Yorktown Beach includes 10 acres of recreational space and about three… (Courtesy of York County/ )
If you’re a little beach in the big shadow of Virginia Beach, what do you offer visitors when you’ve got no boardwalks, no nightclubs, no taffy and T-shirt shops?
Birds. Turtles. Peace. Quiet. A fighting chance at finding the perfect shells and sea glass before someone else does.
If you want a break from the boardwalk, consider this list of five beaches not far from Virginia Beach — five quiet, locally famous beaches you might never have heard of.
And if driving through tunnels annoys you/scares you/brings out the road rage in you, here’s an added bonus: You won’t travel through any tunnels to get to these beaches from the Washington region.
In many ways, Yorktown Beach is a typical small beach, with about three acres of beachfront, a fishing pier and places to play and picnic.
But visitors there are often treated to a couple of unusual events.
Yorktown Beach is a place where a wedding can break out at any time – about 100 times a year, in fact. Couples can get married there by filling out a simple permit but they can’t close the beach – meaning that hundreds of strangers wearing bathing suits become witnesses to the nuptials.
Another happy surprise can be the sudden appearance of tall ships on the York River – those traditional sailing ships with the huge masts that arrive from countries around the world. “You never know when they’re going to show up,” said Gail Whittaker, a spokesperson for York County.
Yorktown Beach, about a 20-minute drive from Williamsburg on the Colonial Parkway, has been a recreational beach since colonial times. York County took over its management in the 1970s, and today there are 10 acres of recreation space, shower facilities that are open all summer and a fishing pier with no entry fee and no requirement for a fishing license. Flounder and spot are favorite catches there, said parks and recreation manager Brian Fuller.
Riverwalk Landing, a shopping and entertainment development that includes several restaurants, and a mile-long riverwalk, are next-door to the beach. Free Thursday night concerts during the summer are held at Riverwalk Landing, and the music can be heard on the beach.
Location: 425 Water St., Yorktown
Parking: Cars were once allowed on the beach, but no longer. However, there’s plenty of parking around the beach and at a garage on “the hill” in town that’s within easy walking distance.
Tip: Bring your mountain bike for a side trip on the 6.5-mile trail at New Quarter Park, about a 15-minute drive from the beach.
Buckroe Beach on the Chesapeake Bay has a colorful backstory, starting with the 17th-century Frenchmen who settled in the region, figuring it would be a good place to start vineyard and silk processing operations.
Apparently that didn’t work out, and sadly there are no vestiges of any wine-making activities in the area.
Instead, Buckroe became part of the Hampton Roads region’s fishing culture and later a resort area. Longtime locals still remember the Buckroe Beach carousel and roller coaster; the carousel has been reestablished next to the Virginia Air and Space Center in downtown Hampton.
As trains brought visitors from Richmond and points north in the 20th century, Buckroe became segregated. A section of the beach called Bayshore Park was for African Americans only, and the two areas existed side by side until segregation faded away in the 1960s.
Today, lifeguards are posted on the beach, which measures just under a mile. At one end is a fishing pier, rebuilt in 2009 after it was destroyed by Hurricane Isabel. Adults can fish for $8 a day, or $6 if they have a Virginia saltwater fishing license.
If you hear an uproar on the pier, it likely means someone has caught a big, tasty cobia – Buckroe’s most sought-after catch, which can grow to well over 100 pounds. There’s also croaker, spot, flounder – and, said pier manager Lynn Waldrop, the occasional loggerhead turtle trying to steal bait from fishing lines.
There are large picnic shelters that can be rented through Hampton’s parks department, a food vendor on site and snacks at the fishing pier. And there several bathrooms – referred to as “comfort stations” in gentile Southern fashion.
Location: 100 First St. South, Hampton
Parking: Large parking lot on site; more parking on surrounding streets.
Tip: Don’t bring the dog. Pets are not allowed on the beach during the summer months.
More information: www.hampton.gov/facilities/Facility/Details/46http://hampton.gov/Facilities/Facility/Details/Buckroe-Beach-and-Park-54
Jamestown Beach is particularly great if you’ve got a bunch of kids in tow: An abundance of shade trees are unusually close to the sand line, making it convenient to get the little ones out of the sun and heat for awhile. And the James River water is shallow and quiet, all along the 1,325 linear feet of sandy beach.