A face-lift visitors will dig

The Baltimore Sun

Virginia Beach doesn't get enough street cred, often playing second fiddle to its more popular cousins in the nearby Historic Triangle (Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown). But dig deeper with those plastic shovels, and you'll find jewels along this stretch of Atlantic coast. Among them are a 12-ton King Neptune and other stony followers standing watch over the ocean and old-fashioned wooden Boardwalk, while a Venice Beach-esque bike path runs parallel to the action.

As the state's largest city, Virginia Beach is enjoying a mini-renaissance, with new hotels, shopping districts and a "green"-certified convention center. And while that sounds good on paper, the wide swath of beach is still the main draw for families and visitors.

Tip: To avoid backups, take the Birdneck Road exit off Interstate 264 and follow signs for Atlantic Avenue.

Hotels

Wyndham Virginia Beach Oceanfront, 5700 Atlantic Ave., 757-428-7025; wyndham.com/hotels/ORFVB. Virginia Beach's newest addition sits on a semi-private beach and has 25 suites and 242 deluxe rooms with oceanfront balconies. An indoor/outdoor pool, kayak and surfboard rentals, open-air restaurant and free shuttles to the southern section of Virginia Beach sweeten the deal. Parents will dig the Kids Cove Children's Activity Center, with supervised activities and evening outdoor movies for the family. Summer rates: $179-$269. (Discounts available online.)

Beach Spa Bed & Breakfast, 2420 Arctic Ave., 757-422-2621; beachspabnb.com. Escape the high-rise madness and relax on the sweeping porch of this charming beach cottage, a few blocks from the beach. After walking the boards all day, pamper aching muscles with on-site massages and unique bathroom amenities (rainfall and steamer showers). Summer rates: $160-$240.

Boardwalk Resort and Villas, 1601 Atlantic Ave., 800-317-9432; theboardwalkresort.com. You're in the heart of the action here, with luxurious studios and suites overlooking the Boardwalk. All suites have fully stocked kitchens, an extra bathroom and pull-out sofa. Other amenities include an indoor heated pool, fitness center and RockFish Bar and Grill restaurant. Summer rates: $199-$315.

Restaurants

Harpoon Larry's, 24th Street and Pacific Avenue, 757-422-6000; harpoonlarryskillerseafood.com. This restaurant is a jumping beachfront mainstay with traditional seafood platters, an extensive raw bar and house specials like Seafood Savoy (shrimp and scallops over pasta with a Marsala sauce) and beer-battered soft-shell crabs. Entrees: $5.95-$16.95.

Doc Taylor's, 207 23rd St., 757-425-1960. I'm outing a local favorite here, but Doc's is the place to go for a quirky breakfast/lunch (selections like "Nurse Ratched" and "Heart Attack" dot the menu) and a hearty selection of vegetarian options.

Five 01 City Grill, 501 N. Birdneck Road, 757-425-7195. The Five 01 City Grill has casual decor with a decidedly upscale flair. Choose from fare such as wood-grilled pizzas and eggplant and goat cheese lasagna. The owners have an onsite wine club - pick up your favorites to go after your meal. Entrees: $8.99-$26.99.

Nightlife

Croc's 19th Street Bistro, 620 19th St., 757-428-5444; crocs restaurant.com. Locals rave about the legendary Five Pepper Tuna and Baja fish tacos dishes at Virginia's only certified "green" restaurant. Live music, a phenomenal wine list and specialty nights Thursdays and Fridays heat this venue up after dark.

Abbey Road, 203 22nd St., 757-425-6330; abbeyroadpub.com. This is the closest thing to an English pub this side of the Atlantic. Its impressive selection of more than 100 worldwide brews will quench the most discerning palate. Live music spills out onto the boards, making for a lively oceanfront atmosphere.

Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, 201 Market St., 757-385-2787; sandlercenter.org. Sample the cultural nightlife at the new Sandler Center, where past performances have included Smokey Joe's Cafe and the Peking Acrobats, and music from Bonnie Raitt, Tony Bennett and the Vienna Boys Choir.

Fun

False Cape State Park, 4001 Sandpiper Road, 757-426-7128; dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/fal.shtml. Explore six miles of pristine beach often visited by American bald eagles, loggerhead turtles, feral pigs and wild horses. Backing up to the park is the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (4005 Sandpiper Road, 757-721-2412; www.fws.gov/backbay), which boasts freshwater marshes, barrier islands and maritime forests.

Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, 717 General Booth Blvd., 757-425-3474; virgin iaaquarium.com. Virginia's largest aquarium is home to animal habitats from the Atlantic Ocean and nearby Chesapeake Bay, with sharks, rays, sea turtles and harbor seals; an IMAX 3D theater; an outdoor aviary stocked with marsh birds from the Virginia shore; and a nature trail that connects two pavilions.

Motorworld Family Thrill Park, 700 S. Birdneck Road, 757-422-6419; vbmotorworld.com. Park features more than 200 go-karts on 10 racetracks. There's also mini-golf, cars for the younger set, and a Formula One Racer on the Grand Prix Raceway.

Ocean Breeze Waterpark, 849 General Booth Blvd., 757-422-4444; www.oceanbreezewaterpark .com. Enjoy freshwater fun with 13 waterslides. The park includes a children's section with a pirate ship centerpiece.

Shopping

First Landing Books & Art, 213 17th St., 757-422-4072. Bookstores at the beach are a given, and this used-book store is a treasure trove of first-edition classics, beloved children's tales and even rare Civil War editions.

Hotline Surfboards, 437 Virginia Beach Blvd., 757-428-6703; hot linesurfboardz.com. With the abundance of surf shops, this one stands out for its all-kid selection of boards, gear and clothing.

Town Center, Virginia Beach and Independence boulevards, 757-965-5452; towncenterof virginiabeach.com. This 17-block "main street"-style development features chain restaurants and shops.

Ocean Palm, 1860 Laskin Road, 866-437-7256; oceanpalm.net. This upscale clothing boutique sells Lilly Pulitzer designs, Eliza B sandals, resort handbags and a small selection of menswear.

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