VIRGINIA BEACH — The Historic Triangle definitely lives up to its nickname as being a center for history within the Hampton Roads community. So much so that other parts of the “Seven Cities” often get overlooked for their own contributions to the historical narrative of Virginia.
While Virginia Beach is known for its beautiful beaches, tourist attractions like Ocean Breeze Waterpark and the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, there is so much to do for history lovers around “Neptune City.” Below is a round up of some of the history must-sees while visiting Virginia Beach.
Virginia Beach has plenty of museums sure to meet most historic interests.
- Virginia Beach Surf & Rescue Museum (2401 Atlantic Ave.): This museum is a sometime overlooked but must-see place along the Virginia Beach oceanfront. Dedicated to telling the history of the the area’s maritime history, Life Saving Service and U.S. Coast Guard, this museum is housed in an original life saving station. It has many engaging exhibits for all ages and a great gift shop that has items made by local artists and artisans. For more information, visit the museum’s website.
- Military Aviation Museum (1341 Princess Anne Rd.): This museum is one of the most unique and fascinating stops on any Virginia Beach history itinerary. Housed in a former private airport, the museum is full of antique aircraft, with most that still actually fly. Also on campus are hangars moved from overseas, an actual World War II-era air traffic control tower moved brick by brick from Goxhill, U.K., and so much more. Guests can also sign up to take a ride in one of the antique aircrafts! For the kids and kids-at-heart, the grounds also have a small pond with dinosaur statues surrounding it. For more information on admission and hours, visit the Military Aviation Museum’s website.
- The Thoroughgood House (1636 Parish Rd.): As one of the museums maintained by the City of Virginia Beach, the Thoroughgood House takes guests on a trip back to the early 18th century. The home dates back to 1719 and was built by Argall Thorowgood, the great-grandson of Adam Thorowgood, who was one of the founders of Princess Anne County (which would later become City of Virginia Beach). Aside from the home itself, the grounds feature an educational center and English gardens. For information on hours, admission and more, visit the website for the museum.
- Francis Land House (3131 Virginia Beach Blvd.): This building was once the home
of wealthy plantation owner, Francis Land VI. This large home was built in 1805 and served as a home for Land and his family until 1819. After that time, it served many different functions, including as a dress shop in the 20th century. Today, docents give tours of the home and discuss its complex history. For more information, please visit the website for the Francis Land House.
- Ferry Plantation House (4136 Cheswick Ln.): This museum has been entirely volunteer led since 1996. Its name is derived from the 17th century ferry line that once ran up and down the Lynnhaven River. The plantation in which the home was built thrived off of tobacco and also served as the grounds for two of Princess Anne County’s courthouses, including the one where Grace Sherwood was tried for witchcraft. The home that currently stands dates to 1830. The museum is a fascinating look into colonial era Virginia Beach. To learn more about the museum, please visit its website.
- Princess Anne County Training School/Union Kempsville High School Museum (5100 Cleveland St.): This museum is a focal point in the often overlooked history of Jim Crow-era Virginia Beach. The school was the first high school for Black Americans in Princess Anne County, built as a result of a fundraising effort within the Black community to provide its children with a place to receive a proper education. It was opened as a four room school house in 1938, and continued to expand over the years. To learn more about this fascinating museum, visit the website for the Princess Anne County Training School/Union Kempsville High School Alumni and Friends Association.
One of the many things that the Neptune City is known for is its abundance of beautiful outdoor areas. There are many places in the area’s parks where you can easily combine outdoor recreation with historical significance.
- Miyazaki Japanese Garden (1398 General Booth Blvd.): Located at Red Wing Park, this hidden oasis is a beautiful way to transport yourself to another place without ever leaving Virginia Beach. Established in 1997 to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the sister city relationship with Miyazaki, Japan, the garden features traditional Japanese architecture and plants.
- False Cape State Park (4001 Sandpiper Rd.): If there is no other reason to visit
False Cape State Park, its for its absolutely gorgeous preservation of natural habitats. But for the history lover, there is so much more. On park grounds is located the abandoned shoreside town of Wash Woods. This former seaside community was left behind by its 300 residents in the 1920s and 1930s due to constant flooding from the storm activity that plagues that part of the oceanfront. Today, guided tours take visitors to the Virginia Beach ghost town to learn more about its heritage and to see what is left of the once vibrant community, which includes the church’s steeple and a cemetery. For more information, visit the website for False Cape State Park.
- First Landing State Park (2500 Shore Dr.): Just as the name suggests, this park is in commemoration of the place where British colonists first landed in the New World in 1607. Situated on the Chesapeake Bay side of Virginia Beach, the Commonwealth’s “most visited park” features bald cypress swamps, a beautiful stretch of beach, and several exhibits celebrating the park’s historic past. Information on this state park can be found on its website.
- Mount Trashmore (310 Edwin Dr.): Yes, you read that name right. Mount Trashmore is pretty much exactly as it sounds… a “mountain” of trash. But don’t worry… you would never know if you didn’t read too far into the name. Built as a state-of-the-art feat of modern engineering, the city’s former landfill was transformed to a beautiful park in a time before “repurposing” was even a “thing.” It has many amenities including a great playground, skate park, and plenty of shelters for a picnic lunch. For more information, visit the website for Mount Trashmore Park.
Places to Eat
Sadly, many historically-significant restaurants in Virginia Beach have to be classified as “landmarks lost.” However, there are still a few that are sure to “fit the bill.”
- The Hunt Room Social Club & Tavern (4200 Atlantic Ave.): Located in the last
surviving of the “Grand Dames of the Atlantic,” the Cavalier Hotel, the Hunt Room Social Club & Tavern has seen its fair share of guests since its opening in 1927. With a guest list including celebrities and politicians throughout its near century lifespan, this gem on Atlantic Avenue is a “must” for history lovers. With its rustic atmosphere, menu that pays homage to regional cuisine and kids offerings, be sure to add this to your itinerary. For more information, visit the website for The Hunt Room.
- Steinhilber’s Thalia Acres Inn (653 Thalia Rd.): “Steinys,” as the locals call it, was opened in 1939. Serving higher end dishes in a romantic atmosphere, this restaurant is one of the mainstays in the Thalia neighborhood of Virginia Beach. To see its menus and learn more about Steinhilber’s, visit the restaurant’s website.
- Pungo Pizza and Ice Cream (1824 Princess Anne Rd.): Looking for something a little more family-friendly or laid back? Be sure to check out Pungo Pizza. This little family-owned restaurant with its iconic lighthouse-shaped building is just minutes from the Military Aviation Museum. A staple in the rural Pungo community, it serves delicious pizza, ice cream and even has an arcade for some air conditioned fun. To see its menu and more, visit the restaurant’s website.
Other Notable Things to Do
- Cape Henry Lighthouse (583 Atlantic Ave.): Authorized by President George Washington and its construction overseen by Alexander Hamilton, the Cape Henry Lighthouse holds the distinction as being the first federally funded public works project in the United States. The “New” Cape Henry Lighthouse, with its black and white patterning, was opened a century later. The older of the two lighthouses is open to the public on the Fort Story section of Joint Expeditionary Base (JEB) Little Creek-Fort Story. For more information on admission, hours, and how to access the historic site, please visit the website for Preservation Virginia.
- Naval Aviation Monument Park (25th & Atlantic avenues): Dedicated in 2006 by the Hampton Roads Squadron of the Naval Aviation Foundation Association, this monument at the Virginia Beach oceanfront symbolizes three different eras of naval aviation history: the early twentieth century, World War II and modern day. This monument also pays homage to aircraft carriers past and present.
- Cape Henry Memorial Cross (New Guinea Rd. on Fort Story): A granite cross located on Fort Story at Cape Henry, this monument commemorates the first landing of the British colonists in the New World on April 26, 1607. While there, be sure to check out the beautiful views. The cross is located on JEB Little Creek-Fort Story. To find access information, please visit the website for the National Park Service.
- Naval Air Station Oceana (1449 Tomcat Blvd., Building 252): Have you seen those
bumper stickers that say, “I ♥ Jet Noise”? That is because of Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana. The base is home to approximately 300 naval aircraft. If you have a valid Department of Defense identification card that allows for military base access, this base is a must-see. Aviation Historical Park has twelve different historic naval jets on display. Plus, mark your calendars for September 18-19, 2021 for the annual NAS Oceana Air Show. This impressive demonstration show features a plethora of both public and private crafts. This year, the Blue Angels will fly in celebration of the squadron’s 75th anniversary! For more information, visit the NAS Oceana Visitor website.
If you find yourself on the other side of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel and want a fun-filled history day, Virginia Beach is in no short supply!