Virginia may be for lovers, but Virginia Beach is most definitely for families. And while northern beaches cool down after Labor Day, the party is still going down South with another month worth of family fun at the beach. Here are the top 10 attractions for kids and their parents:
1) The Beach
There is the famous beach and boardwalk, which make give Virginia beach its name and its soul. The beach and the boardwalk are tailor-made for family fun.
The beach is free no matter where it's accessed; the sand is soft; the waves are just unpredictable enough to elicit squeals. Permanent volleyball courts on the sand are maintained by the city. With its military neighbors in Norfolk, the ocean view is as likely to include military supply ships as it is parasailers, and the sky as likely to include a flock of jetfighters as pelicans.
The boardwalk itself is divided into two parts, one for bicycles and the other for walkers, spliced by a lush partition. Bike rentals stud the three-mile boardwalk and offer everything from children's bikes to tandem bikes to beach cruisers. A 34-foot bronze statue of King Triton makes a photo-worthy stop along the way.
In the evening, music is everywhere with street huskers on the boardwalk, military bands in the pavilion, and acoustic guitarists on bar patios. And the beach action doesn't roll up after dark. Families head out after dinner to toss glow-in-the dark Frisbees.
2) Atlantic Fun Park
This old-time amusement park charges no admission fee. Best identified by the 100-foot Ferris wheel that dominates the skyline, the park has a variety of rides from the mild kiddie trains to the wild sea dragon.
Within walking distance from the ocean, there are dozens of arcades to check out whether you're looking for air hockey, Skee-Ball, pinball, Pacman, Xbox and driving games.
4) Miniature Golf
Mini golf fans prize this town for its multitude of courses. A few are especially unique. Jungle Golf, where a towering giraffe and hulking gorilla loom over the course, is open 24 hours a day. Nearby, at King Neptune's 3-D Blacklight Mini Golf, players don 3-D glasses to navigate the indoor course.
5) Virginia Aquarium and Marine Center
There are shark tanks, fish tunnels, plenty of hands-on activities and a prime perch to watch the adorable antics of resident otters. Plus, the Marine Center informs kids of what the environment surrounding them in the tidal area of Virginia.
6) The Adventure Park
The newest addition to the aquarium complex opened in May 2014. There are 13 different ropes course varying in difficulty from beginner to black diamond that thread through the tall forests on property. Navigating the ropes, zipling and finding your balance at night when it the course is lit by a whisper of lights in the tree canopy elevates the challenge.
7) Capt. Jack's Pirate Ship Adventures
What can beat the fun of eye patches and swords at sea? This one-and-a-half-hour tour plies the waters just off the coast. Bonus: dolphin sightings are common.
8) Candy shops and ice cream
Kids will make a beeline for salt water taffy at Forbes candies, caramel-coated popcorn at Jody's Popcorn and scoops of Cherry Garcia at Ben & Jerry's.
9) Dolphin Tours, Fishing Boats and Kayaking
It wouldn't be a proper beach vacation without some time out on the water. Dolphin love the warm waters along the coast here, so these boat tours rarely disappoint. Fishing charters cater to families, many who reel in their catch and have it cooked back on land. The marshy dunes of the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge provide a perfect launch for kayaks.
10) Hip design
OK, so this one may go unnoticed by kids, but adults will appreciate how Virginia Beach has stepped up its design game in recent years with a hint of Miami-style cool.
Two of the best examples of this are the Hilton and its sidekick the brand new (opened in May of 2014) Hilton Garden Inn on the boardwalk. The latter has earned some well-deserved buzz for changing the way travelers think about a modestly priced hotel with a forward-leaning mod design scheme in the lobby, complimentary fruit-spiked ice water, and a chic lounge-y sundeck overlooking the ocean.
There have always been beachfront restaurants here, mostly little dives tucked into the ground floor of stocky hotels and timeshares. And for that looking to capture a nostalgic feel, many still remain. But recently they have been joined by more high concept restaurants that tumble out towards the boardwalk amid a riot of colorful plantings, like the new Lager Heads, which offers 16 local brews on tap, plus handmade burgers that, yep, kids will love.