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Impressed with the offerings

By Staff | Jul 3, 2015

It was lucky that my husband and I chose an umbrella table for our oceanside patio dining, because the sky opened up and poured not ten minutes after we sat down.

And then the cloud passed. We were only a little bit damp, and the tall, cool mojitos we had ordered from the bar made the discomfort more than tolerable. Then the fish tacos came, and everything was just fine.

It had been years since I’d visited Virginia Beach. My husband had a business meeting there, so I decided to tag along and take advantage of the oceanfront hotel room. Walks on the beach are my favorite pastime, and reading while listening to the surf is a close second.

The last time I visited that resort, it was honkytonk and grimy. That was more than 20 years ago, and today’s Virginia Beach is a testament to what municipal muscle can achieve. The developed beachfront today is miles longer than it was, and the concrete boardwalk is punctuated at nearly every block with public art, sanitary facilities and large performance spaces. On any evening during the summer season, street performers occupy tiny stages at the edge of the wide sidewalk fronting Atlantic Avenue, the first street off the beach.

There are restaurants galore.

On my first day there, while my husband was ensconced in a windowless, overly air conditioned conference room, I walked the beach in sunshine and then met a companion for lunch. She took me to a place that the locals know, a converted beach cottage about a block from the ocean. Its original kitchen was long ago expanded and converted to an open commercial kitchen, lined in white subway tile. An original front room is now a bar.

We had to wait for a table, so we sat at the bar, where midday cocktails were priced low. I had my first margarita of the day and felt no shame, since the fellow sitting next to me ordered a beer with his plate of pancakes and cup of coffee. I determined a new life goal in that moment. Having worked a college summer at an oceanfront resort in the 1970s, I decided that somehow I want to return and do the same in retirement. Maybe in my 70s, I will be the grandma working the ticket window at the amusement park.

My husband does not think this is a bad idea. Freed from his conference room, he joined me for dinner. We strolled Atlantic Avenue until a restaurant enticed us. A large beautiful space, it included a wall lined in semicircular banquette tables and an illuminated bar. We chose outdoor seating and were entertained by the people passing by.

Then we strolled for many blocks, stopping to listen to guitarists and a percussion band, and watch an acrobat pull a man from the audience and then climb onto his shoulders to juggle fire batons.

I took half a day to visit the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, which housed astonishing installations of cut-paper art, ceramics and photography. Its permanent collection includes a hanging glass piece by Dale Chihuly, whose organically inspired compositions invite comparisons to magical sea creatures.

City planners wanting to study redevelopment should take a look at what has been accomplished in Virginia Beach. I arrived there thinking of tattoo shops and sketchy bars. I left impressed with music, art and cuisine.