Norfolk, a modern port city with a long nautical heritage, comes with scenic water views, a thriving arts community and burgeoning neighborhoods popping with breweries and cafes. Situated where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, Norfolk is home to Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval installation. Easy to reach and affordable, Norfolk offers plenty to do for a getaway but it’s also an interesting add-on to trips to Virginia Beach, 19 miles east and to Williamsburg, 52-miles north.
The Waterside District, a revitalized section overlooking the Elizabeth River, debuted May 2017. A mega-building houses 14 restaurants that include Guy Fieri’s Smokehouse, the 22,000-square-foot Blue Moon tap house, as well as as the Market, a 10-vendor space featuring local favorite Cogan’s Pizza. To encourage more lingering, Waterside has a concert stage and a dog-friendly section.
The Main, a new Hilton Hotel, adds buzz-worthy restaurants to downtown. Saltine features seafood, Varian, Italian-inspired cuisine, and Grain, offers beer, casual fare and river views.
NEON stands for New Energy of Norfolk, a re-branding of the arts district complete with street murals, art galleries and performance stages. The Chrysler Museum of Art and its Glass Studio anchor the community. In addition to works from Europe, America, Asia and Africa, the museum features a notable, 10,000-piece glass collection spanning 3,000-years. For many, the lamps, vases and other pieces crafted by Louis Comfort Tiffany prove a highlight. At the Glass Studio hands-on classes cover glassblowing, flameworking, and stained glass creation.
Like any urban area worth its cool quotient, Norfolk’s “hoppy” with breweries and brew pubs. Among the places to down samples of local suds: O’Connor Brewing Company, Smart mouth Brewing Company, Bold Mariner Brewing Company, and Coelacanth Brewing Company. Drink up and leave the driving to others on brew Norfolk tours.
Naval Station Norfolk celebrates 100 years of service in 2017. Bus tours led by navy guides roll through the base and Victory Rover cruises on the Elizabeth River pass the big aircraft carriers.
Nauticus, a maritime museum, pays homage to the sea, especially to Norfolk’s and Hampton Roads’ seaworthy setting. At the museum, interactive exhibits enable kids –and adults—to experience gale force winds in a hurricane simulator and learn how to control a submersible’s robotic arm. The biggest hands-on exhibit is the USS Wisconsin, a WW II-era battleship berthed alongside the museum. Walk the deck of the 887-foot-3-inch behemoth, ogle the big guns, and learn about her history from the docents. Special tours allow you to see the captain’s cabin and other interior areas. On select dates, you and your kids can overnight on the battleship, bedding down in the original berths.
In Norfolk it’s easy to get onto the water. The “tall ship” the American Rover, a three-masted topsail schooner, sails the harbor in the daytime and also offers sunset cruises. Catch the wind in your own boat on a scenic outing on the Elizabeth River with Sail Nauticus. To perfect your jibing, steering and navigating, sign up for Sail Nauticus’ weekend classes that combine land and water lessons.
Urban kayaking is trendy. Paddle past the big battleship and along the city’s waterfront in a rental kayak or on a guided kayak tour with Chesapean Outdoors.
Flower power rules at the 175-acre Norfolk Botanical Garden. The urban oasis features 30 themed areas and 12-miles of pathways that wind through specialty gardens abloom, in season, with roses, hydrangeas, rhododendrons, wildflowers and more. On Bike Nights, scheduled April to mid-October, bring your bicycles and helmets to pedal through the petals.