Road Trip: Virginia Beach, Va.
Virginia Beach may not be the first place you think of taking a trip to in February. But, really, there is more than swimming, sun and sand in this vacation town.
The area has become well-known for its whale-watching. So, pack the car, and get on the road.
Now is the perfect time to see humpback whales.
These mammals are known for their magical songs, which travel great distances through the world’s oceans. They are found near coastlines, feeding on tiny shrimplike krill, plankton and small fish. Humpbacks are powerful swimmers. They use their massive tail fin, called a fluke, to propel themselves through the water and, sometimes, completely out of it.
Humpback whales have long been passing by the shores of Virginia Beach, because of the food-rich mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and warmer Atlantic Ocean waters. Humpbacks can weigh up to 40 tons and range up to 52 feet long.
In addition to humpback whales, fin whales, another member of the Rorqual family, migrate along the Virginia Beach coast. Fin whales, which are the second-largest mammals on the planet after the blue whale, are known as the “greyhounds of the sea” because they can reach speeds of up to 23 miles per hour.
These massive marine mammals can measure up to 79-feet long and weigh up to 70 tons, which is almost the weight of two fully loaded 18-wheelers.
There is no guarantee you will see any whales, but since the tours kicked off in December, those on 24 of 27 excursions have spotted them.
The tour departs from the Rudee Inlet and enters the Atlantic Ocean traveling north along the resort area and its famed boardwalk up to the Cape Henry Lighthouse at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.
There is an aquarium educator from the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center on each tour.
“Virginia Beach is the perfect destination to visit all throughout the year — not just the warmer months, “ says Ron Kuhlman, vice president of tourism, marketing and sales for the Virginia Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau. “With great outdoor adventure, coastal cuisine and whale-watching, everyone should check out our East Coast destination.”
Tours are $28; $24 for ages 4 to 11.
Details: 800-822-3224 or www.visitvirginiabeach.com
Climb the Cape Henry Lighthouse
Established in 1791, it is the country’s oldest government-built lighthouse. The lighthouse’s storied career spanned nearly 100 years, beginning with its contribution to safe commerce on the Southeastern coast. Located near the site where the first English settlers landed in 1607, the lighthouse sustained damage during the Civil War but was later restored. A trip to the top of the structure promises one of the best views.
Details: 757-422-9421 or preservationvirginia.org/visit/historic-properties/cape-henry-lighthouse
Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center
Before or after your whale adventure, take time to visit the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. It’s the place where you can explore the ocean depths at the state’s largest aquarium and one of the most visited in the nation. Experience “Restless Planet,” the aquarium’s new $25 million renovation, watch an IMAX 3-D show, walk along the nature trail and explore an outdoor aviary that offers an up-close glimpse of the marsh birds seen along Virginia Beach’s shorelines. Tickets are $21; $15 for ages 3 to 11.
Details: 757-385-7777 or www.virginiaaquarium.com
Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park
Paddle a kayak through the waters of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, an 8,500-acre plot made up of barrier islands, dunes, fresh-water marshes, maritime forests, ponds and ocean beaches.
Sharing a border is the 4,321-acre False Cape State Park, featuring 6 miles of unspoiled beaches in an ocean-to-freshwater bay habitat. Both Back Bay and False Cape are home to wild horses, feral pigs, loggerhead turtles, American bald eagles and a large variety of migratory birds and endangered species. Many outfitters offer guided tours or rentals.
Details: 800-933-7275 or www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/fal.shtml
Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum
Located in the historically registered DeWitt cottage built in 1895, this museum displays art and artifacts documenting migratory wildfowl that pass through Eastern Virginia. Exhibits of wildfowl and shorebird carvings trace the evolution of this unique American art form. Enjoy on-site wood-carving demonstrations, decoys dating from historic times to present day and a collection of exhibits covering the history of Virginia Beach.
Details: 757-437-8432 or www.awhm.org
Virginia Beach Town Center
This area consists of 17 city blocks of dining, shopping and entertainment, including Sonoma Wine Bar and Sandler Center for the Performing Arts. On March 16, there will be the Shamrock on the Block event, the first big celebration of spring. Enjoy a free afternoon of music and family fun.