If you haven’t already booked your summer vacation, you may find the most popular beaches solidly booked or garnering hundreds of dollars for a hotel room, but it is still possible to have a memorable summer vacation along the coast. Consider planning a trip to these seven lesser known waterfront destinations for an affordable vacation without the crowds.

Lake Anna—Louisa County


Photo Credit: Mike Zorger

Lake Anna spans 13,000 acres and has over 200 miles of shoreline, making it an ideal recreational destination for those seeking aquatic adventures or a relaxing waterfront vacation. Soak up some sun on one of the lake’s sandy beaches, or bring your boat, kayaks, stand up paddleboards, or other outdoor gear and head out on the water. Lake Anna State Park, on the northwest shore of the lake, offers over 15 miles of hiking trails that branch out through the woods of the park, with several trails leading towards the waterfront. The lake is conveniently located just 72 miles south of Washington D.C., 66 miles north of Richmond, and is less than an hour from both Charlottesville and Fredericksburg.

Where to Stay:

·         Lake Anna State Park Cabins—Spotsylvania

·         Lighthouse Inn—Mineral

·         Christopher Run Campground on Lake Anna—Mineral

Where to Eat:

·         Tavern on the Rail—Mineral

·         Roma Italian Restaurant & Pizza—Louisa

·         Obrigado—Louisa

Sandbridge Beach—Virginia Beach

HR19071203V_106.TIFPhoto Credit: Caroline Martin, @carolinemartinphoto

Just 15 miles south of the resort area of Virginia Beach, Sandbridge is a peaceful community on the Atlantic Ocean with five miles of pristine, secluded beaches. Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park are close to the main beach area, providing outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, and fishing for visitors looking to explore the coastal landscape. Spend the night on the beach and wake up to epic ocean views when you book a primitive campsite with False Cape (site must be reserved ahead of time).

Where to Stay:

·         Sandbridge Luxury Oceanfront Condos—Virginia Beach

·         False Cape State Park Camping—Virginia Beach

·         North Bay Shore Family Campground—Virginia Beach

·         Sandbridge Blue Vacation Rentals—Virginia Beach

·         Ocean Key Resort—Virginia Beach

Where to Eat:

·         Margie & Ray’s Crabhouse—Virginia Beach

·         Waterman’s Surfside Grille—Virginia Beach

·         Rockafeller’s Restaurant—Virginia Beach

·         Rudee’s on the Inlet—Virginia Beach

·         Catch 31—Virginia Beach

Smith Mountain Lake—Bedford, Franklin, and Pittsylvania Counties

MR19032803V_007.JPGPhoto Credit: Dan Wentling

Smith Mountain Lake is the second largest freshwater lake in Virginia and is about an hour southeast of Roanoke. With over 500 miles of shoreline bordering the lake, there are plenty of places to set up your beach towel and enjoy the stunning views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. Smith Mountain Lake State Park offers a variety of water sports rentals, including boats, tubes, water skis, and wakeboards, and you’ll find countless bed and breakfasts and rental properties within a short drive of the lake.  

Where to Stay:

·         Bernard’s Landing Resort & Conference Center—Moneta

·         Arrowhead Campground—Penhook

·         Smith Mountain Lake State Park Cabins—Huddleston

·         Eagles Roost Campground—Huddleston

Where to Eat:

·         Heath’s Waterfront Grill—Huddleston

·         Mango’s Bar & Grill—Moneta

·         Drifter's—Moneta

Philpott Lake—Bassett


Photo Credit: Matt Ross

Covering 3,000 acres between Henry and Franklin Counties, Philpott Lake has roughly 100 miles of shoreline. In the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the lake is an ideal waterfront spot for outdoor lovers, and hiking, biking, and fishing are popular activities in the area. The lake has eight campgrounds along the shoreline, with six beach areas and nine boat launches open to the public. During your stay near Philpott Lake, stop by Fairy Stone State Park, where you can search for the namesake “fairy stones” and hike the picturesque trails within the park. There are not a lot of restaurant options close to the lake, but if you’re not willing to drive more than a few miles for a meal, you can always pack your own supplies for a campfire cookout.

Where to Stay:

·         Camp at Philpott Lake (Various Sites)—Bassett

·         The Virginia Home Inn—Fieldale

·         Cabins in Fairystone State Park—Stuart

Where to Eat:

·         Checkered Pig Barbecue—Martinsville

Lake Gaston—Bracey


Lake Gaston straddles the borders of Virginia and North Carolina, providing about 350 miles of shoreline for your coastal retreat. Camp along the water at Lake Gaston Americamps, a family-friendly campground with a swimming pool, miniature golf, volleyball and basketball courts, and a playground. The campground is also pet-friendly, accommodating vacationers traveling with their four-legged friends. The lake is open to a myriad of water sports, from fishing and boating to waterskiing, wakeboard, and swimming. Boats and kayaks are available to rent from Holly Grove Marina, located on the north shore of Lake Gaston off Interstate 85.

Where to Stay:

·         Lake Gaston Americamps—Bracey

·         North Bend Park Campground—Boydton

·         Lake Gaston Resort—Gasburg

Where to Eat:

·         Shady Shack Grill—Bracey

Onancock—The Eastern Shore


Photo Credit: Julie McCool, @funinfairfax

Chincoteague and Cape Charles are two of the most popular spots to vacation on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, but the small town of Onancock should not be overlooked when planning a coastal vacation. Nicknamed the “Gem of the Eastern Shore” by Captain John Smith in 1607, Onancock is a quaint but charming, packed with an abundance of locally owned antique stores, restaurants, and historic B&Bs. See the sights in town on foot, then rent kayaks or stand up paddleboards from Burnham Guides to explore the town’s coastline as you paddle through the marshy waters of Onancock Creek.

Where to Stay:

·         Charlotte Hotel—Onancock

·         The Inn at Onancock—Onancock

·         1882 Colonial Manor Inn—Onancock

Where to Eat:

·         The Blarney Stone Pub—Onancock

·         Charlotte Hotel Restaurant—Onancock

·         Mallards at the Wharf—Onancock

The New River—Radford

New River Stand-Up Paddle Boarding

One of the five oldest rivers in the world, the New River has the unique attribute of running south to north, crossing into Virginia near Galax, connecting to Clayton Lake near Dublin, and then continuing through Southwest Virginia towards West Virginia around Pearisburg. While Radford is the only city sitting directly on the river, there are a number of boat ramps that provide public access along the New River. If staying on the northern end of the river, book stand up paddleboards, kayaks, and other watersport gear through Tangent Outfitters in Pembroke or Radford, or if you’re closer to southern end, rent canoes, kayaks, and tubes through New River Outdoor Adventures in Galax. Follow the river for almost 40 miles in New River Trail State Park, a “Rails to Trail” system that allows hiking, biking, and horseback riding. There are four primitive campgrounds within the park, offering even more outdoor possibilities for your New River vacation, or you can stay at the New River Trail State Park Cabins, just a short walk from downtown Galax.

Where to Stay:

·         Mountain Lake Lodge & Conservancy—Pembroke

·         Main Street Inn—Blacksburg

·         Jackson Park Inn—Pulaski

·         New River Trail State Park Camping—Max Meadows

·         New River Trail Cabins—Galax

Where to Eat:

·         The Palisades Restaurant—Eggleston

·         Preston’s Restaurant—Blacksburg

·         The Village Coffee Shop & Restaurant—Draper