Explore the Chesapeake's Southern Waters

By
Ellen
Honey

Virginia blend urban with rural nearly seamlessly, and in the Hampton Roads area, the state mixes urban with nautical in spectacular fashion. The diverse cities of Hampton, Newport News, Portsmouth and Norfolk straddle the James River where it meets the confluence of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. Each city is a treasure of American history, land and water activities, and inexhaustible Southern charm.

Hampton Roads

Hampton Fort Monroe -Credit - Peter Stinson on Flickr

The Hampton Roads corridor is a busy place, and the natural harbor makes for one of the best ports on the East Coast. A sizeable naval presence contributes to the economy, as does the proximity to Virginia Beach on the Atlantic and historic Williamsburg farther north on t he James Peninsula.

Hampton is the oldest English- speaking settlement in America, and the Hampton History Museum’s extensive collection spans its evolution from the beginnings of Tidewater life to its emergence as a space research center. The Hampton Visitor Center, on site, is a great place to begin the day.

The nearby Virginia Air & Space Science Center’s interactive exhibits cover 100 years of flight, 30+ historic aircraft, and house the visitor center for NASA Langley Research Center and Langley Air Force Base. For a less lofty ride, go nearby to the restored 1920 Hampton Carousel, one of 170 antique wooden merry-go-rounds in America.

If history gives you food cravings, within a few blocks are Guilty Pleasure Coffee Shop’s specialty milkshakes and smoothies, as well as Baked Bistro & Pizza’s menu of rotating home-style specials of varied cuisine.

Housed within the historic Hampton Armory, The Vanguard Brewpub & Distillery is a live music venue serving Caiseal Beer & Spirits, brewed and distilled onsite. The seasonal menu is paired with craft cocktails and brews.

Across the Hampton River, Hampton University Museum is the oldest African American exhibition in the country displaying 9,000+ objects including traditional African, American Indian, Asian and Pacific Island art. The American Indian gallery has 1,600 objects from 93 indigenous tribes.

Where to Dock: Bluewater Yachting Center

Newport News

Bound by the waters of the James River and Hampton Roads harbor, the rich history of Newport News begins shortly after the landing at Jamestown in 1607 and winds through the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the 1862 Peninsula Campaign where the famous battle of the CSS Virginia and USS Monitor was fought. The remains of the ironclad Monitor have a permanent home in the USS Monitor Center at the Mariner Museum. Its extraordinary collection of artifacts covers all things maritime as far back as Leif Erikson and the Vikings.

The U.S. Army Transportation Museum at Fort Eustis highlights the importance of logistical support to the Army from colonial days to the present. Purchase of the One City Pass provides a bundle discount to all the area’s many attractions.

It’s impossible to say with absolute certainty how Newport News got its name. A popular theory is that Christopher Newport, captain of the largest of the Virginia Company ships bringing settlers to the Americas, voyaged between continents and upon his return was asked, “What’s the news, Captain Newport?” Eventually, the phrase was shortened to Newport News.

Break up the day at Aromas World where they roast their own coffee. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner but a hint about their claim to fame is the sign, “Keep calm and eat pie.” Beyond their daily 10 cakes and pies are 13 pastries plus quiche, scones, muffins and chewy chocolate chip cookies.

To mitigate the sugar rush, Harpoon Larry’s Fish House & Oyster Bar menu is extensive; start with the signature Rum Runner and bites from the raw bar. A can’t-miss is the Waterman’s Combo entree. If you’d like to catch your own dinner, the city has some of the best fishing in Virginia.

Where to Dock: Deep Creek Landing Marina

Portsmouth

Portsmouth Waterfron -credit- pxhere.com

The smallest of the coastal cities, Portsmouth, is an ancient seaport with a hip vibe known for quirky shops, eclectic restaurants and legendary hospitality. Its antique homes span three centuries, the largest collection of original period homes between Charleston, SC, and Alexandria, VA, still standing today. The city’s walkable districts have attractions and historic buildings, especially in the Olde Towne Historic District.

The self-guided Path to History tour connects America’s first naval hospital to her oldest naval shipyard, builders of the CSS Virginia (Merrimac), and America’s first aircraft carrier (USS Langley), all integral parts of the community. The path hugs the seawall with optional stops including the Lightship Portsmouth Museum, the Naval Shipyard Museum, and a few homes of notorious scalawags and heroes from bygone days.

Portsmouth is brimming with artistic expression. Walk Your Art Out: Art Scavenger Hunt is a quest for public art around the cultural district. The eight city blocks have two dozen public art installations and incorporate the Portsmouth Art and Cultural Center, an 1846 Greek-Revival building, which served as a courthouse, as well as the Children’s Museum.

Whether you choose a restaurant that offers alfresco dining or enjoy your meal in a historic building, fresh and local isn’t a trend here, it’s a way of life. Stop by Gosport Tavern for their Southern-inspired dishes or visit Cafe Europa for an award-winning Mediterranean meal served in old world surroundings. Still Worldly Eclectic Tapas’ menu takes you around the globe in a cozy speakeasy atmosphere.

The Elizabeth River Ferry connects pedestrians from Portsmouth to downtown Norfolk. The ferry dates back to 1636 when a skiff was rowed across the river. It evolved and continued carrying vehicles until the Downtown Tunnel opened in the early 1950s.

Where to Dock: Ocean Yacht Marina or Tidewater Yacht Marina

Norfolk

Norfolk waterfront -Credit- pxhere.com

Norfolk’s 144 miles of shoreline presents the opportunity to enjoy an abundance of water activities or just relax on the beach. Explore like a local via the Elizabeth River Trail (ERT), a 10.5 mile-long walkable/bikeable pathway meandering through historic neighborhoods scattered with breweries and delightful eateries.

Following a $40-million-dollar facelift, The Waterside District is brimming with waterfront dining and entertainment. The MacArthur Memorial, Harbor Park and Nauticus, a maritime science museum home to the Battleship Wisconsin and the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, are within walking distance.

Considered one of the country’s Top 20 museums, the Chrysler Museum of Art features masterworks from major civilizations, historical periods and cultures from the past 5,000 years. Farther north on the Lafayette River, the Hermitage Museum & Gardens offers history, art and horticulture all in one spot.

Norfolk celebrates everything patriotic, cultural and musical during its 75 annual festivals. In June, Harborfest, begins with the famous Parade of Sail and ends with a thundering waterside fireworks display. August brings a star-studded cast from the international smooth jazz scene to the Norfolk Waterfront Jazz Festival.

October’s Annual NEON Festival takes place in the NEON District. Wander through Norfolk’s official arts district to discover tiny art happenings and large-scale murals of neon color and light. Anchored by the Chrysler Museum of Art and Harrison Opera House and extending to The Plot on Granby Street, the NEON District includes many creative arts year-round.

Norfolk is a melting pot of cultures that creates a dynamic dining scene from the simple to the divine. The seemingly simple Grilled Cheese Bistro menu offers 20 varieties of grilled cheese sandwiches plus 22 additions. All that cheese begs for wine. At Mermaid Winery in the Ghent neighborhood, the winemaking process can be viewed from the tasting bar.

Offering an eclectic twist on Southern home cooking, Hair of the Dog Eatery features hearty breakfasts and comfort foods accompanied by an extensive craft beer list and creative spins on traditional cocktails. Locally owned Grace O’Malley’s offers “great food, great music, great craic.” Virtually everything in the building was handcrafted in Ireland, including the bar. Even the recipes come from Irish kitchens.

Historic Omar’s Carriage House’s original patrons were horses, but today Omar’s serves American-Mediterranean plates in a folksy dining room. Their Moroccan Mondays are a cultural gem dining experience. Saltine is a chic, airy space to savor craft cocktails with seasonal shellfish, seafood and spirits. The black distressed millwork, old-world detailing, and mosaic tile floors lend historical authenticity.

Where to Dock: Morningstar Marinas at Little Creek

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