Virginia Beach is a classic seaside resort town. It's characterized by the carnival-like atmosphere on its boardwalk and by the seafood restaurants that seem to inhabit every other building. Even those who fail to land a coveted oceanview room at one of the beachside hotels can still appreciate the city's laid-back, family friendly vibe and pleasant, breezy weather.
Visitors looking for cosmopolitan excitement may leave disappointed, but travelers in search of an environmentally friendly vacation will find that Virginia Beach is one of the greenest vacation spots on the Eastern Seaboard. The city and its businesses seem to be taking seriously the state government's plan to create an eco-friendly and sustainable tourism industry, known as the Virginia Green project. Mount Trashmore, the affectionately named trash heap turned parkland, is the showcase environmental attraction. But there are other equally impressive, albeit less noticeable, features all around this popular seaside city.
Embracing the government's green tourism plan
Earlier this year, Gov. Tim Kaine declared April "Virginia Green Travel Month." The goal was to bring attention to the ongoing Virginia Green initiative, which encourages major players in the state's tourism industry to adopt greener practices. This is by no means a small undertaking, considering tourism in Virginia brings in nearly $20 billion a year.
The Virginia Beach Convention Center was one of the city's first buildings to receive the Virginia Green stamp, and it's a prime example of the statewide movement's success. In 2008, the venue was able to cut its electricity and water costs by 25 percent while still hosting a full slate of trade shows, cultural celebrations and sporting events.
From garbage to green playground
Mount Trashmore is much more than a cleverly named public space. The 165-acre park features a 60-foot-tall "mountain" that owes its altitude to garbage. During the building process, layers of solid waste were compacted in between layers of clean soil.
Trashmore's amenities make it one of the city's best attractions that don't involve beaches or boardwalks. There's a large skate park as well as several playgrounds, multiple picnic areas and 1.5 miles of walking trails. More than 1 million visitors come to the park each year.
Trashmore also features a demonstration xeriscaping garden. This method of horticulture focuses on native plant species, allowing gardeners to grow healthy flowers and other flora while also minimizing water usage, since plants can usually survive on their native region's rainfall without much extra watering.
Treading lightly on the boardwalk
Most of Virginia Beach's oceanfront attractions are organized along a three-mile boardwalk. Eco-minded tourists can tread lightly along this car-free commercial stretch, which has separate paths for bicyclists. Two-wheelers can be rented at shops along the boardwalk, and it's not uncommon to see multiple-seat bicycles of various shapes and sizes on the pathways.
But people don't head to the boardwalk to simply avoid cars. It's often called one of America's favorite boardwalks and has been praised by publications such as National Geographic Traveler and Coastal Living.
Even big brand-name hotels are taking part in Virginia Beach's green scene. The Marriot Residence Inn Oceanfront not only has a full slate of coveted seaside rooms, but it's also certified as a green hotel by the state of Virginia and recognized as an EarthPact Green Hotel.
The Founders Inn is a rather over-the-top hotel with design and decor that bring to mind America's colonial era. But many of the hotel's amenities are tasteful, and it has an expansive list of green programs and initiatives.
For those who want a close-to-nature experience, the cabins at First Landing State Park are about 30 minutes from the Virginia Beach boardwalk. These wood or cinderblock buildings offer a rustic vibe and easy access to the park's many trails. There's also a dose of modern comfort in the form of air conditioning and in-cabin microwaves and stoves.
Croc's 19th Street Bistro was one of the first restaurants in Virginia Beach to take on the Virginia Green label. The menu features seasonal, locally grown (or caught) food that's mostly organic. Much of the decor is made from recycled material and carry-out packaging is completely biodegradable.
The nearby Rockefeller's Restaurant is one of the city's many seafood eateries. It boasts an oil recycling program and also donates excess food to local charities. Many of the area's seafood restaurants rely on fresh, locally caught fish to stock their kitchens. Wherever visitors choose to dine, chances are their main course traveled a relatively short distance from source to plate.
Virginia Beach isn't necessarily the ultimate destination for green-minded tourists -- it's actually the most populous city in Virginia -- but it does have plenty of eco-friendly traits and attractions. The city's businesses have, at least on the surface, embraced the Virginia Green tourism initiatives. Tourists who want to tread lightly can do a lot worse than taking a trip to Virginia Beach.
Beach scene: Flickr
Mount Trashmore: Flickr
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