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A winter getaway to Virginia Beach

Holiday decor adorning the mantel over the lit fireplace in the Cavalier Hotel Hunt Room Cozy up with a cocktail at the Hunt Room inside the Cavalier Hotel. Photo courtesy the Hunt Room

Virginia Beach has long been known as a summer hot spot, welcoming hordes of revelers every year to enjoy sun, sand, and surf. But winter invites guests to see a different side of this popular coastal town. While you’ll probably leave your bathing suit at home, a winter getaway to Virginia Beach still has lots to offer—and you can enjoy it all without the crowds of tourist season.

“It’s obviously colder and you won’t be going swimming, but it still has that laid-back vibe,” says Virginia Beach Director of Public Relations Erin Goldmeier. “Restaurants and bars remain open, and there are a lot of places where you can sit by the fire or get some fresh air and enjoy our natural resources.” 

Despite dropping temperatures, Virginia Beach maintains its spirit, welcoming guests to its thriving shopping districts, delicious food, and exhilarating maritime excursions. Here are a few of our top picks for a winter visit. 

Celebrate the season at holiday events

A drive-through archway illuminated by holiday lights

Celebrate the season with light displays and more along the boardwalk during the BayPort Credit Union Holiday Lights at the Beach event. Photo courtesy Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau

Holiday cheer is in ample supply on the boardwalk, thanks to the BayPort Credit Union Holiday Lights at the Beach event, which this year runs from November 19 to January 2. Cruise along the boardwalk and enjoy illuminated displays, holiday music, and moonlit views of the ocean—all from the warmth of your car. Tickets cost $25 per vehicle Monday through Thursday; $30 per vehicle Friday through Sunday.  

Boogie into the new year in style at the Cavalier Hotel, which will host a Studio 54–themed New Year’s Eve soiree. Check the website closer to the date for ticket prices.

Town Center packed with crowds during the Virginia Beach New Years' Eve party

Ring in 2023 in Virginia Beach at the annual New Year's Eve party at Town Center. Photo Courtesy Central Business District Association

Or bundle up and join the locals at Last Night on the Town, the community’s annual New Year’s Eve Party. The family-friendly event has been a Virginia Beach favorite for nearly a decade, drawing crowds to Town Center to ring in the new year with music, entertainment, and contests. 

“New York City has nothing on Virginia Beach,” says Jeanne Evans-Cox, executive director of the Central Business District Association, which organizes the Last Night festivities. “We turn Town Center into New Year’s Eve party central.” 

The festivities begin at 7 p.m., when the streets in Town Center close to make way for party-goers to enjoy restaurant and bar specials, fire breathers and stilt-walkers, and an LED dance floor.

After the dance contest (because what’s New Year's Eve without a dance contest?), bands on the main stage keep the crowd rocking (including headliner Lupe Fiasco) until the countdown to the giant beach ball drop at midnight. Admission and parking are free, and nearby hotels offer shuttle service. VIP tickets can be purchased.

You may also like: Why you should celebrate the holidays in Richmond, Virginia

Indulge your taste buds

Rudee's Restaurant and Cabana Bar seen from high up

Rudee's Restaurant and Cabana Bar offers waterfront views. Photo courtesy Rudees

No trip to the beach is complete without seafood, and you’d be remiss if you didn’t indulge in the delicacies served at Virginia Beach restaurants. Enjoy fresh fare and seasonal specialties at Blue Seafood & Spirits, where diners rave about the crab cakes, or take in the ocean views at Rudee’s Restaurant and Cabana Bar

Holiday garland decorating the bar in the Cavalier Hotel Hunt Room

The Hunt Room inside the Cavalier Hotel decks its halls during the holiday season and serves delicious cocktails and cuisine. Photo courtesy the Hunt Room

If the chilly temperatures have you seeking a cozy spot, nab a seat by the fireplace at the Hunt Room inside the Cavalier Hotel, where your new favorite cocktail awaits. Drink like a local at Waterman’s Surfside Grille, famous for its Orange Crush cocktail, or eat at Pacifica, which dishes up mouthwatering small plates.

In Norfolk, head for the Mermaid Winery, a wine bar and restaurant that produces its own wines from Virginia and California grapes (be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol).

Expand your mind

“History Preserved” by David Marion shows 2 girls holding a newspaper

The "Made in VA" exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art features pieces by local artists, such as “History Preserved” by David Marion, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

There’s always something new at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. Of special note during the winter season is the “Made in VA” exhibit, which celebrates talented regional artists, and the “More than Shelter” exhibit, which examines the significance of shelter and its various iterations in today’s society. Admission to the museum is free, but tickets should be reserved in advance.

Old aircrafts inside the Military Aviation Museum

The Military Aviation Museum houses one of the largest collections of World War I and II military aircrafts in the world. Photo courtesy Military Aviation Museum

Authenticity reigns supreme at the Military Aviation Museum, which houses one of the world’s largest collections of restored World War I– and World War II–era military aircraft.

Take a guided tour of the RAF watchtower, used by American and British forces during World War II and brought to Virginia brick by brick, or explore a genuine ​​German Luftwaffe hangar built in 1934. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see one of the planes take to the skies. 

“The vast majority of our World War II collection still flies, so it’s not uncommon to see some oil on the floor because they are truly living, breathing artifacts of history,” says Museum Director Keegan Chetwynd. “As we are losing our Greatest Generation, this is how we can continue to tell the stories of the men and women who built these aircraft.” Adults, $15; World War II and Korea War veterans free.

A child looking into a tank with fish and turtles at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center

Get up close and personal with marine and coastal species from around the world at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. Photo courtesy Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center

Get a close-up look at coastal and marine creatures from around the world at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, home to thousands of animals representing more than 300 species, including sharks, turtles, snakes, and seals. And check out an exhibit where you can get a taste of what it’s like to engage in a simulated rescue operation. Adults, $24.95. Online reservations are required.

Support local businesses 

Aerial view of the ViBe Creative District

The ViBe Creative District is a colorful place to shop for locally made gifts, eat, and tap into your artistic side. Photo courtesy ViBe Creative District

Whether you’re window-shopping or seeking serious retail therapy, Virginia Beach has you covered. For one-of-a-kind gifts and handcrafted wares, head to the ViBe Creative District, where small businesses sell everything from fine art and jewelry to leather bags made by local artisans.

You’ll find a more upscale experience at the Shops at Hilltop, which houses a mix of specialty stores and chain retailers. Want a little bit of everything? Head to Virginia Beach Town Center, where you can browse familiar labels as well as local boutiques. 

You may also like: The best places for winter activities in Virginia

Take in the views

Whale breaching

Catch glimpses of whales, seabirds, and waterfowl with Patriotic Excursions or the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. Photo courtesy Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center

One of the best seasonal activities Virginia Beach offers is whale watching. Get out on the water with Patriotic Excursions, a veteran-owned business that uses decommissioned naval rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) for private and small-group whale- and dolphin-watching tours (tickets start at $137).

Opt for a larger tour (and boat) with the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, which takes up to 80 guests out through mid-March for glimpses of whales, seabirds, and waterfowl.

“It’s a big wildlife-watching experience, and winter really beckons interesting wildlife,” says Mackenzie Di Nardo, public relations manager at the Virginia Aquarium. “Whale sightings are not guaranteed during the tours, but boat captains have a good sense of when and where [the whales] are in the area.” Tickets typically start at $28.95 for adults, but check the website for the latest prices.

To take in ocean views from a higher vantage point, make your way to the Fort Story military base, which houses the Cape Henry Lighthouse.

While it’s no longer operational, the lighthouse remains a hallmark of history; construction of the towering land marker was approved by George Washington (and overseen by Alexander Hamilton) and is steps from where English settlers first set foot on what is now Virginia. Plus, it’s the fourth-oldest lighthouse in the country.

If that doesn’t impress you, the panoramic view will. Climb to the lantern room and enjoy an unobstructed vista of the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. 

Keep in mind that while the lighthouse remains open to the public year-round, its location within a military base warrants extra security measures. Don’t forget to take advantage of your AAA discount. Admission to Cape Henry Lighthouse is $10, but $9 for AAA members. 

Betsy Abraham is a freelance writer who enjoys travel, good books, coffee, and experiences that combine all 3.

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AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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