A National Historic Landmark, the Cape Henry Lighthouse is America’s first lighthouse.
Visit the Historic Cape Henry Lighthouse
There are several noteworthy sights and landmarks you’ll want to see when you visit Virginia Beach. You can spend hours on the Virginia Beach Boardwalk alone just checking out all of the monuments on the boardwalk. Just a few minutes north of the boardwalk, between the Virginia Beach Oceanfront and the Chic’s Beach area, is one of Virginia Beach’s most historic landmarks. A National Historic Landmark, the Cape Henry Lighthouse is America’s first lighthouse.
Cape Henry Lighthouse History
The famed Cape Henry Lighthouse is actually two lighthouses, both part of the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
The first lighthouse, made of stone, was built in October 1792. The lighthouse was the first federally funded public works project, authorized by George Washington and overseen by Alexander Hamilton. The lighthouse was damaged during the Civil War, but Union forces repaired the lighthouse and continued to use it as a navigation service into the Chesapeake Bay. There were concerns about the stability of the lighthouse, so in 1881 a second lighthouse was built.
The second lighthouse is located a mere 350 feet away from the first. It differs from the first, as the second lighthouse is painted black and white. The automated lighthouse is still operational today and is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Visiting the Cape Henry Lighthouse
A visit to the Cape Henry Lighthouse should include a tour of the original lighthouse. Owned and operated by Preservation Virginia, this lighthouse is open to the public. The second lighthouse, however, is not open to the public.
The lighthouse is located near the First Landing site, where English settlers first arrived before settling in Jamestown. When you visit the lighthouse, be sure to also explore the Cape Henry Memorial and view the Cape Henry Memorial Cross and statue of Admiral Comte deGrasse. It is free to tour and visit the Cape Henry Memorial site.
Cape Henry Lighthouse Tours
Discover over 400 years of history and take in some of Virginia Beach’s most incredible views with a tour of the original Cape Henry Lighthouse.
The original lighthouse now features an iron staircase that guides guests along an easy to moderate climb up less than 200 steps. Once you arrive to the top, take in the spectacular 360-degree panoramic views from the lantern room.
Tours are $10 but discounts are available to AAA, seniors, military, students and children. AAA, seniors (age 60 and older) and military cost $9, students cost $8 and children under 6 are free.
Dune Talks are also offered at the ground level of the lighthouse. Dune Talks discuss Virginia Beach’s port history and STEM-related topics, including geology, weather and marine life.
Renting the Cape Henry Lighthouse Site
If you’re so captivated by the scenery surrounding the Cape Henry Lighthouse, you can rent the site for a special event for a fee. Imagine having your wedding against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean and historic lighthouses.
The grounds of the lighthouse can be rented for your special occasion, starting at $100 per hour. Contact Preservation Virginia for more information.
More Information About the Cape Henry Lighthouse
The Cape Henry Lighthouse is located at 583 Atlantic Ave., Virginia Beach.
Cape Henry Lighthouse Hours
Jan. 3–March 15: 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
March 16–Oct. 31: 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
Nov. 1–Dec. 30: 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
Tours stop 30 minutes before closing.
Directions to the Cape Henry Lighthouse
The lighthouse can be accessed from the south by taking Atlantic Avenue or from the west by taking Shore Drive.
Visitors can take a free shuttle from Fort Story Gate 8, located at 89th Street and Atlantic Avenue to get to the lighthouse.
Rules and Regulations
Because the lighthouse is located on Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, there are some strict rules and regulations you’ll want to know before visiting Cape Henry Lighthouse.
Visitors age 16 and older must show a valid ID, either student, state or federal.
The driver of the vehicle must have valid vehicle registration and proof of insurance.
If you decide to walk or bike to the lighthouse, be prepared to show valid ID.
Before you board the shuttle, only bring the essentials. One small handbag is allowed per visitor. Infant bags and strollers are allowed.