along the Atlantic Coast by a knowledgeable captain who’ll help you spot a Humpback Whale breeching the waters and brief you on the birds and other aquatic critters, like seals and dolphins, that live in the seas here.
Craving an encounter of a closer kind? Virginia Beach Horseback has half-hour and one-hour guided tours for all levels that let you take your stallion along the beach and dip his hoofs in the tide. With 9,250 acres of forests, beach, freshwater marshes and dunes, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge provides a habitat for migratory birds such as tundra swans, snow and Canada geese, waterfowl and a large variety of ducks, all which visit during the winter months. The refuge is also home to other wildlife, including such endangered species as the loggerhead sea turtle, piping plover, brown pelican and bald eagle. You might just catch a glimpse of these species from one of the refuge’s scenic trails.
Seek Some Thrills
From high-flying fun and risky ropes courses to axe throwing and go-kart racing, adrenaline junkies have a playground here. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to free fall from 10,000 feet, check out iFLY indoor skydiving, where you’ll take to the simulated skies in a vertical wind tunnel that generates winds above 180 mph. The beauty of this activity is anyone can do it—kids, grownups, and even those with special needs. An expert is there to guide you through every gust. For thrill-seekers looking for an equal high that’s, well, a bit more grounded, The Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium delivers the heart-pounding by way of ropes courses that traverse through the treetops above the aquarium’s nature paths and across Owls Creek. There’s a course for every level from beginner to expert. Looking to get out a little angst? Nothing is more satisfying than taking a turn at Tribal Axe, the first recreational axe throwing range in the state of Virginia. Got a need for speed? American Indoor Karting is guaranteed to get your motor running. Take a turn (or 10!) on the fast track in a European-style racing cart.
Be Creatively Inspired
A haven for hipsters, artists and all those who appreciate them, ViBe Creative District is an eclectic enclave with the backdrop to match, thanks to hand-painted murals. Artisans of all disciplines display their wares in the shops that fill the area. There’s a lot to look at both on the street and in the myriad brick and mortars curating an array of goods like handmade leather bags, vintage finds, home furnishings and one-of-a-kind jewelry. Need a break from meandering? Cozy up with a cup at one of the area’s many indie roasters. Take your pick from places like Three Ships Coffee, which specializes in locally-sourced and ethically-roasted coffees and mouth-watering hand pies oozing with Nutella filling.
Hit Up Historic Sites
Home to some of America’s very first settlers, Virginia Beach’s storied past is connected to the founding of this country. First Landing State Park is the site where 100 English settlers stepped onto American shores on April 26, 1607. Walk (or bike) in the footsteps of our founding fathers along some 19 miles of trails. Then head over to nearby Fort Story military base to scope the First Landing Cross, a granite cross that commemorates this historic arrival. Be sure to check out Cape Henry Lighthouse, America’s fourth oldest lighthouse and the first one commissioned by George Washington in 1792. Walking tours are offered every hour. See history in motion by visiting The Military Aviation Museum, which boasts an impressive collection of World War I and World War II-era military aircrafts, many of which still fly as part of air shows held throughout the year. The museum features airplane hangars filled with historic war planes from all over the world.
Get in Touch with Nature
Outdoor activities abound in Virginia Beach, regardless of the season. Bundle up in your warmest waterproof gear and explore the many inlets aboard a kayak. Adventure Kayak Tours has year-round guided excursions that take you through myriad scenic pockets. Paddle along West Neck Creek and the North Landing River for a look at the wildlife, such as ospreys, great blue herons, bald eagles and river otters, who make it their home. Or head through Back Bay Wildlife Refuge via Ashville Bridge Creek south towards Muddy Creek and you’ll see one of the most Instagram-worthy areas in North Bay. Biking and hiking trails are nearly as common as streets here. If you’re drawn to the ocean, the three-mile Virginia Beach Boardwalk boasts a separate bike path, making it easy to set your wheels turning. For a longer and more challenging ride (or hike), you can keep going along Pacific Avenue to the 64th-Street entrance of First Landing State Park. Take the 7.5-mile Cape Henry Trail, which is as picturesque as it is challenging, whether you’re on bike or on foot.
Bring the Sea Straight to Your Table
At the junction of the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, Virginia Beach serves up a smorgasbord of delicious seafood in any season. Just off the coast in Norfolk Canyon, you’ll find a fishing haven for big catches like billfish, tuna, and blue marlin—the most impressive of which tipped the scales at 1,093 pounds! The largest natural estuary in the United States, the Chesapeake Bay is home to 348 species of fish including striped bass. In fact, 70-to-90 percent of the world’s striped bass live in the bay waters, making Virginia Beach the striped bass capital of the world. For a uniquely delicious opportunity, Pleasure House Oyster Farm takes bivalve lovers on a two-hour boat tour to learn about (and nibble on) the famous Lynnhaven Oyster, a delicacy that’s been populating the waters here since the 1600s. Aficionados should go for the four-hour tour, which affords a true oyster farming experience that lets you roll up your sleeves and put your shucking skills to the test.
Paint the Town
The heartbeat of Virginia Beach is vibrant Town Center, a pocket of downtown ripe with restaurants, bars, shopping, entertainment and culture. Local coastal cuisine, Caribbean fare and farm-to-table delights keep the foodie scene thriving. Don’t miss Virginia Beach Restaurant Week (February 18 to 24, 2019), an opportunity to sample foods from the area’s top dining destinations at special prices. After dinner, hit Funny Bone Comedy Club for a few laughs or catch a performance by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra or Ballet Virginia at Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, which features theater and concerts throughout the year. Zeiders American Dream Theater is the newest venue to watch new and up-and-coming musicians, comics, poets and more.
See What’s Brewing
The ever-growing craft beer scene in Virginia Beach is brimming with diverse flavors. While you don’t need an excuse to try the local lagers and ales, a chilly day is the perfect occasion to warm up in the comfort of the many breweries and taprooms along the Virginia Beach Beer Trail, which spans the Chesapeake Bay District to the Oceanfront area. Check out what’s on tap at local favorite, Commonwealth, a firehouse turned brewery, or Smartmouth Pilot House, a former post office-turned-small-batch brewer. Winter brings its own special blends—from a coffee-and-cream stout to a complex barrel-aged sour—and there’s a brew to satisfy every kind of beer lover.