With a mere 112 miles of shoreline (CRS measurement), Virginia doesn’t have the number of beaches that other states do. However, the best coastal towns in Old Dominion offer a lot of bang for the buck regarding the choices of places to visit and live along its shores.
Virginia was one of the 13 original colonies, so there is much to soak in with 400 years’ worth of stories on land and at sea. The contour of the coast hasn’t changed too much since European settlers set foot so long ago. The desirable beach landscapes, gentle waves, and impeccable sunrises are still as appealing to travelers and residents as they were during George Washington’s time.
Plan your next vacation to one of Virginia’s top beach towns and melt away your stresses with the sea breeze and traditional American seaside culture. Or, make your trip more permanent and consider relocating to one of these east coast gems.
Here’s a look at the top beach towns in Virginia to live and visit, in no particular order:
Virginia Beach, VA
Nestled on the edges of the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia Beach is a dynamic coastal city with a little bit of everything. Despite its large size (450,882 people in 2020 – the biggest in the state), this city has incredible beach-town vibes, top-notch entertainment, restaurants, and plenty of shores to play on.
In 1607, English privateer Captain Christopher Newport and his crew arrived on the mainland and settled in what is now known as Virginia Beach. Visitors can walk in the footsteps of this historic mariner at First Landing Beach, which is now a beautiful area to enjoy the sand and waves.
Tourists can’t miss exploring the three-mile Oceanfront Boardwalk either; that’s filled with attractions and things to do on every budget. This “resort-style” beach area is lively and close to a long list of events all year long.
For a more relaxed experience, head to Croatan Beach, Chesapeake Bay Beach, Chic’s Beach, or Sandbridge Beach. No matter which shore you head to, there are many opportunities for watersports and sunbathing.
Cape Charles, VA
Cape Charles is a laid-back town on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, facing the Chesapeake Bay and home to around 1,245 permanent residents (2010 census). Laced with boutique hotels, locally owned shops, and endless outdoor recreation choices, this beach town is built on community and welcomes newcomers to discover its old-fashioned charm.
The town is located on a peninsula and makes up a modest 4.4 square miles, so if it’s a small-town feel you’re after, look no further. Cape Charles used to be only accessible by ferry, but as of 1952, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is how tourists and residents get there.
Dining on the peninsula takes all forms, from fine seafood meals to casual picnic options; there’s a setup for various budgets. Explore the historic district to feel like you’ve stepped back into the 19th century, thanks to the well-kept vintage homes and public buildings.
Cape Charles Town Beach is open to the public and doesn’t charge a fee to park or spend time on the shore. Boasting 1.5 miles of sandy beach area, this is a favorite place for all to sunbathe, splash in the waves, or do watersports like paddleboarding. The Fun Pier and LOVEwork structure are additional points of interest that everyone should make time to see.
Norfolk is more of a beach city than a beach town, but its diverse selection of hotels, restaurants, and things to do make it a coastal destination not to miss. With a population of a whopping 238,005 (2020 census), it’s in the top 100 most prominent cities in the country and the third largest in Virginia.
The city of Norfolk has seen more than its fair share of history dating back to the 17th century with British homesteaders. It also survived fires and battles during and after the Revolutionary War and is now the home to the largest global naval installation, Naval Station Norfolk.
When it comes to art and culture, this city is considered the heart of the Hampton Roads region and features numerous museums and art galleries. Visitors to town might get a chance to experience one of the many popular annual events and festivals, such as the Norfolk Jazz Festival, Bayou Boogaloo and Cajun Food Festival, and the Town Point Virginia Wine Festival.
There are over seven miles of public beaches in Norfolk, all of which are free, open to the public, and have several access points to the sand. Spend time by the ocean for water activities, jogging, sunbathing, or fishing along the surf. Some access points have restrooms and limited parking, but street parking isn’t difficult to find.
Chincoteague is an island town on Virginia’s northeast side that boasts a more straightforward way of life with well-manicured streets and unspoiled natural environments. This is Virginia’s only resort island and is considered the most beautiful, providing plenty of space to unwind and explore.
English settlers came to the island in the 17th century, with quite a few households living on it by the mid-19th century. The region is known for its Chincoteague ponies, which originate on the neighboring island of Assateague near the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, but both areas are easy to reach by car.
According to the 2020 census, a population of about 2,885 people resides full-time in town, but the island welcomes many visitors annually for a soothing beach town getaway. Many who come for a vacation from bigger cities enjoy a variety of accommodations like coastal vacation homes, B&Bs, hotels, and inns.
The two most popular beach areas are Chincoteague Beach and Assateague Beach, both of which are in a wildlife refuge on Assateague Island. There are also excellent roads for biking around the lands and to the beach, with many hiking trails nearby.
Tangier Island, VA
Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay is just south of the Maryland-Virginia Stateline and one of the most secluded places to visit or live in the state. As of the 2020, there were only around 506 permanent residents, and the only way to reach the town is by plane, boat, or ferry.
Roughly 13 miles separate the island from the mainland, and it takes around an hour and a half to get there by water vessel as long as the weather is good. Not much is known about the native people who lived on the land before European settlers arrived, but there is a museum on the island that explains some of its unique culture and operation.
Getting around the island is mainly done by walking, bike, or golf cart, quickly done with the flat ground all around. Tangier amenities include a few shops, guided tours, restaurants, a grocery store, B&Bs, and vacation cottages that can be rented out.
Tangier’s public beach is one of the highlights of the island. Featuring sparkling clear waters and long stretches of barren sand, it’s one of the most pristine beaches you might ever see. There are no facilities or changing areas on the beach, but swimsuits are always required.
Colonial Beach, VA
Located directly adjacent to the Maryland border, Colonial Beach is a coastal town on Virginia’s side of the state line. Although a small town, this sandy nook is where you’ll find the state’s second-longest beach and is just a few miles north of the George Washington Birthplace National Monument.
Colonial Beach is uniquely surrounded by Monroe Bay, Monroe Creek, and the Potomac River. Even though it has many modern amenities now, the town’s area has been used for centuries, proven by ancient artifacts discovered in the land from 500 BC.
During the 19th century, Colonial Beach was a resort-like destination for people from Washington D.C., who would arrive by ferry and stay to sunbathe and fish. With over 25 restaurants and many shops on the boardwalk, this town on the water is also a haven for activities both on and off the shore. In 2020 it boasted a population of 3,591.
Accommodations in the area range from cottages to vacation rentals and hotels. Visitors that don’t own a boat but want to experience being on the water can book a charter fishing tour or evening cruise with a meal.
Situated in the thick of the Hampton Roads region, the city of Hampton has a population of 137,148 (2020 census), making it the 200th largest in the United States and ranked #7 for Virginia. Between all the historical sites, restaurants, and opportunities for outdoor rec, residents, and tourists never run out of things to do.
Hampton was settled in 1610 but endured a lot of action over the next few centuries, including involvement in the American Revolution, War of 1812, and Civil War. A collection of museums, historic churches, and former battle sites give visitors a peek into the town’s past, while modern entertainment venues bring it back to the present day.
Prominent military facilities in the city include Langley Air Force Base and NASA Langley Research. Other points of interest in town include the NASCAR short track and Fort Monroe, a six-sided bastion fort.
The three main beaches in town are Outlook Beach, Buckrow Beach & Park, and Grandview Nature Preserve and Factory Point. They offer great views from sunrise to sunset and plenty of space for watersports.
A journey through Old Dominion calls for some time on the coast, and Virginia’s top beaches are some of the best along the Atlantic Ocean. See why the state attracted so many early settlers and learn a thing or two about the region’s past while enjoying its present-day features.