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Ahh, Virginia Beach, where buttoned-up Virginians go to blow off steam. Think epic sunburns, coastal carousing and boardwalk strolls. But the city’s most compelling feature is also its best-kept secret: an assortment of coastal parks and a wildlife refuge sitting quietly just a few miles from the convivial beach scene.

The shoreline stretches 35 miles, but the epicenter is the three-mile boardwalk. In summer, live music rocks on four oceanfront stages. Raw bars and rowdy pubs keep energy levels high. A short drive south, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center draws families with turtles, otters and sharks.

Escape the crowds at First Landing State Park, home to dunes and a tidal marsh. In 1607 its sandy shores were the first stop for Jamestown’s future settlers. To view coastal wildlife and migratory birds, head to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. For serious solitude, continue south by foot, bike, boat, tram or beach transport – no cars allowed - to False Cape State Park, where you can camp on the beach.