If you’re considering having a First Landing State Park elopement or small wedding, this post is going to be a great resource and guide as you start planning your incredible day in the park.
First Landing State Park is a gem nestled in the populated Virginia Beach. The park got its name from the fact that this is where English colonists traveling on the Discovery, Susan Constant, the Godspeed first landed in 1607 before founding the Jamestown settlement. When the park was first being created in the 1930s, it was named Seashore State Park and although its name was changed back in the 90s, many of the locals still call it that. With its beautiful beaches, forests, and many miles of trails, First Landing is a terrific spot for a laid-back and fun Virginia elopement or wedding.
Should I Have My Wedding at First Landing?
If you want a relaxed wedding surrounded by the beauty of nature, then yes! I absolutely love working in the park photographing elopements and hiking and camping there for fun in my spare time. First Landing State Park ranks in the top 5 of my favorite virginia state parks for an elopement. And it’s a wonderful spot for larger beach weddings too! Here are a few pros and cons to having a First Landing State Park wedding if you’re still on the fence and choosing a location.
- It’s gorgeous in EVERY season
- It’s an easy-to-get-to vacation spot – Norfolk/Virginia Beach is accessible via airport, highway, public transportation, and trains.
- One of the most affordable wedding venues in Hampton Roads
- A great beach that’s not nearly as crowded as the Virginia Beach oceanfront
- Easy to find privacy in the park, even when it’s busy
- The wedding permit process is simple and the park is very elopement-friendly
- There are many great wedding vendors in the area
- One of only a few places in VA with sunset over the water
- Busiest State Park in VA- with over 750,000 visitors per year, First Landing is Virginia’s most-visited state park. In the summer and on the weekends in particular, the park, its beaches, and the parking lots can fill up quickly.
- It’s not suitable for super last minute weddings because the special use permit needs to be applied for at least 30 days in advance.
- No indoor reception space- while there are some covered options for a space to celebrate after your ceremony, unlike some parks in Virginia, First Landing does not have an indoor space available to rent.
When to Have a First Landing State Park Wedding:
Choosing a season
Autumn is my favorite time of year for a wedding in First Landing State Park. While September and even October can still be warm (and you can even hop in the water if you’re brave), the summer crowds are dying down and as mid-October and November approaches the leaves start to change colors. The park in the fall has beautiful yellows, bright oranges, and deep reds as the season progresses which makes a stunning backdrop for your wedding photos.
Spring is a peaceful time of year in the park. There aren’t many visitors yet and the forest leaves are starting to return. Camping and yurts are available starting the first Friday of March if you want to spend the night. March and April weather in Virginia Beach is often unpredictable– it can be a beautiful 70 degrees one day and drop to 45° the next. But if you’re prepared and ready with a jacket just in case, you’ll be sure to have an incredible day.
Winter can be such an underrated time of year for a beach wedding! Unlike other more mountainous parts of the state, Hampton Roads is quite mild in the wintertime. Although you’ll want a jacket to keep you warm from the wind, you’ll be greeted by almost private beaches and trails without many visitors. If you want to stay overnight in the park, camping and yurts are out of commission by the first week of December but the cabins are still available for rent and you’ll be toasty at night with their heat and fireplaces.
Of course summer can be a wonderful time for a wedding at First Landing, but it’s last on my list for two reasons: the crowds and the heat. As far as the crowds go, summer is by far the busiest season in Virginia Beach and First Landing State Park. Tourists flock to the oceanfront and locals make their way to First Landing’s Bay Beach to avoid them. Some weekends, the park will reach its capacity for parking and visitors will be turned away. To avoid overcrowding, between May 1st and September 30th, the park has some extra regulations:
- They do not allow more than two events on the beach side per day
- They do not allow any weddings or elopements on Memorial Day weekend, 4th of July weekend and the day itself, or Labor Day weekend.
- And all weekend beach weddings must have a start of 5pm or later.
In terms of the heat, as you can see in the chart below, the summers can get quite hot in Virginia Beach. And these numbers are just averages. After living here for many years, I know that it’s not unusual for there to be some weeks that have temperatures consistently in the high nineties. With the sun beating down on you in the middle of the day, sitting through a ceremony could be uncomfortable. So, if you want a summer wedding, I’d highly recommend it to be after 5:30 pm so it’s more fun for you and your guests.
One more note about the weather~
Having an outdoor wedding means there is always a possibility of inclement weather (that’s part of what makes it an adventure). I recommend having a place to retreat to if it’s raining. This could be one of the covered spots you can reserve in the park, another venue, or a cabin or beach house you’re spending the night. I’d also suggest getting some of those cute, clear umbrellas. They protect you from the elements, let in lots of light, and look amazing in photos.
If it’s snowing (and yes there are usually two or three days of snow at First Landing per year), the park could be closed. If you’re saying your vows in January or February consider having a backup plan for your ceremony- like moving over to the Virginia Beach oceanfront that doesn’t require a permit in advance. But a few flurries or a little drizzle will make for some gorgeous, romantic images and a great story so just embrace it!
Picking a day
If you and your guests can manage it, weekday weddings will always have more privacy than those on a weekend or holiday. But even if you choose a weekend for your small wedding or elopement, you can still get some privacy by going on a hike or visiting a less trafficked area for your portraits. It’s also a good idea to call a ranger at the park before you apply for your permit to see if there are already any other events scheduled for that day, like another wedding or a race.
Choosing a time
When choosing your ceremony time, keep the park’s hours in mind. The park gates open at 7am, so at most times of the year, sunrise will happen before you can even enter. If you want to enjoy the sunrise however, you could stay overnight in the park at a campsite or cabin. The park trails close at dusk but if you’ve rented a designated space, all guests not staying overnight must leave by 10pm.
The best time to have your ceremony at First Landing State Park is an hour or two before sunset. This gives you plenty of time to explore the park before your ceremony and spend time with any guests or take portraits at sunset before the park closes at dusk (aka. 30 mins after sunset). If you are planning a typical reception with a lot of guests, have booked another venue, or have dinner reservations planned for after the ceremony you may want to schedule it even earlier.
In terms of the light for beautiful photos, golden hour, which is the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset, is usually a photographer’s favorite. To utilize this time for the best photos, I suggest having either a morning or evening centric wedding or elopement day. In the middle of the day, when the weather isn’t cloudy, the sun can cast harsh shadows. But if a mid-day ceremony works best for your schedule, a photographer experienced in outdoor weddings will still be able to capture incredible images so don’t worry too much. They should also be able to assist in creating a timeline for your wedding that takes into account the other activities you have planned, the times for the best light, and what your priorities are.
First Landing State Park Wedding Permit
Do I need a permit to get married at First Landing State Park?
Yes! You’ll need to fill out a special use permit application.
What if it’s an elopement with just me and my partner, do we still need a permit?
Yes. You do still need a permit! Learn why parks require permits for elopements here.
How much does it cost to get married at First Landing state Park?
The special use permit application for a wedding at First Landing only costs $25. You’ll just send a check with the completed permit in the mail to the address listed on the form.
Keep in mind that you and your guests will still have to pay the $7- $10 park entrance fee upon arrival or you can purchase the passes in advance for your guests. If you are renting a ceremony or reception space from the park, using any of their tables or chairs, or hiring other vendors to bring your vision to life, that would be additional. Check out the park’s rental prices and more info here.
How early should we apply for the permit?
At least 30 days before your wedding. The park asks that you allow 30 days for processing the application which means that you should put it in the mail with enough time for it to get there. But if you can do it sooner, even a few months in advance, that will only help. As mentioned above, at some times of year, only two events are allowed per day so it’s first come first serve. Send in your application sooner rather than later to save your date!
Is there anything else we’ll have to fill out?
Yes, you’ll likely be asked to fill out the park’s wedding questionnaire. It’s an easy form that asks:
- the names of the couple
- the ceremony time
- if alcohol will be served (if yes, they have specific requirements I’ve explained below in the rules section)
- if you have a business there helping you, ie. a photographer, caterer, planner, or rental company (if yes, they will need to provide proof of insurance)
- if you plan on including decor with open flames
- what tables, chairs, or tents will be rented from the park
- which boardwalk entrance you will be entering from for your beach ceremony
Where to Get Married at First Landing State Park
First Landing State Park hosts many weddings per year so the park has a handful of designated approved wedding ceremony locations. The Chesapeake Bay Beach, the amphitheater and the gazebo all utilize the same parking area, but for a ceremony at the pergola, you’d park across Shore Drive at the Trail Center.
Under the pergola
Located behind the Trail Center, the pergola is a great spot for a semi-shaded ceremony. If you’re looking for a romantic ceremony location in the forest, this is your best bet. The space can be configured to allow up to 60 guests. Chairs are available for rent. As of summer of 2023, the pergola has been taken down and is no longer available.
At the amphitheater
The amphitheater is a wonderful spot to host your wedding ceremony if you are going to have more than 150 guests up to 200 or if your guests aren’t able to walk a short way on the sand.
Under the gazebo
This shaded space can accommodate up to 40 people and is a great choice for an intimate ceremony, particularly if the weather calls for rain.
On the Chesapeake Bay Beach
This is my favorite ceremony location in First Landing! You can choose to have your ceremony with either the dunes or the ocean waves as a stunning natural backdrop. With 1.5 miles of beach, you can even avoid some of the beachgoers by walking a bit further down from the main entrances. Or, if you have guests that need easier accessibility, you have the option of sticking closer to the boardwalk. The beach is northwest facing so it’s also an ideal spot for sunset. Keep in mind that beach ceremonies are limited to 150 people total.
64th Street entrance- no weddings allowed
The Narrows Beach and all other locations easily accessible via the 64th street entrance are prohibited for all wedding ceremonies. You may have seen photos online of elopement ceremonies held on this side of the park but those were not done legally. But, if you list this location on your special use permit, you are still able to get incredible images of you two for your wedding or engagement portraits, relaxing on your boat, enjoying your picnic, or hiking with your dog – you just can’t say your official “I do”s there.
The Best Places to Take Photos at First Landing
There are so many incredible spots for photos in the park! Keep in mind though that even if you are not having your ceremony there, you DO need a photography permit for any professional portraits you take in First Landing State Park. The special use permit application must be sent in at least 30 days in advance.
At the Narrows Beach via the 64th street entrance
Although you can’t have your ceremony here, I highly recommend venturing over to the Narrows side of the park for some of your wedding portraits. The marshy wetlands, beautiful boardwalk, spanish moss and forests that come right up and into the water are something really unique!
At your campsite or cabin*
Cuddled up in your tent, toasting with your favorite drink, playing games with your friends and family, or roasting a couple of marshmallows by the campfire – making time for photos at your campsite can really help tell the whole story of your amazing wedding day!
The Chesapeake Bay Beach
For the many reasons that this beach is a great spot for a ceremony, it’s also incredible for photos- particularly sunset portraits. It’s far less crowded than other beaches in VB and the beach is long so even if there are a few other people there, the photos here often look like you have the whole place to yourself. This is also the best spot to hop in the water for photos because the water stays pretty shallow for a good distance out and because there are a few waves but they aren’t nearly as rough as at the oceanfront.
On a boat you rent and pick up at the nearby Marina
In the summer, Narrows Beach is a hot spot for local boaters to hang out and enjoy nature. The water is calm, not too cold and there’s even a rope swing attached to one of the trees so you can splash into the water if you’re feeling adventurous. Rent a boat and pick it up only 1/4 mile from the park!
On a trail off the beaten path
With over 20 miles of trails, there is beauty in every corner of the park. No trail is the same and there are tons of different types of scenery! And some of the most stunning locations in the park require a little hike to get to. My favorite spot in the park, for example, calls for a 4 mile round trip adventure! But getting off the beaten path is worth it when you’re greeted with the privacy and views you can’t get anywhere else.
Options for Your First Landing State Park Wedding Reception
If you’re planning a wedding celebration with guests, you may want to keep the party going after the ceremony. If you aren’t planning on renting another venue in the area and want to keep things simple and low key, First Landing State Park has a few locations for you to choose from for a reception.
Located in the maritime forest about a mile from the beach, the picnic shelter is the perfect space for a laid-back reception for up to 80 people. It has plenty of picnic tables, a fire grill, and a large fire ring. The shelter has access to water, electricity and restrooms. It can be rented from 8am to 10pm and is available on a first-come first-serve basis.
To inquire about the picnic shelter call 1-800-933-PARK
If you have an elopement or intimate wedding with just a handful of outdoorsy-type guests, you could rent a few cabins or campsites next to one another and celebrate there with your closest family and friends! Keep in mind that you will have to follow all camping rules including quiet times.
The gazebo is shaded and will keep your drinks, food, and guests a little cooler in the summertime! You can also rent tables and chairs for this location. You can rent just the gazebo or the entire courtyard (gazebo, amphitheater and grass area) is available for rent as a package if you have a lot of guests to accommodate. The area has access to electricity and restrooms.
* = Good backup rain option
Reservations for reception or ceremony spaces can be made up to 11 months in advance. Contact the park at (757) 412-2300 for more information.
I’ve put all the locations listed above on the map below. Ceremony locations are in blue, reception location options are in orange, and popular portrait locations are in purple.
First Landing Wedding FAQs
Where to Stay
My favorite option is actually staying in the park by camping or renting a cabin or yurt.
If staying in the park isn’t your jam or you want something a little more comfortable consider checking Airbnb or Vrbo and renting a condo or beach house near the oceanfront. Or you can stay at one of the many beautiful hotels off of the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, or go luxury and rent a room at the elegant Cavalier Hotel.
Norfolk, VA is only 30 minutes away, so checking there will give you more options, especially if you prefer a city vibe or historic neighborhoods with a lot of character.
Other Things to Do Near First Landing
- Cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and visit Kiptopeke State Park or explore up the Eastern Shore
- Stop for lunch and grab a sandwich from the locally owned Taste Unlimited
- Rent bikes and bike along the Virginia Beach Boardwalk
- Check out Cape Henry Lighthouse
- Have the VB Picnic Company set you up a romantic date on the beach
- Visit the Virginia Aquarium
- And what I do every time I head home from the park- Get a Rita’s italian ice
First Landing State Park Wedding Pictures
Wondering what an elopement or small wedding at First Landing might look like? Check out some of these blog posts for inspiration.
Vendors for Your First Landing Wedding
Hi! I’m Hayley-Ann, an elopement and small wedding photographer based in Norfolk, VA. Growing up, I loved exploring First Landing with my parents. Now, I hike in the park in my spare time and love helping couples see all the beauty it has to offer.
To make your wedding day as stress-free and fun as possible, with all of my elopement packages comes:
- local vendor recommendations
- assistance with any permits
- specific location/trail suggestions for beautiful photos
- help with creating a day-of timeline
If you’re planning a relaxed wedding with less than 50 guests and think I might be the gal to capture it for y’all, contact me so we can chat about your vision for the day and get to know each other. I’d love to be a part of it!