The Virginia Beach art scene offers one more reason to visit this vacation mecca.
With its year-round mild climate and 38 miles of shoreline, Virginia Beach gets deserved attention for its outdoor recreation. But over the past couple of decades, an emerging creative scene has shone a spotlight on regional and national talent. It’s now easy to make an art-focused trip to Virginia Beach, a vacation that’s as active or as low-key as you’d like.
Here’s a guide for how to experience the best of Virginia Beach’s art landscape.
Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art
The premier exhibition space in Virginia Beach, Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is small but impactful. It’s a non-collecting museum, so all of its exhibits are temporary, and change out several times a year. Because the museum prioritizes community connections, it presents art that is inclusive, rooted in life experience, and thought-provoking.
This summer, the exhibit She Says: Women, Words and Power presented a range of contemporary women artists reflecting on identity, power, and belonging with visual work that incorporated the written word.
From April through September of 2022, Virginia MOCA will show Maya Lin: Ways of Water. This special solo exhibition highlights the renowned artist, environmental advocate, and creator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. The exhibit will pose questions about our relationship to nature at this critical juncture in the climate crisis. Several never-before-exhibited sculptures and prints of Lin’s will be included, accompanied by water-themed artwork from local artists.
ViBe Creative District
About a half-mile from the museum, the ViBe Creative District is hip, funky, and a little gritty—the ultimate artists’ hangout. It boasts multiple public art installations, including murals, 52 painted parking meters, and several “creative crosswalks.” Download the map and tour on foot, on bike, or by car.
August marks the Annual Mural Festival, now in its fifth year. Over a ten-day period, the same number of local and national artists create new murals on city buildings and walls. Visitors can watch the artists’ work coming to life, or tour the finished works at the end of the festival.
The Artists Gallery, on Virginia Beach Boulevard, combines studio with retail space. Here you can observe artists creating new work, or shop from a large collection of ceramics, paintings, prints, photographs, sculpture, jewelry, textiles, mixed media, and more.
Virginia Beach Boardwalk
Perhaps the most famous attraction in all of Virginia Beach, the Boardwalk offers nearly 3 miles of memorable ocean views. But it’s also an art destination, with a variety of nautical sculptures on side streets that connect the Boardwalk to Atlantic Avenue. Make a stop at the much-Instagrammed 12-ton bronze statue of King Neptune at 31st Street.
Nightly during the summer, the Boardwalk the placing for performance art. Street performers entertain all along it, and four oceanfront stages, set several blocks apart, offer live music. Go early and pull up some bench. Then kick back, relax, and watch pods of dolphins swim just offshore while you listen.
The Boardwalk is also home to the annual Virginia MOCA Boardwalk Art Show. One of the only outdoor art shows produced by an accredited museum, this large, juried festival is a haven for creativity. Over three days, nearly 200 artists from around the country are showcased, in media including painting, sculpture, glassworks, ceramics, fiber arts, jewelry, and woodworking.
Underpass Murals, Filigree Canoes, and a Grand Old Hotel
Feel like you haven’t seen everything yet? Visit Virginia Beach Public Art for the locations of additional sculptures, murals, and environmental art sprinkled around the city.
After a day of exploring, head to the Historic Cavalier Hotel & Beach Club. This nearly 100-year-old luxury resort, which has hosted ten presidents and the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra, had fallen into disrepair and was slated for demolition. An architectural firm eventually purchased the historical building and completed a multi-million-dollar renovation. It reopened in 2018, and its Renaissance Revival architecture now contrasts with an eclectic private collection of art that brings new vibrancy to the seaside grande dame’s stately interiors.
Even if you’re not staying over, walk through the lobby and common areas to view the art, have dinner at one of its three restaurants, or take a tour of the Tarnished Truth distillery, the first on-premise hotel distillery in the United States.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- The city is easy to get to from anywhere in the United States. It’s also easy to get around in, whether on foot or by car.
- Foodies can choose from more than 250 restaurants, plus craft breweries, cideries, and wineries.
- While there’s just one luxury hotel, there are dozens of high-end rentals.
- The Boardwalk is packed on warm-weather afternoons, especially during festivals. If you’re looking for an easygoing ramble, aim for mornings or early evenings. Keep an eye out for bicyclists. They have their own dedicated lane but frequently spill over into the pedestrian path.
- Some venues are still operating at limited capacity during the pandemic. Check websites or call ahead if you need to reserve a specific time.
COVID – 19 Update
For the latest COVID-19 information, visit the Virginia Department of Health and select Virginia Beach from the Locality drop-down.
Disclosure: The author’s airfare and stay at the Virginia Beach Marriott Oceanfront were hosted. Attendance for art-related activities (such as the museum and Boardwalk Art Show) was free of charge.
All photo credits: Robin Catalano
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