With daily train service from Union Station (or 3.5 hours by car), it’s hard not to make a case for a quick trip down to Virginia Beach. And while the sprawling Atlantic Ocean vistas are unarguably the biggest draw, the cuisine scene has recently morphed from the expected (though must-try) favorites like fried shrimp or she-crab soup to the exquisite and nuanced. Despite the cold months ahead, Virginia’s historic waterfront destination is rocking year-round.
7 a.m. Quiche and coffee at May’s Parlor
This hour may seem too early, right until you’re biting into a slice of impossibly tall pork and cheddar-studded quiche from 12-seat oceanfront fixture May’s Parlor. This French-style egg biggie sells out mind-bogglingly fast due to its creamy texture and super-flaky crust. If your morning repertoire forgoes the quiche-style egg, snag the daily cruffin. Flavors like Earl Grey or Caramel Banana should get you going from its one yellow door to another. The popular cafe from baker-owner Rachel Browning expanded to nearby Norfolk last year.
8 a.m. Breakfast at the Bee & the Biscuit
Choose wisely from one of the largest, locally-focused menus in Pungo — a rural community about 10 minutes outside of Virginia Beach proper. Start at the Bee & the Biscuit with a mimosa flight: four miniature juice-and-sparkling wine treats ranging from classic (freshly squeezed orange) to the interesting (lavender-lemon). Then tuck right into the huge Ol Pungo Ferry Omelet, an incredibly Swiss-cheesy combo of local eggs, apple cider bacon, and mushrooms. The scratch buttermilk biscuit is a definite must.
10 a.m. Activity Interlude: Bike ride
Work off the double brekkie with a leisurely electric bike ride through the disarmingly attractive waterfront area of Ghent, the Hague, Fort Norfolk, and Plum Point. The self-guided tour will take you conveniently past Cure — a cute coffee bar nestled on a cobblestone street — for a quick latte.
11:30 a.m. Lunch at Pendulum Fine Meats
Follow up whatever choice activity with lunch at Pendulum, a whole animal butcher and wine shop with a small menu of sandwiches and sides. You’d be doing yourself a huge disservice if you didn’t get a burger. The pithy menu offers two options, both of which are juicy behemoths featuring house-ground beef from Virginia. The crowd-pleasing Cleaver comes slathered with a zippy steak sauce. And do not skip the fries; fried in beef tallow, these skinny, crispy spuds are a perfect potato high-five.
2:30 p.m. Quick brew at Aloha Snacks
Head to the main Virginia Beach drag to pop into Aloha Snacks. Here owner Jesse Wykle has created a Virginia-Hawaiian oasis with one of the strongest selection of craft beers at the beach (think Richmond’s award-winning Veil Brewing, Massachusetts’ Trillium Brewing and Virginia Beach’s own Vibrant Shore). Snag whatever Aloha has on draft and an order of lumpia, which Wykle Beat Bobby Flay with his shatter-crisp Filipino-style pork rolls.
3 p.m. Happy hour at Atlantic on Pacific
You’re essentially a Virginia Beach local now, so it’s time to act like one. Those in the know know Atlantic on Pacific is the place to be for happy hour. The insanely good daily deal starts at 3 p.m. sharp (so get there as close to then as possible) for a wealth of delicious $1 oysters and clams. Six different types of preparations await — from a hefty, spicy chorizo number to an unctuous riff on Rockefeller with enough cheese to sink a small vessel.
4 p.m. Activity interlude: Stroll through Neptune’s Park
As you are a couple blocks off Virginia Beach’s pristine boardwalk, enjoy some chill beach air while taking a gander at King Neptune — the 34-foot-tall bronze statue erected in 2005.
Since you’re already at the ocean, consider hopping on a kayak for a rare glimpse of local marine life. If you’ve not been surrounded by dolphins while paddling, have you ever really lived? Chesapean Outdoors’ seasonal tours (which run through November and pick back up in April) are about two hours, so it’s easy to make sporadic plans out on the water.
6 p.m. Dinner at Love Song
This relatively new Virginia Beach spot specializes in super-seasonal seafood and produce. Dainty, briny clams share bowl space with leeks and tangy dijon. Local meaty mushrooms are dotted with butternut squash and piled atop soy-sauced and toasted sourdough. If there happens to be a nightly special, snag it. A recent verbal was a local shrimp roll balancing acid and fat like it was on a tight rope. Since you happen to be there before 8 p.m., it’s still happy hour at Love Song’s Back Bar. Grab a negroni, Citywide (a shot and a beer with panache), Painkiller, or all three.
8 p.m. After-dinner drinks at Duck Dive Tavern
Recently opened Duck Dive is a chameleon. During the day, find excellent food, local fish sandwiches, heavy cheesesteaks, and hand-breaded chicken wings served from a tiny window beyond the lengthy, lively bar. The after-9 p.m. crowd turns up, Coyote Ugly style, and snacks are served until 1 a.m.
Where to stay: The historic Cavalier Hotel and Beach Club (a stylish, recently renovated getaway with seasonal club access) or Barclay Cottage Bed and Breakfast (two blocks from the ocean, quiet, and clean).