Last summer, many of our region’s beaches were outright closed or available only to residents. This year things are reopening, meaning we can anticipate throngs of sunbathers overtaking the most popular spots in a few months. Thankfully, Virginia Beach is just as delightful (maybe moreso!) in the shoulder season. Enjoy the sea, bay, sunshine, and mild weather right now.
Check into your accommodation at the Delta Hotels Virginia Beach Bayfront Suites, the only hotel directly on the Chesapeake Bay with a private beach. The recently opened property adjacent to First Landing State Park is about a 15-minute drive from the boardwalk and oceanfront, so it’s a lot quieter and laid-back. Its 295 spacious suites have either one or two bedrooms along with a separate living space, and many of the balconies are bayfront or bayview—and the sunsets are killer. There’s an outdoor bayfront pool in-season, as well as a fitness center open 24 hours a day with cardiovascular equipment and free weights.
After you settle, have dinner at the hotel’s signature restaurant, Tin Cup Kitchen + Oyster Bar, an all-day American eatery with coastal influences. Executive chef Kevin Dubel works with local fishermen and farmers for his menu, which runs heavy on seafood. A mural on the back wall showcases Virginia’s oyster regions and explains a bit about the state’s aquaculture; it also clues you into the menu, which offers freshly shucked options from all eight areas where bivalves are cultivated. If you happen to be dining there on a Thursday evening, you’re in for a special treat: $1 oysters washed down with $2 glasses of bubbly. In addition to the usual accoutrements like horseradish and cocktail sauce, ice-filled platters are served with addictive housemade hot sauce and mignonette thoughtfully served in small bottles with droppers to control the amount. You may see the affable Chris Ludford, owner of Pleasure House Oysters, strolling around from table to table; his family has been in the commercial fishing industry for generations, and he’s happy to chat with you about his operation and answer any questions you have about the shellfish that’s been intrinsically linked to Virginia since Colonial times. Nosh on grilled shishito peppers served with lime wedges, then order seared diver scallops with browned-butter vinaigrette over succotash, and the lobster pasta with black truffles, tomato sauce, cherry tomatoes, preserved lemon, and parmesan. Be sure to save a little room for the creamy heirloom banana pudding, served with Anson Mills cornmeal shortbread and a dollop of vanilla Chantilly.
The next morning, drive to AdventureWorks, where you can soar over the coastal wetlands near the Atlantic Ocean on a 90-minute canopy tour with nine zip lines of varying height and length. The last one is the longest (1,000 feet) and highest (60 feet); but zip line No. 5 somehow seems to take the most nerve. Guides are friendly and helpful throughout the experience whether you’re a newbie or expert, and it’s a unique way to see the area from a different perspective.
Make the short drive to the ViBe Creative District, the city’s eclectic cultural hub for artists, where you’ll find restaurants, a distillery, coffee roasters, and lots of selfie-worthy street art and murals. Grab lunch at Esoteric Craft Beer and Cultural Provisions, housed in a building that’s on the historical registry and run by the husband-and-wife team of Tim and Kristina Chastain. Share a plate of pickled jicama, cucumbers, celery, red onions, and radishes, an order of duck tacos with pickled slaw and hoisin barbecue sauce, and poutine topped with gravy, ham, and white cheddar curds. Be sure to sample some of the regional beers on tap, available in five-, eight- and 14-ounce pours, like the Walloonery Saison from Coastal Fermentory or Big Ugly Yobbo IPA.
Walk several blocks to take a stroll on the beach or boardwalk, or set out a blanket and soak in the sun. If you crave a bit more adrenaline, book an indoor skydiving session at iFly. The basic package includes two one-minute flights, with upgrades including additional minutes and a high flight during which you’ll soar 15 to 20 feet in the air with the help of your instructor.
For dinner that night, reserve a table at Orion’s Roof, the Asian-Fusion restaurant at the Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront, which opened last summer. It’s the only rooftop restaurant in Virginia Beach, and the sweeping oceanfront views are truly incomparable. You and your dining companions will need a strategy session before ordering, though, as the menu choices are a bit overwhelming, with sections for street food, cold and hot starters, nigiri, sushi and maki, soups and salads, wok specialties, and land and sea entrées. It’s a lot, and you’ll want to order everything. Among the can’t-miss highlights on the starter section are an Asian take on Mexican street corn with togarashi spice and wasabi aioli, silky miso, and yuzu black cod enveloped in phyllo and tucked into Bibb lettuce leaves, and a Peruvian maki roll with tempura shrimp, tuna, Japanese sweet potatoes, and amarillo citrus sauce. Larger plates are just fine, but you’d be just as well off ordering a smattering of options from the front side of the menu. The beverage list is loaded onto an iPad; start with a Japanese take on an Old Fashioned or the King’s Cross with gin, Lillet, and amaro. If it’s your first foray into sake, a half-bottle of Rihaku Dreamy Clouds is an approachable way to start.
The Marriott is affiliated with the nearby Cavalier Hotel, which underwent a renovation a few years ago and remains the only U.S. hotel with an onsite distillery: Tarnished Truth. A nightcap at the Cavalier’s Raleigh Room is a perfect intro to the storied property, which dates back to 1927 and counts among its former guests six U.S. Presidents as well as some celebrities. Sink into one of the sumptuous sofas and order one of the craft cocktails or create your own, like a wet Martini with Tarnished Truth Fourth Handle Gin or a Manhattan with 11-Year Bourbon, served in beautiful cut-crystal glassware. There is live music on the weekends, and the whole experience just feels swank.
On your last day, take a kayak tour on the bay with GoKayak!, run by Virginia Beach native and avid surfer Bryan Hopkins. Two-hour tours are offered several times daily and leave from the boat ramp in First Landing State Park, where the English arrived in 1607 before moving on to settle in Jamestown. The trek is a bit strenuous; paddling is required and you need to know to swim. (Couples are set up in two-person kayaks, which makes the work a bit easier.) Hopkins is an expert about the area, considered a maritime forest, and will point out osprey, heron, diving ducks, bald eagles, and seagulls during the outing. It’s also common to spot the local dolphins who make their way into the bay and hang out looking for food.
Before tackling the drive home, have lunch at the casual Dockside, a Virginia Beach institution. Outside tables overlook the sparkling Lynnhaven Inlet, and it’s fun to watch the fishing boats, yachts, and day boats go by. Sunset Specials run until 5:30 p.m., including favorites like steamed spiced shrimp, crab cakes, and the catch of the day, all served with fries and coleslaw, and an Orange Crush is the day drink of choice in these parts. Why wait for June?
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