By Margaret Long
Everyone has that one place in which some of their fondest childhood memories were formed. For me, that place is Virginia Beach. For as long as I can remember, summer after sun-kissed summer, I couldn’t wait to finally dig my toes into the golden sand and ride my beach-cruiser aimlessly up and down the boardwalk. While not the most beautiful of all beaches, Virginia Beach had an irreplaceable charm that lingered from decades past--one that cast a nostalgic spell over all those lucky enough to spend time there.
Over the years, however, I began to notice that the unique, sentimental quirks that made Virginia Beach so special were slowly being edged out by souvenir mega-stores and high-rise hotels. The antiquated beach charm I had grown up with was becoming harder and harder to find. However, there are still a few spots in Virginia Beach clinging to yesteryear and helping to preserve the nostalgia of a true vintage beach town. Should you find yourself on Virginia Beach’s oceanfront, I suggest you pay these old-school beach gems a visit, so you too can experience Virginia Beach’s quintessential beach charm of yore and the free and easy days of summer that came with it.
1. The Belvedere Beach Resort & Coffee Shop
Hours: 7am-2:30pm, Daily, $
3603 Atlantic Ave, Virginia Beach, VA 23451
If you are looking for a beach experience reminiscent of a cheerful Beach Boys’ tune, pay a
visit to the Belvedere Beach Resort. A beloved Virginia Beach landmark, the Belvedere is a delightful throwback to simpler times. Located on the oceanfront and situated amongst an array of high-rise hotels, the Belvedere maintains the lovable, kitschy charm of the 1960s and 70s, as its façade is still more or less the same as it was when it first opened in 1970.
However, it is the famous Belvedere Coffee Shop that is guaranteed to flood your mind with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. Open seven days a week, the Belvedere Coffee Shop
looks like a scene from a movie set. With its linoleum countertops, blue vinyl booths and spinning barstools, this diner is barely large enough to fit twenty people. While the menu isn’t too special—featuring classic breakfast and lunch spreads of pancakes, eggs, burgers and club sandwiches—the atmosphere most definitely is. You’ll find Heinz ketchup on every table and, most importantly, in glass bottles—because everybody knows it tastes better that way. Daily specials—such as Monte Cristo sandwiches and patty-melts—are scrawled on weathered whiteboards that swing precariously above the chefs’ heads. The
metallic “tings” of cookware at work on the stovetop and “order up” ring throughout the tiny space, while seasoned waitresses check up on you every so often with a “How ya doin’ honey?” If you want a real slice of old Virginia Beach charm, this classic beach gem is just the place.
2. Doc Taylor’s Restaurant & Seaside Market Lounge
Hours: 7am-3pm, Daily $
207 23rd Street, Virginia Beach, VA 23451
Another equally loved Virginia Beach gem of years past is Doc Taylor’s. Doc Taylor was a real
person—and a real doctor too! This beachfront cottage doubled as the Doc’s medical practice back in the day, but nowadays it’s known for serving up some of the best breakfast and lunch foods on Virginia Beach’s historic North End. Photographs and memorabilia plaster the white wooden walls inside—each helping to tell the story of this local favorite. The interior isn’t fancily decorated, but rather meant to feel homey and inviting. Once seated (if you’re lucky, you’ll get a spot in the screened-in porch—a sunny little enclave overlooking the oceanfront boardwalk), you will be handed a menu as riddled in history as the restaurant itself. Catchy names like the Beach Bum, Cadillac, and Flatliner immediately grab your attention and convey the unique, jovial
atmosphere of Doc Taylor’s. However, it’s the dishes like Dr. Diane’s Healthy Fix and Doc Conkwright’s Cobb Omelet that convey the importance of local history and tradition to this local institution, as such dishes pay homage to actual people in Doc’s life and the Virginia Beach community. Doc Taylor’s isn’t trying to be a tourist destination. Rather, Doc Taylor’s is simply trying to continue telling the stories of what made—and still make—Virginia Beach such a special place. Doc Taylor’s isn’t as kitschy as the Belvedere, but it feels like home. It feels like how the beach should feel—comfortable, inviting and authentic. The next time you find yourself in Virginia Beach, stroll on over to 23rd Street and experience all that Doc Taylor’s has to offer—good atmosphere, good people—and most importantly—good food.
3. The Cape Henry Lighthouse
Hours: 10am-5pm, Daily
General Admission: $8 (with special discounts for Students & Military)
583 Atlantic Ave, Fort Story, VA 23459
Perhaps the oldest beach gem of them all is the Cape Henry Lighthouse. Since its completion in 1792, the Cape Henry Lighthouse has been a fixture of Virginia Beach’s coast
and a trip to Virginia Beach would not be complete without a climb up the structure’s wrought iron, spiral staircase. The lighthouse’s sandstone walls are steeped in American history—with stories dating back to both the American Civil War and the formulation of the United States’ Constitution. In 1881, a newer black-and-white checkered lighthouse was constructed adjacent to the original and is now the perfect spot to take those vacation pictures for social media. The lighthouse is suitable for visitors of all ages and interests—it offers self-guided, 30-minute tours in which visitors make the 191-step climb to the
lighthouse’s peak, as well as professionally led “Dune Talks” describing the historic role of the lighthouse. A visit to the Cape Henry Lighthouse is really whatever you choose to make of it—it can be as short as you’d like, or you can choose to make a day of it and even picnic along the shore. Regardless of how one decides to explore the Cape Henry Lighthouse, just standing under the shadow of such a massive and historically important landmark is enough to invoke images of years past—be they personal memories with family and friends or historical lessons brought to life. Should you find yourself in Virginia Beach on a sunny, cloudless day, make your way over to the Cape Henry Lighthouse and see Virginia Beach from a completely new vantage point.
4. The Cavalier hotel
Open year-Round, $$$
4200 Atlantic Ave, Virginia Beach, VA 23451
Considered the “Grand Dame of the shore”, Virginia Beach’s historic Cavalier Hotel is not to be missed when seeking beach charm of yore. Unlike the casual, laid back atmosphere of most beach classics, the Cavalier Hotel exudes the opulence and glamour of the 1920s and has been an oceanfront landmark since opening its doors in 1927. With perfectly manicured sunken gardens, an indoor swimming pool, and a 290-acre golf course modeled after the famous St. Andrews, the Cavalier came to be considered a luxury East Coast destination and often played host to a plethora of historic celebrities—such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, Muhammad Ali, and John F. Kennedy. Adding to the Cavalier’s allure is that it is forever shrouded in mystery. Stories of haunted rooms, the murder of a Hollywood starlet thrown from her penthouse balcony, and rumors about the various dalliances of well-known guests