When you settle down in your hometown, you often take for granted its allure—its infinite sites, attractions and natural beauty that illicit jealousy in out-of-towners and spark marvel in new residents. We Coastal Virginians know this better than anyone.
What we lack in the Commonwealth’s characteristic mountain terrain we make up for in pristine sandy shores. Our seven municipalities boast some of the finest beaches on the East Coast, all of which are easily accessible within a five- to 20-minute drive, walk or bike from nearly any Coastal Virginia city. Even if salty waves and sandy toes aren’t your thing, you have to admit, having the option of an everyday beach vacation is quite the luxury.
In March, during the most severe beach closure in our region’s history, we realized that access to and free use of our inlets, rivers and bayfronts was exactly that – a luxury, one we never thought we would be without. Poignantly, Governor Ralph Northam issued a stay-at-home order under Executive Order 55 at the onset of our beaches’ spring season. During April, May and June, our coastlines are typically swimming with life as families gather for afternoon picnics, athletes travel for weekend-long sand soccer tournaments and college students reunite for yet another epic summer with high school friends. This year looked quite different though. Our beaches, boardwalks and channel walkways were void of their usual activity and appeared barren without their customary sprinkling of umbrellas, beach chairs and sand buckets.
Their vacancy is only temporary, however. As we slowly reopen beaches and surrounding businesses, we must reflect on what we enjoyed most about them, pre-pandemic, and what we look forward to discovering in their rebirth.
The Virginia Beach Oceanfront is arguably the most well-known beach in the region and is most appropriately outfitted for the city’s $2.45 billion tourism industry. The battered shoreline is anchored by its iconic boardwalk stretching a sunny three miles from the Rudee Inlet Bridge to 40th Street. Along the concrete path, lifeguards flaunt Virginia Beach pride and children play in the crashing waves. Let’s not forget the Oceanfront as a premier event space too, hosting long-running events like the Patriotic Festival and Boardwalk Art Show.
Just north of the 40th Street marker lies another 50-street stretch of white sand beaches. These North End accesses are often hyper-local, making for a quieter, more residential beach experience than the heavily trafficked Oceanfront. Here, residents make use of sunrise surf break and community volleyball nets. You’ll find similar residents-only experiences just south of the Rudee Inlet Bridge in Croatan, or west of the Fort Story Jetty in Chic’s Beach (a great spot for sea glass hunting) and Norfolk’s Oceanview. Sandbridge Beach, situated on the most southeastern corner of the region, is especially diverse as its 4.5 miles of shore break are outlined by bucolic Pungo and the marshy banks of the Currituck Sound, making it a premier casting spot for fisherman too.
The secrecy of Sandbridge is similar to that of Peninsula beaches. Albeit smaller than the Southside’s shores, Hampton’s Buckroe Beach displays rivaling sunsets, a spacious fishing pier and a family-friendly pavilion. Its panoramic views of the Chesapeake Bay and inland Hampton River and Mill Creek make for an excellent launch point for kayakers. A few miles south on Fort Monroe sits the Peninsula’s premier sunbathing spot, Outlook Beach. The quaint public beach is frequented by Hampton residents and Fort Monroe visitors. Days on the Fort Monroe shore are often punctuated by sunset snifters at the nearby Oozlefinch Brewery.
Not all Coastal Virginia beaches line bays and oceans, however. On the outskirts of the historic Jamestown Settlement is the narrow riverfront of Jamestown Beach. The James River laps quietly against the pebbled shoreline outfitted with an observation pier and plenty of sunbathing space. Another perk of Jamestown Beach: the concession stand. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, minimize the haul from parking lot to beach by leaving the snacks at home and indulging in tasty summer treats like ice cream, hot dogs, burgers and ice-cold drinks.
Nosh on more riverside eats along Yorktown’s Riverwalk and adjacent Yorktown Beach. Unlike the Oceanfront and North End, Yorktown Beach prohibited all activities on its two-acre beachfront during the statewide lockdown. That said, Peninsula residents are particularly excited to enjoy the beach’s usual summer fun with kayaks, paddle boards, sailboats and more.