A Historical Look at Virginia Beach

In the past, I got a lot of my history lessons from either movies, novels (fiction) or musicals. You’d be amazed at how much you can learn about history in a 1940s musical.

Sure, I learned history in school, but I never really retained anything learned from text books.

It wasn’t until I started traveling that I really understood the history of our world and developed a passion for it.

History of Virginia Beach

When you visit a famous battlefield or walk through historic sites from another era, you actually begin to understand what happened and want to learn more.

That’s what happened when we visited Virginia Beach. I didn’t think there was much history there, but boy was I wrong.

Virginia Beach History

history of virginia beach
Coming into Virginia Beach

Let me go back to where I talk about musicals. I always thought Plymouth Rock was the first European settlement in the United States because of Cole Porter. In Anything Goes, he wrote

“Since the Puritans got a shock
When they landed on Plymouth Rock.”
~Cole Porter from the musical Anything Goes

If Cole Porter referenced Plymouth Rock, they must have been the first, right? Wrong.

While discovering Virginia Beach history, I learned that the first actual European settlement was just upriver in Jamestown.

The very first landing was Virginia Beach itself and it is here that you must spend a day or two exploring First Landing State Park.

virginia beach history
virginia beach museum
history of virginia beach

It’s a beautiful beach filled with sand dunes and the trails wind through a picturesque marshland, cypress swamp and freshwater ponds surrounded by forest.

The beautiful First Landing
The beautiful First Landing

There are free shuttles from the Virginia Beach oceanfront area for visitors to hop on and spend a day at the beach, or you can camp right inside the park to really enjoy all there is to offer.

Virginia Beach ocean
The oceanfront area of Virginia Beach

What I was surprised about was the excellent museum facilities on site. It was here that I learned, that I had it all wrong. Plymouth Rock didn’t happen until 1620. It was in 1606 that the Virginia Company sent 140 Englishmen to the new world and the first permanent English settlement in North America was established on the shores of Virginia.

Virginia beach museum
The museum at Virginia Beach

When we went deeper into the park to explore the trails, there was another interpretive museum explaining the history of the flora and fauna.

The kids will get a kick out of this exhibition because it’s here that they share the legend of the pirate Black Beard and how he frequented these waters.

virginia beach trails
Walking the trails

We could have spent much more time at the park and when we go on another road trip through the States, you can be sure we’ll be setting up camp at First Landing State Park. For more information on visiting or camping at First Landing State Park visit their website

But the history doesn’t stop there!

The Military Aviation Museum

virginia beach plane
Dave in a plane!

The Military Aviation Museum is a must stop for history buffs and adventure addicts alike! Here you can peruse one of the largest collections of flying World War II airplanes and you can even take a thrilling flight in an actual biplane from the era.

virginia beach flight
Taking a flight over Virginia Beach

Aircraft from the first and second World Wars through the Korean War era are on display here. But what makes this museum unique is that every plane still flies! Our pilot and guide Boom Powell has actually flown many of the planes we saw including a replica of one of the very first types of planes ever flown!

deb plane
Deb in the plane

I didn’t realize it, but Virginia Beach has a huge military presence. Fighter jets fly overhead daily practicing maneuvers while massive ships are docked in port. There are seven military bases located in Virginia Beach so it is only fitting that such a museum exists here.

virginia beach history
Learning about the history of Virginia Beach

Another unique aspect of this museum is how an actual World War II aviation tower was moved brick by brick from England to the airfield. In 1940, war was imminent and at the time, airfields were being built cheaply and quickly. There were 200+ airfields built during WWII and this tower comes directly from one of them.

Museum director Mike Potter and I hopped in a sidecar motorcycle to watch Dave’s flight from the control tower. It felt as if we had stepped back in time.

motorcycle sidecar
A motorcycle with a sidecar

It is close to being completed and every single detail is being replicated to perfection. As Mike states on the museum’s website “I was standing on the roof watching actual 75-year-old World War II planes taxi around, take off and land,” he said. “It doesn’t get any cooler than that.” I completely agree.

The flight is a thrill with banks and turns and dips and dives. It all takes place in an actual war plane where passengers don leather helmets and flights suits as they sit in the open cockpit. You can only imagine what it must have been like for fighter pilots in WWII.

dave plane
Dave pretending to be a WWII fighter

After our flight, we were taken on an escorted tour through the museum and five massive hangers. We only had the morning at the Military Aviation Museum, but we could have spent all day there. What I loved about this museum is how out of the dozens of aircraft on display, they are from all around the world including German fighters.

This museum shows both sides of the war.

Military Aviation Museum
Another interesting museum is the Military Aviation Museum.

The staff is passionate and loves talking about planes and history and there is a lot to keep people occupied. It’s not just airplanes on display, there are tanks, jeeps, motorcycles and even an old train. It’s a massive complex that needs time to explore so make a day of it.

Head out to the Military Aviation Museum, stop at The Bee & Biscuit for lunch and learn a little more about the history that helped to shape a nation. Visit the Aviation Military Aviation Museum website for details on flights, hours and air shows. 

Cape Henry Lighthouse

If you have room for a little more historical knowledge a trip to the Cape Henry Lighthouse is a good stop. It’s located at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay and get this, you have to enter an actual working military base.

Cape Henry Lighthouse
Cape Henry Lighthouse

What is historic about this site? It is the first lighthouse authorized, completed and lighted by George Washington. Built in 1792, it has been a strategic location for centuries guiding ships in and out of Chesapeake Bay.

A second lighthouse was built in 1881 because of concerns over the original lighthouse’s stability.

history of virginia beach | lighthouse at sunset

Clearly the stability was fine, because today both lighthouses are still standing and you can even walk up to the top of the original for a bird’s-eye view of the base and the bay!

lighthouse in historical virginia beach

Virginia Beach surprised us. We expected to have a good beach holiday, but we didn’t realize there was so much history, adventure and culture to be had. Between the rising food scene, the adventure activities, and a tour through the past, VA Beach is the perfect all-around vacation destination.

It has a little something for everyone. Whether you’re a fan of history or not, a trip to these three spots will pique your interest and make you want to find out more!

Discover the history of Virginia Beach
Discover the history of Virginia Beach

Our trip to Virginia Beach was in partnership with Matador Network and Visit Virginia Beach. Visit their website for more information and to start planning for your trip to Virginia Beach. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Oceanfront Virginia Beach

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

Leave a Comment

10 thoughts on “A Historical Look at Virginia Beach”

  1. The warbird looks incredibly awesome…I wish I could fly in that….And yeah lots of historical places to visit…Really a cool place to hang out on a vacation…

    Reply
  2. Virginia Beach is simply amazing, though we always tend to not notice the history of the places we visit. Thanks for sharing. Loved it!

    Reply
  3. Wow! what a lovely description of the history. The pictures are simply amazing. Lovely it. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  4. We are heading out to Virginia Beach next month and would like to find a not too expensive campground that is well situated.

    Thank you for your post.

    Reply
    • There was a camp ground at First Landing State Park which has shuttles to the ocean front area and First Landing is near Chesepeake Bay. That looked like a great campground to us.

      Reply