5 Best Photo Opportunities in Virginia Beach
Lee Van Grack
1. The Romantic Photo: Great Neck Park
I had to visit someplace new to find this spot and I'm glad that I did. Great Neck Park is a small community park nestled among the marshes of Lynnhaven Bay. It is quiet and has areas of seclusion for private or contemplative moments. The money shot at this spot is the large gazebo on the water. A sunny day allows for the play of light in your photos here. There are also quaint shelters and play areas for children. It looked perfect for an outdoor wedding or a quiet picnic. I found out on our way out of the park that they do rent out the gazebo for weddings from $250 to $500 for the whole day. That's pretty reasonable for such a beautiful venue.
Admission to the park is free. Off of US 60 East, make a right on to Great Neck Road. At Shorehaven Drive, make another right turn and pass by the high school and the recreation center all the way into the parking lot for the park.
2. The Quirky Photo: Mt. Trashmore
Mt. Trashmore is a park where you can run, walk, hike, bike and skate. It is a local park with a couple of lakes and a creek. However, what makes Mt. Trashmore quirky is that they literally made a mountain out of a hill. The hill was turned into a mountain using compacted solid waste and clean soil. Now the repurposed landfill is one of Virginia Beach's most popular parks. The best shots are from the top of Mt. Trashmore towards the view of Lake Trashmore. Virginia experiences four seasons and you'll find great photo opportunities at Virginia Beach's Mt. Trashmore all year round. Pictures taken during the day help you take advantage of the plentiful sunlight in this area. Photos of your kids or friends rolling down the hill make a trip to this spot worth it.
Admission is free. Hooray! Mt. Trashmore is visible from I-264. You will want to exit at Independence Boulevard going east.
3. The Family Fun Photo: The Virginia Aquarium
Here's a fun family photo opportunity: Virginia Beach's Virginia Aquarium is located near the resort area of Virginia Beach. It is the largest aquarium in Virginia and recently completed a $25 million renovation. It has two buildings. The Ocean & Bay Pavilion and the Marsh Pavilion are connected by a cute tree-lined trail. It provides the best photo ops for families because of the large tanks and the interactive exhibits. My kids loved it. My eight-year-old daughter enjoyed hearing the fun facts about the local aquatic life and my preschoolers enjoyed seeing the different types of fish and loved climbing the exhibits. All of us enjoyed the shark tank. We took most of our pictures there and at the open stingray tank. They let you put your hand in the water and the stingrays come over. Most of it is indoors, so any time of the year is a good time to photograph.
Regular admission for adults is $17 and child admission is $12. These prices don't include the IMAX theater admission and makes an excursion to this photo-op quite pricey. Honestly, if most of your children are under the age of five, they might fall asleep in the movie. From where I live in Hampton, it's about an hour away along I-64 East. The Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel is congested during peak rush hour traffic times. It is best that you plan on using the road after 9 a.m., if you stay anywhere on the Peninsula (Williamsburg, Newport News or Hampton). If you stay in Virginia Beach, just get on to I-264 and get off on the Birdneck Road exit heading south. When you see the huge smiling gorilla, you have arrived.
4. The Scenic Photo: The Cape Henry Lighthouse and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge
The next spot is a twofer because these scenic spots are such a short distance from each other. The Cape Henry Lighthouse and Memorial Park on Fort Story gives you a bit of dramatic history. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel gives you a sea view of the undulating Virginia Beach coastline.
Cape Henry is the site of the first landing of English settlers, as well as the place of the decisive battle of the American Revolution. The best photographic shots of the lighthouse are during a clear and nearly cloudless day. They do let you climb the historic lighthouse. I am told that this will give you breathtaking, panoramic shots of Cape Henry and Fort Story. Unfortunately, my preschoolers were not tall enough for me to take advantage of that photographic wonder. The memorial is about a mile away and is in a windswept park of sand dunes with an outdoor view of the beach of the first landing. You can get great shots of both the historic and operational lighthouses from the boardwalk located at the memorial. These photos are best taken during the day.
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is a way to get out on the water without getting on a boat. You first arrive at the south island, the island that holds the fishing pier and observation deck. This is a great place to take close pictures of naval destroyers and other boats, as well as shots of the bay overlooking the shores of Virginia Beach. There is also a scenic observation deck on the eastern shore where you can take photos of the Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge. Here, any time during the day is a good time to photograph, but I enjoy shots of the sun coming over the horizon at daybreak.
Because the lighthouse is on a military base, you must provide valid identification for entry on to the post. Admission to climb the Cape Henry historic lighthouse is $4 for adults and $2 for children over the height of 42 inches. Entry on to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is $12 for two-axle vehicles. If you are hauling a camper, expect to pay more. Route US 60 East will lead you to both of these spots. You must take the Route US 13 exit going north to get to the bridge tunnel. Watch for the signs for Fort Story as you move further east on US 60. The sites are about 15 minutes from each other.
5. The Classic Photo: Neptune
There is no avoiding going to the oceanfront in Virginia Beach. It is, of course, the main attraction in the area. The breaks on the sand and the tang of salty sea air make you want to capture it, so you can take the memory of it home with you. The boardwalk is littered with photo opportunities -- Virginia Beach Amusement Park and Old Coast Guard Station are just a few examples. However, the spot that draws the most attention is the sculpture of Neptune. The sea god's stance is commanding and the piece comes to life with squid, fish and dolphins circling around him. My kids enjoyed standing in the shade of the massive likeness of the sea turtle under Neptune's control. Since this is a popular spot, I recommend taking pictures at sunset for the contrasting colors of the sky, as well as the dearth of people walking in front of your camera. I visit the beach in all seasons, so weather is not really a factor at this spot.
Let's all give a collective cheer for free admission. It is located at the end point of I-264 East. Drive north on Atlantic Avenue for the statue of Neptune.
I hope that these spots give you an insight into what a beautiful place Virginia Beach is for photography. My kids enjoyed every spot I dragged them to and asked if we could come back at a later time. I know you are bound to have fun with your entire family and will have amazing photographs to show off for any project or family collection. The best photographs evoke memories of a great time in a really nice place.
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