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Just a short three-hour jaunt away from Washington D.C., Norfolk is well known for its military and Naval history, which is full of little nooks and crannies of local culture, history, and amazing food. Tourists know the well-known attractions, but a worldwide local knows how to experience them best. This is an insider’s guide of some of Norfolk’s finest spots.
Many of these people know of the Hampton roads area just by the bigger names of history like Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg. These are the obvious locations for American history, but there are plenty of lesser-known places in the Norfolk area that should be on everyone’s bucket list to visit. Starting from the Southern end, and working our way North…Virginia Beach!
There are a lot of cool things happening in Virginia Beach. In the summer there are plenty of concerts on the beach, monster truck rallies, cool beach shops, inventive putt-putt golf courses, and the Virginia Beach Aquarium. So, there is a lot to do for whatever your interests are, or if you are traveling with your family.
There are some really amazing bars and restaurants there. A local favorite is a bar on the boardwalk named Calypso Bar & Grill. They have live music, where you can drink out on the patio while enjoying the sunshine, and the view. It is just really a great atmosphere!
Worldwide Local Tip: If you are in search of a more seafood plate, you have to try Bubba’s Seafood Restaurant and Crab house. All of the seafood they serve is local and caught by the family’s charter company. It is the absolute best blue crab you can get in the area and a must-try location.
If you are a beach lover Hampton Roads is the place for you! There are plenty of beaches from Virginia Beach all the way up to Yorktown beach, and everywhere in between. A favorite thing to see and be near, are the beach lighthouses.
So, for sea lovers, lighthouse nuts, and history enthusiasts, this next place is for you. Virginia Beach is home to the first American built lighthouse, Cape Henry Lighthouse located on Fort Story. This is a military base, so here are some notes from the Cape Henry Lighthouse: “Note to Our Visitors: The Cape Henry Lighthouse is located within Fort Story military base. To visit the lighthouse, you must pass through the security gates of Fort Story at 89th Street and Atlantic Avenue. Please have identification including a picture with you for all visitors aged 16 years or older. This ID should be a student or state or federal issued ID card. Proof of vehicle insurance and current vehicle registration is also required for admission to Fort Story Military Base. If accessing the Cape Henry Lighthouse by bicycle, you must always follow Virginia State Law and wear a helmet.”
Worldwide Local Tip: Since we are on the topic of all thing’s ocean, be sure to keep an eye out for Norfolk’s mascot, a mermaid, located all around the city. In the early 2000s, the city wanted to take a local legend and turn it into an art project. You can play “eye spy” all throughout the city, and find over 100 mermaids!
In the heart of Norfolk is a quiet college neighborhood, Ghent. Here there is mostly college housing, but you will also find some of the coolest little shops, the best pizza in the area, funny little local theaters, and a winery. Yes, you read that right! Mermaid winery (back to the mascot) is Virginia’s first urban winery. It has two locations in the Hampton Roads area, and the original location is in Ghent.
Worldwide Local Tip: Ghent is a hotbed of boutique and locally owned shops, antique stores and specialty retailers. If you’re looking for a truly one-of-a-kind souvenir to remember your stay in Norfolk, look to boutiques like Le Marche, Kitsch, and A. Dodsons along Colley Avenue. The neighborhood is a collector’s and antique enthusiast’s paradise, with vintage and antique shops around every corner. You never know what you’ll find, so be sure to factor in some extra time to really dig around.
While you are visiting Norfolk, you should plan an afternoon at Fort Monroe. Traveling here you’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone, visiting a hidden gem of Norfolk and to get there you have to pass across and under the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel (HRBT). This is a very cool and interesting bridge and road to take because it actually dips under the Chesapeake Bay.
Just on the other side of the HRBT is Fort Monroe. Unlike Fort Story, Fort Monroe is a retired military-based – decommissioned in 2011. This is a local favorite in Hampton Roads because there are very few places you can go and say that you can drive over an actual moat. When you drive into the historic portion of the fort, you drive over the reinforced drawbridge. Turning to the right (because the main road in the fort is a single direction…to the right) allows you to make a full circle around the fort following the fort walls.
Feel free to park your car and walk around the fortress wall top. You can see where the cannon turrets used to stand, and you can look out over the Chesapeake Bay where the Ironclads Monitor and Virginia (formerly the Merrimack) battle in Hampton Roads were. The Monitor and the guns of Fort Monroe prevent Virginia from entering the Chesapeake Bay from Hampton Roads. President Abraham Lincoln visited Fort Monroe to plan and expedite the capture of Norfolk.
Worldwide Local Tip: If you are looking for AMAZING local food you will find it at Olde Towne Tavern. It’s one of the greatest local joints you will find on the Northern side of Chesapeake Bay. The crab dip is something to write sonnets over!
With the amazing culture and massive amounts of American history, that have happened all around the city, you will feel like you are a part of the history yourself. But Norfolk is so much more than just the history. Put this city on the map, as it is the local mixing pot where you can experience the local culture. Roaming the city as a worldwide local will grant you unparalleled access to its amazing sights and fascinating sounds.