Greg Alexander

Time to hit the beach!

Baltimore Sun, September 2005

Looking to head to the beach and enjoy sitting in a beach chair, soaking up some rays and maybe even tiptoe into the surf? Well, if you aren’t willing – or able – to fly south to the Caribbean, you may think your choices are limited. Think again. Just a short, half-day car drive away lies Virginia Beach, offering warm temperatures, attractions galore and enough recreational activities and special events to keep you busy for days.

Playing on the beach and in the water in late September and even October … in Virginia? Yes. You may be surprised to know that – even though it’s located only 200 or so miles from Baltimore – Virginia Beach boasts mild climates in the fall. In September, visitors can enjoy 80-degree days, while October still offers temperatures hovering around 70 during the day. While the water temperature maybe a bit cool in late October, September’s water temperatures are only about 4 degrees cooler than August, a very pleasant 72 degrees.

“Due to our mild temperatures, the fall is a great time to hang out on the beach,” says Jessica Rinck, spokesperson for the Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The beaches are less crowded, hotel rates are lower and it’s still very pleasant on the waterfront. Virginia Beach truly is a four-season resort.” Rinck points out that 55 percent of Virginia Beach’s three million annual overnight visitors visit after Labor Day and before Memorial Day, known as most resorts’ off-season.

Virginia Beach, dubbed the “World’s Longest Pleasure Beach” by the Guinness Book of World Records, sports more than 35 miles of ocean and bay beaches with easy beach access and ample public beach areas. Families of all ages will enjoy the historic Boardwalk, which dates back to 1888, a great place to mingle, bike, run and enjoy seaside vistas. Rinck notes that September is a popular time for visitors who enjoy keeping an eye out for dolphins, as Virginia Beach is home to the mid-Atlantic’s largest population of bottlenose dolphins.

Enjoy the great outdoors

So, maybe the beach is not your cup of tea. No problem. Nature lovers will be right at home in Virginia Beach. In addition to two state parks – First Landing State Park and False Cape State Park – Virginia Beach also is home to the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, an 8,000-plus-acre refuge that is visited by approximately 100,000 people each year. Visitors will delight in spotting nearly 300 species of birds; threatened and endangered species such as loggerhead sea turtles, piping plovers, peregrine falcons and bald eagles; river otters; white-tailed deer; mink; opossums; raccoons and the red fox Nutria. “Hiking, biking, bird-watching and kayaking are big draws for visitors to the Virginia Beach area,” says Rinck. If you love birds but you are more of a museum person, check out the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum’s art and artifacts documenting migratory wildfowl and decoy carving demonstrations.

Another big draw is year-round fishing, adds Rinck, especially in November and December when Virginia Beach is host to the annual Striped Bass World Championship. Of course, fall is a great time for golf, too. Courses designed by such notables as Arnold Palmer, Rees Jones, Pete Dye, Fred Couples and Virginia Beach’s own, Curtis Strange, are the perfect place to spend the day.

Time for some sight-seeing

As far as attractions go, Virginia Beach has got you covered. “There is so much to do here,” says Rinck, “but by far our top attraction is the Virginia Marine Science Museum.” More than 800,000 gallons of aquariums, live animal habitats and a 3-D IMAX theater will keep you entertained for hours. Another top attraction is The Old Coast Guard Station, housed in a 1903 former U.S. Life Saving Station, which has exhibits on shipwrecks and life saving service from World War II to the present day. Speaking of the military, Virginia Beach has a long and proud military history. Watch Naval aircrafts take off and land at Oceana Naval Air Station from local jet observation parks or head to Fort Story, where America’s first English settlers touched shore before continuing on to Jamestown.

History buffs will revel in Virginia Beach’s three acclaimed historic homes – the Adam Thoroughgood House (circa 1680), Lynnhaven House (circa 1725) and the Francis Land House (late 1700s). Rinck especially recommends visiting these homes during the holidays, as each one is decorated beautifully. Meanwhile, those more attracted to clairvoyant matters will enjoy the Association for Research and Enlightenment, based on the works of Edgar Cayce, who could answer questions on any topic once in a self-induced trance. The center has guided tours that include films, lectures, meditation classes and ESP demonstrations.

However, no trip to Virginia Beach would be complete without a visit to the symbol of the resort town, the Cape Henry Lighthouse, the oldest government-built lighthouse in America, built in 1791. If you have the stamina to climb to the top, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay.

Keeping you entertained

Virginia Beach offers an exciting nightlife with nightclubs catering to every music type – jazz, country, reggae, pop and beach music. Rinck adds that Virginia Beach’s 20,000-seat Verizon Wireless Virginia Beach Amphitheater attracts national acts, including Jimmy Buffet, Sheryl Crow and Elton John.

She also encourages visitors to take part in some of the many annual events that take place in the fall. “Probably our biggest event is the 32nd annual Neptune Festival Boardwalk Weekend,” she says. “It’s our farewell to summer.” This year’s festival, to be held Sept. 30-Oct. 2, boasts the internationally-renowned North American Sand Sculpting Competition, daily concerts, over 250 artisans and great local food. Also on tap in October is the African-American Festival of Pride, Oct. 8-9; Oktober Brewfest, Oct. 15-16; and Screech Street USA, Oct. 29, just in time for Halloween.

“If you are looking to come around the holidays, you can’t miss the Chick-fil-A Holiday Lights at the Beach,” says Rinck. The event, Nov. 18-Jan 1, allows you to drive down the boardwalk – the only time of the year when you can drive on the boardwalk – while listening to holiday music to see an amazing light display.

Virginia Beach is an easy drive from Baltimore – about 240 miles – and more than 95 percent of annual visitors arrive by car. However, an Amtrak train connection is available in Newport News, close to Virginia Beach, or you may fly into Norfolk International Airport or Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport.

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