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Back to the Beach

The beach on a screen doesn’t compare with the real thing.

To stand on a beach is to witness one of God’s most impressive natural wonders. Faith-based groups can soak in the ocean views on trips that can also include a Christian retreat experience, an attraction that’s suitable for families and a restaurant that welcomes groups.

As travel restrictions begin to lift, group travel leaders can start planning trips to these breezy beach destinations.

Virginia Beach, Virginia

In 1607, seeing what is now Virginia Beach, Virginia, felt like a miracle. After a four-month-long journey across an untested ocean, English colonists erected a wooden cross to thank God for safe passage before traveling on to Jamestown, Virginia.

In 1935, the granite First Landing Cross was erected to memorialize the spot. Groups can see this national landmark at the Cape Henry Memorial.

Religion continues to play an influential role in the city at Regent University, a Christian college on 70 acres. The Regent University Theatre offers Broadway musicals and classical productions by the Christian school’s students. Last year’s shows were “The Gifts of the Magi,” “A Tale of Two Cities” and “Brigadoon,” among others.

Faith-based groups can also tour the Christian Broadcasting Network’s campus for a behind-the-scenes look at the network behind “The 700 Club.” Tours begin with a live taping of the show before guests see the studio buildings.

Fighter jets roar across Virginia Beach’s skies due to the town’s military connection. The Hampton Roads area contains features the world’s largest naval base, as well as the Virginia Military Aviation Museum.

The museum houses a comprehensive collection of warbirds from both world wars. Tours feature the heroic stories behind some of these historic planes, as well watch flight demonstrations.

Another group favorite, the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, features 800,000 gallons of freshwater and saltwater displays. Groups can interact with some of the aquarium’s residents at a touch pool for horseshoe crabs, sea stars and whelks.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Visitors can greet Sunday morning by praising God and listening to the ocean waves at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The destination offers much more than 60 miles of coastline to occupy groups’ time, including entertainment, shopping and the Myrtle Beach Christian Retreat, all appropriate for families.

An interdenominational retreat and conference center, the Myrtle Beach Christian Retreat offers Sunday morning beach worship services. Church groups of up to 260 can take advantage of the faith-based retreat’s recreational activities, conference center, dining hall and ropes course with Bible-based lessons.

After a day at the beach, groups can choose from a wide assortment of activities at Broadway at the Beach. The shopping and entertainment complex sits on 350 acres in the heart of Myrtle Beach and offers a range of activities from roller coasters to high-end restaurants. Entertainment options abound, among them the Hollywood Wax Museum Entertainment Center, Ripley’s Aquarium and WonderWorks.

For a more relaxing outing, groups can tour Brookgreen Gardens, voted one of the top 10 Best Public Gardens in the U.S. by TripAdvisor. Gorgeous blooming flowers accompany sculptures that groups can view on tours with a guide or on their own. The site also has a zoo, historic sites and nature trails.

Uplifting music keeps audiences coming back to Myrtle Beach’s “The Carolina Opry.” Fiddling champions, hip-hop cloggers and soul-stirring vocalists fill each second of the two-hour performances with talent and energy. More live performances can be found at venues across the Grand Strand, including Le Grande Cirque, the Pirates Voyage and Dinner Show, the House of Blues and the GTS Theatre.

Panama City Beach, Florida

Emerald green waters and 27 miles of sugar-white beaches make stunning backdrops for baptisms at Panama City Beach, Florida. The city offers two Christian retreats. The Laguna Beach Christian Retreat offers accommodations, food, activities, meeting space and baptisms in the ocean. The retreat center sits on eight acres of gulf-side property, with rooms that range from dorm housing to comfortable cottages. Basketball courts, volleyball courts, swimming pools and a 700-seat chapel help provide a private experience for faith-based groups.

Pier Park features the city’s premier shopping, food and entertainment options with over 124 stores ranging from clothing to home goods. Youth groups looking for fun can opt for a game of laser tag, a mirror maze or arcade games at Dave and Buster’s. Pier Park also offers Imax movies and live music for an exciting night out.

St. Andrews State Park is one of the town’s favorite nature getaways with a two-mile-long white-sand beach, paved trails, watersports equipment rentals and shuttle boat tours to Shell Island.

Shell Island allows visitors to retreat further from modern life. The seven-mile-long undeveloped barrier island allows groups to explore undisturbed sand dunes, coastal scrub forests and beaches often covered in colorful shells.

Groups can also go beyond the beaches on a dolphin sightseeing cruise or a deep-sea-fishing charter. Other ecotours allow groups to witness the area’s abundant wildlife, such as alligators, herons, ibises and white-tailed deer.

Huntington Beach, California

Huntington Beach, California, welcomes both the adrenaline junkie and the peace-seeking visitor to its wide, sandy shores. Known as Surf City USA, the city is a popular place for group surfing lessons.

Huntington Beach also encourages relaxation with over 500 bonfire pits, where groups can watch the stars shining above and the waves rolling by firelight below. The Waterfront Beach Resort even offers a bonfire butler service, complete with fire pit set-up, take-down, blankets and s’mores.

Each September, the Huntington Beach Interfaith Council hosts the Blessing of the Waves, when people of all faiths gather in prayer and celebration through music. The faith-based Beachside Summerfest each June provides another chance to gather in faith on Huntington Beach for live Christian music, talks and baptisms.

Local historian and author Chris Epting leads historic walking tours of Huntington Beach for background on how the beach became Surf City USA. Nearby Sunset Beach also offers fascinating historical tours.

Groups can discover the wilder side of Huntington Beach at several parks, including Huntington Beach Central Park. The 350-acre park features walking trails, gardens and a nature center.

The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve contains a 1,400-acre saltwater marsh reserve. More than 300 birds have been spotted at the wetland ecosystem. Groups can walk on five miles of trails or stop by the Bolsa Chica Wetlands Interpretive Center for exhibits and information on the area.

Corpus Christi, Texas

The rich faith history of Corpus Christi, Texas, dates to its discovery by the Spanish in 1519. Spanish explorer Alonso Alvarez de Pineda nicknamed the lush, semitropical bay Corpus Christi after the Catholic feast day, which, translated from Latin, means “the body of Christ.”

Historic churches built here in the 1800s still welcome congregations and tours. The 1846 First United Methodist Church is the oldest in town. One of the most ornate is the Corpus Christi Cathedral, built in Spanish Colonial Revival style.

Faith-based groups can also choose from two retreat centers: Our Lady of Corpus Christi Retreat Center and Pax Christi Retreat Center. Both centers offer quiet getaways to facilitate spiritual growth with accommodations, natural settings, food and chapels.

The town boasts easy access to natural wonders at the Padre Island National Seashore. With over 70 miles of beaches and dunes, the park is the largest undeveloped seashore in the country. Groups can explore the area on a fishing excursion or an ecotour to see the rare Kemp’s ridley sea turtles during nesting in mid-April.

In Corpus Christi, the largest coastal city in Texas, groups can enjoy some major attractions alongside the city’s pristine beaches. The USS Lexington allows visitors to stand on the flight deck of a historic aircraft carrier from World War II. The rooms below deck depict the living conditions endured by the sailors during the war.

The Texas State Aquarium takes guests under the sea to showcase aquatic life from around the world. Visitors can admire more than 360 species at dive shows, animal feeds and educational presentations.

Cannon Beach, Oregon

As if dropped from the heavens, a 235-foot high monolithic rock rises above the waves at Cannon Beach, Oregon. Known as Haystack Rock, the landmark is one of many remarkable rock formations along the dramatic northern Oregon coast.

Haystack Rock retains its appeal up close. The formation is home to colorful tide pools and diverse bird life, such as puffins. Faith-based groups can gaze at God’s creation and explore the beach’s tide pools for glimpses of sea stars, anemones and crabs.

Cannon Beach inspires visitors not just by its scenic wonderland, but also at the Cannon Beach Christian Conference Center. Founded in 1945, the center has grown over the years and now hosts over 150 Christian retreat groups each year.

Groups can stroll through the charming art town’s downtown in the city’s center. Local galleries, restaurants and shops lie around every corner. Bruce’s Candy Shop offers a tasty stop for visitors with a sweet tooth.

The Coaster Theatre Playhouse provides evening entertainment with five plays and two musical performances each year.