Virginia Beach has everything you love — or hate — about the beach: sand and sea, cheesy shops and cheesy pizza, T-shirts and tan lines.

But what won me over was a bumper sticker: “I love jet noise.”

It was an assertive nod to the military folks who populate so much of Virginia’s Hampton Roads region. The Navy, Army, Marines and Air Force all have facilities in the area. In addition, the military has its own little resort at Fort Story, near where the Chesapeake Bay empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

Last summer, the Cape Henry Inn made an excellent base of operations during a week’s stay with a teen and twin tweens in tow. A cottage offered easy access to the adjoining beach, and the guilty pleasures of downtown were a quick drive away.

The inn’s beach faces the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, so the surf tends to be much more gentle than it is along the city’s shoreline, which faces the open Atlantic. However, the beach does boast one major attraction — dolphins. People pay a lot to go on cruises to see the local dolphins. At the inn’s beach, the dolphins come to see you. The playful critters frequently cruise just beyond — and sometimes right through — the swimming area.

However, it’s far too late to snag reservations at Cape Henry Inn for this summer. Try a year in advance. But don’t fret — Virginia Beach is a major destination, so there’s no shortage of accommodations.

After a day at the beach, we usually headed downtown to consume mass quantities of greasy food and soak up the carnival-like atmosphere of the shopping zone. The place is packed with restaurants, T-shirt stores, temporary-tattoo stands, rides, miniature golf courses … If you’ve been to any genuine American beach town, you know what to expect.

Since we had the kids along, our nightlife prominently featured sleep. However, the city offers plenty of late-night hot spots and is building a development with many more.

Virginia Beach is also a convenient hopping-off point for day trips in the region. Some highlights are:

• Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown. History buffs have the colonial capital of Virginia, England’s first permanent settlement in America and the Revolutionary War battlefield. Everyone else can enjoy the water parks and theme parks.

• Norfolk. The city has been one of America’s top naval bases for two centuries. As a result, it’s packed with museums that focus on military and maritime history. The best is Nauticus. This museum offers exhibits on U.S. naval history and oceanography and tanks filled with sealife. Best part: Pet a shark! Nauticus is right beside the USS Wisconsin, a battleship that began its service in World War II and ended up firing cruise missiles at Iraq during the Persian Gulf War.

• Fort Story, itself, boasts two landmarks: the old Cape Henry Lighthouse, built in 1791, and a memorial where the Jamestown settlers first landed in the New World.

An added bonus this month is a special Memorial Day program sponsored by the USO. The Patriotic Festival runs May 26 to 28 and features military displays and performances by Carrie Underwood and Lynyrd Skynyrd, among other artists.

If you’re heading back to the East Coast on leave or a change of station, this might be the place where you can unwind — but don’t let the jet noise bother you.

Know and go ...Where to stay

Cape Henry Inn. Reservations can be made at the inn’s Web site at For summer reservations, submit your request early in the morning on the first day of the month one year in advance of your trip.

Other hotels. Check the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau Web site at

Day trips

Williamsburg —

Norfolk —

Nauticus —

Upcoming event

The Patriotic Festival, sponsored by the USO, will run May 26 to 28 and feature military displays and musical performances.

For details, check

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