Kids will get a kick out of the Old Coast Guard Station, where you can join a tour of shipwrecks, ghosts and pirates. (Photos: Andar Sawyers)
If you’re traveling to Virginia Beach with kids in tow and trying not to break the bank, you’re in luck. This sprawling metropolis situated on the oceanfront houses an abundance of budget-friendly—and often free—activities that the entire family will buzz about long after your departure.
To help you plan the ultimate family getaway that won’t drain your vacation budget, here are some must-do activities in Virginia Beach.
With more than 18,000 acres (7,300 hectares) of state parks and a national wildlife refuge within Virginia Beach, there’s nothing as free — and freeing — as the great outdoors. To start, check out First Landing State Park, False Cape State Park and Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
Each state park is distinctive. First Landing is on the northern edge of the city. As the name suggests, this location was the first stopping point for the Jamestown settlers. It’s the state’s most popular park with everything from cypress swamps to maritime forest to secluded beaches. Be sure to check out the beaches within easy walking distance of parking at the 64th Street entrance.
The park offers camping and a variety of cabins. There are 19 miles of trails for hiking and biking. If you bring man’s best friend along, this is your place, as Good news for animal lovers: this park is dog friendly.
False Cape State Park and Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge are on slivers of beach on the southern edge of the city. Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and Back Bay on the west.
The refuge features more than eight miles of scenic trails where you might see sea turtles, white-tailed deer, snow geese, bald eagles, foxes and otters in landscapes as diverse as marshes, beach, large ponds and dunes. Tram tours run from April 1 through October 31.
False Cape State Park is perhaps the most primitive natural setting on the Atlantic coast. While the overnight camping isn’t for amateurs, there are plenty of other attractions for adventurous families, including miles of pristine beaches, hiking, biking and the tram tour.
Go Over the Boardwalk
Forget that romantic stuff about being under the boardwalk. The Virginia Beach Boardwalk is a people show social hub three miles long every hour of the day — a place to walk, run, bike and, of course, people watch as you enjoy the cool ocean breeze and the sound of the surf breaking.
Go early or late and find your solitude. Go during busy times, especially during festivals or weekend evenings, and it’s a social circus. This modern concrete boardwalk is 28 feet wide (and concrete) with separate lanes for those on wheels and those on foot. It can be bustling on days when there’s a festival or a concert.
Stroll past the sculptures, slip into one of the casual restaurants or just hang and watch the waves. By day, be sure to stop by and say hello to the King Neptune Statue at 31st Street and explore the adjacent park, which is great for a workout. By night or on a weekend, check out the evening concerts on one of the several stages along the way.
A Day at the Museum
Virginia Beach’s diverse museums highlight getting out and about. They’re not free, but they are a bargain. Slip into the hangers at the Military Aviation Museum to view one vintage aircraft from World War I and World War II after another, most of them in flying condition.
Step into history at the Cape Henry Lighthouse and Memorial Park, where you can climb 191 steps to the top of a lighthouse built in 1792 and enjoy a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. Check out The Old Coast Guard Station and join a tour of shipwrecks, ghosts and pirates.
Get Out in the Street
During the summer months, Beach Street USA comes alive with puppets, bands, jugglers and other entertainment on the sidewalks of Atlantic Avenue from 17th to 25th Streets.
The fun — aimed at families out shopping or strolling to and from restaurants — starts on weekends beginning Memorial Day and becomes nightly entertainment in mid-June before concluding on Labor Day weekend.
The emphasis is on interactive entertainment like face painting and fortune telling as well as international acts including trampoline artists, an acapella group and acrobats.
Be Festive. It’s the Season — Every Season.
Festivals celebrating everything from craft beer, pirates and every imaginable kind of food take place throughout the year. In May, monster trucks hit the beach for a fast and furious family fun event. In July, children compete in Chalk the Walk Artsplosion on the boardwalk.
And in late June and early July tribute bands to artists like Led Zeppelin, Boston, The Dave Matthews Band, Journey and others take the stage at Sandstock in late June and early July. The drinks and eats may cost you a few bucks, but entry into the festivals is free.
Go Down on the Farm
It’s farm life in the city at Hunt Club Farm. Get on a pony and ride. Gently hold a chicken. Feed a goat. Wander through the new aviary with more than 500 parakeets, doves, pheasants and other feathered friends. While the kids are cuddling their favorite animals, parents can shop the market featuring flowers, vegetables, Virginia honey, yard decorations and more.
Hit the Playground Atop an Old Garbage Heap
Mount Trashmore Park in the city’s core is built atop an old landfill. In a way, it’s a sculpture of the land — an open, bustling park carved out of what was once a refuge for refuse. Get fit racing up and down the steps. Hit the skate park. Grab your fishing gear and try your luck in the lake. Fly a kite.
At nearly 66 feet at its peak, the park is the highest land for miles around. You’ll also discover the Kids Cove Playground with climbing structures, swings and slides as well as benches and picnic shelters. In short, there’s no shortage of fun.
This article was published through a partnership with Visit the USA, inspiring travelers to explore America’s boundless possibilities.