Virginia Beach native Peggy Sijswerda can remember when her hometown was a sleepy little city covered in cornfields.
Today, acting as editor and publisher of regional magazines Tidewater Women and Tidewater Family keeps Peggy more than busy, but she still makes time to enjoy all this coastal gem has to offer—”amazing history, beaches, boating, swimming, and seriously tasty seafood” chief among them.
Here are a few of her favorite things about the city she’s proud to call home.
Virginia Beach Is My City
When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is Dockside Restaurant to sit on the deck overlooking the Lynnhaven River and start picking away at a huge platter of steamed crabs. Plan to get messy!
September is the best time to visit my city because the beaches are gorgeous, the water is warm, and the crowds are gone.
You can see my city best from the Cape Henry Lighthouse, a national historic landmark.
Locals know to skip the resort area beaches and check out the beaches at the North End—between 40th and 88th streets—instead, where parking is free and the beaches are wide and nearly empty.
The Creative Wedge at Hilltop is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs.
My city’s best museum is the Old Coast Guard Station at 24th Street because it honors the city’s maritime heritage, surfmen who saved lives way back when, and lifeguards who keep beaches safe today.
If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that tunnel traffic is a fact of life, so plan accordingly to avoid peak times.
The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is First Landing State Park, an oasis of live oaks, pines, and cypress trees stretching from the Chesapeake Bay to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. You can hike, bike, kayak, stand-up paddleboard, and sit on the beach at the Narrows (the end of 64th Street).
My city really knows how to celebrate the Neptune Festival (held the last weekend in September), a huge to-do along the boardwalk with a sandcastle-building contest, parade, music, arts and crafts, festival food (crab-cake sandwich, anyone?), and more. We even crown a King Neptune every year!
For a fancy night out, I put on my pearls and head to Salacia, Virginia’s only steakhouse with a AAA “four diamond” rating. Intimate oceanside tables are available seasonally and you can’t beat the views.
Just outside my city, you can visit the largest navy base in the world: Naval Station Norfolk.
My city is known for being a tourist destination, but it’s really an important military community and home to Naval Air Station Oceana, the only master jet base on the East Coast. Once you’ve heard the jets screaming overheard, you won’t soon forget them.
The best outdoor market in my city is Old Beach Farmers Market at 19th and Cypress.
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read Veer, a monthly alternative magazine based in Norfolk.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I grab a picnic and head to the beach—or to one of the resort area’s three outdoor stages (on 17th, 24th, and 31st Streets), where I might just find a great band playing for free!
To escape the crowds, I go for a hike in Back Bay Wildlife Refuge.
The rosemary lemon-drop martini is my city’s signature drink. Fresh-squeezed lemon juice, simple syrup, Virginia-made Blue Ridge vodka and a rosemary sprig garnish makes this drink unforgettable. Sample it at Croc’s 19th Street Bistro.
The Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art is my favorite building in town because it’s hip and modern with lots of glass, indoor trees, and a Chihuly sculpture hanging from the ceiling. There’s always a new cutting-edge exhibit of contemporary art to ponder.
My city’s biggest sports event is the North American Sand Soccer Championships. Watch it from the boardwalk along 22 waterfront blocks.
The most random thing about my city is that we grow soybeans—lots of them—and ship them around the world.
Getting a free ESP (extra-sensory perception) test could only happen in my city. Stop in at Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment at 67th Street on Saturdays and Sundays to find out if you can really read minds.
In the summer you should go to the Virginia Beach Boardwalk Art Show, held annually since 1952.
In the fall you should go biking on the boardwalk, stopping for a bite and beverage at Mahi Mah’s.
In the winter you should charter a fishing boat and join the annual Rockfish Shootout held each January. Maybe you’ll hook the biggest fish and win big bucks!
If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the Virginia Aquarium’s Adventure Park, an all-ages ropes course with a variety of trails ranging from beginner to challenging.
The best book about my city is Tidewater Virginia by Jake McGuire because it features compelling photographs of Virginia Beach and the surrounding metro areas.