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Virginia Beach vs Ocean City: What’s the Difference

Virginia Beach vs Ocean City: What’s the Difference

Have you been wondering what’s the difference between Virginia Beach vs Ocean City? Maybe you’re planning an East Coast vacation and trying to choose between the two beach towns? Whatever the case may be, we’re here to give you the lowdown on Ocean City vs Virginia Beach.

Both are on the Atlantic Ocean and have nice beaches whether you want to swim, lounge, or take part in watersports this summer or over a three-day weekend. Virginia Beach offers the alternative water of the Chesapeake Bay.

The bayfront beaches can be less crowded and calmer than the oceanfront beaches. Ocean City has the Isle of Wight Bay, which is popular for kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. The two beaches are approximately 140 miles apart, or about two hours and 45 minutes by car.

Virginia Beach has approximately 35 miles of shoreline with three beaches along the way (Chesapeake Bay Beach, Sandbridge Beach, and Virginia Beach). Ocean City has about ten miles of beachfront property.

So, which will it be? Virginia or Maryland? Let’s check it out!

Getting to Virginia Beach and Ocean City

Male Flight Attendant Wearing a Mask

Norfolk International Airport (ORF) is the closest airport to Virginia Beach.

For Ocean City arrivals, Baltimore International Airport (BWI) is about two and a half hours away. Ocean City Municipal Airport (OXB) is nearby, but it doesn’t offer the flight variety of a larger airport.

Public Transportation in Virginia Beach and Ocean City

Virginia Beach

The Virginia Beach area has a public trolley. The Wave Trolley is operated by Hampton Roads Transit. Routes include the Atlantic Ave.

Shuttle, the Bayfront Shuttle, and the Aquarium and Campground Shuttle. The fare for a single ride is $2.

Ocean City

Ocean City has a series of municipal buses that run along Coastal Highway. A Ride-All-Day pass is $6 for 24 hours. The boardwalk has a tram to get from one end to the other.

Boardwalk in Virginia Beach and Ocean City

Virginia Beach Boardwalk

Bike by the Beach
Rudee Inlet at southern end of boardwalk

Who doesn’t love a good boardwalk?

It’s good free exercise and entertainment. The Virginia Beach Boardwalk, built in 1888, has been named one of the top five boardwalks in the U.S. It was originally wooden but was replaced with concrete in 1927.

At three miles long and 28 feet wide, it offers plenty of space for walking, running, dog walking, and people watching. There’s even a separate divided lane for bicycles.

The boardwalk is lined with hotels and restaurants. There’s also a fishing pier.

Unlike the Ocean City, Maryland boardwalk, there are not a lot of attractions and fast food/snack-type vendors along the boardwalk.

You’ll have to walk back a block to Atlantic Ave., which runs parallel to the boardwalk. Here’s where you’ll find all the ice cream shops, pizza parlors, souvenir and t-shirt shops, and activities.

Ocean City Boardwalk

Ocean City Boardwalk Sign

The wooden Ocean City boardwalk is 2.45 miles long. It has hotels, restaurants, shops, bars, and activities along the way.

You’ll find all the funnel cakes, saltwater taffy, popcorn, and boardwalk fries you can eat. An amusement park sits at one end of the boardwalk just off the sand. There are three main fishing piers.

There’s a tram that will take you the length of the Ocean City boardwalk if you’re not into walking.

See Related: Best Sabbatical Destinations

Virginia Beach

Virginia Beach, located in southeastern Virginia in the Hampton Roads area, is the largest city in the state. It has a population of 425,000. This is due in part to the large military presence in the area.

There are three and a half (yes, half) military bases: NAS Oceana, FTC Dam Neck, the Army’s Fort Story, and NAB Little Creek. Nab Little Creek has the half status because it’s partly in neighboring Norfolk.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Virginia Beach has the longest pleasure beach in the world.

The most popular area, and what most people think of when they think of Virginia Beach, is the beach along the boardwalk (that’s about three miles long). The shoreline itself extends for 35 miles from Chesapeake Beach to the North Carolina border at the Outer Banks.

Things to do in Virginia Beach

Horseback Riding

Beach Horses

Ever wanted to ride horses on the beach?

Yeah, me too! And in Virginia Beach, you can do just that. From September through May, the off-season, Virginia Beach Horseback sets up on the beach at 26th Street and Atlantic. Even if you don’t pony up for a ride, it’s cool to visit the horses.

Watersports

Jet Ski

Rent jet skis, go parasailing, take a surf lesson, or soar across the waves on a banana boat. Then there are offshore fishing charters and whale-watching excursions.

Haunted Walking Tour

Tour Guide in a Haunted Walking Tour
Photo by GetYourGuide

A haunted walking tour is a unique experience for the whole family. You’ll stroll along the boardwalk while a local guide explains and entertains with tales of Blackbeard, the witch of Pungo, and other coastal ghosts and spirits. The tour lasts about 1.5 hours.

JT’s Grommet Island Park

Beach Playground

JT’s Grommet Island Park is a super cool spot for the kids to play. It is 15,000 feet in size and is wheelchair accessible. Find it at the far southern end of the boardwalk at Rudee Inlet. There are a couple of playgrounds in other spots along the beach.

Virginia Beach Surf and Rescue Museum

The Virginia Beach Surf and Rescue Museum is the place to check out the maritime history of Virginia’s coastal communities. Visit exhibits on nautical knots, 18th-century swivel guns, and the HMS Liberty auxiliary British vessel.

Neptune’s Park

Neptune Statue and Skyline

Neptune’s Park is a grassy area along the boardwalk at 31st Street. During the summer, there are free concerts and other events. Of course, the crowning glory of the site is the gigantic King Neptune statue. It’s always free to take a selfie with King Neptune!

Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center

Visit the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center for a fun day out of the sun. Galleries include wetlands and watersheds, African and Asian habitats, shark exhibits, the Chesapeake Bay, and a turtle stranding response exhibit.

Along the way, you’ll see spotted eagle rays, zebra sharks, Komodo dragons, turtles, snakes, and more. You can also take eco-tours and whale-watching boat tours. Don’t miss the harbor seal exhibit just outside the aquarium entrance.

Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art

Art and culture enthusiasts will want to pay a visit to the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. Works range from paintings and drawings to sculpture, photography, and film by local, regional, and international artists.

Atlantic Fun Park

What’s a beach vacation without an amusement park?

Atlantic Fun Park, located at 15th Street and Atlantic Avenue, has 16 rides, arcade games, food stands, and a go-kart track. There’s a Ferris wheel, a 100-foot Skyflyer, and several kiddie and family-friendly rides.

Cape Henry Lighthouse

Lighthouse and Skyline
“Cape Henry Lighthouse – Virginia Beach, Virginia” by Dougtone is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

There are actually two lighthouses at Cape Henry.

Located near First Landing, within Fort Story military base, this is the spot where settlers first landed on the way to Jamestown. This spot marks the southern entrance to the Chesapeake Bay.

The original Cape Henry Lighthouse was built in 1792 out of Aquia Creek limestone. It’s 90 feet tall and there are 191 steps to the top.

The black and white striped one is New Cape Henry. It’s just a few steps away. It was built out of wrought and cast iron in 1881. It’s 157 feet tall and not open for climbing.

First Landing State Park

First Landing State Park, home to the Cape Henry lighthouses, is at the north end of the Virginia Beach oceanfront. It offers 20 miles of trails, 1.5 miles of Chesapeake Bay beach, boat ramps, tent campsites, cabins, yurts, and RV hook-up sites.

Explore habitats such as bald cypress swamps, coastal forests, and lagoons filled with native plants and animals.

Norfolk Botanical Garden

Virginia’s largest botanical garden, Norfolk Botanical Garden has more than 60 gardens featuring four seasons of flowers, trees, and blooms. Roses, ferns, herbs, tropicals, perennials, and native Virginia plants are just a few of the many varieties you’ll see along the paved trails and walkways.

Nauticus

Nauticus, located in nearby downtown Norfolk, features Navy, coastal, and maritime history. Visit displays on maritime commerce and Chesapeake Bay animals and how the Navy protects marine life, how tsunamis and other weather events occur or even take a sailing class with Sail Nauticus.

While you’re there, be sure to check out the USS Wisconsin BB-64, including medical spaces, dining hall, ships store, library, and housekeeping areas.

It’s a real thrill to stand atop the bow of this Iowa-class battleship, the largest and last ever built by the Navy. Admission to the battleship is included with Nauticus’s admission.

The Virginia Zoo

Opened in 1900, Virginia Zoological Park is 53 acres of wild animal lovers’ heaven.

Commonly known as Virginia Zoo, it’s located about 20 minutes away in Norfolk, and has more than 700 animals making their homes here. Visit lions, Fiji banded iguanas, meerkats, and a white rhinoceros, or take behind-the-scenes tours.

Don’t leave without checking out the zoo’s stunning tropical, shade, rain, and formal gardens!

Mount Trashmore Park

Mount Trashmore Park is, yes, a park built on a landfill. That said, it is anything but garbage.

Covered with grass, the 60-foot hill is a popular place to spend a leisurely day. It’s also a terrific example of conservation and landfill reuse. Built in 1974, it covers 165 acres and has two playgrounds, two lakes, a skate park, and multi-use trails.

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Established in 1938, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is a 9,108-acre freshwater bay bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Back Bay. The area consists of dunes, marshes, ponds, forests, and beaches.

Animals found in the area include peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and loggerhead sea turtles, among others. Grab the whole crew and take a tram tour, go kayaking or hiking, or join an educational program at this Virginia Beach park.

False Cape State Park

False Cape State Park is located between the Back Bay of Currituck Sound and the Atlantic, just south of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Hike, bike, kayak, or just enjoy the beach in this 4,320-acre park. There’s a tram that leaves from Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and travels through the park. The undeveloped and primitive setting is a unique way to view birds, ducks, deer, wild horses, and reptiles in a natural setting.

Day Trips

Door in a Historical House

Williamsburg, Virginia is about an hour away. Take a day to visit Colonial times, dine at an authentic pub, or ride thrilling roller coasters at Busch Gardens.

If you visit Busch Gardens, don’t miss Water Country, USA. This surf-themed waterpark is the sister park to Busch Gardens. It is a separate admission, but you can purchase a ticket for both parks at the same time.

Dining in Virginia Beach

Steak with Lemons on the Side
  • Waterman’s Surfside Grille
  • Calypso Bar and Grill
  • Mahi’s
  • Scrambled
  • Rudee’s Restaurant and Cabana Bar
  • Rockafeller’s
  • Oceans 14
  • Chix on the Beach
  • Il Giardino Ristorante
  • 21st St Seafood Raw Bar
  • Murphy’s Irish Pub
  • Lager Heads

See Related: Best Travel Sandals for Beach Destinations

Places to Stay in Virginia Beach

Hotel Building and Skyline
Photo by Booking.com

The Cavalier Virginia Beach, Autograph Collection

The historic Cavalier has the glamour and elegance of its 1927 origins. Not to mention that amazing architecture. It has seen the likes of Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, and at least ten presidents.

There’s an outdoor dining terrace, a saltwater pool, a salon, a spa, a distillery, and several elegant restaurants. It is a bit off the beach, but the hotel has a shuttle to transport guests to its private beach club.

Hampton Inn Virginia Beach – Oceanfront South

Hotel Room with Balcony and Ocean View
Photo by Booking.com

The Hampton Inn Virginia Beach – Oceanfront South is conveniently located along the boardwalk. There’s a playground, a fitness center, a business center, and an indoor pool.

Dine at 11th St Tap House Bar and Grille and enjoy complimentary continental breakfast each morning.

Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront

Hotel Room and Balcony by the Beach
Photo by Booking.com

The Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront overlooks the Neptune statue along the boardwalk. There’s a restaurant, Catch 31, and a courtesy shuttle to area attractions. Relax at Skybar and the rooftop infinity pool while enjoying beachfront views.

Ramada Plaza by Wyndham

Hotel Lounge
Photo by Booking.com

Ramada Plaza by Wyndham has an indoor and outdoor pool, an arcade, a restaurant, and a bar. All rooms have a microwave, refrigerator, and coffee maker.

Holiday Inn and Suites Virginia Beach – North Beach

Tow Bed Hotel Room
Photo by Booking.com

The Holiday Inn and Suites Virginia Beach is found at the far north end of the beach, making it less crowded than other areas along the boardwalk. Amenities at this Holiday Inn include an indoor lazy river, a hot tub, a movie theater, a kids’ play area (with a resident turtle), an outdoor pool, and an outdoor lazy river.

Ocean City

Situated between Assateague Island to the south and Fenwick Island, Delaware to the north, the coastal city of Ocean City is a great beach to visit along the East Coast. Ocean City, Maryland is sometimes called simply the OC – not to be confused with the other OC, Orange County.

Ocean City started its climb to resort town status in 1875 when the Atlantic Hotel (still visible today) was built. More hotels, cottages, an amusement park, and the boardwalk eventually followed.

The Eastern Shore Maryland beach town is near Ocean Pines and Delaware beach towns such as Rehoboth Beach, Dewey Beach, and Bethany Beach.

At 45 minutes, Rehoboth Beach is the furthest from OC. It’s near Cape Henlopen State Park. You’ll drive by several beautiful beaches along the way.

Atlantic City, New Jersey is approximately 100 miles from the beaches of OC. If you were hoping to get in on some gambling, you’ll probably be disappointed.

Atlantic City may be a bit further than you want to drive on a day trip. Catch it on the way to or from Ocean City. Atlantic City is always open!

Things to do in Ocean City

Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum

Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum relays the history of the OC and the role of the U.S. Life-Saving Service. There are exhibits on shipwrecks and rescues, surfing culture, yesteryear on the boardwalk, and sand from around the world. Check out the aquarium while you’re there.

Trimper’s Rides

Get those vintage vibes going at this classic seaside amusement park. Open since 1890, Trimper’s Rides has been owned and operated by the same family for more than 100 years.

Scare yourself silly in the Bill Tracy Haunted House, crash into each other on the bumper cars, challenge the kids to an arcade game, or take a leisurely spin on the 1902 Herschell – Spellman Carousel.

Don’t miss the Sticky Fingers Dessert Bar and its artisan chocolates, brownies, taffy, cookies, and biscotti.

Jolly Roger at the Pier

Jolly Roger at the Pier, open since 1964, is located at the south end of the Ocean City boardwalk and has rides, games, and entertainment for the whole family.

Rides include the Kraken, the Drop & Twist, the Freestyle 360, and the Giant Wheel, an iconic symbol of Ocean City (and a cool thing to see lit up at night).

Jolly Roger’s other family attractions to visit along the Ocean City beachfront are Splash Mountain Water Park, Speedworld go-karts, Jolly Roger at 30th St, and Jolly Roger Mini Golf.

Art League of Ocean City

The Art League of Ocean City features paintings, photographs, and natural objects made out of clay, fiber, wood, and beeswax.

Take an art class, visit the gift shop, or watch hundreds of independent films from around the world at the OC Film Festival, which takes place every year in March.

Frontier Town

Frontier Town is about 15 minutes away in Berlin, Maryland. This recreated wild west town features can-can saloon dancing, Native American dance, and horseback riding shows.

Take a train ride, go panning for gold, and check out the western town storefront of popcorn, ice cream, hot dog, and gift shops made to look like a general store, bank, and other western-themed buildings. Pick up that cowboy hat and boots you’ve been wanting.

Watersports

kayaking and canoeing

Rent pontoon boats or kayaks for a day on the bay!

You can also book fishing charters and dolphin-watching cruises. Visit Paradise Watersports, located at the Route 50 bridge at Cooper’s Crab House, for parasailing and jet ski rentals.

Miniature Golf

Woman Playing Mini Golf

Gather your crew and tee off on the mini golf links. Check out Lost Treasure Golf or Old Pro Golf to see who has the best swing in the family.

Carousel Ice Skating Rink

Carousel Ice Skating Rink, located within the Carousel Oceanfront Hotel & Condos, is a unique alternative to the sun and surf of the beachfront.

Ice skate rentals are available (in case you happen to forget to bring ice skates on your beach vacation). There’s a game room as well as skating lessons and ice shows.

Ripley’s Believe it or Not!

If you’re a fan of oddities like shrunken heads, animal skeletons, paintings on a grain of rice, and vampire hunting tools, Ripley’s Believe it or Not! is right up your alley. Find it at the south end of the boardwalk at 401 S. Atlantic. Just look for the giant shark. 

Baja Amusements

For a day away from the water, try out Baja Amusements. The 10-acre park features go-karts, mini-golf, a climbing wall, a snack bar, a carousel, and other family-friendly activities.

Marty’s Playland

The arcade at Marty’s Playland dates to the 1940s. There are fun vintage games like an automated fortune teller and an antique skeeball as well as modern games.

Day Trips

Fenwick Island has the DiscoverSea Shipwreck Museum. This is a great children’s museum for its exhibits on relics, treasure, piracy, and famous shipwrecks like the Atocha, the RMS Republic, the Edmund Fitzgerald, and others in the DelMarVa region.

Assateague Island makes a nice day trip from OC. Go kayaking, visit the lighthouse, or watch for wild ponies.

The towns of Bethany Beach, Dewey Beach, and Rehoboth Beach are within 45 minutes of OC.

Dining and Nightlife in Ocean City

  • Seacrets (Jamaica-inspired island setting and live music)
  • Seacrets Distilling Company
  • Candy Kitchen
  • Ropewalk
  • Layton’s Family Restaurant
  • OCM Crabs
  • Longboard Café
  • 32 Palm Restaurant
  • The Dough Roller
  • Greene Turtle Sports Bar and Grille
  • Fager’s Island
  • Coconuts Beach Bar and Grill

Places to Stay in Ocean City

Courtyard by Marriott Ocean City Oceanfront

Hotel by the Sea
Photo by Booking.com

Courtyard by Marriott Ocean City Oceanfront has an indoor swimming pool, a business center, and a fitness center. All rooms at this Ocean City hotel have a mini-fridge and a microwave. The Captain’s Table restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Princess Royale Oceanfront Resort

Sleek Hotel Room with Balcony
Photo by Booking.com

Princess Royale Oceanfront Resort is located along the Ocean City Boardwalk.

It has an oceanfront sundeck, a gift shop, and a convenience store as well as a business center, a pool, a hot tub, five restaurants and bars, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool within a four-story atrium.

Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Ocean City

Hotel Dining Area
Photo by Booking.com

The beachside Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Ocean City has a bar, an indoor pool, an outdoor oceanfront pool, a fitness center, and a restaurant. The Coral Reef Café at the Holiday Inn serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Suites feature a seating area, cable TV, and a full kitchen equipped with a stove and oven. Select suites have an ocean view too.

Cambria Hotel Ocean City – Bayfront

Hotel Building with Lights at Night
Photo by Booking.com

Cambria Hotel Ocean City – Bayfront has an indoor swimming pool, a restaurant, a fitness center, and a bar. The hotel is located on the Bayside, but it’s within easy access and walking distance to the oceanfront.

Aloft Ocean City

Hotel by the Bay
Photo by Booking.com

Surrounded by water and amazing views, the sleek and contemporary Aloft Ocean City has a bar, a terrace, a large lobby, an outdoor pool, a fitness center, and an on-site coffee shop. Aloft is pet friendly. Bring those four-legged friends along!

The Roland E. Powell Convention Center & Visitors Information Center is about half a mile away from this Ocean City hotel.

What is Better: Virginia Beach or Ocean City

If you’re looking for a relaxing strand of sand and surf, you can’t go wrong with either coastal city.

Cost, weather, shopping, a family atmosphere, and beach quality are about equal at either location. Both have oceanfront hotels, a long boardwalk, and areas to get off the sand if you so choose.

Both cities and beaches start getting busy on Memorial Day and stay busy throughout the summer.

Your vacation choice depends more on what you’re interested in as far as entertainment, nightlife, and proximity to the beach goes.

If you’re more into the actual beach vibe of sand and sun, you’ll enjoy Virginia Beach all summer long. Those 35 miles of shoreline provide a variety of beaches. If one area is too crowded for your liking, check out another one in the surrounding area.

The biggest drawback about Virginia Beach is that you’ll have to walk a bit further off the beach for snacks, sundries, and such.

The beachfront restaurants along the boardwalk are on the upscale level. It’s not that it’s a long walk, but it’s something to consider if you’re traveling with toddlers, young kids, senior citizens, or folks with limited mobility.

For action, activities, and entertainment, Ocean City is the beach to choose. The boardwalk has that vintage seaside amusement parks vibe.

Activities, food vendors, bars and clubs, souvenir shops, and the like are right there on the boardwalk.

One drawback about Ocean City, to consider is its distance from a major airport. If you’re driving, though, that isn’t necessarily a concern.

In a nutshell, Virginia Beach is a terrific choice for a more relaxed and nature-inspired vacation.

History fans will enjoy Virginia Beach as well. While it is very family-friendly, Ocean City, has more nightlife, tropical-themed bars, and lots of entertainment options for kids, adults, and the whole family.

Whether you’re going for a weekend, one night, or a two-week vacation, have a blast at whichever beach you choose!

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