A visit to Virginia Beach, Virginia, wouldn’t be complete without a trip to see the Virginia Beach lighthouses—the Old Cape Henry Lighthouse and the New Cape Henry Lighthouse. That’s right… it’s a twofer—two historic lighthouses in one location—a rare sight to see.
Visiting the Virginia Beach Lighthouses (Must-Know Facts)
- The lighthouses are inside Fort Story, so you will need to stop at the main gate and present your driver’s license, which will be held during your visit. You’ll be asked a few questions to ensure you don’t have weapons, alcohol, or drugs with you, and your vehicle may be subject to search. You’ll be directed to park just beyond the gate, and from there, you’ll be shuttled to the old Cape Henry Lighthouse. The process sounds intimidating, but it’s just a 5-minute process.
- At the time of this writing, masks are required in the museum gift shop and lighthouse.
Old Cape Henry Lighthouse
The Old Cape Henry Lighthouse, built in 1792, was the first lighthouse authorized by the U.S. government. The octagonal sandstone structure stands 92 feet tall and overlooks Chesapeake Bay.
Climbing the Lighthouse
- At this time, only the old lighthouse is open to the public.
- There is a fee to climb the lighthouse (currently $10), and tickets can be purchased inside the museum gift shop.
- You must be 42 inches tall to climb.
There are 191 steps to the top of the lighthouse, but 80 of those are from the museum gift shop up to the lighthouse’s base. You can take a breather before the final climb inside.
Once you reach the top of the sand dune where the lighthouse stands, you can see its octagonal shape. Talk a walk all the way around to see the windows and commemorative plaques.
When you’re ready to make the climb to the top, head inside. You’ll start on a winding staircase (without landings) until you reach the 9-foot ship’s ladder, which takes you up into the lantern room for a 360-degree panoramic view.
When cracks began to appear in the lighthouse in the 1870s and the second-order Fresnel lens wasn’t producing enough light for mariners, another lighthouse was built at Cape Henry.
New Cape Henry Lighthouse
The new Cape Henry Lighthouse is cast iron and painted in a striking black and white pattern. It was lit for the first time in 1881. The first-order Fresnel lens projected light 19 miles into the Chesapeake Bay.
In 1984, the lighthouse became fully automated, and in 1999, the last lightkeeper retired. Cape Henry was the last manned light station in Virginia.
The U.S. Coast Guard now operates the lighthouse. Unfortunately, it’s not open to the public for climbing, but you can take all the photos you’d like from outside the fence.
Cape Henry Lighthouses
583 Atlantic Ave, Fort Story, VA 23459
Cape Henry Memorial
Just a short walk from the lighthouses, you’ll find Cape Henry Memorial, part of Colonial National Park. Take the boardwalk to the beach overlook, even if you’re not into history. It’s a great spot to photograph both Virginia Beach lighthouses together.
For history fans, there is a cross marking where the first European colonists landed in 1607 on their way to Jamestown, a statue of Admiral Comte deGrasse, and informational signs to explain the area’s historical significance.