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Virginia Beach: Sand, Surf & Service

If one beach is good, three beaches must be better.

In Virginia Beach, Virginia, groups can take advantage of three distinctly different beach environments as well as a maritime heritage and a rich military culture, all in a faith-friendly environment. The Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau bills its destination as “the best of three beaches,” thanks to a trio of coastal environments found throughout the city.

Perhaps the most famous is the resort area, which features beachfront hotels, restaurants and shops, all stretched along a 3.5-mile boardwalk. In addition to being a fun place to play in the sand and waves, the resort area is home to a number of Virginia Beach attractions, such as the Virginia Aquarium. It also serves as a jumping-off point for dolphin-watching cruises in the spring through fall and whale-watching cruises in the winter. Three oceanfront stages offer outdoor concerts during the summer, and travelers can rent bikes to ride on the boardwalk.

Groups that visit only this part of Virginia Beach are missing out, though. The Chesapeake Bay area offers a more natural environment.

“Chesapeake Bay is known for its authentic experiences,” said Jim Coggin, the CVB’s tourism sales manager. “It has softer waves and better sunsets. It’s great for fishing, crabbing, paddling and kayaking. There are outfitters that can take you on those excursions.”

The Chesapeake Bay area is also the location of First Landing State Park, the most-visited state park in Virginia. The park preserves the site where English colonists landed in 1607 before eventually settling Jamestown farther inland, but it is now known for its natural habitats, with 20 miles of trails through the beachfront, lagoons and a maritime cypress forest.

Finally, the Sandbridge Beach area of town boasts some of the area’s most wild and secluded beaches.

“You find a lot of sand dunes and sea grasses at Sandbridge,” Coggin said. “It’s also the home of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.”

It would be easy to spend several days just exploring the diversity of natural attractions around Virginia Beach. But church groups should also plan some time to check out the national Christian broadcasting studios in town, visit some of the area’s maritime history sites, engage with the local military heritage and volunteer in the community.


Christian Broadcasting Network

In the 1980s, Christian television personality Pat Robertson began producing his daily show “The 700 Club” from a studio in Virginia Beach. The show was the anchor of the fledgling Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN).

Today, “The 700 Club” and CBN are going strong, and church groups visiting Virginia Beach can get a close look at the action. Groups can have a private tour of the CBN studio, then join the studio audience for a taping of “The 700 Club.” To complete the experience, planners can also arrange for a meal at the Founders Inn on the campus of Robertson’s Regents University.


Military Heritage

Coastal Virginia is home to a number of military installations, and patriotism infuses every part of this destination. Groups visiting Virginia Beach can make arrangements to tour Naval Air Station Oceana, the Navy’s master jet base. Visitors see some of the base’s 300 fighter jets and can examine retired aircraft in the on-site Aviation Historical Park.

There are more planes on display at Virginia Beach’s Military Aviation Museum, which features the country’s largest collection of World War I and World War II aircraft. Military buffs should also check out the Old Coast Guard Station, a museum that houses thousands of artifacts from the Coast Guard and its predecessor, the U.S. Life-Saving Service.


One Beach, One World

“Voluntourism” has become a popular activity for travel groups wanting to give back to the communities they visit, and the Virginia Beach CVB has created a program called One Beach, One World to help groups find opportunities for service projects in the area. Participants can help clean up Chesapeake Bay, work on a Habitat for Humanity project or help do chores for a military family that has a member deployed overseas.

“I’ve participated in this program, and it’s one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had in my life,” Coggin said. “You realize how fortunate you are when you help others who are not.”


Cape Henry Lighthouse

Virginia Beach sits at the intersection of maritime heritage and American history, and visitors can experience some of both by visiting the Cape Henry Lighthouse. Completed in 1792, the lighthouse was the first federally funded lighthouse in the country and is one of the oldest surviving lighthouses in the United States. Built to guide maritime commerce in and out of Chesapeake Bay, the lighthouse was authorized by George Washington, and its construction was overseen by Alexander Hamilton.

Groups can visit the lighthouse and climb the 192 steps to the top for beautiful views of the bay and nearby First Landing State Park.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.