Hampton Roads’ locals know that once Memorial Day comes around, it is tourist time. Our local businesses flourish during the summer season thanks to more than 3 million visitors each year. The Virginia Beach oceanfront, stretching three miles from 2nd to 40th Street, is packed with umbrellas, beach chairs, and boogie boards from dawn ‘til dusk, leaving some to ask the question: Where can we go to enjoy a beautiful day the sun without the crowds?
Just a hop, skip, and a jump from the resort area is Croatan Beach. Driving over the bridge at the 1st Street Jetty leads directly to this small residential area with a three-quarter mile stretch of pristine sand and perfect waves. On most summer days, the ocean is seen full of both residents and vacationers alike enjoying the cool water. This spot is where I am most likely to find: 1. my surfer friends on a sunny morning riding a few waves before the workday begins, and 2. my entire family on a late Sunday afternoon.
Visitors can find a designated parking lot for beachgoers with a reasonable daily rate at Camp Pendleton as well as some additional parking in the neighborhood. Patrolled by lifeguards in season, Croatan offers a safe space for families to play and relax. There are no restaurants within walking distance, so be sure to pack snacks for the day.
How to get there: Drive south on Pacific Avenue over the Rudee Inlet where it turns into General Booth Boulevard. Take a left turn at Croatan Road which dead ends at the beach. A right turn on Vanderbilt Ave. ends at the public parking lot.
Directly south of the resort area and Croatan is Sandbridge Beach, a 5 mile expanse of beautiful soft sand and clear water. This secluded spot is a great place to park your group for the day to enjoy the calm ocean air away from the crowds. In the summer season, both renters and homeowners of the large houses along the beach road enjoy this quiet place to relax or engage in outdoor activities. Even as residents of Hampton Roads, my extended family rents a house for a week here every summer to have our beach vacation together. Looking for food? Grabbing dinner at Baja Restaurant is always our favorite choice.
This secluded community offers parking at both ends of the beach for a low daily rate during peak season (Memorial Day through Labor Day.) No bugs, no loud crowds – just sand, water, and a good time.
How to get there: Follow General Booth Blvd. south & turn left onto Princess Anne Road which becomes Sandbridge Road. A scenic drive past neighborhoods and the Back Bay Wildlife Rescue leads directly to Sandbridge beach. Public parking is available to the right at the end of Sandpiper Road.
North End Beach
The North End is aptly named as it is located directly north of the resort area. This is where guests of Hampton Roads will find the widest beach, stretching from the tall dunes at the beach entrance to the edge of the waterfront. Crabs, seagulls, dolphins, and other wildlife are sure to be spotted here. Like Croatan, there are no lifeguards here so be sure to swim with caution when the waves are rough. Not to worry about running into any fins, though, as there are no surfboards allowed here during prime beach hours. The closest dining is back at the resort area, so bring lunch or pack up early and grab a bite. My favorite beach meal? The Freemason Sandwich from Taste Unlimited.
A local’s beach through and through, I have years of fond memories going to 47th Street with friends after a short day at school or spending a full Saturday (9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.) with a Big Gulp Slurpee and a worn out beach towel. You won’t find crowds here and will always leave wanting just 1 more hour of sun.
How to get there: From the resort area, drive north on Atlantic Avenue past the end of the boardwalk. You have reached the North End! Streets 42-82 are residential, with parking along the road on both the beach side and the land side. After parking, walk east towards the ocean and follow the walkway to the sand.
The Narrows at First Landing State Park
If you know, you know – the Narrows is a small waterway connecting Broad Bay and Linkhorn Bay and home of the best secret beaches in the area. Past the trees and trails of First Landing State Park, the road ends at a convenient parking lot next to the main boat ramp. A short walk away is a remote beach where the only waves come from passing boats, making for a relaxing and stress-free beach day. Swimming is allowed and the shallow water makes this secret beach a great place for families with small children. Public restrooms and vending machines are available at the parking lot.
My favorite part about this secret spot? All the boats! So. Many. Boats.
How to get there: Take the 64th Street entrance of First Landing State Park off of Atlantic Avenue in the North End.
Chic’s Beach/Chesapeake Beach
Visitors arriving to town via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel can’t miss spotting Chesapeake Beach – aka Chic’s Beach – on the drive in. That beautiful beach you see to the left and right is accessible from each street along Shore Drive. Chic’s Beach is part of the Chesapeake Bay, meaning that the water is much more calm than that of the Atlantic Ocean around the corner and also more friendly to the outdoor activity seekers. A true local’s beach, Chic’s is a great place to swim, paddle board, kayak, play volleyball or just sit and soak up the sun with a refreshing drink. I love to grab my oversized float, a book, and a pair of sunglasses and spend the day bobbing in the cool water.
There are no lifeguards and no surfers but there are sure to be many boats throwing down their anchors here to enjoy a day on the Bay. The neighborhood boasts plenty of parking as well as local restaurants within walking distance, like HK on the Bay and Buoy 44, for those seeking to get fresh seafood after a long day in the sun.
How to get there: Head north on Atlantic Avenue until it turns into Shore Drive. Take this scenic road all the way past Great Neck Road and over the Lesner Bridge. Turn down the beach roads on the right to find parking and head towards the Bay to find a spot on the sand.
Ocean View & East Beach – Norfolk
Go even farther west from Chic’s and you will run into Ocean View & East Beach, part of the city of Norfolk. Near the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, these beaches are perfect for those who are looking to spend a day outside swimming, lounging, or fishing. Multiple piers provide bait shops and tackle rentals and give both locals and tourists a place to get that fresh catch. Don’t reel anything in? There are plenty of restaurants ready to serve you their catch of the day. I love to grab a dozen steamed shrimp and sit out on the patio at Greenie’s Beach Bar after a long day.
How to get there: Continue west on Shore Drive and you will first come up to East Beach, with Ocean View on the right shortly after. Parking is available in public lots at both beach areas.
Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach – Outer Banks of North Carolina
Ocracoke Lifeguard Beach is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and operated by the National Park Service. Even in peak season, there’s plenty of room. Plus, there are lifeguards on duty during the day (between Memorial Day and Labor Day), ample parking, restrooms, outdoor showers, water fountains, a wheelchair-friendly beach access ramp, and a boardwalk to the beach. Need rental gear for the beach? Check out Beach Outfitters.
History drips from the Outer Banks: Here, aviators Orville and Wilbur Wright took their famous first flight (at Kill Devil Hills), the pirate Blackbeard fought his last battle (at Ocracoke) and the mysterious Lost Colony disappeared (exactly where is anyone’s guess, but it was last seen on Roanoke Island near Manteo). Yet this chain of barrier islands located off the coast of North Carolina – affectionately dubbed OBX – isn’t just for history buffs. Fishing, windsurfing and wildlife watching attract adventurous types as well. The Outer Banks’ roughly 3,000 shipwrecks, explorable by snorkeling or scuba diving, earned it a reputation as “the graveyard of the Atlantic.” Families gravitate toward the beaches, the mini-golf courses and the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island.
Each neighborhood has its own charm: Old lighthouses, rugged dunes and secluded beaches in the south coupled with vacation rentals, water sports and kitschy beach shops in the north all form a unique seaside destination. OBX is ideal for those looking to skip overly developed touristy towns and head straight for the unspoiled beaches. You won’t find big nightlife, but you will find an abundance of natural beauty. Beaches are more populated during the summer months, but with so many destinations spread out along the barrier islands, you likely won’t experience unmanageable crowds at any time of year.