Fall might not be the first season that comes to mind for a beach getaway, but the charming southern city of Virginia Beach may well change your mind.
Considering that the autumn months bring warm and sunny days, but fewer crowds on the beach and a still-lively scene on the boardwalk, the months wedged between the hot days of summer and the cool winter season could be the perfect time for a visit to Virginia Beach.
On my recent late-October trip to Virginia’s premier Atlantic Coast city, I enjoyed days in the 70-and-80-degree Fahrenheit range, lovely sunrises over the water, and a dynamic art scene. And that’s not even to mention the superb seafood restaurants and the fun bars that boast countless Orange Crush variations.
So, while summer might have a firm grasp on your beach dreams, don’t count out autumn in Virginia Beach, when you can stake out an uncrowded corner of the beach and you’re likely to score a table at popular oceanside restaurants and bars. Note that my trip was hosted by the Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, but my opinions remain my own.
Things To Do In Virginia Beach In The Fall
1. Picnic On The Beach
As the sun was dropping toward the horizon in the west, the east coast shoreline of Virginia Beach was putting on a sunset show of its own: the light took on a delicate pink hue, dolphins could be seen leaping in the distance, and the balmy air had just a touch of crispness.
That was the scene that welcomed my group as we settled down for a beach picnic along a secluded area of north Virginia Beach. With its miles of wide sandy oceanfront, it is the perfect spot for an alfresco meal.
And, it turned out that a fall afternoon, just as dusk was approaching, was the ideal time to sit on cushions around a low table, sample cheese and fruit, and watch the waves roll in. If you prefer to let someone else do the set-up for your beach picnic, it’s hard to beat the VB Picnic Co., a local company that specializes in curated pop-up picnics, complete with picnic fare served in a charming bohemian-chic tablescape.
Pro Tip: The First Landing State Park at the northern end of the city is known as a prime spot for a beach picnic.
2. Enjoy Must-See Works Of Art
Located in a lovely, wooded area a few blocks from the beach is the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, a local gem featuring exhibitions that are rooted in the community but with an eye toward the larger art world.
The Virginia MOCA bills itself as an ever-changing museum where communities and cultures are invited to explore shared humanity through a series of revolving exhibitions, such as the excellent Summer of Women show that was just finishing its run when I visited in October 2021, as well as current and coming exhibitions such as the Emergence Teen Juried Exhibition, the Made in VA show, and the Agnes Grochulska: Archetypes exhibition.
Pro Tip: I found the Virginia MOCA to be a wonderful indoor activity during the one rainy afternoon I experienced during my Virginia Beach stay.
3. Check Out The Views From The Fishing Pier
For the long view of Virginia Beach, there are few better spots than the cool Fishing Pier located toward the southern end of the 3-mile-long Virginia Beach Boardwalk. For a small entrance fee, you can walk the 650-foot-long wooden pier for sweeping views of the oceanfront resorts to the north and Rudee Inlet boating area to the south.
Of course, the Fishing Pier is also a popular place for anglers. I watched fishermen all along the length of the pier casting their lines into the ocean and pulling out their wriggling catches.
Pro Tip: The Fishing Pier is also the home of Ocean Eddie’s, a rustic café with an “old beach” atmosphere and a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean.
4. Watch A Sunrise And A Sunset
Owing to its location right on the east coast, Virginia Beach offers unparalleled views of the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean. From virtually any resort or restaurant along the boardwalk, the sunrises are almost guaranteed to dazzle.
I found the balcony from my room at the Marriott Virginia Beach Oceanfront to be a splendid spot to see the sunrise. Even better was the view from the water’s edge after I hurried down to the beach to get a closer view of the rising sun.
Sunset, although more subtle in Virginia Beach, is a great time to take in the pastel colors as dusk falls over the Atlantic.
5. Learn The Surf And Rescue History
For a fascinating look into Virginia Beach’s maritime past, be sure to stop by the Virginia Beach Surf & Rescue Museum, a center dedicated to preserving the history of Virginia’s coastal communities and maritime history.
Housed in a quaint former life-saving station along the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, the museum is a treasure trove of the equipment used by the “surfmen” who once patrolled the beaches and watched for ships in trouble. Exhibits tell the stories of shipwrecks and rescues dating back to the 1700s.
6. Walk The Boardwalk And The Beach
No Virginia Beach visit would be complete without a stroll down the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, a 3-mile-long concrete path that runs alongside the beach and connects dozens of oceanfront hotels, resorts, restaurants, and attractions.
Along the way, you can’t miss the star of the boardwalk: the 26-foot-high sculpture of King Neptune, the mythical god of freshwater and the sea. Located at 31st Street, the statue towers over the boardwalk and can be seen from as far as a mile away. It is a treasured landmark on the boardwalk and a favorite for selfies.
Another option for traversing the oceanfront is to leave the boardwalk and head toward the ocean, where low tide brings a wide swath of packed sand that is perfect for a beachside walk. Playing children, scampering sea birds, and gentle waves make for an entertaining long walk on the beach.
7. Take In A Boardwalk Festival
With the ocean as a backdrop, the boardwalk frequently serves as a scenic festival venue. In late October, the boardwalk was the site of the venerable Boardwalk Art Show, a 65-year-old Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art-sponsored tradition that draws fine artists from all over the country. Although normally held in the summer, 2021’s festival was postponed until fall.
The boardwalk is also the site for the annual Virginia Beach Neptune Festival, as well as the BayPort Credit Union Holiday Lights at the Beach, a Christmas tradition that features lighted displays in the shape of festive fish, crabs, and elves — all against the moonlit Atlantic Ocean.
Restaurants In Virginia Beach
Virginia Beach boasts fresh-caught seafood, historic distilleries, and more Orange Crush than one could believe. Here’s a taste of this oceanside city’s food and drink scene.
Enjoy World-Class Seafood
From crab to oysters to shrimp, Virginia Beach restaurants are known for their fresh seafood dishes. The Virginia Beach tourism website notes that the region’s salty brackish water is home to an amazing array of sea life. Local eateries play up the seafood bounty with a number of specialties, such as Lynnhaven oysters, she-crab soup, and soft-shell crab.
Restaurants Atlantic on Pacific or Tautog’s Restaurant are known for preparing super-fresh oysters how you like them, while local favorite Waterman’s Surfside Grille is famous for its rich and creamy she-crab soup. And for a sweet/salty seaside appetizer, head to Catch 31 Fish House and Bar for crispy coconut shrimp served with Thai chili sauce.
Taste Some Tarnished Truth Bourbon
Billed as the nation’s first in-hotel distillery, Tarnished Truth Distillery Company makes the most of its setting in the charming and historic Cavalier Hotel & Beach Club.
Tarnished Truth conducts informative guided tours through its old and new distilling techniques, before providing tastings of its award-winning, locally crafted bourbon, rye whiskey, vodka, and gin.
Pro Tip: A stop at the rustic Tarnished Truth tasting room makes for a fun activity before catching happy hour in front of the fireplace at the Cavalier Hotel & Beach Club’s classic Hunt Room Tavern.
Crush On An Orange Cocktail
Orange-infused cocktails are signature beverages in Virginia Beach, and an Orange Crush made of freshly squeezed orange juice, vodka, triple sec, and Sprite makes for a refreshing pick-me-up in the afternoon or evening.
I loved the Original Orange Crush at Waterman’s Surfside Grille, the spot where the drink originated, but the famous cocktails can be found all over town in places like Chix on the Beach and The Shack on 8th.
For another variation on the orange theme, try an Orange Crush IPA, a citrusy beer that goes well with a light dinner.
Pro Tip: While Virginia Beach posts average high temperatures in the 80-degree Fahrenheit range from June through September, the average-high temperatures drop to a comfortable 70-degree range in October and the 60s in November. Winter months are cool, with December through March posting average highs in the 50s, and spring warms up to the high 60s in April and the mid-70s in May.
Other Virginia Beach activities to consider: