Outer Banks vs. Virginia Beach

Virginia Beach

If the Outer Banks was a major population center with a population of around 430,000 and part of a major metropolitan area with a population of over 1.7 million it would probably be Virginia Beach.

The Similarities

The closest beach resort to the Outer Banks, Virginia Beach shares a lot of characteristics with its neighbor to the south. The weather is almost identical; surf conditions are very similar; water temperature a little cooler, but not by much.

Pine Island Outer Banks
Outer Banks NC

It makes a certain amount of sense that the two locations have so much in common—geographically the Outer Banks and Virginia Beach are part of the same string of reefs and sandbars that create the Outer Banks barrier islands. Virginia Beach is the north end of that geographic formation.

Virginia Beach VA Shoreline
Virginia Beach Oceanfront

There are other similarities, some of them quite striking.

Like the Outer Banks, significant areas are protected nature preserves and refuges. On the south end of the city, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park are considered part of Virginia Beach. The southern boundary of False Cape is the Virginia, North Carolina state line.

There are other protected areas within the city as well. North Landing River Natural Area Preserve is on the north end of Currituck Sound. On the north end of the City of Virginia Beach, First Landing State Park is, according to the state of Virginia, the most visited park in the state system. The park includes Cape Henry Lighthouse.

Rudee Inlet Virginia Beach
Rudee Inlet – Virginia Beach

Rudee Inlet serves as the fishing center for the area. Sportfishing is an important part of the Virginia Beach experience and the fleet has a very good reputation. It is not, however, as large as the Outer Banks fleet that operates from a number of locations.

Pirate's Cove
Pirate’s Cove – Outer Banks

Sport fishermen will also find it a quicker trip to the best sport fishing areas from the Outer Banks. Because the Gulf Stream passes so close to the Outer Banks, getting to the warmer, nutrient-rich waters where game fish thrive is a quicker ride through either Oregon or Hatteras Inlets.

But even with all the similarities, no one would ever mistake Virginia Beach for the Outer Banks.

Where It’s Different

Nature is very much integrated into the fiber of Outer Banks life. Kitty Hawk Woods, as an example, exists in the heart of Kitty Hawk. Virginia Beach nature preserves and parks are, for the most part, around the periphery of the city and the city is just that…a large, thriving metropolitan area. It is technically part of the Virginia Beach–Norfolk–Newport News MSA or Metropolitan Statistical Area, an area that includes Chesapeake, Hampton, and Williamsburg.

Kitty Hawk Village
Kitty Hawk Woods – Outer Banks

Similar to other urban settings that have a popular beachfront, multi-story hotels have sprouted up along the shoreline.

With the hotels dominating the shoreline, there is no parking immediately adjacent to the beach. Like many other beachfront communities, Virginia Beach charges for parking. The fees range from $2.00/hour to $10.00/per day. In contrast, the Outer Banks provides free parking for beachgoers.

Virginia Beach VA Hotels
Hotels lining the oceanfront – Virginia Beach

It should also be noted that Virginia state laws governing who owns the beach and has access to it are far more restrictive than North Carolina’s.

In North Carolina the beaches are held in public trust, meaning any member of the public is allowed to be on the beach. Virginia, on the other hand, grants property owners ownership to the low tide line meaning the beach to the low tide line is private property and anyone who is there without permission is trespassing.

Outer Banks Free Parking Bonnett Street
Free Parking in Nags Head, NC – Outer Banks

It is unclear how much of an impact that would have in Virginia Beach, but it is something to note.

Unlike Outer Banks beaches that tend to give people a lot of room to spread out, Virginia Beach is the beach resort for a major metropolitan area and is the closest beach to Richmond with a metropolitan population of over 1.2 million.

Although the area of the city is very large—250 square miles—the beaches get packed in the summer.

There are two reasons for that. Primarily, there are just so many people flocking to the city’s beaches that the result is predictable.

The other factor is the amount of beach available. The Outer Banks and Virginia Beach get about the same number of visitors. It’s difficult to get firm numbers because Virginia Beach is a well-populated city that has a convention center with a seating capacity of 18,000. Not all visitors to the city are going to the beach. It is fair to say, though, that roughly the same number of visitors head to Virginia Beach beaches as use Outer Banks beaches.

There are about 12-15 miles of public beaches lining the Virginia Beach Atlantic Ocean shoreline. For a city, that is a lot of beachfront, but it pales beside the 100 miles of Outer Banks beaches.

Bodie Island Beach and Lighthouse
Outer Banks beaches

Which is why there always seems to be a bit more space to spread out or for a family to gather on Outer Banks beaches.

The Boardwalk

Virginia Beach does have a boardwalk. It’s about three miles long, far shorter than the five mile Atlantic City, NJ boardwalk, but much longer than 1.2 mile boardwalk Myrtle Beach has to offer.

Virginia Beach Boardwalk
Virginia Beach Boardwalk

Giving the city its due, although the Virginia Beach boardwalk is very much a commercial venture, it does not have the garish, businesses packed on top of one another feeling that the Myrtle Beach and Atlantic City boardwalks do.

The Outer Banks does have a boardwalk. The one mile long Duck Boardwalk parallels the Currituck Sound shoreline.

Duck NC Boardwalk
Duck, NC Boardwalk – Outer Banks

There are some restaurants and outdoor seating for lunch or dinner is available, as well as a few stores on the boardwalk. However, the boardwalk is really designed more as an opportunity to experience the beauty of the Outer Banks than a commercial venture.

The sunsets are absolutely spectacular and boaters will find a number of piers available to launch kayaks.

Lodging

Like most cities that are also beachfront resorts, most of the lodging that Virginia Beach offers are hotel and motel rooms. Almost all of the oceanfront homes and homes in close proximity to the beach are located in the south end of the city in Sandbridge.

Sandbridge is almost identical to Corolla; at one time, before access was stoped to accommodate False Cape State Park and Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, it was possible to drive from Carova to Virginia Beach by passing through Sandbridge.

There are also rentals available three or four or more blocks off the beach in the main part of the city as well.

Southern Shores NC Beachfront
Outer Banks Vacation Homes

Also, unlike the Outer Banks where most of the properties are homes that our guests will be renting, a significant portion of the rental inventory in Virginia Beach is apartments and condos.

Transportation

There is no doubt that it’s easier to get to Virginia Beach than the Outer Banks. Norfolk International Airport, which also services the Outer Banks, is right next door to the city. Almost everyone driving to the Outer Banks from the north pass right by Virginia Beach on their way south.

Driving by or even through parts of Virginia Beach, it may be difficult to think of it as a beach resort. It is a large city, and most of the population and businesses are well away from the beach.