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Travel: Away From It All

You can find a quiet corner for your beach vacation — even in the busiest of spots.

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If carefree days of lazing by the water on an isolated beach sound good to you, listen up: You don't have to join the thousands of beach-goers who flock to the busy boardwalk to enjoy a beach vacation. Head instead to the Sandbridge area on Virginia Beach's southern shore, where you'll find quiet beaches, untouched by modernization.

There are no hotels or large crowds of sun-and-fun partygoers at Sandbridge, no traffic jams. What you will find in this quiet, secluded environment are sand-swept roads where seagulls leave their footprints, and dozens of rental homes and condominiums with scenic views of the ocean and bay.

Those who want to infuse a bit of adventure into their vacation can rent everything from bikes to surfboards. Don't worry if you aren't a veteran surfer. Novices can learn to how to catch a wave at Ocean Rentals, which offers surf lessons and surf camps for children and adults. Ocean Rentals, along with Wild River Outfitters, also features Paddle & Dine packages, where you can rent a kayak and paddle to Blue Pete's restaurant (once a popular fishing shack) in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge to enjoy everything from sweet potato bread to oysters Rockefeller.

Back Bay, a refuge of beach woodland and marsh with more than 9,000 acres, sits adjacent to False Cape State Park and has loads of hiking trails through beaches, dunes, woodlands and salt marshes. If you've never gone birding, now's your chance. The park has more than 300 species of nesting and migratory birds, along with white-tailed deer, red fox and feral horses.

Vacationers who want quiet, but not seclusion, should make their way to the North End of Virginia Beach, only a few minutes from the oceanfront boardwalk area. Accommodations include home and cottage rentals. The North End's only hotel, Wyndham Virginia Beach Oceanfront, is also a favored destination.

Biking in the North End is a popular pastime, especially because the area is close to the entrance of First Landing State Park at 64th Street. The 2,900-acre park fronts the Chesapeake Bay and offers more than 19 miles of biking and hiking trails.

If you want luxury, not adventure, check out the Founders Inn and Spa, an inland Colonial-style resort surrounded by beautiful, landscaped English gardens. Founders Inn is close to both the Virginia Beach oceanfront and downtown Norfolk. Who knows, you may even run into one of the stars performing at the Verizon Wireless Virginia Beach Amphitheater during your stay.

For an Outer Banks beach experience, head to North Carolina's Ocracoke Island, which just made the top spot on Dr. Beach's annual America's Best Beaches list of 2007.

The secluded island includes the fishing village of Ocracoke and the oldest operating lighthouse in North Carolina as well as 16 miles of secluded golden- sand beaches. Ocracoke Island, part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, is known for its clean water and unspoiled natural beauty. The island is accessible only by boat, ferry or plane. The North Carolina Department of Transportation operates ferries that carry vehicles and passengers from Swan Quarter on mainland Hyde County and Cedar Island in Carteret County. Ferry service is also available on the Outer Banks from Highway 12 in Hatteras Village to Ocracoke.

If you'd rather be closer to restaurants and shopping but still want that out-of-the-way experience on the Outer Banks, visit the town of Duck, the area's northernmost community. You can relax with a good book, check out the hiking and biking trails, collect shells or take to the water in a kayak or on a Jet Ski. Be sure to leave some time to drive to the town of Manteo on the eastern side of Roanoke Island. This quaint, sleepy town offers an array of boutiques, shops and antique stores. Nearby are the majestic Elizabethan Gardens. And don't forget to get a ticket to the "The Lost Colony" at Waterside Theatre. The nation's oldest outdoor symphonic drama runs through Aug. 20.

Now get out there and relax.

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