If you're hankering for a beach getaway but you're totin' the kids, why not aim your sandals at family-friendly Virginia Beach? Not only does it have that wide golden beach, the long boardwalk and the all-you-can-eat pancake houses lining Atlantic Avenue, but it's also got some lesser-known attractions that will juice up your beach vacation nicely.
Whale- and dolphin-watching tours
Whether or not you actually spot any sea life, you still can't beat a ride on one of Virginia Beach's double-decker nature-watching boats. Come early to snag a spot on the upper deck, or snuggle into a booth in the inner cabin. In winter, the sight of ginormous humpback whales is truly jaw-dropping, while warmer months are more likely to bring peeks of playful bottlenose dolphins leaping through the waves. Check out Rudee Tours for more.
The Virginia Aquarium
Chubby seals, slip-sliding river otters and a walk-through tropical fish tank are among the biggest kid-pleasers at the charming Virginia Aquarium. A giant touch-tank full of slippery rays is another highlight. (The rays' skin feels like the surface of a soft-boiled egg; don't worry, they won't sting.) When everyone's tired of walking, the IMAX offers a chance to take a load off while watching so-close-you-can-almost-touch-it images of the deep blue wilds.
The name alone should delight children, who will adore this grassy plateau built of – yep – compacted solid waste (don't think about it too hard). It's one of the country's premiere examples of landfill reuse, and a terrific place to fly a kite. There's also a skatepark and a fantastic playground.
Old Cape Henry Lighthouse
This imposing masonry lighthouse has guarded the Chesapeake Bay since 1792. Today, visitors can climb to the top for a panoramic view of sea and shore. Be aware, kids must be at least 42''(106cm) tall to climb the narrow spiral staircase. Sorry, no piggy-back rides to the top.
Stroll, skate or bike Virginia Beach's beloved three-mile ocean-front boardwalk, lined with cafes and bike rental agencies. Small children will love 'helping’ to pedal a wheeled surrey cart, while older kids can rollerblade alongside. Stop for a photo-op at the gigantic bronze King Neptune statue – he's 34ft (10.3m) tall and weighs twelve tons!
From jungle- and pirate-themed courses to indoor extravaganzas lit with blacklights, Virginia Beach has mini-golf for all persuasions. Cap off your game with a visit to one of the attached arcades, where you can challenge the younger generation to a rousing game of vintage Ms. Pac-Man.
No trip to Virginia Beach is complete without a visit to diabetic coma-inducing Forbes Candies, serving up old-fashioned delights like salt-water taffy, brown sugar sea foam and maple nut fudge since 1930.
Ocean Breeze Waterpark
This high-octane park features 16 waterslides and a million-gallon wave pool. Little ones can clamour around the pirate ship at Buccaneer Bay, while older kids can challenge each other to 'Walk the Plank' (a 200ft (60m) plunge through darkness) or ride the spiraling Hurricane. If all the action is giving you a grown-up migraine, retreat to the Slush Factory for a DIY piña colada-flavoured slushie.
This article was originally published in May 2012. This article was updated in July 2012.