A family vacation is all about spending time with your loved ones and creating memories to last a lifetime. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to spend a fortune to do just that! Sure fancy dinners and adrenaline pumping activities are fun, but there’s plenty to do in Virginia Beach that won’t cost you a much. Here are 3 (mostly) free things you can’t miss out on while on your Sandbridge Vacation.
Love to hike, run, power-walk, or simply take leisurely strolls? You’ll have plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs at Sandbridge – from scenic trails and woodland walks to miles of pristine shoreline.
Sandbridge Beach may be a hidden gem, removed from the hustle-bustle. But this secluded coastal paradise offers plenty to see and do, including fun-filled attractions for your entire family. Here are just a few options.
Catch the Sunrise
Sunrises on Sandbridge Beach are spectacular. The sun comes up early in the summer — just after 6 a.m., but this sunrise is worth getting up for. If you don’t want to set the alarm on vacation, sleep with your blinds open and get up as the sky begins to lighten. Grab your coffee and walk to the beach to watch the show.
Breakfast at Baja Coffee
Reward yourself for rising at the crack of dawn with a hearty (or light) breakfast from Baja Coffee. The shop is open from 6:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and is located just a short drive from the fishing pier.
Treat yourself to a freshly baked cinnamon roll or muffin, a breakfast wrap, yogurt and homemade granola, a fresh-fruit smoothie, or even a gluten-free quiche.
Baja’s coffee comes from Kill Devil Coffee Roasters in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The beans come from small independent farmers who are focused on sustainability and organic growing methods. This is the most delicious small-batch coffee you’ll find, so you may want to linger for a second cup.
False Cape Bike Tour
After breakfast, it’s time to get moving with a False Cape bike tour. The bike tour is a new activity for Surf & Adventure Co., and it’s sure to become one of the most popular.
Meet at Little Island Pier for a 10 a.m. start on one of two tours. You can either bike the semi-paved roads in False Cape State Park or rent a fat-tire sand bike and cruise the beach. Tour the interior roads, and you’ll pedal through high dunes and diverse ecosystems. Of the two tours, this is the least strenuous. Keep an eye out for critters such as deer, foxes, birds, and wild pigs.
The beach tour will take you east of the dunes across pristine, undeveloped beaches. You may see dolphin and seabirds starting their day too.
Lunch at Simply Steamed
If you’re ready for a break and a big glass of tea, head to Simply Steamed. Start with a jumbo shrimp cocktail, crab cake, She Crab soup, gazpacho, or a salad before diving into one of their famous sandwiches. Choose from local favorites such as the seafood wrap, shrimp taco, lobster salad, or crab-cake sandwich, or go for traditional entrees such as a BLT, Club, or fish sandwich. Take your lunch to the deck outside the seafood market and relax.
Before you leave, notice their one-pot take-out meals. Pots are custom made to order and can include corn on the cob, onions, red potatoes, and any combination of shrimp, clams, mussels, crabs, lobster, and crawfish. A small pot feeds two or three people, and the large pots can feed a large group or family. All you have to do is steam the contents of the pot in water, beer, or wine, and serve.
Shopping at Sandpiper Beach Shop
After lunch, it’s time for a little shopping at Sandpiper Beach Shop. This cute store is the best place to find the ultimate Sandbridge Beach souvenir. You’ll also find beach clothing for the whole family, sun hats, beach toys, sunblock, games, beach-themed home décor, and more.
Fishing and Swimming at Little Island Park
The ocean at Sandbridge Beach changes with every passing hour. From high tide to low tide, calm seas to stormy waves, sunrise, and sunset, capturing the natural majesty of the ocean is a powerful way to preserve your vacation memories.
Take a beach walk and capture close-up shots of seashells, sand castles, dunes, and vegetation. If you have a DSLR camera, turn your setting to “micro” to get the best details. If you’re using a camera phone, zoom in so that smaller objects fill the whole frame.
Sandbridge Beach is dog friendly, and nobody has more fun playing on the beach than our furry friends. Keep your camera ready so you can capture those wet, goofy smiles as these playful pups dash by.
Back Bay Wildlife Refuge
There’s no end to the photo opportunities at Back Bay Wildlife Refuge. This 8,000-acre barrier island is home to hundreds of species of birds, including flocks of Tundra Swans and rare ducks. On the ocean side, keep a lookout for turtle nests, diving seabirds, and dolphins. In the wetlands and forests, stay camera ready for deer, bobcats, hawks, and colorful songbirds.
Little Island Park & Pier
Little Island Park is a 122-acre beach park just north of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The 400-foot long fishing pier provides spectacular opportunities to photograph crabs, fish, diving pelicans, the sparkle off the water, sunrises, sunsets, and even passing dolphins breaching the waves.
Lotus Garden Park
Lotus Garden Park is just north of Little Island Park on Sandbridge Road. This park has a lovely pond that is full of blooming lotus flowers. Lotus Garden Park is a haven for colorful water birds, frogs, butterflies, and other animals and exotic insects. For the best pictures here, go slowly and observe the water and flowers carefully.
False Cape State Park
Between Back Bay and the ocean, you’ll find False Cape State Park, an undeveloped slice of heaven. This historic site has 6 miles of pristine beach and hiking trails that pass by photo-worthy locations such as an old church site with a cemetery, the Coast Guard Life Saving Station, and the remnants of the Wash Woods community settlement.
You can hike or ride bikes around the park, but you can also take a tram ride that leaves from Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. If you’re short on time, the tram is an excellent way to make a round trip through the park and see the highlights. The park is open from dusk until dawn each day for visitors. You’ll want to bring plenty of sunscreen and bug spray.
Family & Friends
Of course, the heart and soul of Sandbridge Beach are the people who come to share the joy of this special place. It’s easy to wind up a vacation with hundreds of scenic photos, but the best photos to help you remember your vacation feature you and your family or friends. Make a vacation resolution to take at least one group shot each day, commemorating your favorite moment or most dramatic discovery. If you’re traveling with your kids, remember how quickly time flies. Those photos you take of your children playing on the beach may just become your favorite memories years later when they’re grown.
Whether you’re using your cell phone camera or a DSLR camera, a few quick tips can help you take better photos of your Sandbridge Beach vacation.
Lighting: The hour just after sunrise and just before sunset are known to photographers as “the golden hours.” During this time, sunlight is naturally diffused, giving everything a heavenly glow. Take photos of people (and things) when the sun isn’t directly behind them, so you don’t get a dark, backlit effect. Pictures come out better when the sunlight is indirect; the closer you are to noon the more washed out your photos will be.
Composition: Frame your photos with the subject either directly in the middle of the frame or filling up two-thirds of the frame. If you’re taking pictures of a trail or boardwalk, place the start of the path in the corner of the screen.
Quantity: If you’re using a digital camera, the best way to get a fantastic photo is to take lots of pictures and edit down to your favorites later.
With its pristine beaches, protected parks and refuges, and breathtaking scenery, Sandbridge Beach is a photographer’s dream. Take plenty of pictures, seek out off-the-beaten-path gems, and capture your favorite moments and discoveries each day to enrich your memories later.
See Back Bay From the Water
There’s something special about seeing Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge from the water. Fall is quiet — the right time to enjoy watersports and tours. Always wanted to learn to paddleboard or surf? Come on down.
Kayak the Tributaries
Rent a canoe or kayak from Surf & Adventure Co. and take their two-hour guided tour of the quiet tributaries that run through the refuge to the Atlantic Ocean. Your guide will help you identify all the magnificent birds and wildlife that become active in cooler temperatures.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, take an ocean kayak tour. You’ll likely spot dolphins and pelagic birds as you cruise the quiet waters of the coast. For a special treat, book the Blue Pete’s kayak tour. This one-way paddle begins in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and ends at Blue Pete’s restaurant around sunset. Have dinner, then catch your ride back to your car at the refuge.
Learn to Surf or Paddleboard
Waters around Sandbridge Beach are still warm enough in early fall to surf or paddleboard, though you might want to rent a thin wetsuit. Sandbridge Beach has gentle waves and a sandy bottom, making it the ideal place for beginning paddleboarders or surfers. You can rent surfboards and paddleboards by the day or week, and some outfitters even deliver right to your cottage.
Hike Off the Beaten Path
Hike or Camp False Cape State Park
The East and West Dike Trail to False Cape State Park is open until October 31. False Cape State Park is accessible only by foot or by boat, so this is a truly special bucket list trip. There are a few primitive campsites in the park, and staying overnight allows visitors to experience the absolute quiet and stunning starlight displays that day visitors miss. False Cape also features the ruins of a church and cemetery that are worth exploring.
Prefer a bed to a sleeping bag? Day hikers who take the 7.6-mile coastal trail hike in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge can see white-tailed deer, multiple species of birds, migrating waterfowl, foxes, rabbits, and the occasional sea turtle. This hike will take you through diverse ecologies such as beaches, sand dunes, fields, marshes, and woodlands so you can kiss boredom goodbye.
Go Offshore Fishing
Go to an Oyster Roast
To seaside residents, oyster season is the unofficial beginning of holiday celebrations. This year’s oyster harvesting window is late, beginning on October 1 if the weather cooperates. As soon as it’s officially legal to gather oysters, the social season starts. Oyster roasts range from small impromptu backyard gatherings to large public fundraisers. Simply Steamed on Sandpiper Road offers build-your-own to-go steam pots as well.
Local restaurants usually have oyster roast nights throughout the fall where you can grab a bucket for around $10. Oysters are only a small part of what’s on the menu at an oyster roast. Hearty soups and stews, homemade bread, and plenty of desserts round out these traditional parties. If you’re invited to one, it’s traditional to bring a dish to share.
Practice Your Photography Skills
Diffused sunlight in fall makes this time of year a photographer’s dream. Not only are you more likely to get a shot of a deserted beach or forest trail, but wildlife tends to be more active as well. One of the best scenic places for photographers is the beach at sunrise or sunset. You may spy passing dolphins near shore, but you’re sure to capture a peaceful tableau — especially the morning after a storm.
Back Bay Wildlife Refuge is another photographer’s paradise. You’re likely to spot photogenic birds such as osprey, songbirds, gannets, and terns — especially in the mornings. Keep an eye out for the tundra swan, a beloved visitor who overwinters in the refuge. It’s worth the hike to venture into the pine forests with your camera. These “wet forests” are home to herds of deer, owls, unusual birds, and even bobcats.
With cooler temperatures and less competition, fall is prime time to go fishing at Sandbridge Beach. Local fisherfolk will tell you that you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment to have fun and catch fish, especially if you’re just headed to the beach or the pier.
For beach or pier fishing, you’ll need a long rod known as a “heaver.” These rods are 11 to 12 feet in length and can handle heavy bait and 8 ounces of lead weight (known here as “8 and bait”). In the fall, you can also use a smaller rod for casting lures and jigs. Wherever you plan to fish, be sure to get a fishing license and make note of size and catch regulations.
Bike or Hike to False Cape State Park
Newer to the area, we have indoor skydiving at iFly. iFly is a 14’ temperature controlled indoor skydiving venue located on Pacific Ave. in Virginia Beach. Once you check-in you will have a small training session where you learn the proper body position for flying and hand signals the instructor will use while you are flying. After that you gear up and are ready to go! Each flight last 60 seconds. Even if you have little ones who are brave and want to go it is totally safe for anyone ages 3 and up!
The Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium
Spend the day zipping from tree to tree at The Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium! The Adventure Park is the largest forest climbing park in the nation with 15 trails, 21 zip lines, 6 difficulty levels and 200 challenge bridges. You will be able to choose a 2 or 3 hour forest adventure. This does not include the safety orientation that you must take before climbing. With 15 different trails to choose from, beginner to advance, The Adventure Park is a great way to spend a day of active fun with your friends and/or family.
Stand Up Paddleboarding
Stand up paddleboarding, also known as SUP, is a bit more relaxing but still a lot of fun and gives you a full body workout. Riders balance themselves standing on the board and use a paddle to navigate through water. While staying in Sandbridge you have access to all the canals and Back Bay Wildlife Refuge to paddle through. If you are looking for more of a rush you can head over to the beach and catch some waves. Never paddle boarded before but interested in learning? Check out Surf and Adventure! They offer group or private lessons and well as SUP tours.
Spend the day soaking in the sun while experiencing nature at it most pristine. With over 121 navigable miles of waterways Virginia Beach is a perfect place to go kayaking. If you have your own kayak there are a few different launch sites at Back Bay Wildlife refuge. If you are traveling you can rent or go on a kayak tour at Surf and Adventure. They offer 6 different tours from a eco tour to a kayak fishing tour.
You can get such an adrenaline rush from offshore fishing especially if you catch a blue marlin or a yellowfin tuna. Most trips last from 12 to 17 hours and need to be reserved in advance. The day starts before the sun comes up. You will head out to wrecks, offshore towers, and underwater canyons 75 miles from shore. Once you get where you are going you will drop your line and hopefully be reeling in a 300-pound tuna. You can book offshore fishing charters with Rudee Tours. They even offer 3 hourly nightly fishing tour, from 6 pm to 9pm, that is perfect for kids.
Back Bay Wildlife Refuge/ False Cape State Park
Back Bay Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park is such a beautiful place to go hiking or biking. These are two different locations and offer different sights but you can only access False Cape through Back Bay Wildlife Refuge.
Back Bay has 8 miles of scenic trails to explore. They offer tours and educational programs. You will have amazing views of the bay and may see some wildlife such as birds and deer along the trails.
False Cape has 6 miles of beaches, 12 campsites, and 9 miles of hiking/biking. They also offer tours and educational programs. If you plan on visiting for just the day you will be able to take a tram from Back Bay. You will have 2 hours to explore the area. While you are there be sure to check out Wash Woods area. There is an old church and cemetery. If you plan on stay the night you will have to hike/bike through Back Bay refuge.
Even though many people choose to vacation in Virginia Beach to spend the day in the sun building sandcastles there are many activities in the area for the more adventurous time. Have you tried one of these activities? I am sure there are many other things to do in the area to get your adrenaline going. Is there a place that you go to every year that we may have missed?
Visitors to Sandbridge Beach come for seclusion, pristine beaches, and the rare opportunity to be immersed in an unspoiled natural environment. Sandbridge Beach may be compact, but what it lacks in square mileage it more than makes up for in breathtaking wildlife refuges and family-friendly state parks.
Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge covers more than 9,000 acres on the Currituck Banks Peninsula. The refuge borders the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Back Bay of Currituck Sound to the west. This salt- and freshwater refuge was established in 1938 to preserve a critical feeding and resting habitat for migrating waterfowl. As part of the Atlantic Flyway, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is a temporary and permanent home to hundreds of species of birds.
Back Bay Refuge is also an important habitat for loggerhead sea turtles and other animals. During fall and winter, thousands of ducks, tundra swans, and snow geese stop at the refuge for rest and recreation. Visitors may also spot great blue heron, the elusive American bittern, American black ducks, osprey, deer, muskrats, river otters, bobcats, and raccoons.
Visitors can enjoy a diverse geography that includes sand dunes, marshes, ponds, beaches, and forests by hiking or biking the marsh trails, strolling the boardwalk, or walking the beach. A good first stop is the Visitor Contact Station, which is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. For a broad overview of the refuge before you dive in on your own, take a ride on the Blue Goose Tram, which offers an excellent guided tour through Back Bay and False Cape State Park.
Want to learn more about this special place? The refuge offers educational and public service programs, including Clean the Bay Day, fishing clinics, turtle conservation programs, the Pond Explorers program, and marsh nature hikes. Canoes and kayaks can be launched at Horn Point, and fishing is available off the dock and the beach.
False Cape State Park
False Cape State Park lies between Back Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. This is a primitive, undeveloped park that was once home to Native Americans and the historic Wash Woods community. The park is accessible only on foot, by bicycle, tram tour, boat, or beach transport. If you are looking for quiet and seclusion, this is a wonderful park for kayaking, camping, hiking, beachcombing, and trail biking.
False Cape State Park is on the two-hour tram tour that begins in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Overnight campers are welcome in the park, but be sure to bring plenty of water, insect repellent, and sunscreen and be prepared for pop-up storms.
Little Island Park
Little Island Park is a small but mighty park north of Back Bay Refuge. This beachfront park has a 400-foot fishing and crabbing pier, and an ideal surfing and swimming beach. Little Island has all the amenities families need for a fun day at the beach including picnic shelters, charcoal grills, a playground, canoe and kayak rental, restrooms, fishing pole rentals, concessions, and vending machines. Visitors can also check out sport and beach gear such as basketballs, baseball bats, corn hole boards and bags, Frisbees, soccer balls, volleyballs, and beach wheelchairs from the park office.
Little Island Park welcomes dogs anytime after Labor Day weekend and before Memorial Day weekend. Otherwise, dogs are allowed in the park and on the beach before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m. the rest of the year.
Red Wing Park
Just a short drive from Sandbridge Beach you’ll find Red Wing Park, a 97-acre park that is home to some of the most beautiful gardens in Virginia. If you’re visiting in warm months, you’ll likely see outdoor weddings and formal wedding photography taking place. This park not only boasts a picturesque Japanese garden, but also plenty of picnic shelters with grills, playgrounds, a dog park, concessions, restrooms, and basketball, volleyball and tennis courts. Red Wing also allows visitors to borrow sports equipment from the park office.
For nature lovers, Sandbridge Beach is the perfect place to turn off the cell phone and get back in touch with Nature and what really matters most. Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge has something for all ages and abilities — whether it’s an adventurous solo overnight camping trip or a relaxing, educational tram ride through Back Bay Refuge and False Cape National Park.
Sandbridge Beach has both primitive and thoughtfully appointed state parks for those seeking solitude or fun family outings. Pack a picnic and your sunscreen, then head for the hiking trails and uncrowded beaches of Sandbridge’s state parks and you’ll be set for a day you’ll remember for years to come.