Even more so than most beach towns, Virginia Beach is a place of glorious contradiction, from the tacky T-shirt shops that line Atlantic Avenue to the museum-caliber exhibitions at the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia. Along the boardwalk, military personnel from nearby naval facilities mingle easily with new-agers drawn to the world headquarters of the Association for Research and Enlightenment, a center for the study of psychic phenomena, holistic health, and spiritual growth. On one end of town, you'll find surf and sand. On the other, a mountain (yes, a mountain).
Here's a guide to taking it all in.
The best way to experience the boardwalk is by pedal-powered surrey, a multipassenger, bike-style carriage you can rent by the hour. It'll take about that long to make a complete circuit of the boardwalk, which has a dedicated bike path. What you'll pay for 60 minutes of somewhat sweaty sightseeing: about $15. The white-knuckle thrill of letting your 9-year-old son steer? Priceless.
Sandwiched between Virginia Beach's Rudee Inlet and Camp Pendleton, you'll find Croatan Beach. Long known by locals as a haven for surfers, it boasts two surfing-only sections, along with a swimming area that's less congested than the main beach. Open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; parking lot from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.croatanbeach.org.
Tired of the beach, but not the water? Try Ocean Breeze Waterpark, less than two miles from the ocean. You'll know you're there when you find Hugh Mongous, the King-Kong-size statue of a gorilla in a Hawaiian shirt that stands towering over the entrance to 849 General Booth Blvd. For more information, call 757-422-4444 or visit www.oceanbreezewaterpark.com. Open daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day (check Web site for hours).
For the road: Tennessee-style pulled pork sandwiches at Pierce's Pitt Bar-B-Que, 447 E. Rochambeau Dr., Williamsburg. 757-565-2955. www.pierces.com. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. For the foodie: Creatively prepared surf and turf at Eat, a cozy bistro with outdoor seating just off the north end of the boardwalk, at 4005 Atlantic Ave. 757-965-2472. www.eatbistro.com. Open Monday to Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m.; Sundays from 5 to 9 p.m. For the retro: Doumar's, at 1919 Monticello Ave., Norfolk, is worth the short drive. At this location since 1934, the drive-in features curb service by uniformed carhops and ice cream cones handmade daily on-site on what's heralded as the world's first cone machine, invented in 1905. 757-627-4163. www.doumars.com. Open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Virginia Beach is known as the adopted home of Edgar Cayce (1877-1945), a well-known psychic and self-professed medical seer whose Association for Research and Enlightenment offers a menu of such holistic spa services as massage, hypnotherapy, and a variety of cleansing treatments. After a few days of beach food, you may welcome an afternoon of colon hydrotherapy. A.R.E. Health Center and Spa, 215 67th St. 1-800-333-4499 or 757-437-7202. www.edgarcayce.org.
If you're going to Virginia Beach, be sure to pack your board. Your skateboard, that is. The centerpiece of Mount Trashmore Park is a 60-foot-tall, 800-foot-long "mountain" built atop a landfill, but the 165-acre park (with lake) boasts great kite flying, walking trails, picnicking, and a skate park popular with skaters and BMX bikers of all skill levels. 310 Edwin Dr. 757-473-5237. www.mounttrashmore.org. Open daily from 7:30 a.m. to sunset.