Virginia Beach is for Lovers

  “The calming movement of the sea along with the restless ocean breeze gently caresses me creating a soothing trance which lulls me to a place of peace.”–M. L. Borges

It had been one year since I had last seen the ocean and its companion shoreline.  Last March, (2021) when John, my husband, and I last visited the beach, it was for the Shamrock Marathon held annually at Virginia Beach. However, it was under COVID restrictions with limited dining and hotel options. Regardless, the creators and sponsors of the Shamrock Marathon found a way to create a safe and well-organized weekend getaway!

Flashforward one year, and we decided to return.  With COVID restrictions greatly reduced, there was more hotel and restaurant availability.  On the downside, overall prices were understandably higher to cover the past year’s losses.  Nonetheless, this did not seem to deter visitors for the 50th anniversary Shamrock Marathon weekend event as hotels were sold out throughout the town.  (I would later find out that for many hotels, this had less to do with room availability and more to do with lack of enough available support staff.)  Furthermore, with a weather forecast full of ample sunshine, light breezes, and temperatures hovering in the 60s and 70s, what was not to love? 

This year, John and I stayed at Holiday Inn & Suites North Beach.  Ideally situated alongside the north end of the VB boardwalk.  We were within walking distance to numerous dining choices as well as the King Neptune statue, the heart of the Shamrock events. The staff of this hotel was friendly and accommodating, and it was located next to the starting line for the marathon and half-marathon!  When you combine that with the ability to fall asleep listening to the waves gently lapping the shore, we are sure to return here on future trips.

One dining spot for which we were eager to return was the infamous Pocahontas Pancake and Waffle House!  This iconic VB gem serves up breakfast and lunch, and visitors need to be ready to wait during peak hours.  No matter, it is worth the wait!  The wait staff is attentive, friendly, and since this was our second year to visit, we couldn’t help but take note that much of the wait staff was the same–a sure sign that this establishment is doing something right.  

Looking over the menu at Pocahontas Pancakes is like reading a novella; they have so many choices!  I am in love with their gluten-free waffles since I cannot get those anywhere in the local Tri-state area.  Plus, they offer a wide array of scrumptious toppings. The fresh fruit bowl is actually fresh–not one of those thawed frozen fruit cups with underripe fruit, devoid of any taste.  John loves their sandwiches, biscuits, and eggs, and we both feast on their ample portions.  Oh, did I tell you about their signature, locally roasted coffee?? Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, this place, well, takes the cake!  What can I say? John and I both LOVE this restaurant and cannot recommend it enough!

Another local VB gem, we discovered last year, is Side Street Cantina.  This restaurant, located at the southern end of VB, features Peruvian-influenced Mexican fare, served up in a colorful atmosphere, filled with bold and lively artwork. Their housemade chips and salsa are fresh, crisp, and tasty.  Their menu offers a wide variety of signature dishes and cocktails for those so-inclined.  John ordered Arroz Con Pollo, and I ordered Vegetarian Fajitas.  Both meals were full of deliciousness!  While dining at Side Street, the manager, Alicia Mummert, recommended that we go visit her best friend, Julie, the manager at Mannino’s Italian Bistro for dinner one night.

Therefore, John and I decided to head to Mannino’s for our Friday night dinner–a perfect location for carb-loading before I ran my own virtual half-marathon on Saturday.  Entering this bistro felt warm, welcoming, and the aromas were mouth-watering.  Our server was none other than Julie’s daughter, Abigail (Abbi) and her friend, Katie. Along with Julie, these ladies were engaging, made excellent recommendations with regards to food and wine, and provided exceptional service.  The gluten free choices were as wide and varied as I have experienced in an Italian restaurant, and there were even a few gluten free dessert options!

  Ultimately, John chose Vitello Parmigiana with fresh melted mozzarella on top, and I savored every bite of the gluten free variation of Penne Semplice without sausage.  Additionally, I ordered their gluten free truffles to go.  (Fortunately, our room had a mini-fridge, and I was able to save a couple of those luscious truffles to take home!)  I have to say this meal fully fueled my 13.1 mile run the following morning; and best of all, NO digestive issues–which can sometimes be a real thing with some foods and long runs.  Mannino’s is another establishment John and I would highly recommend for those who love Italian!

Saturday night, after a half-marathon run, I was ready for some full-on not-so-healthy grub.  We decided to give Abbey Road Pub and Restaurant a try.  This eatery offers breakfast, lunch and dinner!  What’s more?  It makes the bold claim to have the BEST gluten-free menu in Virginia Beach!  Sounded like the perfect place for us to check out! Additionally, they also boast over 42 drafts and crafts, are certified Green Virginia, have a dog-friendly patio, and offer free parking for patrons.  Their menus were wide, varied, and while I could have easily eaten on the more healthy side, I chose to indulge on a plate of Nachos Supreme sans chili and served up with black beans instead. It was not my usual plant forward meal, but I did enjoy it with a fresh green salad!  (Hey, it’s all about balance–it’s not like I normally eat this way.)  Meanwhile, John splurged on Lobster Mac and Cheese.  Abbey Road had an upbeat and energetic vibe, it offered attentive service, and a uniquely diverse menu, including vegan and gluten-free options!   This is one place John and I will visit again, and we would also recommend it to those traveling in the Virginia Beach area!

On a side note of interest, John and I visited Sandbridge Beach, one afternoon, and found that it reminded us somewhat of the Outer Banks of NC, full of ample vacation homes, both of new construction as well as traditional beach bungalows.  Located south of VB, it struck us as a more quiet area in which to stay, especially for those larger family/friend gatherings in which you are more than happy to complete your own cooking, relax, and soak in nothing but sand, shoreline, and ocean vibes!  

Regardless of which type of vacation you prefer, the VB area offers visitors plenty of options–from low-key to highly engaged and all choices in between.  The Shamrock Marathon weekend especially offers a family-friendly atmosphere, but is also chock of full options for adults.  And, if you love new food adventures, as John and I do, rest assured, Virginia Beach has plenty to offer.  Perhaps, it is true, Virginia is for lovers–lovers of fun, beach, sun, water, and, of course, food–glorious food! 

Sandbridge Beac

Visit Virginia Beach

This was the view out of our beach front hotel room at Virginia Beach. (It was clearly Rita’s day!)

“Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away.” – Sarah Kay

Recently, as some readers may recall, John, my husband, and I had the opportunity to visit Virginia Beach for its annual event, The Shamrock Marathon, Half-Marathon, and 8K event.  Of course, the 2020 event was cancelled due to pandemic restrictions, and the 2021 event, in which I participated, was a hybrid virtual event–it could either be run virtually from any location, or ran any day of the designated three-day weekend of the event on-site via a self-guided route that was well marked and supervised.  In spite of the not-so-cooperative weather during our stay, John, and I thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Virginia Beach so much that we have talked about returning.  Therefore, as more families begin to travel again, I wanted to share our experience in this family and couple friendly town.

While we were there, we took in a few sites, but quickly realized that we did not have enough time to adequately explore this area of Virginia.  Additionally, with a few clicks of the keyboard, while relaxing and taking in the view of the Virginia Beach boardwalk and beach from the comfort of our hotel room, I learned that there is so much more to Virginia Beach than just the boardwalk/town area in which we were staying!  Therefore, I will share a few of the highlights from our visit as well as a few tidbits I discovered from a short bit of research. 

‘‘In the planning and preparation to re-open the beaches of Virginia Beach, we believe we’ve defined the Gold Standard for beach safety and cleanliness, and our Hotel and Restaurant Associations followed suit with their own new protocols with the same important goals.’’–Virginia Beach CVB

To begin, John and I checked the usual sites, AirBnB and VRBO for budget friendly rentals.  However, since we were hoping to stay in a place with an ocean view, we quickly realized that those homes came with a price–either out of our budget or the houses were nearly as small as a hotel room.  We then compared home rental costs with oceanfront hotels and condos.  Much to our surprise, it turned out that the latter were much more reasonably priced and conveniently located within walking distance to restaurants, shops, and the Virginia Beach boardwalk.  Furthermore, due to the short nature of this trip, we knew we would not be taking time to cook, nor would we spend much time in the place in which we were staying. Therefore, the hotel seemed like the way to go.

The Hampton Inn, with its restaurant on the beach, in which we stayed.

“Together, we’ve all made a pledge to VB Smarter – and adhere to these protocols without compromise. It is Virginia Beach’s way to shine a light on our collective commitment to ensuring a safe, fun, and relaxing environment for all.”–Virginia Beach CVB

John and I were super impressed with the protocols throughout the oceanfront area of Virginia Beach.  We felt safe, and likewise, did not feel restricted in our travel or experiences. The city definitely seemed to have the right balance.  While we did walk to several of the restaurants and shops near our hotel, and we also enjoyed visiting other parts of the town due to the free parking that was in place until April 1.

One creative approach to out-of-doors dining in the era of COVID–Individual geodomes for groups!

Since our hotel’s back door literally opened out to the Virginia Beach boardwalk, John and I took full advantage of this area daily.  This three mile long and 28 foot wide expanse, equally divided with lanes for biking versus walking, runs from 2nd Street to 40th Street.  It is full of local attractions and numerous oceanfront restaurants and eateries.  Highlights include the JT Grommet Island Park, a perfectly shaded park for active children to let off some energy while parents still remain oceanfront and near public restrooms/showers.  Along the path are also two museums, the Atlantic Wildfowl museum, located in the de Witt Cottage, built in 1895, and the Surf and Rescue Museum, housed in a former U. S. Life Saving Station that is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Near our hotel was the well-known Virginia Beach Fishing Pier that does not require a fishing license.  Finally, further down from the pier was the festive 31st Street Park, home of the iconic King Neptune which was also the start/finish line for the Shamrock Marathon events.

Of course, food was a big part of our short stay; however, restaurants can be a bit tricky for me due to the fact that I have celiac disease, so I cannot eat products with wheat and gluten. Additionally, I choose to eat plant-based.  Virginia Beach, however, did not disappoint me or leave me feeling hungry.  We serendipitously discovered a hidden gem within a short walking distance from our hotel, Side Street Cantina, filled with Peruvian-influenced Mexican fare. Located in a colorful building with vibrant and funky decor, the staff worked hard to accommodate my dietary needs.  In fact, John and I loved it so much, we ended up dining there twice!  The menu was lengthy and varied, portions were generous, the drinks were cold, and food was cooked to perfection.  This is the perfect casual dining experience within walking distance from the beach.

Another restaurant within walking distance was Il Giardino Ristorante. Self-described as “upscale dining,” John and I found this restaurant to be the perfect place to celebrate the fact that I survived 12 weeks of half-marathon training and the extreme weather conditions of the actual event. Filled a wood-burning oven–creating a warm, aromatic scent emanating throughout the dining area–a wide variety of green plants, and an enormous wine collection lining the walls, the vibe of the restaurant felt clubby, and yet, relaxing.  It turned out that the exceptional service and outstanding food ended up being the shining star! Wow, did we ever enjoy this meal. 

One more exceptional dining experience that John and I discovered was Pocahontas Pancake House.  Decked out in slightly cheesy Jamestown & Powhatan murals with a teepee, this family owned, super-clean eatery turned out to be gluten free heaven for me!  Clearly, a local favorite based upon the crowd, this breakfast and lunch only diner, served up more breakfast and lunch gluten free options than I have ever before experienced.  Their menu was more like a novella, and my choices ranged from waffles, pancakes, bagels, muffins, bread, and wraps!  Plus, numerous vegan/vegetarian options, along with countless meat/egg-centric options for John.  We dined here twice and relished every single bite!

“Whether you’re a history buff, outdoor enthusiast, or die-hard foodie, or you’re just looking to do little bit of everything, Virginia Beach is an adventure you just have to experience for yourself.”–Virginia Beach CVB

While John and I did take a quick trip to visit the Lynnhaven Mall, one of the largest malls on the East Coast, we spent the remainder of our time taking in the sights and sounds along the boardwalk and beachfront town areas of Virginia Beach.  However, as I discovered with quick internet search, there is MUCH more to discover in the Virginia Beach area.  From outdoor adventures throughout the beach and Chesapeake Bay areas to more inland adventures, from historic explorations to arts and cultural discoveries, from micro breweries and distilleries to Town Center adventures and family fun, and from Sandbridge to Pungo, the areas of Virginia Beach offer a wide variety of unique beach vacation opportunities.  John and I look forward to exploring more of what this area has to offer especially since it is only a short six-to-seven hour drive away!   

From our vaccinated family to yours, we wish you the return of safe and happy travels!