One of the most popular attractions in Virginia Beach is the boardwalk. The history of the boardwalk is filled with change, reconstruction and new beginnings.
Virginia Beach’s Boardwalk is Rich in History, Events and Fun
One of the most popular attractions in Virginia Beach, where everyone loves to spend time, is the boardwalk. Whether your family rents a four-person surrey, enjoys an afternoon bike ride or morning jog or simply takes a few quick steps on its surface while sprinting toward the ocean, it’s hard to miss this three-mile stretch of paved walkway. However, it hasn’t always been the smooth surfaced structure that it is today. The history of the boardwalk is filled with change, reconstruction and new beginnings.
History of the Virginia Beach Boardwalk
First built in 1888, the boardwalk was actually made of boards or wooden planks that ran between 12th and 16th Streets in conjunction with the Princess Anne Hotel, one of the country’s most luxurious resorts at the time. But, in 1907 tragedy struck when the boardwalk succumbed to a fire that began in the Princess Anne Hotel. Ironically, according to The Beach: A History of Virginia Beach, Virginia compiled by the Virginia Beach Public Library, a waterworks system, including hydrants and an 80,000-gallon holding tank, was in the process of being installed and was to have been in operation the next day; however, the system wasn’t completed in time to save the hotel.
Reconstructing the Boardwalk
In 1926, residents and visitors were delighted at the construction of a new, concrete boardwalk along the same time as the opening of the Cavalier Hotel in 1927. The new walkway was three-and-a-half-miles long, but because of a concern for stroller safety, bicycles were prohibited in 1937. Later, the ban was lifted after construction of a separate side-road for cyclists.
Another accident struck in 1962 when a Nor’easter produced 20–30 foot waves that crashed into the boardwalk, breaking up the concrete and eating away many sections of the walkways. It wasn’t until the 1990s that plans for a seawall came together so the boardwalk would be protected against the elements. The project took many weeks of demolishing and more than 125,000 truckloads of sand and 157 million pounds of sheet pile. At the end of it all, about 12 million pounds of rebar and 81,000 cubic yards of concrete were used to create the new boardwalk that now stretches between 40th Street and Rudee Inlet.
In order to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists to get from Rudee Inlet to the boardwalk, the Rudee Inlet Connector Walk was built. The Rudee Inlet Connector Walk is a 10-foot-wide concrete walkway that connects Winston Salem Avenue, under the Rudee Inlet Bridge, to the 4th Street parking lot, providing a lighted, direct linkage from the Marina district to the Oceanfront.
Virginia Beach Boardwalk Today
Today, the boardwalk is home to hundreds of activities from festivals, live entertainment and concerts to outdoor art showcases and sports competitions. No matter what time of year, Virginia Beach consistently buzzes with life and culture.
During the day visitors stroll along the boardwalk, passing the delicious wafts of seafood coming from local restaurants. When the sun starts to set, the oceanfront comes alive with music! At stages on 31st, 24th, 17th and 7th Streets, local bands are playing their casual tunes while residents dance and have enjoy the music. Popular musicians also come to the Oceanfront to play live on the 5th Street beach stage right in the sand! Hundreds of visitors gather here during Memorial Day weekend for the Patriotic Festival for celebration at the start of summertime.
Even as summer winds down, Virginia Beach keeps the summer fun going! The annual Neptune Festival celebrates life and tastes in Virginia Beach, with food vendors and music performances lining the boardwalk. In addition to all the delicious foods and drinks, local artists showcase their pottery and stained glass creations, making this sandy get-together a fun experience.
If sitting back and relaxing is an activity you want to leave on the beach, then there are many physical events for any aged participants! Whether you want to give the Rock ‘n Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon a try, or you want to support a cause during the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in October, the oceanfront knows how to stay in shape. Other sports have their own events too, like the annual North American Sand Soccer Tournament or the East Coast Surfing Championships.
Though many years of change have impacted the Virginia Beach boardwalk, it stands as a permanent fixture where visitors have gathered for over 100 years. The times have changed somewhat, but it is and always will be a place for seeing and being seen, for families to build memories together and for millions of bare feet to pass over the threshold on their way to fun.
Did You Know
The Virginia Beach boardwalk has received some prestigious accolades; all the more reason to take a stroll on this exciting thoroughfare.
- It’s been named one of the Top 10 U.S. Boardwalks by National Geographic.
- Travel + Leisure called it one of America’s Best Beach Boardwalks.
- The American Planning Association listed the Virginia Beach Boardwalk as one of the top 10 great public spaces in America.
- It was named in the 10 boardwalks listed in Shermans Travel.