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Travel: High Comfort 

A plush new place to relax in Virginia Beach.

My room wasn't typical of a beachfront property — 42-inch plasma TV, comfy pillow-top mattress, plush robe.

The hotel is located at 31 Ocean, a new, sparkling-clean area that includes a bevy of retail shops and Neptune's Park, an intimate outdoor venue for concerts and events. The hotel staff pointed out where the King Neptune statue will stand in the park when it's unveiled in September at the Neptune Festival and noted its Richmond connection — the 26-foot bronze sculpture was designed by Richmond sculptor Paul DiPasquale, who designed the Arthur Ashe statue on Monument Avenue.

Inside, the hotel pays tribute to several Virginia artists, whose work is featured throughout the property. Along with the artwork, walls are scattered with vintage postcards and photographs that depict the area's history. I found a couple of watercolors by Rick Romano, a Virginia Beach native whose work features old beachfront homes and lighthouses. I also stumbled across another Richmond connection — shadow boxes and a silk-screen-on-paper print from B. Klein, who lives in Richmond.

Because I'd gotten to the beach late in the afternoon, I opted to eat in the hotel's casual restaurant and popular nightspot, Catch 31. The brilliant cobalt blues in the lobby and bar reflect the blue/green ocean palette that flows throughout the hotel. The attractive bar, made of Brazilian hardwood, spills out onto the Southwestern-style patio that includes fire pits, perfect for cool evenings.

Another eye-catching feature: the hotel's top floor with zero-edge infinity pool and Skybar. On a clear evening, you can see from Norfolk to the North Carolina border.

Before heading to the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center the next morning, I followed some of the locals to Big Sam's Inlet Café and Raw Bar at Rudee Inlet, where the ambience is fisherman friendly and breakfast is filling.

At the aquarium, Peter, Piper, Phoca, Pongo and Norton — the aquarium's harbor seals — greeted visitors with a dash around the pool and an occasional above-water nod. I'd heard about the harbor seal encounter program where the seals interact with visitors. For a fee, you can climb into the seals' aquarium and also catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the aquarium's internal operations, which focus on the care of the seals. Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to wade into the water but watched as others did.

That dashed hope left me with another reason to visit Virginia Beach: the chance to cozy up to those five chunky pinnipeds.



September at the Beach
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