Celebrate In Virginia Beach!

Visiting for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon this weekend? Here are some ideas for filling your free time there.

Written by: John Mendelsohn

First built in 1888 as a five-block, wooden-planked promenade, and recently the beneficiary of $103 million worth of improvements, Virginia Beach Boardwalk is three miles long, 28 feet wide, and lined with shops, amusement areas, museums, sculptures and monuments, a traditional fishing pier, entertainment stages, and other things to divert the eagerly diverted.

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For instance, the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum, located in the oldest beach house still standing along the oceanfront, displays antique and contemporary wildfowl decoys, shorebird carvings, artwork and other artifacts, as well as Virginia Beach history displays. An enchanting seaside garden features an array of salt-air hearty flowers, shrubbery and trees, and you can buy hand-carved decoys, books, bird kites, wildfowl art, and photographs at the conveniently situated gift shop.

The Old Coast Guard Station at 24th Street and Atlantic Avenue celebrates the rich coastal and maritime heritage of the region on two gallery floors. Ooh and ah unabashedly at more than 1,000 photographs and some 2,000 artifacts having to do with the history of the U.S. Life-Saving and Coast Guard Services, Virginia shipwrecks, World War II, and more. A nice selection of lighthouse collectibles, t-shirts, nautical jewelry, books and boat model kits, toys and many other gift items and mementos are available for your comfort and convenience at the gift shop.

Next to the Naval Aviation Monument, the Norwegian Lady Statue commemorates the tragic shipwreck of Norwegian sailing vessel Dictator from Moss, Norway, in the spring of 1891. After the shipwreck, Dictator‘s wooden figurehead washed ashore, and was placed near the Boardwalk. Over the course of 60 years, though, it ceased visibly to relish the salty air, and was put into storage — and promptly stolen. Whereupon a Norwegian sculptor was commissioned to create bronze statues, one for Moss and one no visit to Virginia Beach can be said to be complete without your seeing.

Speaking of sculptures, you’ll surely want to have your photo taken in front of sculptor Paul di Pasquale’s King Neptune statue at Neptune Park near the Hilton Hotel 31st Street, as it’s a mind-bloggling 34-feet tall to the tip of the trident. See if you can find the octopus, two dolphins, sea turtle, lobster and twelve fishes that keep His Majesty company.

The beach is combed and cleaned every morning, but you might want to avoid the boardwalk after dark, when it becomes the province of persons whose hearts may be pure, but whose appearance suggests sinister intent.

If you’re embarrassed about not knowing Edgar Cayce, the psychic “father of holistic medicine,” from Casey Stengel,  you’ll be relieved to learn that there are regular free showings of an informative 30-minute film about him at Edgar Cayce’s A.R.E. Association for Research and Enlightenment center, founded in 1931 to research and explore holistic health, ancient mysteries, personal spirituality, dreams, philosophy, reincarnation, and intuition.

A welcome respite from the tourist crapola on the boardwalk, the center offers seminars and classes for all sorts of spiritual outlooks. The library on the top floor boasts a wealth of old and obscure books, and there’s a mass meditation every day at noon in the third floor Meditation Room, which offers a spectacular view of the ocean, though you should be blissfully oblivious to your surroundings if you’re meditating. The Day Spa offers inexpensive individual treatments and packages, while the center’s bookstore will be pleased to sell you books, DVDs, and videos about holistic health, parapsychology, and dreams, or a CD designed to induce healing or spiritual elevation. As you might imagine, various crystals and oils are also for sale.

Give the tiny, crowded Ocean Breeze Waterpark a wide berth unless you’re the sort who likes to be miserable when out of town because it makes home seem nicer in comparison. It takes no more than 20 minutes to go on all the water slides, after which you can fight for one of the lawn chairs literally piled one atop another. The zealously advertised adjacent race car joint is even more disappointing.

As too is the Mystery Dinner Playhouse, in which no local is ever glimpsed. The dinner is appalling, and you can’t even take the kiddies, as much of the purported humor is off-color. Do, on the other hand, take them to The Hunt Club Farm petting zoo, which is wonderfully maintained, with hand-sanitizing facilities outside each pen.

Captain Mickey’s Rudee Inlet Parasail seems to need to adjust its timers, as many of its patrons believe themselves to be airborne for very much less than the minimum 12 minutes promised. Rudee Parasailing is generally seen as less likely to shortchange you.

First Landing State Park’s most picturesque sectors are easily accessed, but take some serious walking to get to. Walking on the beach late at night, you might feel as though on the moon. Bathrooms are always clean and the showers hot. Across the road, the intrepid will find a Native American Burial site with noteworthy painted rocks. There are long trails through the swamp. The bugs are ferocious when it rains; bring spray and keep it on your legs, especially if you’re a child, as the bugs of this neck of the woods seem to find juveniles especially delicious. A Food Lion supermarket is close by for all your supermarket needs.

Guides on the Rudee Flipper Sunset Dolphin Watching Cruise speak informatively of dolphins and whales, and the roomy boat has an indoor area in case it rains. Once the boat is out of Rudee’s Inlet, you can walk around if you wish. It has an upper deck that offers a good view. You’ll see dolphins, but not from near enough to feel yourself bonding with them in a one-to-one way. If you get bored or puckish, or both, you can buy yourself a hot dog, keeping firmly in mind that hot dogs are made from that which is scraped off the abattoir floor.

You’ll also see dolphins from the Rudee Rocket, but if you sit in the back, you’ll get drenched, and your iPad and digital camera will hate you for it. Don’t expect to go as fast as you might have in years gone by, before the encroachment of Big Government, as the Coast Guard has told the operators to lighten up on the accelerator.

Its sand is so fine that it will blow through the mesh of many tents, but False Cape State Park is so beautiful and serene you may find a way not to mind.  You might go eight hours here without seeing another human, while glimpsing wild pigs, herons, birds, unusual insects, frogs, and maybe even a bald eagle up close.

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The multitalented John Mendelsohn is a writer, graphic artist, and singer/songwriter who lives near New York City. Check out his new song collection, Sorry We’re Open.

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