Autumn is a special time of year at Sandbridge Beach. Summer temperatures give way to cooler fall days and nights, crowds thin, and locals get excited about the prospect of putting on knitwear and, occasionally…socks. Fall is a time where locals can finally relax and enjoy all Sandbridge Beach has to offer without all of the summer chaos. We get to move at a slower pace, have wide open beaches, and enjoy some of our favorite activities. If you find yourself here for the fall season, then you will definitely want to join in on some of these activities! Here are 7 fall activities that Sandbridge locals love.
While summer may be the time of year most people think to go on a beach vacation, Sandbridge Beach in the fall has an allure of its own. The intense heat of summer has faded, there’s a soft breeze in the air, and the little bit of crowd Sandbridge does attract has dwindled. If you ask me, this is the recipe for a perfect, relaxing vacation.
As an angler, you know that the adventure of fishing is as much about the experience as it is reeling in the a big one. If you’re used to one fishing (or fish), you’ll love the variety that awaits you in Sandbridge Beach, Virginia.
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
There’s always something biting at Sandbridge, and there are plenty of places to fish in peace. Here’s a list of what’s running in spring, where to find them, and how to catch them.
Atlantic mackerel is a flaky whitefish that only needs a little butter and salt before grilling. Mackerel are abundant around Sandbridge, and are best caught by jigging over schools of fish. Use your own boat outside of the surf or take an offshore charter to find them.
Black or Red drum fish have a sweet and mild flavor that lends itself well to rubs and marinades before grilling. Use whelk, clams, crab, or jigs to cast into running schools of fish at dusk, and watch for diving birds to show you where they are. From the beach, wade to the sandbar just past low tide, cast toward the ocean, and wait for fish to run as the tide comes in.
Bluefish is delicious baked in any citrus-based marinade. Though most bluefish are found offshore, you can sometimes catch these large fish by surfcasting with cut bait. Bluefish can weigh up to 25 pounds, so if you’re surfcasting, be ready for a workout.
Croaker is another tasty, mild fish that only need a little butter and salt before grilling. They are attracted to crab, worms, and shrimp and can be easily caught by bottom fishing from a boat, by casting off of the Little Island Pier, or into the surf from any beach. Local anglers also like the Back Bay boat ramp for finding croaker in the evening.
A perennial favorite, there’s nothing better than fresh flounder with breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. Flounder are fun to catch on live bait while drift fishing, slow trolling on the bottom, or surfcasting from the beach. If you’re casting from the beach, make sure your bait clears the sandbar. Little Island Pier and near the Sandbridge Market beach are favorite fishing holes for flounder.
Gourmands like to prepare this sought-after sea trout with a mustard base and seasoned breadcrumb coating. You’ll have the most success catching gray trout with artificial lures or small live bait. Cast into schools from a boat or surfcast at dusk when schools are running parallel to the beach.
Striped bass taste best when prepared with a simple mixture of butter, garlic, onion, lemon, and sea salt. Use artificial lures or live bait to troll from a boat, or cast off of Little Island Pier. If you want to try surfcasting for bass, watch for diving gulls to indicate running schools.
Prepare tautog just as you would flounder. You can easily land these medium-size fish by bottom fishing from a boat with crab bait. Tautog schools usually hang out near reefs and wrecks, so you may have to go offshore to find them.
Everyone loves the tasty dolphin fish (also known as mahi-mahi so as not to be confused with the beloved mammal of the same name). Look for schools of dolphin fish offshore all spring and summer long. They are best caught with artificial lures from a trolling rig.
You’ll need a fishing license to fish at Sandbridge Beach. Pick up a five-day saltwater and freshwater license at Margie & Ray’s Crabhouse on Sandbridge Road.
Where to Fish
If you have your own boat, you can launch at Mill Landing Road Ramp, North Bay Shore Campground, Owl Creek Boat Ramp, or Rudee Inlet. You can also fish from state-owned ramps such as Mill Landing and Back Bay Landing.
For pier fishing, the 400-foot Little Island Pier is great for getting your line in deeper water without a boat.
In Back Bay National Wildlife refuge, Back Bay is a brackish lake that has a healthy fish and crab population. The tributary creeks that feed into the lake are teeming with largemouth bass, crappie, and bluegill in spring. Bank fishing is limited on some creeks, so check your license before you cast.
The best surf fishing is also in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The beach past the ranger’s shack is a popular spot for anglers because no swimming or surfing is allowed.
If you’re new to offshore fishing, it’s best to hire a charter. Your charter will come with an experienced guide, safety equipment, and fishing gear. Most offshore trips require anglers to get at least five miles into the ocean, so prepare for an intensive day on the water. If you don’t mind getting out of sight of land, you’ll be rewarded with big fish and bigger tales to tell.
From intense offshore trips to relaxing casts from the pier or beach, Sandbridge Beach has a variety of fishing opportunities to suit all budgets and levels of ambition.
Here are our favorite ways to de-stress at Sandbridge Beach:
#1 Visit During Off-Season
If you love a relaxing beach vacation during summer, you’ll really love it in the winter. In the off-season, locals are more casual, there’s a convivial community feeling in the air, and you’ll have the best restaurants and attractions all to yourself. You’ll also find deep discounts on rentals, making Sandbridge Beach the perfect place to sneak in an extra few days of vacation.
#2 Go Beachcombing
Temperatures at Sandbridge Beach during the winter are fairly temperate. Don a fleece and savor long, solitary walks on the beach. Since you’ll have the sand all to yourself, keep an eye out for rare treasures such as the Scotch Bonnet seashell, Queen Helmet Conch, and the conical Lettered Olive shell.
You may also find “fairy shells,” or fossils made of staurolite — a mineral that was created when the Appalachian Mountains rose from the sea. Beachcombing is more fun when you have a seashell guide to help you identify your beach bling, so pick one up at a local shop before heading out.
Shelling isn’t the only joy of having the beach to yourself; you’ll also be the solitary audience for majestic shorebirds and playful Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins. Sunrise and sunset are particularly memorable when the vista is yours alone.
#3 Go Fishing
Bring your poles and spend a relaxing day on Little Island Fishing Pier. Get a five-day fishing license from a local sporting store and you’ll have free rein to angle during your vacation. In winter, striped bass school through the area searching for baitfish — in fact, they’re so plentiful it’s difficult not to catch one. You can also expect to catch tautog, spotted sea trout, puppy drum, and flounder. If you want to fish offshore, you can score tasty tilefish and sea bass.
#4 Take in the Sights
Winter is a great time to take in the nearby sights and attractions. On Sandbridge, relax on a ride through Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park on the heated Blue Goose Tram. From the comfort of your warm ride you’ll see wintering waterfowl and other wildlife while learning about the history of the refuge and the park.
Nearby, you can visit the Virginia Science Museum, the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, the Virginia Living Museum, and more.
#5 Visit the Spa
There’s no faster way to banish stress than with a trip to the spa. Nearby spas include Natural Balance Spa & Yoga, Body Logic Massage, Picasso Salon & Spa, and the Seaside Day Spa. Whether you want a new haircut, a pretty manicure and pedicure, or a deep-tissue massage, local spas provide all the services you need to go home feeling great.
#6 Sample the Seafood
Sandbridge restaurants are open year ’round and offer delicious regional dishes only available in winter. Indulge in local oyster roasts and specials on freshly caught bass and flounder.
Some of the best places to sample Sandbridge Beach seafood are Margie & Ray’s Crabhouse, the legendary Blue Pete’s, Sandbridge Island Restaurant, and Baja Restaurant. You won’t find lines or long waits for tables during off-season, just friendly locals, lucky travelers, and plenty of incredible regional flavors.
#7 Take a Drive
In summer, everyone is eager to spend as much time at the beach as possible. However, cooler winter temperatures present the perfect opportunity to explore the rest of Sandbridge Beach, and Virginia Beach, by car. Pack your binoculars and camera, turn up the heater, and set out for a leisurely journey. Stop at scenic spots for photos, shop for souvenirs (often at reduced prices), and take time to get to know the undiscovered nooks and crannies of Sandbridge Beach. When you get hungry, break for lunch at an out-of-the-way restaurant before heading home.
Whether you’ve had a busy year or just need a break before a new year gets in full swing, a winter holiday in Sandbridge Beach is the ideal way to de-stress and recharge. Pack a few warm clothes, binoculars, and nature guides and you’ll be ready to take in the unspoiled scenery and unbroken solitude of Virginia’s beautiful barrier island.
We love getting photographic memories of our guests’ stays with us at Sandbridge Blue. We enjoy seeing the smiles, and we are reminded each time we get one about how special family memories are, and how many cool things there are to do in the area.
Like going offshore fishing! This week’s Memory Monday shows us the excitement of a kid catching a pretty cool fish off the coast.
Rudee Inlet is just a few miles from Sandbridge and you can charter a boat there to take you deep sea fishing. That’s exactly what this group did, and we appreciate them sharing this great photo of their stay with us at Sandbridge Blue.
All the best from the beach!