As tempting as it might be to put the top down and rock out as Virginia Beach comes into view, make sure to lower the music volume in the car and keep your language in check. That's right -- Virginia Beach is a family-friendly destination, enforced by Courtesy Rules. Should visitors get carried away and feel the urge to curse, they'll be quickly reminded of the rules, which are posted on light posts up and down Atlantic Avenue.

The first rule states that cursing, vulgar language and gestures are prohibited. It even has its own sign -- "@%#!!" with a diagonal line through it.

This sign will remind you of the first Courtesy Rule in family-friendly Virginia Beach. (Photo by Sarah Hartough, special to baltimoresun.com)

For those who fancy a touristy-resort beach destination, this is the place to go. Between the beach, the boardwalk and the strip, Virginia Beach has everything that a typical American teenager longs for in a family vacation. Revelers can cruise Atlantic Avenue (with the music turned down, of course), binge on pizza and beach souvenirs, ride a surrey or check out the bods on the boardwalk. There are many opportunities here to fill your summer vacation with excitement and adventure.

But let's face it -- Virginia Beach is quite a drive from Charm City. So why would post-pubescent Marylanders make the trek? Well, the 243-mile road trip includes several great pit stops: Washington, D.C.; Fredericksburg, Va.; Williamsburg, Va. and Hampton, Va. These cities are brimming with tourist attractions and good food to keep visitors occupied and satisfied for an hour, an afternoon or a couple of days. One could easily turn a trip to Virginia Beach into a weeklong vacation.

The beach

The coastline of Virginia Beach is as wide as a football field. A city project in 2003 added 300 feet of sand along the oceanfront, allowing more room for sunbathing, kite-flying and beach volleyball-playing. Lucky beachgoers might even spot dolphins playing in the surf.

Unfortunately, due to the towering hotels between the boardwalk and Atlantic Avenue, visitors can't see the ocean from anywhere but the boardwalk, the beach or their hotel room. Every room in each hotel is oceanfront and guests have direct access to the boardwalk and Atlantic Avenue. The large number of hotels gives visitors the advantage of healthy business competition, so there's usually something available for every budget.

Virginia Beach is also easy to navigate. The numbered streets end at the boardwalk and waterfront. Pacific and Atlantic Avenues are the main drags and they run parallel to the ocean. Just don't take the half streets -- as clever as they seem, they don't really go anywhere.

Don't take the half streets -- as clever as they seem, they don't really go anywhere. (Photo by Sarah Hartough, Special to baltimoresun.com)

The boardwalk bustles with beachgoers riding surreys and bikes and practicing their in-line skating and skateboarding techniques. A group can rent a surrey for a few dollars and a couple of hours of fun. For a less expensive activity, a walk or jog along the 40-block boardwalk is also good exercise. Be sure to walk along the boardwalk and avoid the designated bike paths.

Bring a camera, because the boardwalk boasts several great photo ops. Check out the Fishing Pier on 15th Street and the variety of beachy sculptures along the boardwalk.

For the historian, two museums are worth visiting. The Old Coast Guard Station features the history of the U.S. Life-Saving Service and the U.S. Coast Guard. The Wildfowl Museum has exhibits about Altantic wildfowl and shorebirds.

When beach boredom strikes, there's the option of renting a personal watercraft or going parasailing. For those who want to go native, there are dolphin watch tours and even dolphin kayak tours. However, there is more to love about Virginia Beach than sand, water and the boardwalk.

The strip

Take Atlantic Avenue, for example. This 40-block strip is home to dozens of T-shirt shops, pizza joints and restaurants. During the summer, Atlantic becomes Beach Street USA, where street musicians and other performers are hired by the city to entertain visitors.

You'll find whatever shops and restaurants you need along Atlantic Avenue, one of the town's main drags. (Photo by Sarah Hartough, Special to baltimoresun.com)

Some street performers aim more to scare. On several blocks, the music drifting from the haunted houses and the masked characters propped outside are downright spooky. But don't worry, to really get freaked out, the brave have to enter one of the haunted houses. (Some have live actors to really scare the @%!! out of visitors.)

For the daring who would rather freak out their friends (and their mothers), there are a number of tattoo and piercing parlors waiting to embellish willing bodies. And for those for whom regret is an issue, many places offer henna and temporary tattoos. For something with a little staying power, opt for ink or a body piercing; most are done on-site. Afterward, hit up Harley Haven for a tough-guy T-shirt to complete your new look.

For more thrills, try the Virginia Beach Fun Spot Action Park at 17th Street. The rides at this park are responsible for many lost lunches, but equally as many smiles and screams. The Ocean Front Carousel on the boardwalk across from the 15th Street Fishing Pier offers a smoother ride for young and old, and the scenery makes for a great picture.

A true beachcomber will want to wander into one of the many surf shops on Atlantic Avenue. Sunsations has several stores and offers everything from bathing suits to bongos to beer. Yes, beachgoers, there are coolers of water, juice, soda and beer in the T-shirt shops. Just keep your purchases in the bag to avoid getting caught violating the open container law.

For those who desire an authentic surf shop, try Coastal Edge on 21st and Pacific Avenue. This store carries everything from swimsuits and wetsuits to surfboards and flip-flops.

For some leisurely recreation, Jungle Golf is within walking distance of the boardwalk. (Serious golfers might prefer to drive to one of the area golf courses that are not too far from the waterfront).

Just around the bend

To ride a different kind of wave, hop on a Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) Wave Trolley at any one of the blue VB Wave signs. The trolley transports visitors to area locations for shopping, sightseeing, fishing, golfing and camping. The Wave trolley can also take visitors north of the beach to First Landing State Park for hiking and bird watching. The park and the area near it are also great fishing locations. It may be tempting to visit the First Landing Cross and the Cape Henry Lighthouse, but both are located on the Fort Story Military Reservation, which is not open to civilians.

It's hard to miss Hugh Mongous, the mascot for Ocean Breeze Water Park and Virginia Beach Motor World. (Photo by Sarah Hartough, Special to baltimoresun.com)

For more wildlife, check out the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center to pet stingrays, hike the nature trail, enjoy a boat tour or see an IMAX film. Just take the trolley or your car south on General Booth Boulevard and be sure to wave to Hugh Mongous, the mascot for Ocean Breeze Water Park and Virginia Beach Motor World. He's hard to miss, just look for a giant gorilla decked in a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses. Both parks offer hours more of amusements for kids and adults.

When the sun sets, take advantage of the free trolley service to the Verizon Virginia Beach Amphitheater , where major music artists tour every summer. Get the cheaper tickets for the lawn, but don't forget a blanket or folding chairs (and a big bucket of chicken).

Satisfy those cravings

At the end of the day, most Virginia Beach visitors look forward to two important elements of their beach vacations: dining and carousing. A walk down Atlantic Avenue gives beachgoers plenty of both.

For all-you-can-eat fare, try any one of the seafood buffets advertised in the visitors' guides. Seafood Harbor is a perennial favorite. For easy access to good food, many hotels have a restaurant that offers brunch, lunch and dinner with a fabulous view. Try Mahi Mah's adjacent to the Ramada Inn on 6th Street or Rockfish Boardwalk Bar & Sea Grill on 16th Street.

For atypical beach fare, try Abbey Road, named after the Beatles album, or Raven for a Poe-tic experience. Be sure to snap a picture outside either restaurant.

What's a beach vacation without pizza? Dough Boys and Pi-zzeria are popular and delicious.

Feel like ice cream? Hit up Dairy Queen, Ben & Jerry's or Haagen Dazs, which are all on Atlantic Avenue.

With a full belly, it's best to walk a few blocks on Atlantic to get to the next destination: one of the many bars at Virginia Beach. Feel like a margarita? Try Guadalajara Mexican Bar and Grill on Shore Drive for live entertainment and dancing. For a more local joint, try Keifers Bar and Grill on Atlantic. For a picturesque view, drive your boat or take the trolley to Rudee's on the Inlet .

Off the beaten path

For a quiet destination, , a smaller beach about 20 minutes south near the Hells Point Golf Course, is a good day trip when the commercialism of Virginia Beach gets overwhelming. The town of Sandbridge is tiny -- it has one general store, a restaurant, two beach shops and a frozen yogurt shop -- and has more of an Outer Banks feel. The dunes protect the modest and not-so-modest properties that line the beach. Those who prefer the slower pace might prefer this locale.

Rent a surrey for a nice ride down the boardwalk. (Photo by Sarah Hartough, Special to baltimoresun.com)

North of the beach, toward Hampton, Va., you will cross one of the longest bridges in America -- the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, or Lucius J. Kellam Jr. Bridge-Tunnel. For the cost of a McDonald's lunch for the family, take them on a 20-mile journey over land and under sea. To stretch the legs along the way, there are fishing stops, a restaurant and a souvenir shop. The bridge-tunnel stretches from Virginia Beach to Cape Charles, where you can continue along Route 13 into Maryland and catch Route 50 back toward Annapolis.

Pit stops

On the way to or from Virginia Beach, there are several pit stops to keep the whole family (or just you and a friend) entertained.

Williamsburg, Va., is a quick jaunt off Route 64, and only about an hour away from the Virginia coast, making it a perfect diversion either to or from the beach. A family could easily spend three or four days tripping around Colonial Williamsburg, Busch Gardens and the Prime Outlets. Busch Gardens might be the best afternoon pit stop, giving kids and adults a chance to stretch their legs and their vocal chords.

The next stop is less of a pit and more of a dump. Mt. Trashmore, in Virginia Beach, is a family playground built on and around a 67-foot trash heap that has been compressed and capped, then covered in Bermuda grass. Don't worry, it is perfectly safe for kids to climb the 61 steps up the mountain to fly their kites. The massive playground at the base, Kids Cove, and the skate park are great places to expend all the bottled energy that results from long road trips.

With Virginia Beach, maybe the old adage is true: Getting there is half the fun.